How to be Resilient in an Uncertain Future, Nature Teaches Us
A lot of comments and emails came in after my last post, "Are You Resilient as You Think? - Are You Sure?" It seemed many people could relate to feeling "too busy" and this being a hindrance to their personal resiliency and capacity.
Many shared reflections on what they believe "developing resiliency looks like."
A few common themes were;
- Mental toughness and capacity
- Taking time to reflect deeply,
- Tending relationships with self, community, the land, and a sense of spirit,
- Getting enough rest,
- Having margin in your life to adapt to the unexpected,
- Being able to make informed decisions based on all the above being in place and tended.
It is pretty compelling how many of the traits people shared in the comments are naturally cultivated in the wildness. Nature is one of our greatest allies and teachers in this wild and changing world.
This past week I headed off-grid into the wilderness for a seven-day expedition.
The week started by loading all our gear into a canoe and paddling downriver to a tiny off-grid cabin.
We were surrounded by thousands of acres of crown forest (not in a park) and thus not likely to cross paths with anyone else (safety net one removed). No road access (safety net two removed), no running water, no computers, no email or social media.
For five of the seven days, I left the cabin in the dark and headed off to watch the sunrise. Thirteen hours a day outside, observing the subtle intricacies of the weather, otters, beavers, bobcats, deer, moose, and many species of birds as they go about their days.
Spending extended time observing nature helps cultivate valuable and essential traits that can help us in a changing climate and world. Ones that are transferable to all aspects of our modern life and are very useful when times get tough;
- Developing focus for extended periods of time, (in a world where ADHD is an epidemic.
- Learning by observing, asking YOURSELF questions, and trying to solve them, as opposed to being taught or searching it on Google.
- Sitting still with a calm and present mind (in a world where anxiety is also an epidemic).
- Understanding what normal climate, weather, or natural patterns is and what is not.
On day five of our trip, nature mentored me in some other very important skill sets.
We headed out as group early in the afternoon with a plan to spread out but travel in the same direction. We would slowly stalk into the wind (to mask our scent) with the hopes of seeing some moose.
An hour into the stalk my friend came across some tracks. We convened for a few minutes to discuss them.
Yep, definitely a moose, there appeared to be two traveling together. The tracks looked fresh, but how fresh? An hour? A day? Our best guess was it was made in the past 24 hrs and that we should pursue it a little longer.
Pretty quickly we realized the moose were quite close as the tracks showed the moose were starting to speed up. We were now a long ways from the cabin and hiking across a dense patch of rolling woods that I had never traveled before.
We decided one of us would stay on the tracks while the other two would flank way out to the sides.
I started making my way to the east; the woods were dense, I could only see about 20 feet ahead of me in most places. I made my way up onto a rocky oak ridge. There were signs of Moose and Deer bedding up here in the afternoon sun and feeding on the acorns.
After a while of walking, I started to cut back to the north-west to try and get sight of my friends. I did not know whether I was ahead or behind them at this point. The rocky ridge may have taken me further away then I planned. It was also overcast, and I did not have the sun to use for telling direction.
I stopped and listened for a few moments, not a sound. I then went to pull out my map and compass only to learn that my compass had stopped working, great timing (sarcasm).
Here is where nature become a great mentor in resiliency, mental capacity, and the unique survival skills we hold as a species.
My first reaction was my heart speeding up a bit and a few questions coming to my mind;
- Which way is north?
- Do I know exactly where I am? I have an idea when looking at the map, but how sure am I?
- Could I find my way back to the cabin from here?
- If I got lost, could I make it through the night on my own, it would likely drop down to about -2 Celsius.
I felt confident if I headed for the cabin I would find it relatively easy before dark. If I did this, I would be abandoning my friends out of fear of getting lost.
I was out here to push my skills; I had a backpack with some basic gear so I was also confident if I did get lost I could spend the night. I also really wanted to see a moose and keep exploring this new territory.
How often in life do questions like this come up?
Maybe not precisely about moose and finding your way out of the woods, but about a crossroads where the path is not clear? Fear and anxiety have the potential to take over in these situations.
Nature challenged me to overcome my fear and anxiety and push my edges.
I sat for a few minutes, had a rest, drank some water, and made an "informed decision." I'm going to try and find my friends, except now the stakes, are a little higher. I chose to do this knowing I had the experience, skills, and gear to keep going and keep learning, but I had to use them all as the stakes were real.
I could not have paid for a workshop or watched a YouTube video that could have taught resiliency it in a better way.
A favorite quote of a past mentor of mine, Tom Brown Jr, is, "real consequences create real results."
The reality of our changing world is that we don't know what is around the next corner. We may face real challenges with real consequences. We may not have a choice as to whether we keep moving forward as I did on that cold fall day.
So how do we set ourselves up for success and build REAL resiliency for REAL LIFE possibilities if we don't push our edges in more controlled environments?
Deep reflection, mental toughness, relationship building with myself, the land and friends, calming my mind under stress, making informed decisions, it was all in there.
A few of the other pieces that supported this amazing learning experience were things I have learned from past wilderness expeditions;
- Being comfortable in my head and by myself,
- Knowing I had skills to navigate the unknown,
- Having "margins" in my day, meaning if I did not have to be at a particular place at a specific time.
I could have spent the night or two in the woods if I needed too. This calmed a lot of fear and allowed me to keep pushing edges and learning.
These allowed me to "adjust to change" and "recover from adversity" (the definition of resiliency), or at least what my mind could have turned into adversity if I did not have the mental and physical capacity to cope.
I'm back on my computer again. I have timelines to meet. My margins are thinner now, but these profound lessons from nature grow stronger and feel incredibly relevant in our Changing World.
If you are not experienced in the woods, I certainly do NOT encourage you to put yourself in a similar position in the wilderness.
What I hope you do is;
- 1) Consciously subject yourself to some degree of controlled risk or the unknown to build the capacity to navigate real risk.
2) Spend extended periods of time out in nature and use it as a guide and mentor in survival, personal growth, mental and physical capacity building as well as peace of mind, confidence, fulfillment, and enjoyment.
When was the last time you separated yourself (if even a little) from some of the comforts and safety nets of day to day life?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below on lessons in resiliency you have experienced from nature or what edge you are going to push next.
And if you have not read the first post, "Are You as Resilient as You Think - Are You Sure" - Click Here -
Let's stay positive, proactive and prepared as the world changes.
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