‘Doing Human’ : Our Role on this Planet

‘Doing Human’ : Our Role on this Planet

doing-human

By 1926 wolves in Yellowstone National Park had been eliminated by park employees as part of their policy to eliminate all predators. The elimination of wolves however had unforeseen consequences that altered the entire parks ecosystem.Elk, no longer pressured by predators became abundant but in doing so also began to destroy their own habitat. With no fear of predators elk began to congregate around the river banks, eating and destroying vegetation that had previously prevented soil erosion. This in turn affected and saw the decline of fish, amphibians, and reptiles in the waterways as they became broader, shallower, and warmer due to the loss of shade from stream-side vegetation. Recognising that without the wolves the ecosystem would continue to suffer, in 1995 wolves were once again reintroduced into Yellowstone and slowly the ecosystem began to repair itself.

All Has Its Place

It is clear from this and many other examples that every thing in nature has its place in an ecosystem. All actors play a role in the health of that ecosystem, no matter how large or small. This is the first Law of Ecology: Everything Is Connected to Everything Else. Take away or lose one part of the ecosystem, and the entire system suffers, even worse it may fail.

Now enter humans.

What really is our role on this planet?

If every human had to disappear tomorrow morning, the Earth wouldn’t skip a beat. In fact, the Earth would have the opportunity to heal from all the damage that has been caused to it by humans, especially over the last hundred years.

In short: unlike everything else in an ecosystem that is reliant on everything else, the earth doesn’t actually need us at all. As Sören Faurby, a senior lecturer in zoology at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden’s 2015 study noted, without humans, Earth would largely resemble the modern-day Serengeti, an African ecosystem teeming with life.

The Strangest Incredible Story

In all of the above there is, at the deepest level, an incredible story underway. A story so mind-blowing that it can’t be real, but yet it is (at least to our current understanding). At the beginning of this story (as far as we know) resides the quantum vacuum. Arising form this vacuum at the next level of scale are the smallest things coming out of the quantum foam, giving rise to subatomic particles, then atoms, then cells then bodies: Here a ‘body’ implies you and me as human animals or the wolf.

At the heart of it, we are until that moment of ‘body’ exactly the same, we share the same building blocks. The wolf then becomes a wolf and does what wolves do, as the elk does what elk do. And as highlighted in the beginning of this article, wolves serve an incredibly important role in keeping the ecosystem healthy. Human’s on the other hand — what is it to ‘do human’?

'Doing Human'

Along the road we have forgotten that we are animals too, just as wolves and elk are. We have forgotten what it is too ‘do human.’ Our unique abilities of problem solving, to be creative, and adaptability puts us in a unique position to be custodians of this beautiful planet. If there was ever a reason for us to be here, to serve an important role in the planetary ecosystem surely this is it. If we can understand our place as custodians of Gaia, then it absolutely matters if we are here or not.

“To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from,” – Terry Tempest, American author and environmentalist.

Taking our role as custodians of this planet seriously also changes how we view each other, and how we all live on this planet. Rather than being driven by consumerism and all out capitalistic gain in favour of the few, we would find ways to live in harmony with nature, and each other collectively. As Zeno, ancient Greek philosopher noted “The goal of life is living in agreement with nature.”

We clearly have our priorities wrong. We have forgotten our place, we have forgotten our animalism and what it is to ‘do human’. As  Henry David Thoreau reminds us “What is the good of having a nice house without a decent planet to put it on?” In the end there is no easy answer to sway 7.5 billion human animals to reimagine themselves as caretakers, custodians of the home we all share. Nothing short of a global revitalisation of a life philosophy that puts the Earth and all its inhabitants (no matter how small) first will bring about the change we desperately need. For now, each of us needs to be content with doing our part to become custodians of Gaia – no matter how small the act. I may not be able to change my neighbours view of what it means to be a human animal, but I can surely begin with myself.

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The Real Reason so Many of Us are Unhappy!

The Real Reason so Many of Us are Unhappy!

wy-we are unhappy

Do you feel like you constantly treading water but not getting anywhere? Everyday feels exactly the same? Weeks blur into each other and the years seem to be speeding up. Each time you look again you are back to where you started. Yet you are trying your best to get ahead, to make it to shore, but it all seems hopeless. You are left with one conclusion: you are the problem. Many of us can see ourselves living out this story — and too many of us believe we are the problem — that we are the reason we are not seeing success. It’s our fault that we feel anxious all the time, frazzled, depressed, angry, and unmotivated.

Success for Most is Doomed to Fail

As hard as this may be for many people to accept, everything we are trying to do to be successful is largely doomed to fail. This can’t be true right? Looking around you see people succeeding, or at least it looks that way. However, when you look closer, the only people that are getting anywhere are the ones that have learned to manipulate the current system to their benefit. Their success, if one can even call it that lies within a narrow band of the modern human experience: capitalism. Albeit truthfully narrow, capitalism has become the predominant life way of the modern man and woman. So when we say we see other people succeeding, what we are really saying is that they are succeeding in material wealth.

There is no denying that in our modern consumer driven society for those of us that are simply trying to survive, material wealth will make our lives easier. But just because life becomes easier, doesn’t mean that in of itself it will lead to personal fulfilment. One only has to look around to see extraordinary successful material wealthy people committing suicide, losing themselves in drugs, and self sabotaging their success. As cliche as it may be: “money doesn’t buy you happiness”.

The Lie of Success

The notion of survival of the fittest, to hoard as much things as you can, to be prepared to do what ever it takes to climb over the person in front of you, and personal gain at all costs — was never our nature as a continuation from hunter gathers, to farming, to cities, to the modern world we now find ourselves in. This narrative of modernity that we now find ourselves embedded into, the consumeristic culture, was untrue for most of our time as human animals on this planet.

For most of our time on this planet we were hunter gatherers. In those societies it was frowned upon to hoard, or to have more than the next person in the tribe. The tribe was largely egalitarian, whilst leadership was temporary, with anyone vying for permanence in that role, made fun of, or simply ostracised. If you led, you did so by example, not simply by title. There was no competition or trying to outdo the next person, but rather reciprocity and personal freedom in general were the norm. Problems were mostly solved within the tribe without the need for courts or prisons. While our hunter gatherer ancestors didn’t have much in the way of technology as we recognise today, with stone, wood, fibres and bone they comfortably met all their material needs. For the most part it was living a life of few needs that were simply met. All of this was done without having to destroy their environment either. I could go on an on, but I am sure you get the point.

Clearly, up until around 12000 years ago this is how virtually everyone lived. But things have changed and not for the better it seems, at least for the vast majority of us. While the reasons for how we now find ourselves in despair may be complex, one thing is certain it is not how we lived for the vast span of time on this planet. It seems to me, that we have allowed those with deep greed to take control of everyone’s life trajectory. I am certain greed has always been with us, but from the research done on hunter-gatherer societies it was never allowed. Hoarding, or even having a greater share than others, was seen as socially unacceptable. For example as James Woodburn a prominent social anthropologist points out, among the !Kung and the Hadza, hoarding food when another person is hungry would be unthinkable.

The Modern World is Spiritually Bankrupt

The bottom line the way the current economic system is set up allows for a few to control the many. It allows greed to go unabated, built of a lie of scarcity and that consumption is the only path to happiness. Most of us have been flung into this consumeristic culture without much to say about it. To make matters worse, those that lead the charge on how wonderful life is now compared to the supposed brutish short lived lives of our ancestors (which is a lie as seen earlier), design systems to ensure we continue to believe that we can all win if we just hustle a lit bit harder.

The truth is, you can only win in the current system if you are willing to become the very thing that is keeping everyone else in a perpetual state of economic slavery. What you need to become in the end isn’t going to be liberated, but rather a cog in the wheel of consumeristic psychosis, believing all along that this is what being human is all about. You will like many who have reached the capitalistic top, feel terribly empty, while attempting to fill that emptiness with more of what the system says you should to feel better.

 

Showing Up Via an Ancient Story

Or….You can begin to search for an alternative way to show up in your life. First you have to acknowledge that our collective mental trauma is caused by attempting to integrate into this modern system of consumption. That the consumeristic nature of our modern economy is in fact a sickness twisted and manipulated by those who are most unwell among us. Philosopher, Krishnamurti reminds us, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” 


As Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh notes, “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.

It’s time for all of us to realise that in fact our default mode of being is one of deep connection and caring towards our fellow man. That we are not meant to be competing with each other, but rather cooperating so that each of us can live our best lives. That having just enough to live a fulfilled life is what happiness truly means. To not take more than we need to survive comfortably and to give to those who are struggling.

I know we have heard this all before. It does sound utopian. And yes, it often doesn’t work. The reason this approach to life fails for most isn’t because people are the problem, but rather the system in which we live is the problem. As political activist, Emma Goldman “With human nature caged in a narrow space, whipped daily into submission, how can we speak of its potentialities?” This modern system we now find ourselves in is designed to pit each one of us against the other. It’s designed to have ‘haves-and-have nots.’ There’s no other way, because without them above, and most of us below, the system would fracture and fail. The system teaches us from an early age to look down on anyone who doesn’t seem to be winning as either lazy, stupid and or no good.

In the end, there is no easy answer to any of the above, but from my end, one way is to build a community of support and connection — encouraged by the lessons of our ancestors so that we can embody their wisdom to show up in our lives truly fulfilled. Consider joining the TELEGRAM TRIBE HERE>>

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Bees, Slime & The Present Human Dilemma

Bees, Slime & The Present Human Dilemma

Bees-slime-and-the-human-Dilemma
Imagine for a moment that I asked you to take part in two experiments. In the first experiment you are confronted by a Y-maze giving you the option to go down two opposite corridors. Before you enter the maze you see a blue sign at the entrance. Previously you were told that the color blue signified a reward. Once you entered the Y-maze at the end of each corridor you find two doors, one blue and the other yellow. Knowing that blue signifies a reward you decide to enter that door first. Congratulations you have successfully matched the color at the entrance, with the same color on the door. Now for the second experiment. Imagine that you have been placed in a standard maze, the kind with dead ends and only one possible exit. At the exit you are told a fantastic dinner awaits you as a reward if you work out the maze. Naturally you do what ever it takes to find that exit. Again congratulations and enjoy the feast!

We are Not the Only Intelligence

We can agree that both of these experiments wouldn’t be hard for a human being to figure out. Humans after all are imbued with intelligence.

However, what if I told you that both of the above ‘experiments’ were solved by non-human species. That’s right the first was solved by bees showing they can think and handle abstract concepts. The second experiment was solved by a charismatic slime mold called Physarum or popularly known as “the blob”—which can learn, make decisions, and go through mazes without a brain. Clearly both show intelligence, or at least how we think of intelligence in every day experience.

However, they are not the only non-humans to show signs of intelligence. For example prairie dogs who have brains the size of grapes, use a sophisticated form of verbal communication involving high pitched chirps to describe the world around them. They can describe intruders according to species size, shape, speed, etc.

I highlight the above as a taster of the growing recognition that intelligence can no longer simply be ascribed to human beings. This is important because for far to long we have been told that we are the only true intelligent inhabitants on this planet. Everything else is either primal or primitive. It’s this state of hubris—the anthropocentric view that we are the most important life form in existence on Earth—that has created the global environmental destruction we now all face.

Modern Civilized People Are Increasingly Unhappy

For all that we have gained in the West, and for all that civilization has promised, most people are far from happy. For instance a recent (August 2019) nationwide survey in the UK found that 89% of 16-29 year olds claim that their lives are ‘meaningless’ (that’s the word they actually used). The average overall was 80% for all age groups. Over 60s do the best with only 55% reporting that their lives are meaningless.

Just walk into any brick and mortar bookshop (or now online) and you will find row upon row of self-help books promising happiness, managing stress (an epidemic in its own right), a search for meaning and personal mastery. Most who are prolific readers of this self-help genre if honest, will tell you that after all that reading they still aren’t any happier. I believe both the self help books and subsequent courses, often fall short in helping us discover true ‘happiness.’

Why?

Because they ascribe to a way of telling us how to become happy, but situated within the very problem that’s causing the unhappiness in the first place. In other words modern society, the so called civilized world itself.

 

As spiritual teacher Krishnamurti reminds us: “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

 

 

Without exception all the books and courses currently available on becoming more happy, managing stress, self-discovery and personal mastery center on being achieved (i.e., training us to be well-adjusted to) within the capitalistic, materialistic society we now find ourselves in. In my opinion this is exactly why reading these books, taking those courses or listening to motivational experts so often fail. Taking a page from Krishnamurti, each of these programs are attempting to make us healthy and well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. As such all these programs offer a band aid and not a lasting solution. All are therefore destined to fail!

We all need to start waking up to the fact that while many good things have come about because of progress, science et al. It will never be able to replace what we all need—a deep connection to spirit, that cannot be quantified, measured or reverse engineered.

Is There a Solution?

Through my own personal practice and research I have discovered that the answer to lasting fulfillment lies in reintegrating ourselves back into the natural wisdom and rhythm of the world. In order to achieve this we need to purposively make an internal shift and embody a largely forgotten way—at least for modern humans—of being in the world. This starts by acknowledging as many ancient wisdom traditions have always known, that we are not separate to the Earth, to Gaia. Yes, we are intelligent, but so are the bees, the slim mold, the trees, rivers and all that inhabits our beautiful planet. We are not separate but one and all is intelligence if you willing to change your perspective.

As Chief Seattle reminds us:

“All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

Or less poetic, and more pragmatic by Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

“We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.”

Beyond Connection

Beyond acknowledging that we are part of and not separate to all that exists on this planet, we need to return and honor ancestral wisdom. This requires going back to a sensibility where our ancestors lived in harmony with nature.

I get it that it’s not possible for most of us to return to a lifeway of a hunter-gatherer, but that doesn’t mean that what first people have to teach us is any less important. In fact as I have discovered, by integrating their lifeway principles into my own life, I have been able to heal not only from my childhood trauma, but equally be more successful at dealing with a world that seems to care little that I exist. The reality is that the modern world sees all of us as commodities to be strip minded for its own ends, which is to perpetuate consumption at any cost (and mostly this is done at a cost to our health).

It’s these ancestral lessons that I teach in my Awakening the Human Animal Retreat. It is these lessons that will allow you to Unlock your Instinct {Code}. Some of the lessons include how First People view mental wellness. For example for First People wellness was and is holistic, encompassing a state of balance with family, community and the larger environment (i.e., the connection to the natural world). As a side note here: it’s my belief that the reason so many First People now suffer with mental illness is precisely because they are being forced into a lifeway of modernity, which itself is the catalyst for mental illness that we see so much of today. Historically, and before the interference from colonialism, First People suffered far less with mental illness as they do today in the modern world. The reason for this was that First People have a holistic traditional psychological system and healing practices, often based in spirituality, ceremony and ritual.

The truth is, we now live in a time where information is ubiquitous, but wisdom is in short supply. Ideologies consume the modern landscape but meaning is scarce. People are burnt out. We clearly need a new way to show up both in the world and our lives.

But maybe, just maybe the story we need to tell isn’t a new one, but rather an ancient story that is now desperately needed to be experienced. I believe if we can bring this ancient story to light, learn to integrate it back into our modern experience we can find the rhythm of living an exceptional life most of us seem to be missing. In turn, it will equip us with the wisdom to change the destructive path we are on, and so that we can take our rightful place as care-keepers of the natural world — our Mother, teacher and spiritual muse.

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Reawakening The Human Animal

Reawakening The Human Animal

reawakening-the-human-animal

We have been indoctrinated into an ideology of modernity, and civility that claims that we are far better off than our brutish primitive ancestors. In order to be victors of these claims we are sold a narrative to hustle, to compete, to win at all costs, to conquer and take ownership of everything on this planet—because we have been told we are the superior intelligence. Everything, and everywhere we look, from what we are told to buy to make us happy, to the most popular sports we play and watch, is designed to bolster the above claims. 

As such, most people I encounter find it really hard to believe, even less accept, that much of their internal strife and suffering is largely due to their modern lifestyle. I once counted myself as one of these people. I bought into the search for happiness, and to advertise my success through material gain and wealth. But, as often is the case as I ticked off one more success box, the house in the right neighborhood, the BMW, and so forth, the surge of happiness was short lived. To be honest, I never enjoyed most of that so called success anyway, I simply went along with it because that’s what you were expected to do (and especially if you wanted to fit in).

The truth is, the constant pursuit of material wealth, outdoing each other at any cost, competing for anything and everything, along with a loss of true connection to each other as technology pulls us further apart—is literally making us ill. Many mental health issues such as depression, suicide and anxiety so common today in the ‘civilized’ world were largely absent in our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

All is Not Lost

However, all is not lost. Of course not everything is bad about modernity, but I believe to truly flourish we need to once again find balance and flow in our lives. Many people may not want to accept this, but in my view and experience it requires us to go back, to reconnect with and honor our ancestral lifeways.

We can accomplish this by coming home to ancestral ways of reconnecting to nature, by advocating cooperation not competition, by leading only when we have something to offer and stepping aside when we don’t, by simplifying the way we live, by decluttering our minds, by being more fully present, honoring intuition, and living a life that doesn’t harm others (both human and non-human). Finally it can be accomplished by abiding in Anima Mundi, in the spirit of all things.

The problem of course is that humans fear letting go of the known for the perceived unknown. The truth is we have become way to comfortable, domesticated human animals, who have lost both the knowledge and physical conditioning and skills to live under the night sky.

Have We Truly Lost Our Human Animal, or Simply Let It Lie Dormant?

What I have just suggested above we have always intuitively known—although it has been stifled by modernities relentless focus on rationality. We have been told that it is indeed irrational to let go of what is referred to as our ‘civilized ways’ in favor for what is said to be the uncivilized, the primitive. The capitalistic economic machine doesn’t want us to reawaken to our human animal because it would mean living out our birthright, as one with all that is.

However if we are brave enough to allow a small opening for the call of our ancestors to once again reawaken within our hearts we can find a way of embodying our natural life flourishing intelligence.

Contrary to what we have been indoctrinated to believe it is not natural for us to fight each other. We are not meant to compete against each other. We are not meant to have power over each other. The reality is we have never been the most intelligent species on this planet, as such we never had the right to conquer, consume or believe to own nature as we have.

We are as Albert Einstein (I bet most never thought he would be the one saying this) notes:

The Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert talk about two “hungers”. There is the Great Hunger and there is the Little Hunger. The Little Hunger wants food for the stomach; but the Great Hunger, which is said to be the greatest hunger of all, is the hunger for meaning. I believe there is an inner revolution underway. More and more individuals are waking up to the lie of modernity that promised success and happiness. People have begun to realize that the answer to their fulfillment lie elsewhere and not in the modern world we know today or what it will become tomorrow. There’s a deep desire to return to a time where we needed little, and knew how to live a life of fulfillment—a time of minimalism, kinship, and connection to the land. More and more people are finding the courage to reject conformity and live a life on their own terms.

Diogenes, an ancient Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynic philosophy taught that genuine freedom comes from within. Genuine freedom emerges from self-sufficiency rather than from wealth, power, or reputation. Genuine freedom does not arise from having as much as possible, but rather from needing as little as possible. The time has come to ‘unschool’ ourselves from the falsehood of happiness promised in modernity and in turn relearn and reawaken once again how to reconnect with the uncluttered, minimalist experience of being fully alive with ourselves. In short we need to ‘RiˈWīld’ ourselves!

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How to be Steady & Well Ordered in Life

How to be Steady & Well Ordered in Life

steady-and-well-ordered

Walking down the busy city streets, I blend in among the crowd. I am about to give a presentation to an important group of people, and while my nervous system is engaging for the upcoming stressful event, with heart rate increasing, palms sweaty, and dry mouth, I have a secret weapon – I have the inner tools to bring myself back to calm. The presentation went extremely well, and I am off to the airport to catch my flight to my next destination.

Landing at Manchester airport, I am met with chaos. A volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland has grounded virtually every flight. The lines of disgruntled passengers are already forming, tempers begin to flare as people realize no one is going anywhere. As I stand there watching the unfolding scene, I feel the frustration boil up inside me. But I have a secret weapon, I have a long practice of being present in difficult situations. Several hours later, I am told, “You won’t be flying out today.”

Stranded in Manchester and unable to get back to Johannesburg, with insomnia as my friend, I roam the city streets at night. Turning down a quiet street corner, I witness a man aggressively pressing a woman up against a wall, hand lifted above his head about to strike. But I have a secret weapon, years of jiu-jitsu training has prepared me for this very moment. The aggressor never expected to find himself on the floor.

Walking away from that incident, instead of feeling anger, I had a secret weapon, I have learned to let go of the fight, both external and internal. Resuming my walk, and as I entered the main street, I blend into the crowd, steady and well-ordered. When you see me, there’s nothing special about me that stands out. I am just another face among many. But I have a secret, I have done the ‘work.’

The Work

My ‘work’ has been ‘fierce’ and ‘original.’ My life has been an inner adventure, searching for the secrets to showing up in life with poise, focus and clarity. Looking at me, you wouldn’t know about the ‘work’ I have committed too. But it shows up in my actions. I decided a long time ago not to conform to the status quo. I was going to follow my own path, on my own terms.

I survived government housing, and growing up poor. I survived government schooling, where the teachers told me I would never amount to anything. I survived severe bullying as a child. I survived an abusive alcoholic Mother. I survived being kicked out of the house at 17 and finding myself homeless, sleeping on the inner city streets. I survived the South Africa military. I survived seven years outside as a doorman outside some of Johannesburg toughest nightclubs. I survived an empty fridge, while I hustled to make my martial arts school a success. I survived having no support in all of this, but I figured it out as I went. In all of this, I was doing the inner ‘work’ so I could thrive.

You see, the steady, well-ordered man that stands before you now, has done the ‘work’ that you have no idea exists. Gustave Flaubert a French novelist, who at his time was highly influential, and considered the leading exponent of literary realism in his country noted: “Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.”

What I take from Flaubert’s words is that the work is done often behind the curtains, and outside of the public eye. As each one of us comes to the work with our own unique life’s experience it is naturally original.

Doing the inner work is never a smooth ride. It’s fierce, and requires ferocity to stay the course. It is to easy to slip into the status quo, and follow the crowd. To be truly self liberated one has to be willing to stand outside what is considered the norm, while being fiercely determined to stay the course of authenticity, while not becoming ensnared by the modern worlds definition of happiness. You know, that lie of the modern world that industrial civilization, along with limitless economic growth, consumerism and material affluence is a pathway to prosperity and happiness.

What Really is The Work

The work is being able to show up in the modern world, and have had done the fierce and original ‘work’ behind the scenes so as not to become a victim or slave to modernities pathologies. The West’s cultural values of competition at any cost, survival of the fittest, keeping up with the Joneses, the endless hedonic treadmill, a focus on material wealth as a marker of success and so forth have contributed to a society that feels fragmented, anxious, stressed out, and suffering from a loss of meaning. We are, if we view it that way or not, cogs in an enormous market-based machine — a machine that care’s little for our humanity.

While it is true, for most of us, that we cannot simply opt out of the modern world, we can however make a conscious decision on how we are going to play the game. This is where the fierce and original work comes in. The simplest way to do the work is to look around and see the most common struggles people are facing and find a way to do the opposite. 


A Thought Experiment

In an attempt to really get to the bottom of what is important, I offered a client the other day this thought experiment. Imagine for a moment we could be transported back to the time of our hunter gatherer ancestors. After we had insured the safety of our band, and had a successful hunt so there was enough food, sitting there what else would be important?



What would be occupying our ancestral minds? All of the things we fret over in the modern world, simply wouldn’t exist, except for what really mattered. We would have a deep connection to family, friends, and earth. Our days would be spent laughing, exploring, and looking up at the night sky with wonder. We would move with the seasons, and our mind would be a mirror of the beauty and awe of the landscape we inhabited. As Emma Goldman, an anarchist political activist argued about our modern life, “With human nature caged in a narrow space, whipped daily into submission, how can we speak of its potentialities?” Our ancestors on the other hand were connected to the uncluttered, minimalist embodied wisdom of the human animal and in doing so experienced a natural inner rhythm.

I believe it is still possible, even as we live in the modern world to recapture that natural inner rhythm (although admittingly much tougher). This is the ‘work’ I do daily, and coach to others both individually and at my retreats. The ‘work’ is about being able to show in the modern world with all its uncertainty, chaos, and stress — steady, and well-ordered — in other words with poise, focus and calm.

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How To Free Your Human Animal

How To Free Your Human Animal

freeing the Human Animal

We often take words for granted. However, on closer inspection there meaning, especial there ‘root’ history can have profound influence in how we understand those words. For example, the word ‘human’ comes from the Latin word ‘humus,’ meaning earth or ground, whilst ‘animal,’ is based on Latin animalis ‘having breath’ from anima ‘breath.’ The human animal then, is one that emerges from the earth, breathed into life.

We are therefore not separate from all other life on this planet. We are just another version of animal that occupies the same home. We are as activist and actor Ian Somerhalder suggests “ The environment is in us, not outside of us. The trees are our lungs, the rivers our bloodstream. We are all interconnected, and what you do to the environment, ultimately you do to yourself.”

We Have Forgotten Our Place

We have forgotten, or should we say rather been indoctrinated to believe that being human is somehow far more special — or should we say we have a god like dominion over the Earth and all that live upon it. It is this lie of separation, or excommunication from the natural world by greedy capitalistic thinking that has laid baron and ecologically devastated our planet. We no longer view ourselves as part of the natural order, as co-inhabitants of this beautiful planet, but rather have been told to take ownership of it. People in the modern world, surrounded by skyscrapers believe this to be reality. How can we not think this, surrounded by our glorious manmade objects. On the face of it, it seems clear we do own this place — but we don’t and never will!

We forget all to often that the human who arises from the earth, goes back to it. There is no escaping our end. We are short term visitors on an exquisite planet, that wont miss us when we are gone. In fact the planet really does not need us at all. If every human being disappeared tomorrow morning, the planet, Gaia, will continue on in our absence. Unlike the delicate ecosystems we are destroying at an alarming rate, where every insect, plant, microbe etc al., plays a vital role in the health of that system, we in fact really serve no purpose. The Earth doesn’t need us in order to flourish, but we need her.

This is a sobering thought. 

In fact, we are food. We are being used as a source of life sustaining sustenance ourselves, every moment of our lives. As biologist Alanna Collen notes,

We are so arrogant to believe that just because we are able to walk, talk, and reflect on ourselves, that this allows us dominion over what we perceive to be resources for our own survival. In turn we are strip-mining the earth until there’s nothing left for anyone. And if that’s not good enough, we ensure that we enslave our fellow man, kill him senselessly, abuse him, and hate him for all sorts of ridiculous reasons. I often joke with my partner that I want to sue the world. Am I not a citizen of this planet? Yet, we have to ask permission to go to other parts of the world. We think we are free, but we are in fact enslaved. 

Who enslaved us? 

We did it to ourselves.

As Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist Monk and peace activist so eloquently points out:

Reclaiming Our Human Animal

This is why I am adamant that we need to once again reclaim our human animal. We are part of this amazing planet, along with every single other organism, insect, plant, and fellow animal cousin by decent or otherwise.

When I reflect on growing up, I have always felt out of place. I never quit fitted in. I still don’t. My happiest times as a child was when I was out alone in the African bush or practicing primal skills, from martial arts, to foraging. These experiences in the natural world were also my two sons most favorite times. It’s no coincidence either. Unwittingly we were re-embracing our natural animal human state. We where born to be apart of this world. We don’t own it. No one does. A Haidenosaunee teaching articulates this well, “We are a part of everything that is beneath us, above us and around us. Our past is our present, our present is our future, and our future is seven generations past and present.”

As Cultural historian Thomas Berry in The Dream of the Earth has argued,

Or in the words of Albert Einstein,

We can only free ourselves from this tyranny of domestication in the modern world, and the illusion of separation from the natural world — by stripping away the conditioning it has burdened us with. We are clearly not happy. The self-help industry is larger than it has ever been. A new psychological tool comes out every other year to help us deal with our psychological suffering. New ‘happy’ drugs are being developed at an alarming pace. We plug into virtual reality via video games, to escape the current modern reality. The onslaught of mindfulness practices in all its guises are being shoved in our faces everywhere. Non of this would exist if we were happy.

Modernity, with all its fanciful trappings, has made us ill. No amount of reading that next self help book, taking that next happy drug, or sitting quietly in a candle lit room — alone is going to ease our suffering. We are lost, and we have lost something really important, we know it, but we seem to be searching for it in all the wrong places.

 

How To Reclaim What We Have Lost

To be truly fulfilled requires reconnecting with the uncluttered, minimalist embodied wisdom of our ancestors, our human animal — and in doing so unlock our natural inner rhythm. It’s time to RIˈWILD! To Ri’Wild is to reverse the process of domestication and to return to a more wild or self-willed state.

But as Paul Shepard in, The Only World We’ve Got realizes, “ It is not necessary to ‘go back’ in time to be the kind of creature you are. The genes from the past have come forward to us. I am asking that people change not their genes but their society, in order to harmonize with the inheritance they already have.” Changing society is incredibly hard, but changing yourself, and how you show up in the world is possible.

Ill be honest, even as I close-in on 50, I don’t have all the answers. As you have, I have been pulled by the allure of modernity, and cajoled into the human Zoo, and swayed down the path of domestication. I have fought against it all my life. But as we likely can all agree, when the world as a system works entirely one way, rallying against it is a difficult prospect. I therefore have done, and increasingly so what Paul Shepard noted earlier. Realizing that until there is a mass sway in the direction back to sanity, all I can do for now is be a voice, and activist for the Human Animal. My boys fondly remember me telling them, “Boys we have to be awake and realize we live in the Matrix, but not to be owned by it”. While I readily recognize that I cannot go back to a time of my hunter gatherer ancestors, a time where by all accounts we suffered rarely as we do now in modernity, I am drawing strength from their ancestral knowledge so that I can optimize my life to fit into the modern constraints I face.

This takes the form of recognizing the spirit of Mother Earth, and to be humble within my place upon her. She has gifted me a space to call home, to live, and the opportunity to explore my full potential. While she would not miss me one bit if I was gone tomorrow, I do believe we are here to have an experience of what it means to be in flow with all of life. I often think of it as somewhat like training wheels for the next adventure when we leave this home. Based on how humans conduct themselves here, on this beautiful planet circling the sun, one could only imagine what the human species would end up destroying if they were immediately thrown into the universe as fully fledged citizens. Clearly, we need to go to ‘Earth Kindergarten’ first, before being allowed anywhere near the vastness of space.

As such, I fill my days now with moments of deep connection, and reverence in nature. I try my utmost not to burden to Gaia, doing as a I can to lessen the load on her. I make a point to make all of my activities to honor the natural intelligence that I am. Rather than seeking outwardly for answers or happiness, I look inward, to what I have been given. By applying my breath in the correct way I can manage the flight and fight response of my nervous system. By steadying my mind, I can be at peace exactly where I am, rather than being consumed by self defeating thoughts. Through my martial art practice I am able to experience flow. Through my movement practice, not only can I connect to the natural world, but experience her in way that is not separate from myself, but connected.

In all of the above, what stands out for me is simplicity. As I have written elsewhere, there was a time before the advent of agriculture, where our ancestors lived as part of the natural world, and while lacking all of what modernity offers us now, were happy. Happiness then, or what I prefer to call fulfillment isn’t complicated. The only reason it feels complicated, the only reason so many people are confused on how to achieve piece is mostly down to how we live now. As the anarchist political activist Emma Goldman points out “With human nature caged in a narrow space, whipped daily into submission, how can we speak of its potentialities?”

I leave you with these thoughts from John Seed, founder and director of the Rainforest Information Center in Australia and the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi. Should you want to explore Re-Awakening Your Human Animal with fellow travelers, take a look at my yearly Retreats in Thailand. I hope you decide to come spend some time with us Re’Wilding. 

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Going Silent is Great for Mental Health

Going Silent is Great for Mental Health

stepping-into-silence

Deep inside all of us resides what I call our natural rhythm, a healing rhythm that most of us have forgotten exists. We spend so much of our lives living outside of ourselves, that we have become disconnected from this natural rhythm.

What is it?

Silence!

We are so afraid of being fully alone with ourselves that we fill our lives with endless distractions and activities, searching for fulfillment and wellbeing outside ourselves in wealth, success and power. We distract ourselves with TV, the internet, social media, and of course video games. It seems most people are doing absolutely everything to avoid themselves. In addition many people are afraid of silence because they are afraid of what they might find there — the proverbial skeletons in the closet. In prison for instance the worst kind of punishment is solitary confinement. People literally go insane when left to themselves. For many people silence, being surrounded by quiet activates their fight and flight response, creating a sense of anticipation or anxiety — an expectation that something is about to jump from behind the bushes.

The Cultivation of Deep Patience

Inuit hunters have a word, ‘quinuituq,’ that means a deep patience needed while waiting for something to happen. Inviting silence into your life is a process of ‘quinuituq’ — being patient as we wait to find that which we have lost: our inner rhythm, our balance point. In other-words, finding inner rhythm and balance isn’t something we go out to find, but rather to allow it to reclaim us. This is counter to what our modern society has taught us. Modern society tells us: we need to hustle, we need to get out there and make our mark, success after all doesn’t come to those who wait. But yet, and again, so much of what modern society requires is a distancing from ourselves. Modern society draws out and leaves the best of us on the sacrificial alter of consumerism, until we no longer have a clue of who we are. Learning to be in silence, is in a way reclaiming what we have given up unknowingly thinking it will serve a greater purpose — when it never can — because modernity is built upon capitalistic cannibalism focused on its own selfish desire: profit.

There is no ‘profit’ to anyone when you seek silence, outside of the unmeasurable bounty accrued to your own inner wellbeing. By coming home to silence you step out of the hedonistic treadmill. But, if that’s not convincing enough, here’s some research to back that up. Silence has shown to lower blood pressure, boost the body’s immune system and benefit brain chemistry by growing new cells. For example, Kirste et al. (2013) found that two hours of silence could create new cells in the hippocampus region. The hippocampus is a region of the brain that is linked to learning, remembering, and emotions.

Bernardi, et al. (2006) showed that as little as two minutes of silence can relieve tension in the body and brain. This is the opposite to what noise invokes which is to increase stress and tension in the body. Probably for most of us especially in the modern world who are constantly battling incessant noise pollution, is that time in silence allows the brain to ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. As Stephen Kaplan (1995) has noted, silence allows the brain to stand down from its sensory guard, allowing it to restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excessive noise.

How To Invite Silence into Your Life

There is no right or wrong way to invite silence into your life, other that clearing a path for it to show up. By far the most profound moments of silence I have had in my life are walks out in nature. Walking alone, in silence, just with myself, and the natural world as my wonder is an invigorating experience. The key here is to leave all modern distractions behind, iPhone, EarPods, etc. 



I have found it equally important throughout my walks in silence, to take a seat every now and then and simply observe. Sitting still with my eyes wide open, without having to make sense of what I hear, see and smell, brings me back to the natural rhythm I have spoken about in this article. That natural rhythm is that space between stimulus and response. It’s a place of creativity, inspiration, and awe.

It takes practice of course to stay there. As was noted earlier, with so much of our lives lived outside ourselves, when we stop, breathe, and quiet down, we initially feel pulled: surely we should be doing something else? But given enough time, and practice, you will feel the call to silence echoing inside your soul.

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Is Violence & Aggression the Price of Progress?

Is Violence & Aggression the Price of Progress?

violence-price-of-progress

I was 5-years old when the bullying started. In those days you were able to go straight into junior primary school in South Africa. But my Mother thought it best that I did at least one year at preschool before heading to ‘big school’. I think she also felt I need the socialization, because up until that point I had been staying at home with my grandmother while my mother went off to work. In reflection, I also realize now that things were financially tough, so my Grandmother had no choice but to find a part-time job herself.

Bullying

I am not sure why I was being bullied. Maybe it was because I was the new kid, with kids already having being together in preschool for sometime and everyone had already made their little tribes and weren’t letting anyone else in. Who knows! 

As much as I tried to make friends, to fit in, it just wasn’t happening. I was subject to intense teasing, pushed around, tripped and so on. This mostly happened during recess when the teachers weren’t around to see. Anytime I went to sit with my lunch with the other kids they would get up and move, so I found myself alone, eating my cheese and ham sandwiches in the corner of the play ground.

It become so bad, that eventually I escaped preschool twice, hiding away until the recess bell had rung, then climbing onto the garbage bins, and jumped the wall. Luckily for me, the two times I did manage to escape my Grandmother was home, only to completely shocked opening the front door to find me standing there having walked the several miles to get home.

Things Didn't Change After That

The rest of my childhood didn’t change much after that. All through junior and senior primary I was bullied, and into the first two years of high school, until I snapped, had had enough, and started fighting back. Fighting back became my life’s work. For two decades I immersed myself in violence, either having to apply it as a doorman outside some of Johannesburg toughest nightclubs, or teaching others how to do the same, from surviving the battlefield, to the inner city streets. 

I never had an aggressive streak as a child. I was quiet, creative, and just wanted to get along with everyone. Looking back however, it is clear to me now that environment informs behavior, so that even a timid kid like me, can become someone skilled in using violence to gain the upper hand.

Even as I write this, I am still someone who at my core disdains violence of any kind, its not in my true nature to be violent, but as I have also learned, when you are cornered by several thugs bent on smashing your skull in to the sidewalk, fighting back and winning is really the only solution.

Why The Aggression?

Pondering my observations above has left me awake at night. How much of the aggression we see in the modern world is just human nature, or how much of it is really a creation of the societies we live in? Have we always been an aggressive species, or is it mostly a byproduct of the environment we find ourselves in?

Before I explore this further, I am constantly struck by our hypocrisy especially in the West (I count myself in this too). We largely as a society deplore violence, yet much of our most popular entertainment is violent, from movies, to the sports we play and watch. If two people get into a fist fight on the street corner, one if not both are going to jail, but if we do it in an Octagon it’s perfectly acceptable. Killing someone in suburbia who has a different worldview to you is a no-no, but if your government sends you to a foreign land, killing someone who has been classified as an ‘enemy’ then it’s perfectly fine. And the list goes on. I could be here all day highlighting all of the hypocrisy with violence and aggression we brush away in modernity. 

Hobbes in 1651 noted that life before the state was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. It was argued that when we still lived in small scale societies they were wracked by violence, disease, starvation, the constant threat of predation and natural disaster. In other words humans lived with no control over their lives or their environment. Every day supposedly was spent toiling just to survive, with barely no leisure time. There was simply no time to spend building a culture.

However over the millennia, humans gradually developed the tools to start building civilizations. The major revolution in all of this advancement was the Neolithic Revolution, with the introduction of agriculture. Agriculture allowed us to shift from living in bands of nomadic hunter gatherers, to forming permanent settlements.

But is this picture of our hunter gatherer ancestors correct? The reality is that much of this isn’t true.

Perhaps We Have OUR Past Completely Wrong

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. 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 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.

What about violence, and war?

Doug Fry and Patrik Söderberg, two anthropologists who specialize in the study of pre-agricultural societies, have noted that, “Nowhere in the actual data [on nomadic foragers] are found instances of lethal raiding for trophies or coups ” they continued by arguing that, “the worldwide archaeological evidence shows that war was simply absent over the vast majority of human existence.” This all changed and the archaeological record is “clear and unambiguous” on this with the advent of large scale agricultural settlements. It was at this time that, “War developed, despots arose, violence proliferated, slavery flourished, and the social position of women deteriorated.” The conclusion that arises out of this, and many other sources of research that agree is that civilization was not responsible for reducing the ravages of human violence, but rather that civilization itself is the source of most organized human violence. As Brian Ferguson professor of anthropology at Rutgers University-Newark notes, “We are not hard-wired for war. We learn it.”

Violence & Modernity

This brings me back to the question I raised earlier: Have we always been an aggressive species, or is it mostly a byproduct of the environment we find ourselves in?

While of course it would be naive to argue that violence never existed among our ancestors prior to agriculture, what is clear is that it proliferated since the dawn of the Neolithic. This will be unsettling to a lot of people in the modern world, especially those invested in violence in its various guises. We would like to believe as Steven Pinker wrote in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined that life in prehistory was marked by violence and war, along with “chronic raiding and feuding… characterized life in a state of nature.” However, this doesn’t seem to hold up. 

Just look around you, especially in the West, people are more unhappier than ever before, aggressive, stressed out, and feeling a sense of meaninglessness. My experience surviving a childhood of violence, and spending the rest of my life in teaching others how to combat it has shown me that on an individual level, people are generally far more aggressive than ever before.

Its my position that much of the aggression we see these days among people is largely due to the scaffolding of modernity. The modern world doesn’t seem to be good for us. For most of our time on this planet we lived as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did, in small bands, deeply connected to the natural world. In fact, our brains and bodies still remain the same, except now we have been thrust into a human zoo of our own making. Everything about the world around us now is unnatural, caged into ever smaller cramped spaces of concrete and steel. 


Environment Informs Behavior

To illustrate what the outcome can be when you take a species from its natural habitat and place it in an artificial one here is an poignant example. In the 1930s Solly Zuckerman and colleagues placed a 140 hamadryas baboons together in an exhibit at the London Zoo. In short order all hell broke loose with 94 adults and 14 infants being killed by each other. Initially it was thought that this violent outbreak was due to social discord, but later it became clear that it was likely due to the artificial environment that triggered the mayhem. As has been shown by other researchers captive female baboons are nine times more aggressive, while captive males are more than seventeen times as aggressive, when living in cages. In other words, environment has a deep impact on behavior. Why anyone would think this would not be the same for humans is short sighted.

 

Where Does This Place Me?

As a life long martial artist and teacher the above conclusions places me in somewhat of a quandary. How do I situate myself within this framework? How do I take the above and integrate that knowledge into a way forward, whereby I can still honor the path of being a warrior, while ensuring that I contribute to the modern world in a peaceful way?

I am certain what I have written throughout this article won’t make me popular. No one wants to accept that just maybe as we move further into becoming techno-sapiens things are only going to get worse. Just look around you for all the technical advances we have made, for all that modernity is said to be our savior, more kids are committing suicide than ever before, kids are drugged up, there’s an opioid crisis, the environmental destruction, corporate greed and so forth. I am not sure about you, but this doesn’t seem to be the healthy option. 

I want to make it clear that my personal decisions are my own, and in no way account for those who coach my martial arts programs, and nor do I ever tell anyone how they should live. On the contrary, as a coach, I am merely a guide, sharing my personal insights, and if someone feels it speaks to them they are welcome to take what works.

But over the past several years my entire perspective on coaching martial arts has changed. Looking back, in my beginning years, in my 20s I was a part of the problem I now see. I was using violence to try to overcome the trauma I had experienced as a child. Now that I know better, I continue to train and teach martial arts but only for three reasons: self-preservation, self-development and enjoyment. Not for sport, not as a way to dominate others, and definitely not to perpetuate the violence and aggression I am seeing everywhere around me. Its not easy, as sometimes the lines between right and wrong can become blurred. But I am honestly trying my best. I want to be part of the solution, not the problem. 


 

Where Am I Now?

As I continue to develop my own personal martial arts practice, more than ever I believe that martial arts if approached correctly can act as a transformative function, leading each of us to becoming a more evolved self. An evolved self that by using the martial arts experience as a laboratory can overcome our own aggression towards ourselves, whilst showing up in the world peacefully. I finally get what my karate instructor meant when talking to all of us at 6-years old, “Karate isn’t to commit violence, but to end it”.



While our hunter-gatherer ancestors may have not used violence often against each other, their martial art was that of surviving and thriving. The success of the hunt, keeping the band safe, all lent to a hunter-gatherer’s character. We have always held those among us skilled in the martial way as people who (should) exhibit character traits we admire: courage, fearlessness, discipline, honesty and so forth. This is still true today. But to honor our inner hunter-gather is only possible if what we use martial art skills for is in the service of life, not in destroying it.

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Is The Modern World Working For You?

Is The Modern World Working For You?

is-the-moderrn-world-working-for-you

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. 


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 neighbors’ 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 optimize 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).

Alleviating 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 realized 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 honor 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: 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 in the below article, 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 (read an article I wrote about this below).

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.

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.

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Struggling to Meditate? Try it With Walking!

Struggling to Meditate? Try it With Walking!

walking-on-the-way-to-meditation

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 centered. 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. 


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.

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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.

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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 environmentalist 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.”

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Walking Meditation: This is by far my favorite way to walk, and its done alone and barefoot where very 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 realized 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:

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