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I believe the question we all should be asking ourselves: Is the modern world working for us? All around me, all I see are mostly unhappy people. My own answer to the above question is: mostly No!



 People seem to always be sacrificing the present, and working for tomorrow. We have been told there’s dignity in having a job, in working, even if that work is meaningless. At least it’s a job right, well that’s the thinking. To add insult to injury for most people in the West, the attitude is that you don’t deserve to eat, that you are in a sense nothing, unless you are working. Capitalism has convinced most of us in the modern world to forgo experiences that are inherently pleasurable and good for the overall health of the human animal for the good of keeping the cogs of the system running.

 

You need to work hard, sleep less, focus on achieving, and we will be kind enough to give you two weeks off a year so you can go do some of the things our ancient ancestors did every day for free. Things, such as walking in a beautiful forest, swimming in the ocean, spending a night camping under the stars, fishing, hunting and so forth — oh, and you will likely be charged for that privilege in some way too!

The Great Lie of Modernity

We have been convinced that this is what is best for us because we live far better than our ancestors did in the past. Look all around you, they say, look at the advances in technology, in medicine, and the increase in standards of living in general. This is a far cry from those pesky hunter gatherers that we once were, where our ancestors constantly lived on the edge of survival. As Hobbes in 1651 reminds us, life before the state was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

 

The reality is that much of this isn’t true.

 

Hunter gatherers ‘work’ on average 20 hours a week. Here I am talking about hunter gatherers in the Australian outback or the Kalahari Desert, not exactly plush environments. To add insult to injury again, what we are calling work here for hunter gatherer’s or what anthropologists count as their work are the very things we all escape to on those two weeks of vacation, like hunting and fishing. Hunter gatherers in fact have fairly varied diets, and they have far more leisure time than most of us do in the modern world. In addition their social structure is highly egalitarian. All the basic needs of all members of the band are fairly easily met. In other words, no one goes without what they need to live a fulfilled life. 


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    So…Why Are We So Unhappy?

    Why are we so unhappy, fragmented, and struggling to find meaning if the modern world is so much better than what our ancestors had? 

The truth is the modern world is out of sync with our ancient brains and bodies. Our hunter gatherer ancestors and how we spent 99% of our time on this planet evolved to live in clans. Today most of us don’t even know our neighbours’ names. When it came to survival in earlier societies it was largely dependent on living in harmony with nature. Yet today much of the food we eat, and the work we work, even the light we absorb–is radically different from what our minds and bodies evolved to expect. Not withstanding the absolute devastation we are causing to the natural world, our home, Mother Earth.

     

    All of this has created massive cognitive dissonance, where we are attempting to live in a society we’re not designed or built for and it is literally killing us. In a sense, if we like it or not we are all still hunter-gatherers, same bodies, same brains, and while it would be impossible to replicate the natural habitat of our ancestry, we can optimise our lives to fit into the modern constraints we face. I believe this is no longer optional for us to do, but rather absolutely crucial if we are to turn the tide on the modern malaise of dissatisfaction we are all facing, and I predict likely to become worse (This is why our I created the Instinct {Code} so we can find ways to live in the modern world, without going insane).

    “Many of the crises we see in the 21st century, I would argue, have their roots in the dawn of the Neolithic.”
    - Spencer Wells

    What Can We Do To Alleviate Some of the Symptoms of our Dissatisfaction?

    I am going to outline 4 practices that I engage in weekly that has been inspired by the ways of hunter gatherers. For them, the hunter gatherers, these practices were just the norm of everyday living. Maybe they had no real idea on why these practices were so important, or more likely were taught them in one form or another by tribal elders, who through experience realised their significance. These wisdom practices now acknowledged by science and research are incredibly important to the health of the human animal. Luckily many of these practices still remain free. I view them as a way to honour our ancestral roots while still being able to move with the present. Some I do daily, but all show up every week in my life.

    Getting Your Feet Dirty: I have written about this in another article you can read here. The bottom line, it turns out that walking barefoot on the earth, in the natural environment is good for reducing inflammation, pain, and stress. It has also show to improve blood flow, sleep, and vitality. 20 minutes a day is all you need.

    Hug a Tree: If you have trees nearby, a park, a glen or if you lucky a Forrest or wooded area make sure you take time to immerse yourself in this outdoor experience. As I have written about here, it turns out that walking amongst trees reduces stress hormone production, improves feelings of happiness and frees up creativity. It has also been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure, boost your immune system and accelerate recovery from illness. Oh, and if you up for it, hug a tree to say thanks. It’s been shown that much of the above goodness comes from trees via the terpenes (one of the major components of forest aerosols) they emit into the atmosphere.

    
Stillness: No matter if you do it walking, or sitting, spending time in stillness is crucial to your overall mental health (you can read an article I wrote about this here). Most of us are what I call ‘running hot’ with anxiety being a big part of undermining our health. Stillness can reduce the fight or flight response while increasing rest and relaxation. In other words, it calms your mind allowing you to feel more at peace and less stressed out.



    Practicing being Present: This is a big one. Look around today and it is clear that most people are finding it difficult to be here. With all of life’s stress, and everything else, from social media, to ads everywhere vying for our attention, no wonder we feel scatter brained. Being more present has been shown to be good for your mental health, relieve stress, lower your blood pressure, improve sleep, and more. It’s even better if you can take your practice away from the hustle and bustle of modern life, into nature. I wrote an article about how to achieve this through walking meditation here.

    Conclusion

    As you can see from the above, all the practices I outline are simple. Nothing fancy. In my own work in the field of human flourishing I have found that in today’s modern world we have mostly overcomplicated what it means to be truly fulfilled. It isn’t as complicated or difficult as most people believe it to be. But, I will leave that discussion for another article.

    I envy my partner. Put her in nature and she can just sit there for hours. However I find it hard to sit still no matter where I find myself. The problem of course with sitting still and knowing that you suck at it, is that those pesky mental gremlins come out and play. This is why I have opted for walking meditation. As Pam Houston, novelist and essayist notes “Movement helps keep me centred. I am a disaster, for instance, at sitting meditation, but I’m pretty decent at walking meditation.”

    A Walk Through Time

    Henry David Thoreau, naturalist, poet, philosopher and leading transcendentalist of his time noted, “An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” Nietzsche, a philosopher who became one of the most influential of all modern thinkers argued that, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Seneca one of the most influential Stoic philosophers suggested, “It does good also to take walks out of doors, that our spirits may be raised and refreshed by the open air and fresh breeze.” Hippocrates, a Greek physician of the Age of Pericles, who is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine suggested, “Walking is man’s best medicine.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau a philosopher, writer, and composer who’s political philosophy influenced the progress of the Enlightenment throughout Europe commented that, ‘I can only meditate when I am walking.” 

Looks like I am in great company after all and thank goodness that there is an all round consensus that walking is good for you.

    There are obvious health benefits to walking as well. Ann Green, past heptathlon world athlete, yoga teacher has noted that, “Walking improves fitness, cardiac health, alleviates depression and fatigue, improves mood, creates less stress on joints and reduces pain, can prevent weight gain, reduce risk for cancer and chronic disease, improve endurance, circulation, and posture, and the list goes on.”

But beyond the health benefits, I believe the greatest benefit to us the human animal – is how walking can improve our inner health. Below I share some ways I have found to achieve this. 


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      Ways To Walk

      There is no right way to take a walk. But here are a few ideas that I have played with. How I decide to take a walk often is largely predicated on how I am feeling that day or what I am wrestling with in my life at that moment. While many times I just walk with no intention, when you struggling internally giving yourself a purpose to achieve out of your walk gives meaning to the experience. The outcome can often be very therapeutic.

      It’s hard to feel the real benefits of walking if you have to do it in a big city. The noise, pollution, and hustle makes it less than relaxing. Whenever possible then take your walk out into nature, or anywhere else that it’s green – a park for instance. To add extra depth to your walk, take your shoes off and go barefoot. If that’s not possible, wearing minimal style shoes really aid in your walk as you feel more connected to the ground beneath your feet.

      • 
Deep Walking with a Friend: We spend so much of our lives putting out fires, that we often have little or no time to contemplate the big questions of life. You know, ‘Why are we here?’ ‘What does it all mean?’ ‘What am I truly about?’ 

I love walking in nature with my partner talking about us, our dreams, obstacles and so forth. Here too we are in good company. Aristotle the famous ancient Greek philosopher is said to have taught as he walked while sharing and exploring ideas with his followers. They became known as ‘peripatetic’ philosophers (‘Peripatetic’ meaning “of walking” or “given to walking about”). 

The goal is to talk gently about the topics that arise. You don’t want to get upset, and come back from a walk feeling even worse. Deep Walking is about being open and vulnerable, but also about calming the nervous system. When the walk is nearing its conclusion, its time to be quiet and spend the last ten or so minutes just staying with your breath. Breath in deep and exhale fully. Feel all the tension drop from your shoulders.

      • 

Walking with Pause: I live part of the year on the beautiful Isle of Man. I often see people out and about walking. Most are plugged into an iPod, walking as if they stole something, and oblivious to everything around them. I am sure that kind of walking may be great for their cardio, but I doubt there’s much else benefit wise. I am going to be honest, I have found myself doing this too. Its so easy to fall into the trap of go, go, go from everyday life and find it spilling over to the very things that are meant to be slowing us down: like going for a walk.

      It is at these times that I intentionally walk for a while, stop, pause, sit down and take in everything that is around me. I repeat this same process often throughout the walk. I am always amazed what I would have actually missed had I not sat down in silence and looked around me. That beautiful Bumble Bee on that flower, or the Ladybird that decided to come visit me on my hand the other day. I am not sure if you have had the same experience, it is these small moments that really put a lot of things into perspective. Gary Snyder, poet and envriomentalist reflects that, “Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind. Walking is the exact balance between spirit and humility.”

      • 
Walking Meditation: This is by far my favourite way to walk, and its done alone and barefoot where ver possible. No iPod, no haste, just slow intentional walking. And I mean intentionally slowing down, one foot in front of the next, feeling each step as it presses into the earth, while coordinating it with slow breathing. Each time my thinking mind wanders off somewhere else, I bring it gently back to the moment, back to my breath.

      It may sound easy to just slow down, to walk slow, but the first few times was really difficult. The more I slowed down, the faster my thoughts seem to speed up. In those moments I realised how much I was living on fast forward. As Buddhist Monk and scholar Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, “Walk so that your footprints bear only the marks of peaceful joy and complete freedom. To do this you have to learn to let go. Let go of your sorrows, let go of your worries. That is the secret of walking meditation.”



      In the end, going for a walk can be beautifully summed in the words of author Rebecca Solnit,

      “The rhythm of walking generates a kind of rhythm of thinking, and the passage through a landscape echoes or stimulates the passage through a series of thoughts. The creates an odd consonance between internal and external passage, one that suggests that the mind is also a landscape of sorts and that walking is one way to traverse it. A new thought often seems like a feature of the landscape that was there all along, as though thinking were traveling rather than making.”

      As I have continued to learn life’s lessons, matured, and dared to return to my authentic self, the Rodney before the trauma – I have finally settled into how I want to experience life. The {Instinct Code} is the culmination of my life’s quest seeking peace and fulfilment and is now offered as a Retreat multiple times a year, at Tree Roots Retreat in Rayong Thailand.

      The development of the {Instinct Code} program was inspired by two primary questions. Firstly, the fact that we undeniably live better lives than our grandparents on average, yet, in our relative excess, why do we still seek fulfilment? Secondly, how much of our discontent can be attributed to the differentiation and environmental changes between ourselves and our ancestors.

      I found myself asking these questions, and questioning my history at the same time. My grandmother, the daughter of a coal-miner, left the United Kingdom for South Africa in search of a better life. This search resulted in her never finishing school. Similarly, my grandfather’s family left Scotland for England and then South Africa in the 1800s in search of greener pastures. As these histories collided and culminated into the existence that is my life, I look back on how things have changed. Being the first person in my family to attend university, and having a standard of living that my mother wouldn’t dream of. However, I realize that I am plagued with the same problem that modern society as a whole face’s, unfulfillment. This lead me on a search to ask myself, ‘why do I feel so unhappy’? This generalized discontent begs the follow-up question of whether the change in our environment from that of our primal ancestors has culminated in that discontent? Whether our instincts designed to work in the wild have a place in the hustle and bustle of the cities? This can be observed in other species and humans are most certainly not exempt.

      "We have constructed a system we can’t control. It imposes itself on us, and we become its slaves and victims. We have created a society in which the rich become richer and the poor become poorer, and in which we are so caught up in our own immediate problems that we cannot afford to be aware of what is going on with the rest of the human family or our planet Earth. In my mind I see a group of chickens in a cage disputing over a few seeds of grain, unaware that in a few hours they will all be killed." —THICH NHAT HANH

      The Human Zoo

      Think of it in this way: modern society today is comparatively not much different to a Zoo. As with any Zoo, if you take a wild animal away from its natural habitat, and you put them in a completely artificial, restricted environment, it will not flourish as it would have in the wild. Sure, it will survive, but to survive is not to thrive and a wild animal is highly aware of this distinction. Given a choice that wild animal would always return to their natural habitat. It is only in their natural habitat that they will truly flourish and be fulfilled, it is only in the natural world that they can fulfil their purpose on this planet.

      From this observation, it is evident that humans have undergone some kind of strange process of self-domestication. We are bears that have forced ourselves to ride metaphorical unicycles and cannot even see that the unicycle is the cause for our discontent. Like a caged animal we experience our own version of ‘Zoochosis’. As such living feels highly repetitive, invariant, with functionless behaviour. Spending hours scrolling through a Facebook feed, feeling depressed and consumed with negative stress. We have been sold a lie about humans as superior to all other creatures on this planet, and thus are unaware of what our malaise is caused by. We have been sold happiness through consumption and unbridled capitalism, when we are not happy, it must be because we are not winning in that arena. Most ‘modern people’ wouldn’t even suspect that their unhappiness and disease is largely due to their dislocation from the natural world, and disavowal of ancestral wisdom.

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        1-Second to Now

        All of the changes we take for granted today in the modern world happened in a blink of an eye. If we take all the time planet Earth has existed and plotted it on a timescale of one full calendar year, modernity only accounts for the final second. From the perspective of evolution, we have hardly left home. Going from the small hunter-gatherer bands and our communal attachment-based groups — to a society, which is alienating and disconnected. What we now see are societies that are less and less natural to the actual makeup of human beings from an evolutionary perspective. The general zeitgeist of our society is a crisis of meaning.

        Even our brains are not coping with the modern environments we now find ourselves in. Professor of evolutionary psychology at the State University of New York, New Paltz, Glenn Geher notes, “Our brains are wired for certain conditions, but our surroundings no longer match those conditions “. In other words “We have stone-age brains in modern environments.” Or as authors, Gazzaley and Rosen in the Distracted Mind argue, “we are ancient brains in a high-tech world.” If we want to acknowledge it or not, we are in what Evolutionary Psychologists would call an ‘evolutionary mismatch’. In other words, we find ourselves in a world we weren’t designed to thrive in. Yet all the while, we look to technology to save us from ourselves, advances in another pill to take our angst away, or yet another version of the next psychological theory breakthrough promising us a way out of our despair. I am increasingly more of the view that we may just have fulfilment and the attainment thereof completely wrong.

        Have I ever been Fulfilled?

        I have been unhappy since a child. A lot contributed to this: not knowing who my Father was, growing up in government housing on the edge of poverty, surviving an abusive alcoholic mother, and taking the beatings from the neighbourhood bullies. But more than anything I simply didn’t fit in with what was considered the norm, in fact, I still don’t.

        I was a sensitive, creative child, who loved being in nature. I had an amazingly vivid imagination, where I could create magical worlds no matter where I found myself. However, the one characteristic that saw me largely ostracized from my peers was that I just didn’t “get” competition of any kind. I was never drawn to competitive games, regardless of the physicality of the game or sport. As a teenager I was forced into competitions by my boxing coach and karate teacher, it was the absolute worst experience of my life. I disliked everything about it.

        Rather, than being competitive, I have always been self-directed. I love being personally challenged and measuring myself against my own previous best. I never understood why it needed to be done to outdo others or the idea that your intrinsic value was only seen and valued through competition and winning. It was only later as an adult that I became aware that cooperation in nature is far more widespread than what is defined as competition. Oh, how my life growing up would have been different if I knew then what I now know.

        Where Have I Truly Found Fulfilment?

        When I have been honest with myself and not finding myself like so many others trying to live up to the constant hustle. Being told to wake up at crazy hours in the AM as the path that leads to success, which is just that, Crazy…

        There have been a few moments in my life when I truly felt fulfilled. For example,

        • 

Connected to the Natural World: my time at my Aunt’s smallholding out in the African bush was one of my favourite memories as a child. It offered a sanctuary, a place of calm. I would find myself wandering fully in the present, filled with a sense of ecstasy and wonder to the beauty that was the African bush. A feeling I now know is the outcome of being mindful. Now that I know the research behind why reconnecting to the natural world is so important to our health, it has become part of my daily routine.

        • Rough & Tumble PLAY: I have also felt most fulfilled when I have been on the mat, playing rough and tumble with friends. Martial arts have been an important part of my life, but only the times when we were playing, exploring the fullness of movement, and the limits of our bodies did I feel truly at peace. Without concern for victory or defeat or any of the fleeting emotions of this world. This is why I decided to overhaul my entire approach to training and teaching martial arts.

        For far too long, I had been using the experience of fighting to overcome my inner demons. Rather than conquering my demons, I found them fighting back with more ferocity than ever. This experience has shown me: intention matters, why you show up, matters, and what you want out of it will mould your experience. These days unless I am coaching others on how to protect themselves, I only get on the mat to find peace, calm, focus and experience flow. The outcome of this embodied mindful training has been that I have finally found the recipe to access the healing powers martial arts have to offer.

        • Body Efficacy: Along with the rough and tumble play of martial arts, what I have found fulfilling is the ability to move. Everything from making that climb, to taking that jump, and connecting to the environment through every movement. Again, for most of our time on this planet, the ability to move gracefully and intentionally was part and parcel of surviving for our ancestors. As a result, I don’t think it is a coincidence that children love to explore the potential of their body in movement. As we grow older and become more embedded in a society focused on ease, quick fixes and immediacy — we lose touch with the beauty in the freedom of movement, in favour of doing as little as possible. Most people in the modern world travel in straight lines, hardly being confronted with an obstacle greater than a flight of stairs, and then opting instead for the elevator.

        • Embodied Intelligence: Strip away all the complexity, and the next advice on what you should be doing to be fulfilled, look inwards. What you find is the ancient rhythm of living a life of excellence. The tools are simple but profound. For example, Spending time re-educating my nervous system to respond to anxiety, stress and aggression with a calm disposition through the simple act of breathing, something we all do as humans. This act alone has allowed me to deeply connect to the natural wisdom of my body. The outcome to my health has been profound.

        • Sitting Around the Fire: When I think back to my sons, especially my youngest Tobynn, he always asked if he could build a fire in the fire pit I made at my previous home in South Africa. I will always remember those times with fondness, filled with joy and laughter. It is for this very reason I built a fire pit at Tree Roots Retreat in Thailand. While the weather is always hot, I am fascinated by how many people ask nightly for the fire to be built. People inherently seek out this oldest form of coming together to reflect, laugh and be with one another. This is just one of our primal instincts shining through into the modern world.

        What Does This All Mean for Us?

        There is an unmistakable pattern to all of the experiences I outlined above. I have found that the times when I have truly felt fulfilled, are all ancestral, primitive and primal. They are also the simplest of experiences, stripped to the most human. None of which need much in the way of tools and require no modern technology.

        Most of our time on this planet was spent in the natural world. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were deeply connected to the land and the rhythm of the earth. As biologist E. O. Wilson has argued, even modern humans have an innate and genetically determined affinity with the natural world.

        Rough and tumble play, or more specifically in adults the ability to protect themselves and those of the tribe has been with us since the dawn of mankind. While there may be no evidence for such, it would be hard not to assume that we have within our genetics the drive to seek out methods of safety. It is for this reason, that even in the safest, least violent places on the planet people still train martial arts. Ironically, it is in these exact places in the world that martial arts are the most popular. Is this some kind of primal tug, ushering us all back toward our ancient forbears?

        Body efficacy was paramount to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Hunter-gatherer bodies were lean and stripped from unnecessary weight allowing them to traverse long distances. They walked barefoot, feeling the earth beneath their feet. Their body wasn’t simply a vehicle to carry their heads around but was necessary for their very survival. Body efficacy not only adds to the ability to defend oneself but furthers the ability of our hunter-gatherers to track and stalk prey. Your efficiency with your body as a hunter-gatherer often had a direct correlation if you would eat survive or become some Lions dinner.

        Embodied intelligence speaks to our deep connection to our intuition, and the rhythm of our inner terrain. This intelligence then expands outwardly to encompass how we view the world. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors could manage what was happening in their bodies at all times. The necessity of keeping a calm, focused and steady inner state at the moment before the kill was crucial. But even deeper, for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, there was no separation between us as the human-animal and all other life on this planet. Everything was interconnected. Our ancestors literally moved with the rhythm of nature.

        Finally sitting around the fire, or as Paul Shepard in Coming Home to the Pleistocene argues describing it as the ‘Fire Circle’ could be considered the oldest form of therapy. Coming together with other human animals, sharing stories, and creating connection have formed a social bond that is nearly transcendent of cultures. The sense of security we experience when gathering at a fire is universally human.

        All of the above, and what I have described speaks to our ancestral ways which have now largely been forgotten or undervalued.

        Where Are We Now?

        Of course, there is no denying that there are all kinds of benefits to progress and industrialization. But the trouble with all this progress is that we have forgotten the benefits of what we have lost. Instead of combining the progress, with what is best about some of the old ways, we have just thrown everything out. To solve the ailments of the past we have created technologies that present problems unseen and unending. Making us question whether the old problems were so bad after all. Now of course, for almost all of us it wouldn’t be possible to go back to living like a hunter-gatherer. But we can invoke the wisdom from the past, recognize our evolutionary heritage and find the best ways to implement that within the constraints of the modern world. This is what the {Instinct Code} proposes.

        The {Instinct Code} is the culmination of my life’s work, both as a martial arts teacher, embodied philosopher, ecopsychology practitioner and seeker. It’s an experience that I developed, and to continue to develop, to overcome my own roadblocks in life. I have integrated findings from my research: as a social scientist, studying mindfulness-in-action from an embodied perspective; as an environmental psychology researcher, studying the role mind, body and ecology play in healing and meaning; along with my own personal embodied practice, especially as a martial arts teacher for over three decades. The lessons held within the {Instinct Code} experience have enabled me and my students to develop true self-reliance and mastery no matter what life throws at us.

        What I teach is that held within your body’s natural instincts, lie the keys to lasting fulfilment. I wrote ‘fulfilment’ throughout this piece on purpose, instead of ‘happiness’. Happiness is often momentary, whilst fulfilment is long term. Unlike the Western Pollyanna notion of happiness, fulfilment doesn’t mean the search for a life free from stress. Rather it is through embracing, moulding and shaping stress that poise, focus and clarity is possible despite life’s chaos.

        The {Instinct Code} is a personal mastery program explored through mind and movement, while fully reconnecting to the energy of the natural world. I hope that those who come along on the journey will discover the positive application of their primal nature, and overcome obstacles in their life.

        As you can see, I am not against research or science, on the contrary, much of what I explore and present from the scientific domains has already been foretold in the wisdom of ancient traditions. Science then is only now getting round to validating what has already been known. What I am most interested in is processes, tools and strategies that are natural, innate to the success of the humans animal, unencumbered by artificial methods. In other words, I want to encourage all of us to return as best we can to our innate nature before we become fully domesticated human animals, never to return to natural world until our death. I believe it is through returning to our ancestral heart, that true healing and fulfilment are possible.

        ”All good things are wild and free” — Henry David Thoreau

        I spent several years as a social scientist researching the role mindfulness plays in the moment of leadership performance. Mindfulness has now become the ‘in thing’ with it being touted as aiding in everything from enhancing relationships, improving attention, helping a person manage their stress, aiding people in dealing with physical pain, to improving mental health, and the list goes on. The truth is, that at times both journalists and even scientists (who we could argue should know better) have overstated the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness. As such there has been a growing skepticism with scientific data on mindfulness being woefully lacking.



        Undeniably there is some solid evidence to show that the practice of mindfulness does in fact have positive benefits for the overall health of the human animal, and my own personal experience, and my research speaks to this. But, early on in my research I began to recognise that while it was one thing practicing being present on a mediation cushion in a quiet room, filled with candles, and the sweet scent of incense — that this experience was very far removed from being present in the chaos we call life. It is for this reason that I focused my research on two important aspects of being present. Firstly the ability to be present while in the action of living (i.e., in everyday experiences that we typically found ourselves engaged in), and in turn that it was done in such a way that one brought one’s entire self to the experience (i.e., embodiment).

        For my leaders in my study this meant that they were intentionally at least in the beginning activating a sense of presence in their everyday work environment. The way I got them to understand how to achieve this was through a workshop I designed where through martial arts and other embodied movement experiences they discovered in real time how it felt to not be present, and in turn I then showed them ways to bring themselves back to the moment at hand.

        My personal takeaway from this is that the real world benefits of being able to be present comes about by actively doing so, and practicing it as such in the crucible of life and not in some kind of artificially created environment first. Secondly, the success of being present comes from bringing all of yourself to the experience you find yourself in. In other words, its not just about getting your head straight. Drawing from this I have found a few ways to intentionally practice being present that has real world positive effects. One of the most profound is what I call, ‘Walking with Stillness’.

        Practicing Walking with Stillness

        For half the year I live on the Isle of Man. We have beautiful glens here, which is the ideal place to walk with stillness (if you don’t have a glen, a forest or something similar near by, even a park will suffice). The goal is to go for a walk, but to intentionally slow down. While you slow down, you try to walk as softly as you can, making as little noise as possible.

        While you do so, you want to not only be fully aware of your body as it moves from one step to the next, quietly, and softly making your way through the woods, but at the same time be fully aware of what surrounds you. While you do so, you want to focus on your breath. Breathing in bring your attention to your body as it moves, breathing out bring your attention to the outside world. After a while, and with practice breathing in and out begins to merge, and you recognise that there is no longer a separation between inner and outer. 



        Crucially while all this is going on your are doing so from a place of curiosity and non judgemental awareness. The step you make is the step you make. The bird you hear in the distance is a bird you hear. If you feel your mind wandering off to some other place, you gently remind yourself to come back to walking slow and soft, while connecting to your breath.

        Whenever I have practiced this, 20-minutes in a sense of stillness falls over my entire body, even though all around me the sounds of nature are anything but still.

        When I was walking in the mountains with the Japanese man and began to hear the water, he said, 'What is the sound of the waterfall?' 'Silence,' he finally told me. - Jack Gilbert

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          Stillness Embodied

          It is this sense of embodied stillness you want to incorporate into your everyday life. The world can be moving a million miles around you, but you are not sped up by it, instead you feel calm, centered and focused.

          After numerous practicing sessions of ‘Walking with Stillness’ I began to apply in all other journeys in my life, from walking to the store, or going into town. And that’s the thing, rather than it simply being a walk to somewhere, my walks became a journey. Each time a journey of self discovery to that place of inner stillness, even though life’s chaos continued as it always has and always will. 



          Try it out this week. I would love to hear what you found.

          You ask me where I get my ideas. That I cannot tell you with certainty. They come unsummoned, directly, indirectly - I could seize them with my hands - out in the open air, in the woods, while walking, in the silence of the nights, at dawn, excited by moods which are translated by the poet into words, by me into tones that sound and roar and storm about me till I have set them down in notes. — Ludwig Van Beethoven

          As adults we seldom find ourselves barefoot in nature. Shoes are no longer simply used for utility, but now a fashion statement to be worn everywhere and to be shown off. As a result, most of us can’t walk very far barefoot before it begins to hurt. In other words our feet have become accustomed to being locked up inside a silent padded cushioned room.

          This insanity continues to our children, where often their feet are constantly locked up in shoe jail. It’s sad to see so many kids not being allowed to immerse in the simple joy of splashing barefoot in the mud. Although for another article, their are negative consequences to kids wearing shoes all of the time. Toddlers for instance tend to keep their heads up more when they are walking barefoot. As such, they rely on the feedback from the floor and with less looking down at their feet (as they typically would with shoes on), they are less off balance, and don’t fall as often. In addition walking barefoot strengthens the muscles and ligaments of the foot, increasing the strength of the foot’s arch, while improving proprioception (the awareness of where our body is in space), as well as contributing to overall good posture.

          Getting Back To Earth

          But even if you not a fan of walking barefoot everywhere, the simply act of spending 20-minutes a day with your shoes off connected to natural ground (i.e., outside in your garden, on a beach, even rocks) can be hugely beneficial to your health. Before I get to that, let me tell you how I began taking my shoes off regularly and spending some part of each day walking bare feet connected to the natural world.

          In early 2020 I ruptured my Achilles tendon. I think it had been coming on for some time as I had felt it from time to time on the mat whilst practicing jiu-jitsu. But as we often do, I ignored the warning signals from my body in favour of performance. Guess how it finally decided to give way? Running to the gate to catch a flight I was sure I would miss. At least if I gained my injury on the jiu-jitsu mat I could have claimed it as a battle scare. But nevertheless, as a result of my Achilles rupture I found it difficult to walk, run, climb stairs or stand on tiptoes for months. I was in agonising pain.



          As I tried different rehab options, the simple act of walking barefoot in nature seemed to have the most benefit. Part of this was that with no shoes I had to be extra aware of how I was placing that next step. Rather than walking simply as routine as we often do, going barefoot ensures you make every step intentional. As I was reading around why walking barefoot had been so beneficial to my recovery, I came across the concept known as ‘earthing’. Earthing is when you intentionally come into direct physical contact with the vast supply of electrons on the surface of the Earth. The best way to achieve this is to get off manmade surfaces, go off into nature, and you guessed it: take your shoes off.

          “You learn a lot when you're barefoot. The first thing is every step you take is different.” - Michael Franti

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            Backed By Research

            At first I thought this was a little ‘blue light’. But as I began to dig deeper into the topic, I found that there was increasing number of studies showing how earthing or sometimes known as ‘grounding’ is beneficial to the human animal. As Chevalier et al. (2012) notes:

            “Mounting evidence suggests that the Earth’s negative potential can create a stable internal bioelectrical environment for the normal functioning of all body systems.”



            Further, and crucial to the health of my Achilles, by earthing to the primordial flow of Earth’s electrons it improved both my body’s immune and inflammatory responses. In addition it also helped me sleep better. All of which have been shown to be natural benefits of spending time barefoot connected to the natural world. You don’t always have to be barefoot though, you can also achieve the same results by lying on the ground, submersed in water like the ocean, or through various grounding equipment now available on the market. For example: I have a grounding sheet that I sleep on at night.

            “Gravity is measured by the bottom of the foot; we trace the density and texture of the ground through our soles. Standing barefoot on a smooth glacial rock by the sea at sunset, and sensing the warmth of the sun-heated stone through one's soles, is an extraordinarily healing experience, making one part of the eternal cycle of nature. One senses the slow breathing of the earth.” - Juhani Pallasmaa

            Obviously earthing isn’t the cure to all ailments, but as I have learned, one needs to add it to other natural healing protocols. For example, outside of earthing daily, I also ensure that I walk in woodlands among trees a few times a week (I wrote about the health benefits of spending time with trees HERE). 



            What excites me most about improving my health, mindset and emotional wellbeing in nature is that there are no side effects as I would encounter when taking medication. It’s also free and it’s simple. These simple methods of improving human flourishing is what I am most passionate about. I personally feel we have widely overcomplicated what we need to be truly fulfilled. The answers to our fulfilment has always been there if we take the time to look, and often our hunter gatherer ancestors already knew the best ways to achieve optimal flourishing. This is why I am an advocate of going back and unlocking what I call our ‘Instinct Code’. It’s time to return, as best we can to the wisdom of the natural world and to rewild the human animal.

            “Going barefoot is the gentlest way of walking and can symbolise a way of living - being authentic, vulnerable, sensitive to our surroundings. It’s the feeling of enjoying warm sand beneath our toes, or carefully making our way over sharp rocks in the darkness. It’s a way of living that has the lightest impact, removing the barrier between us and nature.” — Adele Coombs, Barefoot Dreaming

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