Urban Survival Journey
With Christina Yu: Part II
Christina is a civil servant who lives in a condo by the lake. She is an amateur naturalist interested in tracking and bushcraft, and her side-interests include martial arts and emergency preparedness. She wrote one of the post in my "Reflections on Resiliency and Optimism" series, which you should check out here.
I asked to her come in and write about one of her experiences we could all learn from. Here are her ideas on how we can all make ourselves stronger - in all the ways that count - and be more prepared for the curve balls life can throw at us.
Ten Strategies for Building Resilience and Connecting with Nature
1. GET INTO YOUR BODY
Imagine you’re lost in the woods. It’s wet, cold, and the sun is setting fast. You’ve learned how to make friction fire using a bowdrill and you need to make a kit right now if you want to stay warm tonight.
Would you be able to make a functional kit?
Would you be able to drill long enough to start a fire?
You might know exactly how to make a bowdrill and get it to work. It won’t matter one bit if you can’t carve a straight spindle, or if you can’t move fast enough to create a coal.
Coordination and fitness are extremely important in emergencies. Many people think that having the right kit or knowledge is all they need to save themselves. But your body is what holds the gear. Your body is your ultimate tool.
Every little bit helps. Is there a curb in your parking lot? How long you can walk along it without losing your balance? Is it cold out? How long can you stand being without mittens or gloves? Knitting is great for hand-eye coordination, as is sewing — one of the most underrated survival skills.
And remember to give your mind and body the fuel they need to function to their best ability: Good food and lots of sleep!
2. KNOW YOUR DESTINATION
This neurolinguistic programming technique is known as Theatre of the Mind. It helps to bring both the “what” and the “how” of your personal goals into focus. In this example, we’ll use becoming a fire mentor as a goal.
Picture yourself seated in a theatre. Your favourite fire mentor is on stage. They’re lighting a fire before your eyes. Notice every detail: how they move, what they pay attention to, their attitude and so on.
Now replace the image if your fire mentor with your own image. Now it’s you who’s lighting the fire. You move exactly as your mentor moved, you pay attention to what they paid attention to, and you have their attitude. What are you experiencing physically? Mentally? Emotionally?
Finally, ask yourself: What do I need to do to become what I’m imagining myself to be? What do I need to practice? Do I need any resources? Write down your answers, then set about meeting each need. Bit by bit, you’ll move closer to becoming the person you want to be.
3. DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ, SEE OR HEAR, ESPECIALLY ONLINE
I once heard someone describe using Google as “like fishing for trout in a landfill. Your chance of catching a trout is slim. It’s more likely you’ll come up with six million beer cans.”
It’s great that we have the ability to research anything online, but it can be very difficult to pick out legitimate information. Worse, websites tend to copy from each other, so if one espouses a certain way of doing things (e.g. using chocolate to polish the bottom of a soda can; don’t), soon hundreds more say the same thing.
Keep in mind that profit is made by enticing you to click on a link, and one of the strongest enticements is fear. Some websites hyperlink to their source material. Investigate to see if their conclusions are sound.
Published authors frequently have lived experience and/or academic degrees in the field they’re writing about. Read their biographies, flip to the appendix, look at their footnotes, and again, check out their sources.
Whether you agree or not with what you’ve read, seen or heard, if you do your research carefully, you’ll have a good idea of what you want to learn more about and lots of ideas on where to go next.
But don’t let that knowledge live only in your head! Make sure that you…
4. MAKE TIME FOR DIRT TIME
“Dirt time” is a saying my instructors use for getting outside and practising your skills. Applied knowledge always brings a new dimension of learning to academic knowledge, and that can only help you learn more and do things better.
When I practise doing something I’ve read about (for example, identifying clouds), I find it helps to cement the knowledge and makes me curious to find out more. It grounds me in the present and reconnects me to nature. In those moments, I’m reminded of how much I love being outside — which is easy to forget in my busy day-to-day life.
5. DEBRIEF YOURSELF
Years ago, I was taught to debrief myself using these three simple questions:
What did I do well?
What can I do better?
What resources do I need?
You can apply them to any situation, on your own or in a group. They allow you to acknowledge your strengths, celebrate your successes, and show you areas for potential growth.
My favourite thing about this process is that if you commit to doing it long term, it’s a powerful tool to accelerate improvement. Remember: Mistakes are your teachers! Every mistake you make is an opportunity to learn.
6. FIND YOUR COMMUNITY
One of my passions is tracking, which is a pretty niche interest. When I started out, it was hard to stay motivated because I didn’t know too many people who were into the same thing. I basically didn’t know how to become a better tracker. Without mentors or peers, I was determined, but rudderless.
That changed when I enrolled in Alexis Burnett’s Animal Tracking Apprenticeship. Alexis constantly challenged me to re-examine what I thought I knew and encouraged me to pursue the parts of tracking I was most passionate about. There were five apprentices in my year, and we were all keeners. Our excitement fuelled us to study, to look at the landscape more carefully, and to bring what we learned back to our “regular” lives. Whenever we saw each other, all we could think about was tracking, tracking, tracking!
Having a community of individuals who share your passion is immensely rewarding. You can talk about your interests, explore concepts you didn’t even know about, share big breakthroughs, and work together on problems. Make time to find your community, or perhaps even create one! I started my own tracking club a few years after my apprenticeship ended, and it is a source of great joy.
7. BE DETERMINED, NOT STUBBORN
I had a lot of trouble getting a friction fire going on a course once, so I asked my instructor for help. They told me that all I had to do was more pushups, and I thought that was that answer for years — until I saw a YouTube video that clearly laid out proper bowdrill technique. I tried that technique and it was much more efficient. Then a lightbulb went off over my head. Technically, both instructors were right: Doing more pushups got me more friction fires, and so did having better technique. Yet only one instructor had me getting coals efficiently.
Be conscious of how you use your resources to achieve your goals. There are multiple paths to success, and you are by no means limited to only one of those paths. If you’re trying to do something over and over again and it’s not working, ask yourself: Should it be this hard? Is there another way to go about this? Have I exhausted this method of approach? Most of all, beware of anything that suggests that the answer is brute force. It’s easier — and more rewarding — to finesse your way through a problem than to force your way through it.
8. PAY ATTENTION TO THE WORLD AROUND YOU
There’s a lot going on in the world right now that can seem negative, so it’s quite understandable when we want to tune it out by putting on our headphones, or turning on our smartphones, or just closing our eyes and catching a few Zs. These are all things we do to regenerate.
Another way to regenerate is to meditate. Meditation is simply the practice of being present in the moment. Your attention can be directed towards yourself or your immediate surroundings.
Here’s a story a friend shared with me about someone who meditated by observing his backyard. This gentleman recorded all the animal and plant species he saw on his property every day for years. When developers came to build nearby one day, he showed them his journals, which essentially documented his area’s rich biodiversity. As a direct result, the developers decided to build elsewhere.
If my friend hadn’t been paying attention to his environment — both the natural and the social one — he wouldn’t have been able to intercede. Maybe he wouldn’t have even noticed the development until the bulldozers showed up.
Be present. Look around. Enjoy this big, beautiful world. Never forget that you are a part of it, and you can make a difference in it. By paying attention, when the unexpected happens, you become an agent of change.
9. “THERE CAN BE NO GROWTH WITHOUT SUFFERING.” –C.S. LEWIS
To grow is to exceed your limits. Therefore, if you want to grow, you need to be willing to go right up to your limits, then past them.
Any emergency situation is going to be challenging, mentally and physically. You may get cold, hungry, or be without water, and you will likely be under a lot of stress. So test your limits. See what your body can tolerate by fasting or taking cold showers, for example. It will be uncomfortable, but the benefits outweigh the discomfort, because the next time you get really hungry or cold, you’ll know you can push through it.
To paraphrase American Ninja Warrior Jessie Graff, when your muscles are burning and you’re feeling super tired, don’t focus on how hard it is; think about how much you’re growing!
10. “BE NOT AFRAID OF GOING SLOWLY. BE AFRAID OF STANDING STILL.” –CHINESE PROVERB
Life is short, folks, and as far as I know, this isn’t a trial run. I love tracking. I love nature. At the end of my life, I might say, “I wish I had spent more time doing what I love” — but if I had never done any of it, I’d be full of regret.
Maybe survival skills aren’t your passion. Maybe they’re something that you know, in the back of your mind, you should get better at, in case you need them someday. That’s how I started! So next time you have a few extra dollars or a bit of spare time, ask what’s more important: practicing survival skills or watching Netflix; a new pair of shoes or an e-course on disaster preparedness? Maybe you can compromise. I watch BBC’s Planet Earth when I feel like I want to connect with nature AND chill out. Score!
Every little bit helps. You don’t have to set aside thousands of dollars, or months and years of your life. Just 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there, and a few bucks when you think of it. I promise you’ll make back what you invest with interest
Combined with the other strategies listed above, I think you’ll find these little progressions really add up.
I would like to thank my editors, Andrea Jacobsen and Eli Fox. Their amazing advice vastly improved this blog.
If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider donating to the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station.
Earth Tracks: www.earthtracks.ca
Canadian Bushcraft: www.canadianbushcraft.ca
Northern Karate Schools: www.northernkarateschools.com
Black Thunder Studios: www.blackthunderstudio.com
Outward Bound: www.outwardbound.org
White Pine Programs: whitepineprograms.org
Practical Primitive’s YouTube Video on proper bowdrill form
The Canadian Canoe Museum: canoemuseum.ca