Guest Blog: 4 Reasons to Go Wild This Year
It's a new year! We’ve survived another circuit round the sun and it’s a time to reflect on the past and make resolutions for the future. For this coming year I want to encourage people to practice wilderness living skills, or at least spend more time out in nature.
For me, “Wilderness living skills” includes: Bushcraft, Survival or any practice that involves living away from civilisation using resources from nature, and just with the basic equipment you can carry.
Besides the practical survival applications and the fact that I think it’s good fun, these skills provide me with a deeper sense of meaning, especially when spending nights alone in the wild with little/basic equipment. I see the solo journey into the wild as a metaphor for life and an exercise to better understand ourselves. It is an opportunity to cut out the distractions of modern society, delve into the inner workings of your mind and gain insight on what humans have evolved to be.
From promoting mental and physical health to training in gratitude and resilience - things applicable to everyday life - I believe everyone can benefit from learning the survival skills of our ancestors and spending quality time in nature. My four reasons to practice wilderness living skills are outlined below, and even if “survival” isn't your thing, if you spend any significant time in wild places then I hope you can relate to some of my feelings in this article. If you are new to the outdoors, then I hope it inspires you to get out there and experience it for yourself.
Watch my video, and then read on below!
1. Life in one Backpack – the beauty of simplicity
“It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.” - Bruce Lee
Our consumerist culture has brought us more comfort and convenience than ever before, but at an extreme environmental cost. With all the sustainability issues the human race now faces, it begs the question “how much stuff do we actually need? Do all our belongings set us free or imprison us?” For me, one of the most satisfying things about wild camping is learning to live with what you can comfortably carry on your back; it’s about stripping away the layers of useless material baggage of the modern world and condensing down what you actually need in life to the basic items.
Throughout human history, and between cultures all around the world, people have been carrying the same basic, core items when travelling away from their settlements. Generally speaking these are a cutting tool, to shape the potential of nature into useful tools; a method of lighting fire - man's greatest companion - to provide the energy potential to make water safe to drink, food more nutritious and banish the beasts of the darkness. An item to provide shelter, which could simply be a wool blanket, animal skins or oil cloths; a container to carry water and cook and, finally, cordage to bind, make and carry equipment. I believe it’s a great experience to spend a night in the wild with just minimal, basic equipment so that we can appreciate how little we actually “need.” I have experimented in camping with a variety of both modern and historical equipment, and although modern equipment is superior in comfort, safety and weight, historical gear has a beautiful simplicity, authenticity and multi functionality which I believe can teach us important skills of the old ways in order to live more sustainably. For example… purchasing fewer but higher quality goods which are more multi-purpose as well as learning the skills to repair and maintain them.
If you had to run away and live out of a backpack, what would you take with you? What items do you think you really “need?” From there you can declutter your life and declutter your mind.
2. Back to Reality – what nature can teach us
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness” - John Muir
Nowadays we live primarily sedentary lifestyles spending hours staring at screens in stuffy boxes. With the advent of the internet, smart phones and social media, our attention is constantly being harvested for profit. Advertisers and media organisations are forever trying to squeeze out every second of your awareness they can get; social media apps have been designed by experts to make them as addictive as possible. Attention is money but it is also life energy, and in order to survive this bombardment of stimulus - especially if you live in a city - we have to shut down our senses or risk being overwhelmed. In the western world, despite living longer and more comfortably than ever before, depression, anxiety and suicide are at an all-time high. So, what is going on? Have we unwittingly domesticated our wild selves? Are we like wild animals in the zoo, relentlessly pacing up and down inside our self-built walls?
For well over 90% of human existence we have been hunter gatherers. This means we are absolutely hard-wired to live close with nature, to run, jump, climb, throw and squat; to use every sense in our bodies to track prey, forage and avoid predators. Our ancestors had to pay attention with all their senses and every part of their body; step into the mind of the animal they were hunting; be aware of the wind - what subtle information of scents it was bringing them – and, of course, vice versa, and to distinguish the edible and medicinal plants in amongst the tangle of the forest. Our ancestors’ beliefs were so intertwined with nature that there was no birth and death for them; they were an essential continuation of the forest. The land was deeply enriched with meaning and belonging, embodied by spirits and myth. I feel that, through practising wilderness living skills, I can connect to this reality albeit in the smallest way, and believe that this is primal to the human experience.
For me, the best way to connect with this reality is to spend one or two nights alone in a wild place with minimal equipment and little or no food. I think that stripping everything back to the absolute basics and getting uncomfortable and hungry awakens a primal instinct within us. I feel alive, and I feel human. On such trips, and once shelter, water and fire have been acquired, there is often a lot of time just to watch the fire, conserve energy and just be. It’s a chance to observe the workings of forest. Many life forms form a slow cyclic dance of life and death, competing and co-operating simultaneously. In such a space, I feel a calm alertness which allows my thoughts to quieten. For me, these mini expeditions are like pressing the reset button and remind me of what is real and what is important in this ever more confusing “civilised” world.
You obviously don't need to go to such extremes to benefit from nature. Countless scientific studies have shown how even a short, ten-minute walk in nature can reduce stress and anxiety. Others have found that walking bare-foot or getting your hands into the soil can act as a natural antidepressant.
3. Lone wolf – the importance of solitude in the wild
“To have passed through life and never experienced solitude is to have never known oneself. To have never known oneself is to have never known anyone.” - Joseph Krutch
We are hard-wired social creatures for whom working together in a group has been essential for our ability to survive and spread around the world. It is this need to be part of a social network that makes us care so much about the opinions of others. To be rejected and banished from the tribe often meant not living for much longer. Living in social groups we have the natural instinct to judge, compare and see ourselves in others eyes, but for most of human existence we just had to do this with an average tribe size of 50 to 100 people. Now with social media we are judging and comparing ourselves with millions of people all over the world! Is there a cost to always live for the eyes of others, trying to fit in; do we truly know our authentic selves? When we have always been supported by loved ones and society, do we know our own capacity for “self-reliance?”
Before I get into the benefits of solitude in the wild I first want to say that I am not a complete loner, and in fact it is one of the best joys of life to share your wilderness adventures with friends. Moreover, in terms of safety I highly recommend having a buddy with you, especially if you are new to the outdoors. Whether going solo or in a group always let someone know where you are going and when you are expected back.
With that out of the way, I have personally found it very beneficial to go on solo wilderness trips. However, “beneficial” doesn't always mean fun, then neither are lots of things that are good for us. The wild provides an excellent testing ground to learn self-reliance, build self-confidence and better understand the inner workings of your own mind. For me it’s also a chance to escape the social stage, so I can be free to be my own weird self. On my first ever solo “survival” trip I spent three days in a remote area on the west coast of Scotland, sleeping under a rock and foraging and fishing for food. Although I wasn't that far away from help, the fear of loneliness was instinctual and set in within hours of the first day; there was little to distract me from my thoughts and empty stomach. To not have anyone pay attention to you felt almost like not existing at all; it was both a terrifying and liberating feeling. Although I made plenty of mistakes on that first trip I gained a lot of self-confidence knowing that I could at least cover the survival basics and be alone for a few days, and the primal feelings I experienced drove me to learn more, get better at and pursue wilderness living skills more seriously.
The word “person” comes from the Latin word “persona” which refers to the masks worn by theatrical actors. We all wear different masks in everyday life - mask of father, mother, child, sibling, boss, employee or friend - and they may change from moment to moment. To spend time alone in nature is, for me, a chance to take off the mask for a moment, let my face breathe and stop acting. The rest of nature isn't trying to be anything - it’s just being what it is.
I believe in order to be the best we can be in everyday society, we must first know ourselves and experience being truly alone with very little. Then we can appreciate how much we need each other and can wear our masks with confidence.
So, go and spend some time alone in the wild, stop acting for a moment and let your face breathe.
4. Gratitude for the Norm
"You don't know what you've got until it's gone" - Joni Mitchell
There is something about the human mind that is always striving for more. As soon as we have achieved something or have got what we wanted, the feeling of satisfaction never lingers for long before we are striving for something else; we are always chasing that carrot on a stick, so to speak. While this isn't always a bad thing as it motivates us to always improve and adapt, it’s not always conducive to our happiness, neither is our constant craving of material goods sustainable for the planet. So, what can we do about it?
Almost every spiritual tradition around the world says that gratitude is a pillar of happiness. For me, wilderness living skills brings me a lot of gratitude for the simple things in life; it makes me appreciate how much work it takes to just cover the basics of survival. On returning from even a short trip - sleeping under a rock on a bed of moss, foraging for wild food - a simple hut feels like a palace fit for kings, running water from a tap is a miracle, a loaf of bread tastes like food of the gods, and a warm shower is divine! After spending days in solitude, there is no better feeling than sharing a meal in the company of loved ones. I admit that this feeling of overwhelming gratitude doesn't always stay for long, but when I catch myself complaining about little things again, I know it’s time to head back into the wild.
I believe we can all benefit from practising gratitude of the absolute basics of survival. In order to remind myself I try repeating the following meditation every day based on the priorities of survival. I close my eyes and say to myself “I am grateful for the breath in my chest, I am grateful for warmth in my core, I am grateful for being hydrated, I am grateful for the food in my stomach” and, finally, “I am grateful for my supportive company of family and friends.”
Although I criticise aspects of our modern life I am still very grateful for many things it offers; however, I worry that humans, without a regular wilderness grounding, risk getting lost in this ever more confusing world of “fake news” and rapid technological advancement.
I should stress again that you don't need to go full “Bear Grylls” to benefit from being in the wild; simply spending some time away from screens and going for a walk in nature has so many lasting benefits.
Wilderness living skills have brought me a lot of meaning in my life and I hope this article has inspired some of you in a small way. Just remember to be safe! John Muir sums up my feelings in this simple quote “And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”
Happy New Year everyone!
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About the writer
My name is Tom and I am a freelance Bushcraft instructor, mountain leader and Youtuber. Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by bushcraft and survival skills and would spend most of my days in the forest making dens, lighting fires and shooting bows and arrows. While at university I started a Youtube channel (Fandabi Dozi) to share my lighthearted videos of my wilderness adventures. The past two years I have been doing a series looking at the survival skills of the 17th Century Highlanders. The growth of the channel has now led me to follow a career in the outdoors and film-making. You may also recognise me from the DD product videos too! My main mission with my work is to help reconnect with our natural and cultural heritage through the practice of wilderness living skills, in order to better understand ourselves and our place on this planet.