What does it mean to Survive?
From a recent “Survivor” experience in Sweden I remember a few key quotes:
“To just stop and listen to an Eagle is something I never even knew was a thing to do”
“When I hear someone laugh, I know that everything will be ok, and not just ok, but good”
“I find myself realising I can do so much – not with what I have, but with the people around me”
“When we live in this way we are not separate, we are a family”
So… compared to populist media concepts currently flooding our TVs, following a recent experience as an “expedition leader” in the wilds of Sweden, and the above quotes from team members, I am confident that real “surviving” is something quite different.
“Surviving” should really be re-termed – “living” or “learning” or “being” or even “assimilating with your environment”. Only that doesn’t sound so cool, or so epic, so the world goes with the term “Survive”, or “Survivor”.
Don’t get me wrong. As a team (ages 15-35) we arrived in the Swedish woods with the basic gear we had on our backs, including a few tarps and some sleeping gear each (including bivvy bags), and that was that. We were ready for a back-to-basics challenge which would only get more paired back as we learned more skills. Arriving in the wilderness, we were ready to make fire, hunt animals and just about get by. Imagine our surprise then, at beginning the journey with a mindfulness exercise to bring us closer to the environment in which we were about to live!
It set the tone for the week ahead. As the team learned their skills bit by bit; making fire through friction, shelter building, foraging, fishing, trapping and camp craft they developed the physical capability to “survive”. However it was the development of understanding, of a relationship with the environment, and with each other, which proved the key element of going beyond mere “survival” and beginning to thrive.
The team regularly reflected on what the world they were a part of provided them with to feel a sense of having “enough”; Fish, branches for mattresses to keep them warm, sun for warmth, wood for staying dry in a shelter. They also shared their experience of others around them, and the value they brought to the common experience; kindness, selflessness, energy during crucial down times for others, and a commitment to a cause bigger than themselves. They chose to engage.
By actively processing this awareness the Team were subconsciously preparing themselves for the 24hr Challenge that would be the culmination of their week in the woods. The challenge involved moving to, and setting up a new camp, and the whole team providing themselves with shelter, food, fire, water, and a sense of belonging. Our “guides” stepped back and allowed it to happen. The team triumphed in their skills, and provision of each other’s basic needs – but they also revelled in the experience, and this was all due to their ability to connect with the world they were living WITH, and the experience of those around them, as well as themselves. The awareness developed throughout the week enabled them to support each other, learn from each other, work hard, and still enjoy time by the fire connecting with the holistic experience.
So when someone asks me now, “what does it mean to Survive?” a small part of me still thinks of the skills you need a few of to get by; But when I think about the real meaning of the term, I think of the human and environmental connection required for credible awareness and human experience. To truly survive, it is not enough to consider the “self”. Humans require connection, and fostering this connection enables real survival.
In an increasingly individualistic world we would do well to remember this. Humans require connection, a sense of belonging, and a mutual belief in others ability to choose to engage.