In 1989 during the international Antarctic exhibition, six men spent nine months crossing the Antarctic. Two days before the expedition ended, they hit a blizzard. While they were camped Keizo Funatsu went out to feed his huskies. He was one of world’s great experts at handling huskies but he became disorientated in the white-out and lost his bearings. His team-mates tried to save him but it was a hopeless task and they were forced to return to their tents for their own safety. Keizo was lost in the dark, in a blizzard, at the bottom of the world.
In these situations, the next morning the person is often found dead a few yards from their tent having wandered here and wandered there close to the refuge of camp but never finding it. Instead of trying to do something to save his life Keizo decided to do nothing. He kicked a little trench in snow and lay down. He had to surrender to the situation and put aside the natural tendency to ‘do something’, to make something happen.
In his diary he says ‘when I was in my snow ditch I was covered in 5 mins. I knew that few people have this experience and so I said to myself ‘Keizo, relax, try and enjoy this’. ‘I could feel my heartbeat, I felt like I was in my mother’s womb’. While waiting there he said he was not afraid, he knew his friends would find him. 14 hours later he hears his teammates calling his name and bursts up from the snow ditch and says ‘I am alive, I am alive!’
What does this story teach us about the nature of resilience and being resourceful? We can appreciate that Keizo was in a very challenging situation. When we realise we are lost, what tends to get activated within us? When we are faced with any threat our fight/flight response tends to kick in. This system urges us toward action to ensure the survival of the organism. However, action in this situation would probably have led to Keizo’s death. It was futile to go out wandering in the dark looking for the camp. Keizo was able to exercise wise discernment in resisting this urge to do something. He was able to access a sense of calm and assessed the situation for what was the best strategy or approach to use. In this case the best chances for survival lay in taking refuge, being patient, and trusting that if he sat tight he would be found.
What other resources did Keizo draw upon to support to himself through this challenge? He reassured himself with some encouragement and positive self-talk and managed to even invoke a sense of relaxation and enjoyment to help him endure the situation. He stayed present, adjusting his attitude and taking a novel perspective by viewing the situation as a unique opportunity – this was a rare human experience. By re-framing the situation and changing his focus he was able to access the approaching rewards system in his brain which accessed positive emotions, that boosted his resilience. This story shows us that even in very difficult situations what determines our experience is how we look at a situation. By re-shaping our perception and re-orienting our attitude, we can find enjoyment even amidst life-threatening situations.
Read back over the resources (in bold) that Keizo used and see if you can pick one or two that resonate with you to exercise and put into practice this week when facing a challenge. We can use ‘models’ like Keizo to cultivate strengths and qualities within ourselves by ‘trying on’ their mindset and experimenting with approaching life through this frame. How might you adopt the mindset or attitude of Keizo? How would it feel to approach problems with such pragmatism, optimism and openness to experience?