If you haven’t any coal in the stove and you freeze in the winter

All of my screwed up life experiences helped me qualify for the amazing Outward Bound Women of Courage canoe trip course in northern Ontario for survivors of trauma.

One aspect of the trip was a 24 hour solo in the woods. 1 day and 1 night alone in the woods. Just me. I did a lot of thinking and I collected a lot of firewood (for the fire that I couldn’t start). I thought about needs vs wants, about the relationship between effort and reward, and I tried to wrap my head around the concept of money. Obviously this led to thinking about my mother…

My mother taught me some valuable life lessons:

  1. Life is war.
  2. Feeling hunger, warmth and comfort are weaknesses that will distract you on the battlefield.
  3. If you choose to listen to these needs, standing on the backs of others is the only way to get them met.
  4. I deserve everything because I am here.

She had no understanding that working hard could lead towards a goal, that being loving could lead to being loved. She wanted unconditional love and one-sided giving from the entire world. Maybe because she never got to feel these things from her mother. She spent her life feeling like the world owed her and expecting it from the wrong places.

The idea of working for possesions, as opposed to just living without them or demanding them from others is something I have been working on. (Item # 134 out of 436 stupid lessons that I need to unlearn).

In the woods, I looked around and thought about living off of the land. I realized that I would be very cold without my warm clothes and very uncomfortable without my tent. I imagined that if I was going to live off the land with no tent, I would probably build myself a shelter using trees and leaves. I thought about whether or not this was a good enough reason to have a tent. Comfort… a silly notion or a reasonable need?

I picked up a rock and saw bugs scurry away. Every creature wants some shelter. Maybe it’s okay if I do too.

It would take me some time, effort and trial and error to figure out how to build a shelter out of the trees and leaves around me. But once I figured it out, I would pass that knowledge on to my children who would build similar structures. But, one child would take this knowledge and use it as a starting point to innovate from. He would innovate and add animal skin or heavy rocks to make the home more resistant to the elements.

He would work harder than his siblings (but not at their expense) to gather these materials and try to figure out a new system. But he would be rewarded for his hard and smart work by having a more comfortable home.

The combination of working hard and fortunate circumstance is crucial here. In order to succeed he needed luck that he had parents who taught him the basic skills, luck that the storm didn’t wash away his food while he focused on building, luck that he didn’t get eaten by the bear or crushed by a boulder and luck that his crazy idea actually worked.

Back to the city, I won’t actually be building my own home (*shock*) so the relationship between work and shelter is more theoretical. But I think it’s essentially the same relationship. Like, whether I build a house with my own hands or do other work that is be helpful to someone else so that they could build a house for me, the result is the same: I’ve done some work and I have a house. The intensity and creativity of my effort combined with the luck of my circumstance will yield a better house. This is where money comes into play. It’s just a representation of work done. In itself, it’s meaningless, but what it can give you does have value.

I think that there is a random but helpful comparison to draw here with the difference between canoes and pedal boats. I like canoes because I can see and feel the connection between putting my paddle into the water and the boat going forward. Pedal boats are different because I can’t actually see my pedaling pushing the water. But essentially, whether I can see it or not, the intensity of my paddling or my pedaling combined with the luck of good weather and strong limbs, will both yield a faster boat ride. I need to learn to embrace the pedal boat, and trust that my pedaling is exactly what is moving the boat of my life forward.

When you are living in the woods, you start to appreciate the importance of the need for shelter, the need for comfort, the need for nourishment, the need for warmth and the need for friendship. These are all needs that have been deeply buried in shame for me.

Here’s to digging them out, washing them in the lake and letting them dry in the sun.


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