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With the increasing realization that we all need to be prepared for uncertainties in these uncertain times, it seems the concept of prepping has come into its own. This is an encouraging development. It’s unfortunate that being prepared for emergency situations or hard times ever fell out of favor, or at the very least was ignored. The old-timers had their own word for prepping. They called it horse-sense. Being prepared for the future for them was simply a fact of life.

It shouldn’t be a revelation that we are not guaranteed tomorrow will be just as easy as today. Whoever has eyes to see the instability of the current global economic situation will acknowledge this. Whoever has given up even looking for a job, or is holding down two or three and still not making ends meet has already begun to taste the bitterness of the economic reality.

What happened? I think in the West what happened (in part) was that we got really comfortable and astonishingly ignorant. We took for granted that we’ll always have power, water and a nearby grocery store stocked with an unimaginable variety of foods. We forgot that eggs come from chickens and that a hamburger is the result of someone somewhere having slaughtered a cow. We watch reality shows about swash-buckling mountain men while sitting on our couches and eating foods that make us fat and give us cancer. And all the while something in the back of our minds whispers that knowing how to work with one’s hands and survive is how it’s supposed to be.

These symptoms of apathy have become so apparent that many people have noticed and begun prepping. There are web-sites galore with instructions and advice—and a lot of the information is certainly worth reading. Therefore, I’m not going to post one more article about how to be physically prepared. Instead I want to look at another facet of prepping. I want to look at prepping the mind.

Much of the prepping that we already do involves thinking through possible scenarios and how to best meet them should they arise. In fact, being mentally prepared is as important—and I would venture to say even more so—than the physical aspect. A person can have all the physical preparations in place for a multitude of contingencies but when the moment arises to implement his plans, panic or muddled-thinking can keep him from properly executing them.

And what about after—after we’ve eaten the storable food, harvested the garden, and used up the medical supplies? When the immediate emergency has passed and the situation has somewhat stabilized, we start looking toward the future. Owning a piece of land and beginning to work it now, in my opinion, is the best physical preparation that one can make. But that too obviously requires mental preparation to complement the physical.

Even if you are not in a position financially to purchase land or gather many supplies, there are things you can do. And these things are beneficial whether the world as we know it suddenly changes for the worse or whether we continue on our merry way for years to come.

The first of these mental preparations is to increase your stock of useful knowledge. The over-baked quote attributed to Francis Bacon, “knowledge is power,” still holds true. Those who possess useful knowledge not only survive, but thrive. The complementary word here is useful. So much of what is taught in the educational system, particularly in higher-education, is specialized knowledge. It’s great for when you’re in a setting that calls for it, but those settings are limited and are usually very dependent on society functioning normally.

We get the word “university” from two words that mean “unity” and “diversity, or the “whole combined into one.” The original function of the university setting was to provide a unified understanding of all the diverse fields of knowledge. These traditionally included science, math, philosophy, history, and economics among others. The “renaissance man” was someone who studied widely across many fields of academic discipline. He not only possessed useful knowledge, but was able to make necessary connections between the disciplines in order to secure a deeper understanding of the world around him.

How does one obtain such an education today? Read books! Crazy, I know. But I’m not talking about a steady diet of emotion-driven, time-killing drivel, but books that add to your knowledge, and ultimately increase wisdom.

There is a book for anything and everything out there. Start reading where your interests lie. Learn to process what you read and stick it somewhere in your mind where it will stay until you need it. Take up the classics, not only fiction, but in mathematics and the sciences. Educate yourself the way people use to. Read!

You don’t have to be wealthy to read. There is still a library or two around…at least for the time being. And, I’ve found many of the best books in my collection at thrift stores and used-book stores—even garage sales. Keep your eyes peeled. Knowledge is something that no one can take from you.

Needing knowledge is kind of obvious, I know (ha, ha). However, we tend to let ourselves get so easily distracted and end up wasting precious moments of time that we’ll never have again. Let’s redeem them!

Secondly—and this is closely related to the first—be mentally prepared by acquiring useful skills. It’s a smart practice to scour flea markets and antique stores for old (that is, durable) tools. The problem is a tool is useless if you don’t know how to use or maintain it.

Your grandfather’s old hand saw is worth keeping. All you need is arm-power to work it. But what happens when it gets dull (or maybe it already is)? Do you know how to sharpen it? The time to learn is now.

Like knowledge, skills are things that no one can take from you. Unlike stuff, you can’t have too many skills. And as an added bonus, they travel light. I’m thankful for the upbringing I had that introduced me to everything from yard work to carpentry to laying brick. I look around and lament for this present generation of video-game heads, some of whom have literally never even had to take the garbage out. But I also look at my father and grandfather’s generation and realize how many more useful skills they possessed than I do.

I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. And I know there’s no time like the present to start.

Maybe you’ve already networked with other homesteaders or preppers in your area. You’ve begun developing a community, planted a common garden together or started a local co-op. What about discussing individual skill-sets? If you know your neighbor can wire a 12-volt solar system (and is a friendly guy), instead of spending too much time on that subject, try to pick up something no one else around you can do. Blacksmithing is a good example of a dying art. Before mass-produced factory goods, the local blacksmith made just about everything for the community that wasn’t wooden.

I learned to shoe horses years ago from friends in an old-fashioned Mennonite settlement. Since I currently don’t own any horses, I haven’t gotten to put this ability into practice recently. Yet even though I’m rusty, the skill is there. And when I need it, Lord-willing I’ll be able to implement it again.

The third area of prepping the mind factors in to both obtaining knowledge and acquiring skills. It is honing your memory. It’s a good practice to jot down what you’re learning from your reading, but being able to memorize it is even better.

Aside from reading and doing, many things I’ve learned I’ve simply gleaned from conversations. Sometimes I’ll suddenly have at my disposal a needed fact or a bit of useful information and wonder where it came from. Later, it will dawn on me that so-and-so mentioned that when I saw him downtown back in April. I didn’t necessarily mean to lock it in my mind, but there it held fast nevertheless.

Another good exercise for the ole’ memory is language acquisition. Languages are incredibly useful things to know, and learning them requires memorization—at least until the language becomes actual knowledge. Learning another language also helps you to think more clearly, make sharper mental connections and put to regular use the cob-web infested corners of the brain. And beyond all of this, you’ll be able to communicate with a whole bunch of folks you couldn’t before!

With useful knowledge, skills and a well-developed memory we’re a long way toward being prepared for whatever life throws in our direction. Even if a catastrophic economic collapse, mass civil unrest or the solar-flare of the century never occurs, having a prepared mind will always be there to serve you in a time of need.