Archive for the ‘Survival Skills’ Category

About 30 years ago my first serious exposure and training in meditation came from the Native American Shamanic tradition as taught by Tom Brown Jr. in the Tracker School. It was the model that I used when integrating meditation skills into my youth wilderness programs, with about ten groups and one hundred youth having gone through the process. I won’t take time here to outline the original program. If you went through it either with me or at the Tracker School, you know what I’m talking about. Others will be able to follow along without too much difficulty.

Very briefly, The Tracker meditations involved guided meditation that walked down a path, stairs and eventually through an archway to a spiritual domain. The path was the realm of the unconscious mind while the stairs and beyond had a more metaphysical focus. Tom Brown spent little time developing the skills of the path, spending most of his training time on the more spiritual skills. I found that the skills associated with the path were the easiest and most practical skills to teach, so while I still spent a lot of time on the farther reaches, I had a strong interest in developing those of the path. Not only were they more down to earth and less controversial, but they also seemed, to me at least, to form a prerequisite for the more advanced skills. Balance and harmony within one’s own mind might be a necessary foundation before examining the balance and harmony of the rest of existence. Originally you walked along the path encountering a series of clearings or stations, each of which allowed you to exercise a particular skill. Beyond a cursory explanation, I don’t remember any course material that focused on these subconscious skills.

And so in my own research and reading over the years I began to piece together additional exercises and extensions to the existing skills, trying always to remain faithful to the original teachings. From Dan Millman I learned about Huna traditions and the power of the subconscious, which was very consistent with the things Tom Brown taught. From Dr. Hal Stone I learned about Divided Self Theory, which has since been adopted by the American Zen Association as a major focus of meditation. Other people such as Jon Kabat-Zinn and Dr. Dan Siegel extended the value and domain of meditation even further, reaching into an integration with neuro psychology and biology.

And so, after 30 years of working with the original meditations and being afraid to violate their structure, I finally decided that I could alter them to include many of the lessons I’d learned. As I began to do that, I noticed a flow that ran through some of the new skills that I wanted to add. What follows is a description of that new structure and the associated flow.

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The heart of basic meditation is an inner stillness, uncomplicated by thoughts, emotions, judgements and physical sensation. To accomplish this we focus on breath and surrender. One of the first meditation exercises I like to use to introduce the practice is to simply count your breaths in loops of four, exclusively thinking about the counting and nothing else. When other thoughts or feelings arise, you push them aside after acknowledging them. Accept and dismiss. This is the heart of meditation. Later the counting can be replaced just by attention and awareness of breath. Guided visualizations are also used in meditations. The aim when using these is that the act of visualizing something becomes the single focus of attention, replacing breath (although the breath can be returned to at any time in order to reinforce the meditation).

When first entering the meditation I ask subjects to visualize themselves at the beginning of a familiar path, retaining this structure from the original Tracker practice. (A path and a journey is a useful archetype.) The beginning of the path can have two purposes. The first is just the basic grounding of pure meditation and the values that come with it. The second is that it is a place to do the basic meditation based on Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness meditation (the modified version of which I described in the previous entry). The beginning of the path means the journey has not begun and the meditation has not yet been involved with any sort of intention other than to experience the silence of meditation. This silence or pure meditation has its own value, often overlooked or skipped by Shamanic traditions. Never in any of the Tracker classes was this pure meditation either practised or valued. As I state in the previous entry, doing this version of the Wheel of Awareness meditation has its own benefits, and is essential in both deepening the meditative state and forming the mind body integration which will continue to trend through the other stations on the path.

The second purpose that can be employed at the beginning of the path is as a visualization staging area. In order to begin the transition of focus from breath to visualization I will often have them imagine picking up an object and experiencing that object using multiple senses. Not only what it looks like, but what it feels like, its texture and temperature, what it sounds like if you tap it, even what it smells or tastes like, if appropriate. The idea is to engage and strengthen the visualization before heading down the path.

Moving down the path to the first actual station/clearing means leaving the complete silence of the breath oriented focus and introducing some intention into the meditation. It becomes like a lucid dream, still connected to the silence, but also accepting the impulses from the subconscious in a non-judgemental way. That first station is the place of All Personal Memory (again retaining the original structure from the Tracker school). APM can have several roles in meditation. It can be a place where you retell yourself a story of an incident in your life, re-experiencing it in memory but also depicting it in words. This is particularly valuable with an emotional incident that you may have trouble accepting or understanding. By reliving it and retelling it in words, according to Dr. Siegel, it becomes integrated into various parts of the brain’s neurobiology, including the Pre Frontal Cortex, which is the rational part of the brain that makes sense of things. This is not to say that all emotional experiences need to be rationalized or reduced to rational components. What it means is that experiences need to be made available to all parts of the brain in order to best understand and learn from them. Putting the experience into words helps the brain integrate the experience more completely. (And, as I outlined in another previous entry, this is very similar to an exercise that Tom Brown suggested called Tree Preaching).

The second function of this station is a more direct connection with memories and past experiences, allowing you to revisit them and benefit from them. Examples of doing this might involve finding lost items or remembering the particulars of conversations. Using a screen on which to project your memories and thoughts is a good device here, which was used by Fool’s Crow in his shamanic visions.

The central theme of the APM station is the vividness of memories. In order to both elicit and integrate memories it is important for them to be fully vivid and multi-sensory. (In some of the more advanced uses of this station, which I’m still exploring, using it with various NLP techniques will involve the manipulation of the vividness of the memories.) The energy of the vividness of memories is then carried along to the next station on the path.

Moving down the path to the next station or clearing brings you to the place of Body Control. (This is a change from the original setup done for several reasons which will be explained later.) In Body Control, you communicate with your sub-conscious in order to get its assistance in controlling autonomic responses in your body. This can be anything from increasing body temperature and metabolism in the cold, to visualizing yourself as healthy and healed in the case of sickness or injury. I firmly believe that everything from metabolism to immune responses to phobias can be influenced by the conscious mind if it knows how to get the subconscious mind on board.

Effective communication with the subconscious mind rests on proper visualization of the outcome and empowering it with positive emotional intention. That proper visualization rests on the work done with memories in the APM station. To visualize a warm body, for example, you have to have a strong memory of a time when you were warm, drawing that memory forth to use it. When I want to be warmer, I will visualize myself standing beside a campfire or, better yet, slipping into a hot tub. In order for those visualizations to work, it is very helpful to have actually had those experiences and to be able to call on them. Memory facilitates my intended visualization of feeling warm. The skills of APM are an important foundation on which to build the visualizations of BC.

Self Healing, which was a separate station in the Tracker format, is combined with Body Control, which I don’t think Tom Brown would actually be upset with as he’d many times referred to self healing as just a form of body control. It uses the same kind of envisioning and, to my mind, the same level of intentionality.

Farther down the path, we come to the third station/clearing, which I’ve chosen to modify considerably from the original format. For lack of a better name, this is the place of Selves. As memories and intentionality combine, they create patterns of response which create the multiplicity of Selves that often rules our minds. We are not one Self, but many, having a different set of responses, attitudes and values depending on external stimuli. There is a self that tries to be responsible and another that strives to be fun-loving and wild. There is the self that is the parent and another that is the child. There is a self that is confident and another that is a critic. These, in turn, create alliances within our mind to produce Meta-selves. The Selves and the Meta-selves arise in our lives, often automatically, to rule our actions and desires. (This interpretation of mind comes from Dr. Hal Stone and a lot of Ken Wilber’s work, including the Zen applications developed by Genpo Roshi and “Big Mind”. It can also be traced back to the works of Georges Gurjieff and P.D. Ouspensky, who insisted that man was a mechanical manifestation of multiple selves way back in the beginning of the 20th Century.)

The station of Selves offers a lot of opportunities to work with these selves. By using techniques pioneered by Dr. Stone in embodying isolated selves, and learning to use them within a meditation, one can have a board meeting of selves, to discuss events or plans from multiple perspectives. One can have a conversation between one’s own Child Self and Adult Self, or between a Critical Self and a Confident Self. Just recognizing that they exist within a broader framework is often enough to create a better perspective on things. This is very similar to those old visuals of the angel sitting on a person’s right shoulder and the devil on their left shoulder, but this is more specific and individual. I have many times identified an emotional reaction to a situation as my Child Self sulking, thereby allowing me to address and hopefully resolve the situation. You can do this at a boardroom table or a court room or whatever other method of dialogue works for you.

Two additional Selves are important within this station. One is Primal Self, which was jumped over earlier on the path. Primal Self is the animalistic, lower brain function, unencumbered by higher reason. It is the one you want to bring forth when there is an emergency survival situation, or you have to build a shelter in record time, or you have to carry a person to safety even if you feel physically unable to. I like to empower the Primal Self with an animal totem (or several). Moving and reacting the way a majestic animal would can help you connect with the primal powers of your mind, which are still very much present even though we keep them chained up much of the time. Unleashing Primal Self becomes a conscious decision when it is done in this way, although Primal Self can also emerge when someone is drunk or angry, unwanted and uncontrolled. Learning to bring it forth consciously will make it much less likely to pop up in unwanted or random situations, as you learn to develop a positive relationship with it.

The other facet of this station is the Shadow Selves. One of the most important components of mindfulness and mental awareness fostered by meditation is an awareness of Shadow Selves. These are the repressed and buried selves collected through life that linger and fester within the mind, waiting for the time that it can slip in and cause trouble. When you are dealing with a situation and suddenly have an intense emotional reaction against a decision or a person, a reaction that seems disproportional to the situation an which you can’t quite figure where it came from, that is very often a Shadow trying to break out of its confines. If you do something irresponsible, out of context with your normal personality, and you are confused as to how it happened, that’s a Shadow. When you should be able to make a relationship work, but keep finding ways to sabotage it (or feel that the other person is sabotaging it), the Shadow may be putting in an appearance.

This is a huge and important area of work, pioneered by Carl Jung but brought into its own in Divided Self Theory and also in Ken Wilber’s work. There’s a lot more to be said about it than I can easily include here. But this station of Selves is definitely the right place to do a lot of the work. Shadows need to be confronted, accepted and reintegrated into the mind’s consciousness. A person who goes out and gets into trouble at wild parties may be dealing with a repressed “Wild Self” that wants to have fun, but is constantly kept in check by a more conservative or sedate set of Selves. Figuring that out, and thinking of ways for the Wild Self to manifest itself in ways that are acceptable to all or at least most of the Meta-Selves is something that can happen within a meditation.


These are the new stations on the path that I am currently using in meditation training. I like the way that it flows, with each station resting on skills practiced in the previous one. I like its richness and its ability to connect with real life problems and situations. I like that it also connects with modern neurological and brain research. It provides a whole arsenal of tools to use balancing the mind and reconnecting with all aspects of mind body and spirit. I see it as an essential prerequisite to the more spiritual tools and skills that can be found on the stairs and beyond. So many of those skills depend on Inner Vision and the kind of deep intuition which can only be found in the harmonious mind. Dan Millman and the Huna tradition actually say that one can only access the Higher Selves through the Subconscious. The Higher Selves don’t respond well to the Logical Mind. That’s an embedded part of the Tracker meditation training as well.

The final thing that I like about it is that it takes the woo factor out of meditation. Spiritual skills are controversial and often rub people the wrong way. These skills are very grounded and scientifically based. They shouldn’t grate against the rationalist or the religious. It gives skeptics a chance to familiarize themselves with meditation before approaching more controversial exercises, -if they ever do. And if they don’t, well they have still accomplished some very important things at this level.

This is the first of two entries in which I will attempt to revise some of the meditation exercises that I’ve been teaching for the past 20 years or so, which were originally based on the teachings contained in Tom Brown Jr’s Tracker Philosophy courses.

A major part of the revision comes from the neuropsychology work of Dr. Dan Siegel, and I would like to start here by examining his Wheel of Awareness exercise.

When I first read about it, I felt that it would be valuable addition to the Tracker “Path” meditations (which I will explain more in the second entry). However, after attempting to use and teach it I came to the realization that, while it is a great exercise, the perspective it uses would benefit from a little tweaking.

Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness exercise has you meditate from a calm, peaceful centre, which he regards as the hub of a wheel, and then focus outward to senses, thoughts, emotions and interconnectedness on the rim of the wheel. Personally, I found this very difficult due to the fact that the conscious intention of focusing outward to specific stimuli interfered with the openness of the meditation. It was too much thinking. And yet, I knew that within the exercise was a very valuable lesson.

So I tried flipping it inside out. Meaning that instead of going from the hub to the rim with an active intention of identifying distractions in different categories, I allowed the distraction to come from the rim to the hub. Instead of looking for particular distractions to your calm centre by cycling through the various categories as Siegel’s exercise suggests, I just stayed in the silence and acknowledged the distractions as they arose on their own, calmly recognizing each for what “type” they were, -emotional, thinking, sensory-, before accepting them and then dismissing them. I know that this is really just a description of a classic meditation technique, but it has the slight twist of acknowledging the distracting impulses as coming from a particular place of origin, whether it be a physical or emotional irritation, or just a stray memory. That’s important in that it plays to the neurological integration goal that Siegel intends for his exercise. While this is definitely meant to be a meditation exercise (or “mindfulness” as it has been rebranded in the past while), the explicit goal is to encourage neural integration and plasticity. That’s just a scientific way of saying that the goal is to get in touch with all parts of your mind and body. The activity builds links which eventually allows for more awareness and more self control.

So, to summarize the new exercise, I begin with the standard “breath to surrender”, which is basically centering on awareness of your breath as the single focus of your awareness to the exclusion of all other distractions. This centering on breath is a trigger that has been established in prior exercises linking breath to deep states of relaxation. Of course, unless you are highly proficient in meditation, that focus on breath is going to be interrupted by various distractions. As the itch or the distant sound or the memory of an argument pop up, I briefly recognize them as coming from my senses or my body or my emotions or my mind’s activity. In a sense, I’m recognizing from which part of Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness the impulse or distraction has arisen. Then I let it go and return to the silence and focus on the breath. And I do this for all of the distractions as they arise, allowing them to arise on their own rather than trying to go and look for them. I recognize them, dismiss them and consciously return to the quiet of my breath, over and over again.

In doing this I not only strengthen the various benefits of meditation such as building powers of concentration and learning how to calm my mind, but I also become acquainted with that mind and the facets that are constantly striving for attention and dominance. I get the benefits of the meditation and I also become more connected to the fact that I have a body, a mind, emotional impulses and interpersonal concerns. The package gets tied up with a nice bow of mindfulness, which leads to a more mindful, aware self.



In my attempt to look at realistic crisis scenarios which our society could face, some kind of pandemic has always been at the top of my list. With all of the new concern about the spread of Ebola in Western Africa and its recent migration to N. America, I think that this situation needs some specific examination.
Our medical system should be able to take care of any Ebola crisis which may arise. But that’s like saying that our nuclear scientists are capable of taking care of any crisis involving a nuclear power plant. And I give you Three Mile Island as the warning for taking a statement like that too confidently. Our science is capable of doing a lot of things, however human nature and fallibility is still a very strong factor.
I have two concerns about Ebola in North America.

1. Ebola does have a more restricted contagion level as it is only spread by direct contact with bodily fluids. Given that, it is more contagious than AIDS and about on a par with Mononucleosis. (It is more contagious than AIDS because it can be found in bodily fluids other than blood and semen, like saliva, and also because it can sustain itself outside of the body on a physical object far longer than can AIDS.) Given that it is about as contagious as Mono, one might think it relatively safe. After all, as one friend stated, it’s not hard to avoid “making out” with an Ebola patient. Except that we all know that Mono’s distinction as the “kissing disease” is not really accurate. I’ve known many people with Mono, and intimate contact was not how they were exposed. It was more from sneezing or drinking from the same glass. (The reason teenagers are more likely to get Mono is not because they are more indiscriminately intimate, but because their bodies are more susceptible.) Not only that, but medical research shows that 95% of the population tests positive for the Mono virus, but only a small number succumb to Infectious Mononucleosis. So we’ve all been infected by it.
If Ebola is on a par with Mono, then I don’t have much confidence in statements that its contagion level is below a level worth worrying about. As addition proof of this concern, we have the cases in Africa of two doctors and most recently a news camera man who have contracted the disease. All of these people are very likely to have taken all reasonable precautions to protect themselves from infection, and still they contracted the disease.
If this disease ever escaped into an urban setting, attempts to control it would be far superior to what is happening in Africa, but would it be enough.

2. Add to this the sheer incompetence of the hospital that turned away the first America Ebola case, and of the CDC who left an infected room and a possibly infected family unattended for days, until the media finally forced them to do something about it. While we like to think of our emergency response system as being “state of the art”, the sad truth is that it falls quite short. Just look at FEMA. Human ineptitude seems rampant. I’d like to think we’d do better in Canada, -and the SARS response suggests that we would-, but I think I have good reason to be skeptical. Once this epidemic has a foothold, it will be a monumental task to control it.

And so what happens if the proverbial shit hits the fan? Here are the potential consequences, as I see them.

First, there will be a fear of any sort of congregation, which may effect parents willing to send their kids to school, people willing to go shopping and many other things. Stock up on food, water and medications, and make some appropriate plans and arrangements. The situation may develop to a point that you want to isolate yourself.

Second, services may be disrupted. If there is a priority of dealing with an epidemic, hospitals, police and other services will be maxed out. This may lead to some social unrest, to say the least. Deliveries of food and other goods may be interrupted, causing shortages. When there are shortages, and when police services may be preoccupied, there are always people who will want to solve their own problems by giving you problems.

Third, all of this can’t happen without there being an impact on our already delicate economic and financial system. At its worst it is the kind of thing that could easily result in another recession.

Hopefully our society is up to the task of controlling and/or dealing with what is now a clear and present danger. But, as I’ve said before, some prudent and realistic preparation is a good idea.

***And nobody has yet addressed the idea that it is only a matter of time before terrorists see that biological weapons are a lot easier to utilize than explosives. A deliberate ”suicide infector” who purposely evades the safeguards on airlines and airports, would be able to infiltrate our society and possibly contaminate many people. I have no doubt that this will become a problem.

Water, as a useful metaphor for the journey of life, has been an idea I’ve been attracted to and thinking about since my teenage years. (Which would be about 40 years ago.) From my earliest days of interest in Taoism (more a philosophy than a religion) water obviously played a central role. In fact, the title of one of Alan Watts’ books is Tao, The Watercourse Way. As Lao Tzu says, Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.” In my initial courses in meditation and Native American philosophy with the Tracker School, water, comparing the clarity of a lake with the clarity of thoughts, became a central image. Later, as I became proficient in flat and whitewater canoeing, leading youth groups on wilderness expeditions, the dynamics of water made a further impression on me. I will explain all of this in more detail later, but I begin with it in order to elucidate why the Siegel metaphor that I’m going to start with had such an immediate impact on me.

Daniel J. Siegel has published a series of books in the past decade which examine brain development and neuroplasticity, especially as it pertains to developmental psychology. I came across the books in my recent research on brain development and its implications to education, and found them to be central to the thesis that I was pursuing.   In The Whole-Brain Child, by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, they put forward a metaphor for brain activity.

They begin by outlining the various levels of the brain, such as the more primitive parts of the brain responsible for things like intuition and emotion, and the more advanced parts of the brain responsible for such things as decisions, abstract thought and self control. The primitive part often manifests as more impulsive, intuitive and pleasure related urges, while the more advanced brain reflects on self control, moderation and long term consequences. Looked at this way, one can easily see that this is the battleground of the adolescent. There is the desire to experience new things and have fun, countered by the need to make practical decisions, be rational, and show self control. Each originates and is associated with different parts of the brain, with the more developed part, more often than not, undergoing renovations during adolescence. In counselling youth it is all too easy to emphasize the rational part (as it is the weaker link) and neglect to take into consideration the more primitive part. In my opinion, falling into that trap is one of the reasons why adult advice to teenagers is often regarded by them as rather shallow. One of the central themes of Siegel’s book Brainstorm, primarily about adolescent brain development, is that all parts of the brain need to be respected and that adolescent development is as much about creating a relationship with the vitality of living as it is with reason and self control.

The Siegel river analogy has you cruising down the centre of a river, in a state of balance and awareness. “…you feel like you’re in the water, peacefully floating along in your canoe, you feel like you’re generally in a good relationship with the world around you.” On one side of you are rapids, faster water and lack of control. On the other side are shallows, calm water and low lying tree branches, logs, deadheads, etc. Siegel characterizes one as “CHAOS” and the other as “RIGIDITY” although I like the term STAGNATION better. One is out of control, while the other is too much control. The more your course strays to either side of the river, the more extreme the conditions become. Both sides have obstacles and are potentially dangerous.

Looking at it from a subjective perspective (UL Quad, for Integral Theorists), the message is to balance the excitement, fun and new experiences with self control, awareness and a longer term view. Too much of either becomes a problem, as I’ll point out below. Looking at it from an objective perspective (UR Quad), it becomes a balance between the primitive and the developed parts of the brain, -emotional impulsiveness juxtaposed with the rational and aware-, and with balance being achieved through the integration of neural pathways within the brain various compartments by the hippocampus. The more these compartments can talk to each other, the better the harmony and balance will be.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of each side of the river in this analogy.

The CHAOS side has fast flowing water and rapids strewn with rocks. It is exciting (as anyone who’s done whitewater canoeing can testify) and challenging. It can be very fun if done right, and there is an atmosphere of the adventurous and the exotic in it. There is a danger of getting hung up on one of the rocks or capsizing in the rapids, though. This could stop or derail your progress, and the danger of injury or even death is very real.

This would correspond in real life to making impulsive and dangerous decisions. Driving too fast, doing drugs irresponsibly, risky sex, even over-partying to the point where it impedes any other progress in life. (The first examples would be akin to capsizing the canoe, while the last would be getting hung up on a rock.)

On the other hand, I want to go beyond the comparison presented by Siegel, into the greater richness of this analogy. Those of us who have done whitewater, along, I’m sure, with everyone from skateboarders to rock climbers, know the value of extreme sports. The challenge and the rush can be an important component in evolving self esteem, personal development and just plain fun. It involves a sense of vitality to add meaning to life (if you don’t progress to the point of becoming an adrenaline junkie). Playing in the rapids can be a productive and an invigorating thing. But you have to know how.

I’ve sat many times beside a fast river, reading the rapids, trying to understand the dynamics of the forces involved in the flow of the water. When canoeing through them, I realize that you can’t fight the forces of the river; you have to merge with them, understanding their power and how you can use that power to reach your own goal. When ferrying across a current, a minimum of paddle power is required and the river does most of the work. When entering and resting in an eddy, the river’s force can rage around you, and you know that your eddy is an island of calm. The river holds you in it. When reading the river, tell-tale signs on the surface reveal to you where the dangerous rocks are, hidden beneath that surface, unnoticed by the untrained eye. You understand the necessity of making a wide detour around fallen trees, knowing that they are death traps. If you have the skill and awareness, you can navigate or even frolic in the rapids. Without that skill and knowledge, you’re at the mercy of the river’s chaos, and that can be disastrous.


It is the same with our journey through life. There is nothing inherently wrong with the chaos. It is there for many reasons. One can party. One can imbibe in the pleasures of life. One can even have an evening of relative abandon, just having a great time, experiencing the vitality of existence. But if it is done without the proper awareness or skill in negotiating the pitfalls of life, it can be disastrous. When people make mistakes in rapids, sometimes you just get wet and get flushed out the bottom. Sometimes the canoe becomes damaged or destroyed. Sometimes people die. Sometimes that happens even when people are skilled and aware. But it certainly is more likely if approached without the proper preparation or attitude. To get those skills in life allowing you to take advantage of the chaos means becoming more self confident, aware and knowledgeable. Mistakes made with awareness can hurt, but are instructional in the long run. In the objective, brain terms that Siegel likes to use, that means being more integrated in the connections between the various parts of the brain, valuing not only the rational cortex, but extending that awareness to all parts.

The converse of all of this is to stray too far to other side, the side of shallows and stagnation. When approaching a bend in a river the canoeist knows to avoid the inside of the bend. Water travels more slowly there allowing the build up of sediment, and the river tends to have sand shoals and debris that will hinder the canoe. It is not exactly dangerous, but it is frustrating, time consuming and sedentary. Without challenge and without forward momentum, there is a tendency to move towards stagnation.

In living this happens when we approach life too cautiously, with too much control and too little risk taking. It can be a life of inertia, or rigidity.

And yet, again, there are times that tranquility in life is highly desirable. If the canoeist wants to stop for a leisurely lunch, or just to bask in the sun, one pulls over to the shallows for a rest. Sometimes you need to just lie on the beach, or just waste away an afternoon in pleasant idleness. And, again, perspective and awareness allows you to avoid lingering in stagnation for too long, becoming comfortably numb in your inactivity. It prevents you from doing the same ineffective strategies over and over again.



The key is that one navigates the river deliberately and with awareness. Being swept into the rapids or shallows unawares is not the same as approaching each with will and skill. And yet that deliberate approach does not mean that one fights the river. By understanding the river, one can drift through it in an enlightened way, allowing the power of the river to both take you where you want, and, to a degree, where it wants. Because one may use an eddy or a shallows to rest, the river decides where that point will be. You can utilize it, but you can’t change it. You can navigate through various options and courses, but you can’t change where those options are. You can decide how long to linger, or whether to bypass it, but the river holds the final say in much of it.

The problem is, of course, that part of the adolescent experience is that they automatically believe that they poses that awareness and skill, whether they do or not. The answer to that dilemma is obvious. Give them that awareness and skill as part of their education, at least to the best of our ability. There should be a pervasive initiative to involve the development of these life skills as part of education from grade 6 and up, with a particular emphasis on grades 7 – 9, where the neurological development is greatest. Decisions and behavioral patterns made in those years (and, to a lesser degree, for the next decade of life) influence the hard wiring of the brain and can establish a foundation that lasts a lifetime. The content and nature of such an educational initiative is a topic that I’ll discuss in subsequent writing.

In the end there is a magical interaction between your will and the will of the river. You learn to trust the river, yielding to its power while at the same time negotiating with it to reach your own goals. From this relationship we can learn a great deal about how to navigate the journey of our own lives.

And there are other ways in which identifying with water can be valuable. Becoming the water in the river is the next step, eliminating the duality between the canoe and the water. Lakes have much to teach as well. Like ourselves, the lake has surface and depth. A calm surface reflects reality accurately, but a stormy, agitated surface distorts it. Although a storm on a lake can be breathtaking in its power and beauty. But these are topics for another day.

[These are stock photos, not ones I have taken.]

I don’t really consider myself a Survivalist or Prepper or someone who dwells on doom and gloom predictions, although not everyone acquainted with me would probably agree. I don’t subscribe to any popular scripts about Armageddon. I was a little cautious around 2012, but that was more because of the work of Graham Hancock (who inspired the movie 2012) rather than it was any Mayan prophesies. (Like many similar studies, while it probably has a lot of wrong conclusions in it, Hancock’s book, Fingerprints of the Gods, asks a lot of very fascinating questions.) The individual who taught me most of my survival skills over the past three decades has taken to some very gloomy predictions and warnings on his site in the past two years and, while I respect what he’s trying to do, I have a hard time buying into his message of fear.

And yet the central focus of what I teach my youth groups is wilderness survival. Not only is it an excellent catalyst for teaching self reliance and awareness, but I do truly believe that it could be valuable information. While I’m still making plans for my own future, one year or ten years from now, confident that I’ll be able to enact them, I also believe that it is prudent and wise to see the current state of the Earth as being “at risk” and fragile, and that to not prepare for possible and, in some cases, probable eventualities would amount to hiding one’s head in the sand. The fragile situation in which the Earth finds itself is accelerating and there are some undeniable problems that will challenge the immediate and long term future.

When I say accelerating, I’m often confronted by people who claim that things are no worse off now than they’ve always been. The fault, they often say, is that of the media, hyping world problems and shedding more light on things that have always been there. I don’t agree. I think the most obvious example of the falsehood of this argument can be seen in Climate Change, where this argument is often inaccurately used. Climate Change deniers are fond of saying that the fluctuations that we are seeing in carbon dioxide levels and subsequent warming have been evident throughout history and are nothing new. That has been soundly disproven, and it is now commonly held by scientists that the changes we are seeing as a result of carbon dioxide emissions is not only worse than historical fluctuations, but are likely going to get much more serious.

And it is not only Climate Change. Increased population, and both its demands on the environment and the increased density of people, has an undeniable impact on many challenges we are facing. The threat of a pandemic is one that is increasing due to population and greater facility in travel. Pollution is definitely not on the decrease, and is a cumulative problem, especially if you include more serious types of pollution such as the Fukushima disaster. Like errors in a computer operating system, so many of the problems we’re currently facing are cumulative, going undetected and progressing towards a possible system crash. It could happen today; it could happen in 20 years; with any luck our scientific achievements and our development as a species will continue to outpace disaster and it could never happen.

Some of the world’s current greatest thinkers see it as a race between the triumph of our technology and social progress, and an event or series of events that will cripple us. Noam Chomsky is not the most optimistic person about our future survival. Ray Kurzweil says that our future is going to be amazing, assuming that we don’t destroy or cripple ourselves in the next 20 years. Ken Wilber often points to the fact that most futurists strongly believe that there will be a terrorist nuclear attack on North American soil some time in the next decade.  David Suzuki has basically thrown in the towel.

So what are the most likely events that could put us in a survival position?

#1) The most likely threat to our social integrity is not any particular even, but rather the consequences of one of many events. It would not take much to destabilize our social services, again, very much because of its fragility. Any interruption of services, electrical, medical, police and firefighters, would be disastrous, -especially in urban areas. And then those urban areas would fan out to the suburban areas and cause chaos. Whether it be caused by a pandemic or an EMP, if the social structure were to break down, if we were to be thrown into a major recession or depression, if gasoline became unavailable and food was not delivered to the supermarkets, we’d be in deep trouble. Hopefully something like that would only last a short time, but it could feasibly last for months and even years.

#2) A pandemic is a contagious disease which spreads throughout the world and has significant medical consequences. The last one was in 1918, the Spanish Flu, which infected 500 million people and had a 10% – 20% fatality rate. This was, by the way, when world travel was much less of a factor than it is now.
Currently we have an Ebola scare, which is not likely to turn into a pandemic, although it is not as impossible as the authorities would like you to believe. The truth is that Ebola is about as contagious as Mono, and we’ve all known people who have caught Mono. …And diseases mutate, sometimes naturally and sometimes by human hand, like the case several years ago where an airborne version of an influenza virus was genetically engineered by European scientists.
Most medical scientists believe that there is a 100% chance that there will be a major pandemic in the next 50 years. Again, increased population, crowding, health care cuts, and certainly airline travel have all mitigated the cumulative risk. Even if the pandemic is restricted to a portion of the population, it will be enough to trigger that social instability I mentioned in point #1.

#3) When you understand how weapons technology is evolving, it becomes much easier to accept the fact that a terrorist nuclear strike in a North American city is highly possible. Whether it be an actual nuclear explosion, a simple dirty bomb, or an EMP event, any terrorist attack of this nature would, again, cause a massive destabilization of the economy and social integrity. A recent CBS report stated, “Various experts estimate the chances of a nuclear detonation in the next 10 years at somewhere between 10 and 30 percent.” Smuggling through a nuclear, not to mention a biological, weapon is getting easier and easier. People have mini-genetics labs in their cupboards.
This is very much a product of technology, -that science wonder that we’re hoping will save us-, outstripping the social restraint and restriction we’re capable of putting on it. Take, for example, the use of highly technical missiles by drunken rebels to shoot an airliner down in Ukraine. Ooops.

#4) Our food supply is a paradox. In our need to produce food for an ever increasing population, we’ve resorted to modifying crops and livestock in order to increase efficiency. Without that increased efficiency we would possibly have a food shortage. (I know there are lots of debates about what “could” be if we tackled our food problem in a different way, but I’m talking here about what “is”.) The result is that we’ve essentially gutted the bio-diversity of the plants and animals that make up our agriculture. While there were once dozens of types of corn or grains, now we’ve reduced it to a handful, most of them highly bred or even genetically modified. Now, I don’t want to get into a GMO debate here. But the fact is that we’ve narrowed the general biodiversity. One catastrophic even could have a serious impact on our cattle, our wheat, or just about anything. I’ve been unable to find the reference for it, but I recall one interview with David Suzuki about 15 years ago or more where he told the story of a lab almost releasing a strain of wheat accidently which would have cross pollinated and seriously depleted our wheat crops with disastrous results. (While Suzuki has made some unfortunate statements lately on some scientific topics, genetics is his field and I’m inclined to give his statements on that topic a lot of weight.) I’ve used the word “fragile” above, but nowhere is it more true than when talking about our ability to produce food.
And that is just the beginning of the food paradox. We’ve created a system which requires massive transportation of food, without which many areas would be very hard pressed to survive. If regular deliveries were suspended, how long would the food in the supermarket last? I’ve seen answers of anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks, probably depending on how much people panic and stock up.

#5) Water is one of the most important things you need in order to survive. In a survival scenario it is the number two priority, and only because freezing to death is faster than dying of thirst. I became concerned with water availability when I saw the recent crisis that they had in Dayton, where algae blooms released a chemical toxin into L. Erie, which then got into the water supply. The thing that made this crisis different was that, as a chemical toxin, the problem couldn’t be solved either by boiling or by filtration. Neither removes a dissolved chemical (unless it is a better than average filtering system.) Similarly, water filtration plants would have to be overhauled if they were to treat this kind of water pollution. That’s not likely to happen, and even if it does, it has been shown that this kind of advanced filtration on a city scale is prone to breakdown.

The headlines that talk about crisis in the parts of the world are important, and can ricochet back to us indirectly, but the main things that cause our Earth to be fragile are much more mundane. People take out life insurance understanding that there might be personal challenges and tragedies; however there can also be global or societal challenges and tragedies. Preparing for these kinds of calamities might involve having a few cases of bottled water, an alternate source of heat and enough food for a week or so. However, if the problem escalates to the next level, are you prepared for a month or even a year of hardship?

And are you ready to protect what you may have prepared from people who might want to take it away from you? Even if one person out of a hundred is willing to assault or kill you in order to feed their own family, …that’s a lot of people. To use a nerdy reference, in The Walking Dead TV show, it’s not the zombies that tend to be the problem.

O.K. So you might disagree with my original statement that I’m not a “Prepper” or survivalist. But I don’t see myself any different from the person who takes out life insurance. In fact I might see my decisions as even a little more practical. You hope and work for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Winter Survival Shelter

Posted: February 17, 2014 in Survival Skills

The Snow Coffin is superior to the Quinzee as it is safer, easier to build and more efficient at keeping you warm.  An article I wrote about it can be found HERE.

Last weekend we had the perfect conditions.