The Art of Survival: Becoming Hungry to Learn
Thursday, January 7, 2016
by: Annie Thoe, GCFP, Assistant Trainer

Section: Art of Living

Maybe it’s my Scandinavian upbringing, but I’ve always been fascinated with survival. I grew up wondering what it would feel like to be confident enough to survive outside overnight alone in the woods with just the clothes on my back. Could I survive? I grew up as an athlete and an outdoors person, but worried how I would withstand difficult situations, like being stranded in the mountains on the rainy, western side of Washington state. The cold, damp climate of the Northwest is particularly challenging place for survival: one risk’s hypothermia with only damp wood for fire starting. During their expedition to the western United States, Lewis and Clarke found the Northwest to be the most challenging climate of their journey. They marveled at the toughness of the Native Americans who lived on the coast.

Survival is one of the driving forces in the Feldenkrais Method®. Lessons explore how to become aware, solve problems, and become more self-reliant in times of adversity. The lessons are designed to cultivate attention to explore and move beyond one’s limitations in order to survive and thrive. Most of the people who see me for private lessons or during retreats feel a deep need to change. They are stuck in some way in their lives that relates to survival. They are looking for some kind of transformation: relief from back or joint pain, increased ability to move or walk, improved balance, grace and higher athletic performance. 
My training in nature helps connect people with the unconscious parts of their nervous system that understand survival. Most people think of survival involving panic or trauma:  storms, accidents, war, great financial or physical loss. While “survival” sounds extreme, the mindset is similar to meditation. All senses need to be engaged. Awareness needs to expand to include both the big picture and the immediate details of the here and now. Adrenaline is fired up to wake the nervous system but the mind also needs to stay present, relaxed, and calm. For athletes and performers, this is the “zone” state of highest performance.
In addition to years of naturalist and tracking studies, I’ve been on a few survival expeditions with small groups of people where we went out into the woods with only the clothes on our backs. Every aspect of survival expanded awareness: looking for materials and creating shelter, finding water sources, foraging for food, making fire, and working as a team. On one five-day expedition, we had three solid days of rain and cool weather. Of course we got wet and a bit uncomfortable, but we learned to stash wood under shelters we made and how to keep our fire going. We told each other stories and sang songs to keep ourselves positive and huddled close together for warmth under a shelter of fern fronds through the night.  
In my work with the Feldenkrais Method, I’m not taking people on survival trips, but I am immersing them in a comfortable but “wild” setting to begin this practice of waking up to the elements. Our insulated homes, cars, and office buildings have dulled the practice of moving and responding to the rich input that nature provides. Can we survive without all our comforts and technology? Taking the practice of awareness outdoors connects us to the environment and all the elements for our survival.
After decades of working in this field, I’ve noticed that the people who are motivated to change their lives get results. I find it’s important to access the passionate place inside that is ready for change. Survival wakes us up. In the Western world today, most of survival practice is found within the more mundane situations like when your car breaks down, cell phone stops working, or a major medical injury or illness strikes. We also have extreme weather, but even with weather, we have considerably more comfort, insulation, and protection than our ancestors ever had. The survival process of finding shelter, food, water, and navigation in the natural world adds real motivation to pay attention. When the stakes are higher, people’s motivation to learn and retain knowledge is also high.

The majority of the people in our culture haven’t pushed their limits in terms of physical survival with food, water, shelter and health. Tom Brown, Jr., Master Tracker and Survival Teacher, teaches that survival practice musters your passion for learning. My experiences with being cold, thirsty, and weak from hunger have engaged a high level of awareness on a very concrete level. All senses are applied for efficiency, cooperation, and conservation of energy for the future.

Last year, I spent a few precious days with the Hadzabe people in East Africa, the last hunting and gathering tribe left in Tanzania. They have been living a nomadic lifestyle in the same area of the Serengeti for 10,000 years. Everyone in the tribe is expected to pull their own weight, carry their own materials, and contribute their gifts to the tribe. Each person took turns tending the fire at night to keep the lions and hyenas away. They moved gracefully through the landscape. Their minds were calm, observant. They were easy to laugh; their bodies elegantly coordinated. During a hunt, they moved lightly on their feet, with the agility akin to a cat or deer. I was aware of my mind:  how busy I was with thinking, planning, and worrying in contrast to their easygoing manner. The Hadzabe people embodied the Feldenkrais Method. I continue to contemplate the lessons I learned from them.
When I create Feldenkrais lessons for clients or nature retreats, I look for what lesson and activity in nature will fully engage my student for the transformation they are seeking. I use rocks, trees, walking on the earth, and many nature practices that require people to pay attention and coordinate themselves in their environment. As Miriam Pfeiffer, Feldenkrais® Trainer from Paris, once told me in an interview many years ago, “You have to make your students hungry to learn.” 
I love creating an environment to explore beyond the edge of what is known. As humans, exploring this edge together is thrilling and creative. Nature is my mentor for waking up. Simply directing one’s attention to the wind or the light or the birds with an intention to learn can point toward balance. The next time you want to make a shift in how you move or think, try going outside in nature with your question. Sit for a while. Notice all the elements around you— the sky, sun, earth, trees, wind, etc. Observe how you feel in response to the wild elements around you with the question you have asked. Can you feel your hunger for what is ready to change? Stoke that fire. The passion for learning is the beginning.

Annie Thoe, GCFP, is an Assistant Trainer in Seattle, WA. For more information about Annie Thoe’s nature retreats or guided audio lessons: or 
Facebook and YouTube: Sensing Vitality

*This Could Change Everything - Documentary Film
The Tracker,  Tom Browne, Jr. 
Coyote Learning, Jon Young/Wilderness Awareness School 
The Kamana Program and Anake School,
Hadzabe - By the Light of a Million Fires  Daudi Peterson and Jon Cox
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Comments (1)
monica olsen
1/10/2016 4:44:49 PM
Fabulous article & insights from being in nature. Proud to have you in the Guild. Thank You

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