Inspiration for the Human Animal Project

Inspiration for the Human Animal Project

human-animal-inspiration

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.

 

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 fulfill 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 behavior. 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.

 

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 fulfillment 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 Fulfillment?

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 favorite 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 mold 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 favor 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 Human Animal Project proposes.

The Human Animal Project 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 Human Animal 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 fulfillment. I wrote ‘fulfillment’ throughout this piece on purpose, instead of ‘happiness’. Happiness is often momentary, whilst fulfillment is long term. Unlike the Western Pollyanna notion of happiness, fulfillment doesn’t mean the search for a life free from stress. Rather it is through embracing, molding and shaping stress that poise, focus and clarity is possible despite life’s chaos.

The Human Animal Project 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 fulfillment are possible.

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Spending Time Walking in Silence is Great for Your Mental Health

Spending Time Walking in Silence is Great for Your Mental Health

walking-with-stillnes

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 recognize 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.

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.

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Going Barefoot Realigns your Body’s Energy System

Going Barefoot Realigns your Body’s Energy System

getting-your-feet-dirty

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 favor 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 agonizing 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.

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 Pallasma

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 over complicated what we need to be truly fulfilled. The answers to our fulfillment 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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Why Hugging a Tree is Good for Your Health

Why Hugging a Tree is Good for Your Health

tree-huggers
The official definition of a ‘Tree Hugger’ is that of an environmental campaigner and the practice of embracing a tree in an attempt to prevent it from being felled. But more generally it is often used as a derogatory slang term to ridicule anyone who seeks fulfillment outside of the modern, civilized world. You know, those Hippies! Well, I will confess I am an unashamed Hippie in the making. But before I get to why we have the whole ‘Tree Hugging’ idea completely wrong, I want to briefly tell you how I got to hugging trees myself. It all begins with surviving one of the worst storms of my life.

Surviving Being Shipwrecked

You see, at the end of 2018 after suffering years of depression, along with the fall out and struggles I had been having with cervical degenerative disc disease (the Cervicogenic headaches are the worst) I was at my wits end. After being honest with myself that I wasn’t winning the battle against my depression — in fact just finally acknowledging that I was depressed to begin with — I began my healing journey. First this took the shape of the typical approach to getting better, seeking out the right medical professionals and therapists. By mid 2019 and thanks to the right medication I was able to function somewhat better. Even though things were better it was a little to late in respect to my marriage. Even though we now knew why I had been struggling for the past several years, the damage was done, and my now ex-wife asked for a divorce. I was devastated. A two decade relationship, with two amazing boys had come to an end. However, I wasn’t going to let this bump in the road derail my journey back to health, so I made the most difficult decision of my life: I had to leave my boys in South Africa and go in search for a way back to myself. I also realised that if I wanted to keep the lifestyle my boys had become accustomed too, I needed to head out to greener pastures. You see, my boys have had a life so different to my own childhood. My kids live in a great neighbourhood in Johannesburg, and go to private schools. I on the other hand barely survived government housing, near poverty, bullying, gangs on the street, and an abusive alcoholic Mother. I vowed when I had my boys I would do what ever I could to ensure they never had to endure the trauma I had as a child.

New Wind in My Sails

So off I went. First to Thailand, where my good friend and owner of Tree Roots Retreat Aaron graciously offered me a place to stay during my healing journey. This was the first stage of embodying my inner Hippie. For the first time in the longest time, I found myself consistently embedded in the natural world. Tree Roots Retreat is in Rayong, a couple of hours drive from Bangkok, nestled in a small fishing village. The retreats borders are surrounded by wild jungles, and it’s within walking distance to the beach. The whole experience of being there is so far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life. As each week went by, I walked everywhere barefoot, taking in the natural world through all my senses, and was feeling better for it.

Sailing into a New Port

In the beginning of 2020 I was back on the road again teaching martial arts. The bills had to be paid after all. I then found myself on the Isle of Man during some down time visiting my partner. Out of nowhere Covid hit, and I was stranded on the island, unable to travel and get back to Thailand. The Isle of Man is yet another beautiful part of the world, surrounded by natural wonders. High cliffs, beautiful glens, rolling green sheep filled hills and shingle beaches. Again, and in part because of my partners love of nature, and that I didn’t have much else to do, we found ourselves mostly outdoors. It was summer too, which made going out even more accessible. We went to every corner of the island, visiting Celtic and Viking ruins, walking in the country side, snorkeling in the sea, and absorbing every aspect of the beautiful glens. As each day passed, I felt my anxiety, something I had been overtaken by for the longest time slowly melt away. Mentally I continued to feel better too.

As the consummate researcher that I am, I began to delve into what science had to say about the natural world and its connection to improving the health of the human animal. I have always known intuitively that being in nature is good for you, and as most of us report, I have always felt better for my time outdoors. In fact, it was the only time I ever felt happy as a kid, spending school holidays at my Aunt’s small holding in the African bush. I was surprised to find that over the past while science had caught up to those intuitions. Rather than it simply being ‘old wives tales’ now research was convincingly showing how incredibly important it was for each of us to reconnect with our ancient roots, the natural world. As I noted in a previous article on this blog, Grounding the Embodied Warrior experience, if we measured all of the recorded history of planet Earth on a timeline of a year, what we consider the modern world accounts for 1-second. For the rest of our time as human animals on this planet we lived and were deeply connected to the natural world.

Back To Hugging Trees

Let’s return to those tree huggers. It turns out that we have a symbiotic relationship with trees, much like we do with the rest of the natural world. For example when you are walking among trees in a forest you are literally bathing and breathing in terpenes which they release. Terpenes which are the largest group of phytochemicals is bioactive plant matter found in forest air. Researchers have now found that terpenes strengthen important aspects of the human immune system. For example a day spent in the woods results in 40 percent increase in natural killer cells responsible for rendering viruses in the body harmless in a person’s blood.

It turns out that the limbic system in our brain also decodes and responds to terpenes, and in turn releases neurotransmitters and hormones that benefit our health. Terpenes also promote the formation of endogenous substances that protect the heart. In addition a walk in a forest leads to a significant increase in a substance called dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). DHEA has shown to be therapeutically effective against the severe form of depression called major depressive disorder. Time in nature has also shown to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is part of our autonomic nervous system designed to help us find internal balance, calming us down, and key to surviving unhealthy stress.

Here’s another interesting fact: tree bark is actually one of the richest sources of terpenes. So maybe those ‘Tree Huggers’ are not so nuts after all.

We Are The World

What fascinates me about all of this is that tree terpenes, as are many other plant substances not new to our bodies. In other words our bodies know what to do with them. It is clear then that we have as human animals not evolved separate to this planet, but along with it in such a way that we are able to interact with the network of life. As such we are co-evolved. It’s no surprise then that my time in nature had such a profound positive effect on my entire body and my overall health. I had in a real sense come home. I had rewilded myself, while allowing my instinct code to unlock once more. These experiences, along with my movement practice, breath work, inner state training, psychological work, and mindfulness practice forms an integral part of the Human Animal Retreat I have created. 


Looking for Fulfillment in the Wrong Place


Its become clear to me that often our hopes for fulfillment and flourishing is left as prayers on the alter of modernity. We now have people speaking about merging our selves with machines and artificial intelligence. The age of the cyborg is no longer a fantasy. I am of the belief that no amount of more technology in any of its guises and uses will ever answer our constant desire to be happy. Its clear from those around us that more affluence, comfort, technology, advances in medicine and the psychological sciences outside of making life somewhat easier, hasn’t become the gods of happiness we once thought they would. People seem more unhappier than ever and there is a meaning crisis all around us.

Maybe we have been looking for the answers to our happiness in all the wrong places. Maybe its right in front of us, right there all along and our ancestors were privy to this knowledge. While its not possible for most of us in the modern world to live like our ancestors once did, we can purposively reengage with the world as they once did, and in doing so open the door unlocking our instinct code. We need to rewild ourselves in the ways of our ancestors.

To this end I am taking on a new research and academic journey where I will be studying how we can bring the natural world back into our modern lives in such a way that we can all find the fulfillment we so desperately seek. And yes this includes hugging an occasional tree.

Interested in joining me?

Find out more about my The Human Animal Retreat  in Thailand.

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Grounding the Human Animal Experience

Grounding the Human Animal Experience

human-animal-experience

Non of us asked to be here, but here we are nonetheless. Although we find ourselves on planet Earth, non of us were born with an instruction manual on how to live our best life. Some seem to figure it out, but most don’t. Since I was a young child I have tried my best to figure out how to be both fulfilled and at peace with myself and the world at large. As all humans on this planet, my formative years on Earth were largely influenced and directed by the society and culture I found myself embedded within, and of course family. As it happens all to often almost all of my struggles as an adult could be traced back to the trauma I suffered as a child.

Added to this, for those of us living in the West, in fact anywhere in the world that seeks to emulate us, we have been indoctrinated into the pursuit of happiness and success through material wealth. However, even with all our modern comfort we still remain unfulfilled, searching for something to make us happy, yet not knowing what that is. I have experience the same, and why through my own healing journey I created the Human Animal experience.

We Have Only Been Here for 1-Second

Let’s look at all of Earth’s existence since it’s birth using a calendar year as a reference starting the journey at midnight on the 1st of January. 365 days later at 11:30am on the 31 December the final day of that year is when our hominid ancestors emerged (i.e., those first to come out of the trees and walk upright on the planes of Africa). Homo sapiens, which is us, have only been here for 23-minutes of that total year.

The entire industrial revolution which defines life as we know it for the last 200 years, culminates in only 1-second of that year.

Let that sink in for a moment:
1-second in the entire timeline of the history of this planet accounts for what we take for granted as our life in the modern world.

Clearly there seems to be a mismatch between our current modern environment and the way we experienced life on this planet since the dawn of our existence. We should question then if the answers to why we remain so unfulfilled can ever be answered by the modern world we find ourselves in. The modern world might be where we inhabit now, but it isn’t our home (and it may never be).


Reconnecting to Our Embodied Ancestral Wisdom

Through Mind, Body and Ecology

While for many of us it would be impossible to return to our ancestral ways, I have over the past few years been exploring our natural state, and how coming home to our instincts through exploring the natural world, invoking mind, body and ecology can lead not only to healing, but help us both rediscover our natural inner rhythm. While mind, body, and ecology are separated here as a useful heuristic device, it is important to note that they are in fact not separate, but one.



Let’s briefly explore them in turn:



Firstly that of Mind: There has been an increase in rates of anxiety, depression and loss of meaning among people in the developed world. It could be argued that our place of discontent is experienced first in the mind. It is through the mind, and its reflection on our experiences that we attempt to make sense of our lack of fulfillment. Having a greater insight into the workings of our own minds, and what is showing up as our discontent, and how to change it, is an important first step in rediscovering our natural rhythm.


Secondly Body: here the term ‘body’ encourages more than just our body in place, but rather embodied awareness in experience, which is to say the “the moment to moment process by which human beings allow awareness to enhance the flow of thoughts, feelings, sensations, and energies through [their] bodily selves” (Aposhyan, 2004, p.52). Aposhyan continues to note further that “embodiment, then, is a grounding and flowing relationship between ourselves and the rest of the world” (p.53). As such, we cannot experience the contrast from the difficulties we face in our urban existence (i.e., the developed world many of us in the West live in) and that of exploring our natural instincts without the awareness and understanding first of how our embodiment both shapes and shows up in our experiences.



In other words embodiment is not so much the antecedent to behavior, but rather that you are always in your body as you navigate the world. As such your embodied experience is the integration of perception, thinking, feelings and desires expressed through your active engagement and agency in experience. This implies that the positive experience of your natural way of being (i.e., deepening our relationship with our natural instincts), and the way in which it unfolds in helping you heal, may be directly related to the level of your embodied awareness and subsequently your ability to recognize what is happening within your mindbody in the moment. 



The realization here is that your moment-to-moment embodiment shapes all of your experiences, as such, there is no gap between your mind, body and your experience of reality. As with your mind, the body and how you experience both yourself in the modern world versus that of invoking your natural state becomes the grounding of important insights into understanding the before and after effects of that engagement. In other words, you need this to make what you have learned repeatable no matter where you find yourself. 


Finally Ecology: here I use the world ‘ecology’ to imply the relationships between us as living humans, and the natural world, along with the understanding of the vital connections between humans and the natural world around them.

Ecology therefore becomes a container for all experience that is in contrast to modernity (i.e., living in cities, being indoors, becoming immersed in the virtual world). In other words, it is through the experience of reconnecting to the natural world that you have the opportunity to rediscover ancestral ways of being, with deep understanding, while bringing into focus the discontent of modernity, and what you can do about it. This includes the importance of how being in nature impacts your health and wellness.


Don't Worry It’s Not All Academic, We Focus on

Experiential Embodied Learning

The above may sound a tad bit academic, but not to worry, I have made both the Human Animal training and experience very accessible. However, I do want you to understand the science and research behind what you are learning. For example, why grounding in nature reduces inflammation, or that breathing in terpenes which are phytochemicals mainly released by trees has a direct impact on lowering your stress levels via your parasympathetic nervous system. 



On a whole, we explore mind, body and ecology in practical, experiential ways. Rather than relying solely on ‘talk’ I will show you through easy to remember embodied tools, strategies and tactics how you can trust your intuition, while learning to manage your inner state. We achieve this through various methods, but mainly through learning to access your bodies natural intelligence.



Sometimes we will be lying on the beach as we discover the powerful impact breathing has on helping you overcome fear, or rolling around on the mat where through jiu-jitsu you learn to stay calm, improve focus and invoke the flow state. At other times we sit around the fire pit as we explore how to harness the full potential of our minds, discussing Stoic philosophy or walking in nature as we reconnect to the home we know we have lost. 



There is also ample downtime to explore, and to re-energize your metabolism by eating healthy fresh foods, along with trips to nearby temples and learning to play drums with my eldest son Egan. All of which takes place at my 2nd home, Tree Roots Retreat in Rayong, Thailand.

Tree Roots Retreat is nestled in a small fishing village far away from the hustle and bustle of the city, but near enough to all amenities you might need. There are no TVs in the rooms, but there are many communal spaces to meet new friends, a gorgeous pool, beautiful bungalows, and only five minutes walk to the beach, where you are spoilt for choice when it comes to local cuisine.

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