Here are more of my working notes for part of my new book: You Don't Need Medicine - To Be Healthy.
The central thesis of the book is that our health is directly connected to the environment. That is why you and I can make the changes that we need to be healthy.
This post is a sketch for the chapter in the book that will be about our social world. My notes on the choices that we face for Diet are here. My notes for the ideal environment that we need for our Body are here. My notes on all the science that supports this thesis are here.
The Mind Our Blessing and Our Curse
We have seen that our our stomach and our body need a certain environment to keep us healthy. Now we come to the most mysterious part of the chronic health equation. Our minds are the third element. Oue mind too reacts to its environment and then drives good or poor health.
For instance, if you work at the bottom rung of a bureaucracy, you are four times more likely to die of heart disease than the leader. If you retire at 65 as a man from a bureaucracy where all your status came from your job, you will be lucky to live another 5 years. If you live in a country with a wide range between the rich and the poor and you are poor, you will have much worse health than a person in another country living the same life as you but with a smaller income gap.
Status and control are the core issues for how our social environment affects human health. How this works is all about our being first of all a primate and secondly about being human and so being self aware.
All animals have a stress response. If you are a Zebra and you are being chased by a lion, you would go into full stress response. Every part of your body will shut down to ensure that you can run for your life. Your body is flooded with cortisol, the stress hormone, to do this. It's a huge bet: but this full on focus on running only lasts only for minutes. You are then dead or safe. If the lions are not hunting, you are calm. As a zebra, the stress response is only a good thing.
But for primates, like baboons or humans, it's different. All primates rely on the troop, band or tribe. There can be no life alone outside it. So, while we still go into high stress when we face a leopard, we also worry all the time about our social status. When there are changes at the top, everyone gets anxious because of the social uncertainty. Being low in status means that all those above us can take out their problems on us. Lower ranked members can stress all the time because they have no control over how they will be treated.
To combat the effect of the social stress, primates groom each other. Even the lowest member of the troop is included. No one is isolated. All primates need to groom to stay healthy. We have to live in a close knit small community where we have our place. We all need to be touched or have relationships that offer the equivalent. This is why prolonged isolation can be so terrible for humans or why babies, that are not touched a lot, develop so poorly or even die. This is why not having caring people in our lives is so damaging.
Because humans are conscious we have yet another layer of stress. We can imagine time and intangible events. So we can stress about global warming, world peace or gun control. We can worry about things that happened in the past. We can worry about the weather or a dress. We can worry about our old age. We can worry about things that we can have absolutely no control over.
Our human mind takes the primate problem of stress to a new level. For we have made culture itself our main evolutionary strategy. Culture, or the dominant social environment, is how weak hairless apes have adapted to the world and have become the dominant species.
The human mind literally creates the world we live in.
It takes in all the data and creates neural patterns in the brain that define us. Repeated thoughts and repeated reactions literally carve pathways in our neurons. For instance, if you were blindfolded at birth for 3 years and then the blindfold was taken off, you would be blind and never be able to see. What will have happened is that the pathway in the brain for sight would never have developed. Once it missed the window, the pathway will be lost forever.
This biomechanical brain body function applies to all animals. What is different for us is that the same neuron wiring process is also set up, or changed, by how we think and by how our emotions work. How we react to our social environment creates our ego and constructs the reality that each of us live in.
So is there an ideal social environment for humans to develop to their full and healthy potential? Yes, of course there is and it is the same environment that has set us up to thrive when we eat and when we use our bodies.
Our Ideal Social Environment
We lived for millions of years as wandering Hunter Gatherers. Just as this experience has shaped our diet and our body, it has also shaped our social needs.
We are designed to live in a very small, close knit and interdependent unit of people. This unit is both where we have our home and also where we work. Our children are raised collectively in it. We grow old in it. It looks after us and we look after it. We rise or fall according to how this unit fares. We are both the unit and also individuals.
Being hunter gatherers, we have very few possessions and so cannot know the idea of property. We cannot imagine owning any thing or anyone. We don't own another adult and we don't own a child. We don't have a plan for another person. Not being owned by anyone, we have a low need to please anyone. Controlling others or being controlled by others is inconceivable. We are part of the group but we are only reponsible for ourselves.
We live in very small communities. Most human tribes were less than 35. Our social complexity is low. We spend our entire lives living, loving and working in this small social world. We know where we stand and we know where others stand. Relationships are predictable. Our place in this community is directly related to what we do and to what kind of person we are.
Our status is controlled by our own actions.
At the core of this social environment is the socio economic culture. How we get our food drives every part of it. Not only does Hunter Gathering mean that we are mobile and cannot own property, it is also a very efficient way of getting the food that we need. It only consumes about 30% of the day on average. It gives us the time to have the right relationships.
Time is in abundance. Time is key for the development of the children. Time is key for all development.With time, there is time to develop naturally. Nothing is forced.
The children are also not tied to only two or one adults but to all the adults in the tribe. Girls, teens and grannies all look after the needs of all the young. Young girls and boys learn directly from all the adults about how to behave and how to work. Mothers are supported by the whole tribe. Men transform boys into men and model what it is to be a man. The elders hold the wisdom and the stories.
All have the time.
At the centre of this unit is each individual. As an infant and as a child, this individual has been raised in the ideal social setting. It does indeed take a village to raise a child. The child has constraints but also great freedom to explore the world and herself. Nature plays a large role in this. There is time to connect to nature and to ourselves as well. We draw comfort from nature. All make their living from nature. People understand it at a level of detail that we cannot know now. Nature has its own time and shows us again that development cannot be forced. All things grow on their own timetable.
Nature sets the course.
As we observe nature's rythms, we also start to see that our death is not a final stop but a step in the great cycle of nature. Humans are the only species that we know of that knows of its own death. But with our place in nature secure by living in it, this fear is lessened. We can grow old gracefully. We can embrace our time here and our time to leave. We need no faith to know that all is a cycle. Death in this context is only part of a continuum.
This then is the social environment that humans have been shaped by millions of years to do best in.
This is a social design that has high meaning, high control, has high intimacy, high trust and lots of time. All of this in the setting of nature herself, our guide and home.
But we don't live like this any more.
Our Current Social Environment and Why it Makes us Ill
50% of us now live in large cities surrounded by millions of strangers. We have to ignore other people to cope with this. People have to ignore us. We have to live in isolation. There can be very little intimacy or trust in such a setting.
Many of us also work in large bureaucracies where all is utility. We are told to leave our true selves at home. We work with strangers. We compete with our colleagues. There is no close and interdependent community. We work not for the group and so ourselves but for THE MAN. We are all expendable. We do not share in the rewards or in the plans. The modern workplace has no meaning, no intimacy. It has no trust. It is low control by design.
The home and the workplace are also physically separate. So the demands of working and raising children are in perpetual conflict. Work and Life cannot be resolved.
At the core of all of this is the socio economic system of consumerism. This has made the accumulation of things and of money the purpose of life. We hope that a thing will add to our status. But we find that things offer only fleeting glimpses of status. For, our status in this system is granted to us by others. We are born into it or not. We go to the right school or not. We get the right job or not. We lose our job or not. Because status is granted by forces outside of our control, we worry about it all the time. Our status is never secure. Money as a purpose is not enough.
Obsessed with owning things, we seek to own people as well. We own our spouses and our children. We own our employees. We see them as reflections of ourseves just as we see our cars. We have plans for them. We need to control them. We seek control where it cannot be found. And they all have plans for us too. We all judge and blame the other for our own feelings and lives.
We are helpless and so have little control in the essential parts of our lives. For most of us have no real skills at all. Many of us can do almost nothing in a practical sense to look after ourselves. Few can cook anymore. Few can make or fix anything. The mass production world has deskilled us.
We depend on uncontollable forces to feed us, pay us, heat us and give us shelter. If anything was to go wrong with these external forces, we would not know what to do. At a deep level we know this and this sense of having no control eats away at us.
In this context, we struggle to raise our young.
The demands of the modern culture and the modern workplace are destroying the viability of the family as the place where we raise the next generation. The hours at work take time and energy away from our core relationships. Many now look at their spouse in the same utilitarian perspective that they have learned at work. Consequently, many of us live alone or raise children alone. Many parents are isolated and live lives of desparation. Mothers and children no longer have the tribal support they need. Our children can so easly get lost.
As do we all when we get old. The elderly are lost too. Old age is to be feared for it is to be alone and worthless. The old have no place anymore but live too long.
Most people are cut off from the natural world. Who ses the night sky anymore? Who feels the seasons. We have no guide for life and how to live it. So, death becomes a terrible thing. Many of us try and distract ourselves from it. We try and look young. We behave badly. We deny death.
By accident, we have created a culture that is utterly alien to human life. A huge gap has opened up between the social environment that we were designed to thrive in and the one that we live in today. No wonder there is an epidemic of chronic disease.
So the question of our time is "Can we get back to a social world that is good for us?"
I think we can. For the issue is not to change the world, which is impossible, but to change ourselves.
How to recreate the social world that we need
We can find a real tribe with all the meaning and support and status that comes from that. We can live in a small place. We can use the hunter gatherer economy and lifestyle and so find time and stop obessing about things. We can unattach from the need to control and to be controlled. We can find nature. We can find ourselves. We can become free from fear of death.
It is a matter of choices. Here is my story as a guide for how I was able to return to a life that is very close to that of a Hunter Gatherer.
Lose the Job, Find Yourself and Find a Tribe
In my own case the key to gaining control of my life was to give up on having a job. In my book, You Don't Need a Job, I do my best to show you why you will be better off financially outside the job world. In this book, I will show you why you will be healthier without one.
I did not start with a plan. My new life began with my being miserable and not knowing why. This was of course a very stressful and unhealthy time for me.
Like many people, I went into a career because it pleased my parents and I could made a lot of money. I was good at this chosen profession of Banking. But as the years went on, this work satisfied me less and less. It seemed that I was playing monopoly. I was also trapped by the money. Only crime paid as well!
My devotion to this career also affected my family. I had been proud that I was a good provider, but my wife and kids wanted something else. They wanted me. They wanted my full attention. And this I could not give them. For this kind of a job took all of me and maybe more. I became a ghost of a man. Unable to give my attention to those that I loved.
This was a miserable time for me. All I knew was that my life did not work anymore. I had no idea what to do. But then, by coincidence, I had dinner with an old friend who knew exactly what was going on. She told me that I had to get out of this life and that the clue to my future would be in finding out what truly made me happy and making this my goal. She told me to keep my eyes out for the right people who could help me.
So, with no more plan than that, I left the restaurant even more scared than when I had arrived.
Not a week had gone by when the Chairman called me told that he was tied up and could not see his next visitor, Dr Fraser Mustard, who was a bit weird. As the weirdest man in the bank, Al thought I might fill in well for him and could I come over. It was one of those moments. I found the man. In finding him, I was also able to remember what I really liked to do.
I loved working on big academic problems. I loved the research. I loved how patterns would emerge. I loved to wake up in the middle of the night and find that my sleeping mind had solved a problem. I loved the interplay with others who shared a common problem. I loved the hours and how I used lots of free time to cook a problem. I loved the setting and the feeling that it was all up to me. For at Oxford, you are treated as an adult and left to your own devices. No one tells you what to do or how to think. You are expected to do the work yourself.
I wanted to take the way I worked at Oxford and make this work my life.
Fraser lived for big problems. At the time he was working on the Determinants of Health, and on the power of the Early Years to determine our development. I was responsible at the time for the health of the bank's employees and their families. He exposed me to ideas and people that I could never have found on my own. I have been working on these ideas ever since.
I became intoxicated. It was like having an affair. I would spend hours every week outside of the bank working on his problems. I had never worked like this before. I had always been in the job hierarchy. In the job world, each party reacts to power. In a network each person reacts to the humanity of the other person! This was utterly new to me. This new way of working for peers and for the sake of finding answers to shared problems helped me lose a lot of my corporate armour.
Fraser himself was the epicentre of a great network of people working on big problems. Getting his trust and respect was very hard. But if you had his trust, then you too could join. This is what happened to me. When the day came when the Bank and I parted company at last, I had a network and was able to reject the job as an alternative.
I tell you this story because while it is mine, it has an aspect that I think is universal.
In the myth of the Hero's Journey, the starting point is disease. 'Dis ease'. There is a time of pain and problems that seem insoluable for they have no known cause. The job brings this today. You might not have one and think that you need one. You might have one and think it is wrong for you. You may have one and fear that you might lose it. Your job may conflict with your family. It may conflict with the real you. There may be people at your job who make you feel ill. Your job may have mad rules. You job may be about nothing that you value. Jobs steal time from us.
The job world is the source of most of the stress and so disease that we endure today. The job splits us into conflicted parts. When we don't have the job, we start to come together again and become the person we are inside.
Get Time Back
Once you start to earn a living for yourself, you will discover that you have control over the most precious resource that you have. Time is all there is. Once I was making a living, I had control over my time. This is where the major rewards of being a modern HG shine through. For the job robs us of control of time. With no control over time, we are always in conflict and so stressed.
But it took me time to get used to having control over my time. At first I felt guilty. How could I go shopping midweek? How could I take a long lunch? How could I go away? I had been wired to be busy and to be at the beck and call of others. I think this all starts with the school bell. Like Pavlov's dogs, we are obessed with other people's schedules for us. It took me several years to accept that I was now in charge of my schedule.
There are other important changes to time that take place as a result of working in a tribal setting.
I found that my pace of work on my own, without all the distractions of all the meetings and all the bullshit at work, was much faster than my clients expected. They were all so busy doing nothing substantive that they could not keep up with me. I found that I had the time to allow my work to evolve. I no longer had to push mechanically at work. I could allow it to happen. I can have an off day and not be able to work and be relaxed that the job would still get done. I can get stuck, as I have with this book at times, and take a week off, and find that when I return the problem has been solved. I can sleep on a problem. I can play with data. I can be a hacker in my work. I can fit my work to nature's schedule and not to the clock.
Imagine how much less stressful this is? Imagine how much more satisfying this approach to work is?
Because I am so much more productive than those who have jobs, I also have lots of time in my life for the unexpected. The car can break down. I can react to a call to help with my grand children. There is no conflict. I can fit it all in.
There is time to do great work and also be fully present with my family. What more can you ask? Most of the conflict and stress that was central to the job and family has gone away.
With time, you can invest in relationships
In my job life, I issued orders or took them. There was not much time for anything else. The task ruled. Working like this all day for decades, affected how I was outside of work too.
I lost the ability to listen to other people and to feel empathy. As I lost this for others, I lost it for myself too.
Primates have to groom and to be groomed to keep healthy. We have to invest time in our important relationships. As humans, we groom by hearing the other out. We groom by listening and by being heard. As a man and as a husband, it took me years to work out that my wife did not want my advice. She wanted to be heard. It took me longer to know that I too needed to be heard. There is nothing more comforting than to be heard. There is no greatere social gift than to listen.
But in the job world there is no time for this. No time at work or at home. So with no one to hear us, our stress builds and builds. Working for myself changed this. I now had time. I could be open enough to hear. I had the time to pay attention to a few friends.
Finding your voice
In the job world, I spoke in that "Corporate" voice. I spoke memos and jargon. I was clipped. I seemed sure. I was always on the parade ground. But that is not a voice that friends or lovers use. They use an intimate voice. They speak from the heart. I had lost all of that. I had no clue how to speak from the heart.
It was blogging that helped me find my authentic voice again. It was blogging that helped my find others whose voice attracted me. At first I wrote more memos. But over time, I started to be personal. The more personal I was, the more I connected with a few people who I had grown to like for the same reasons.
Now 11 years later, I cannot speak corporate anymore. Not just in my writing but in my actual voice. I have retrained my voice to be me and not some role I played in my job. I could never have done this while still in a job. For what employer can allow an employee to speak her mind or worse, her heart?
In the job world we speak from a limited script. We lose our power because we don't use our own voice. We instead try and be clever rather than be true. Listen to Martin Luther King vesus any politician you can think of and you can hear the difference in a second.
When we speak our truth, we attract people to ourselves legitimately. We don't have to be in conflict with who we are. There is no stress and there is much power. We can be ourselves. We can strengthen our relationships with our tribe and so get more of what we need from our tribe.
Live in a small community, lose your armour and slow down the pace of time
As I became better at earning a living as a result of knowing my passion, being more human and having a good virtual tribe, I took the next step. I left the big city and moved to a tiny physical community.
With the web, with a passion, real skills and a real tribe, it is much easier to make a living than ever before. You don't have to live in a big city to have opportunity. Again, much more on this in You Don't Need a Job.
Remember, at the core of our evolved social design, we do best in a small social setting. It's all about identity. As much as we like our anonymity in the big city, our deeper self craves the reality of being known. We bask in being able to go into the store and be recognized. We like to be waved at by people in cars. We enjoy naturally stopping in the street for a chat. We are being groomed and we are grooming.
After a few years of living on Prince Edward Island, population 140,000 people, I lost my social armour. I recall visiting my son in Toronto after a few years in this small place, and I could not help myself from saying good morning to people in the street. "Dad! We are in Toronto now!" he said embarassed.
Living in a small place melts the armour that we need to cope with life in a major city. Once the armour comes off in the street, it comes off at home too. I can see now that 'Armoured Robert' came home everynight. I had played that part so well and for so long that he became me. Now vulnerable Rob lives in all the parts of my life.
There is another time element in living in a small place too. This time the issue is pace.
As much as we think we love the pace of the big city, once you have decompressed and adjusted to the pace of the small, you will love the way that time stretches in a small community. The smaller the community, the slower the pace. The slower the pace, the fewer the expectations on time. The fewer the expectations, the less stress.
I have learned that time is not a matter of measured minutes, hours, days, months or years. Time is in fact a very elastic concept and is felt rather than measured by the clock. In the job world, the clock rules. I was always out of time. In the tribal and rural world, I always have time.
Stop being possessed by possessions and so by money
Living in a small place also enabled me to cut my ongoing costs a great deal. Remember, Hunter Gatherers have few possessions. In the modern world, we all try and increase our stuff and so need more money. In the HG world, I try all the time to reduce my need for stuff and my structural costs.
This means that I need less to work and earn a living and more and more I can be free. For again, the HG lifestyle means that you only have to work for about 30% of the time. I go into great detail on this point in You Don't Need a Job.
On Prince Edward Island, housing costs are a fraction of the big city. It is a lot less stressful to need less money to pay for things that to strive to have more. In my job life I needed to earn at least $300,000 a year to break even. Today I live well on $30,000. In You Don't Need a Job, I explore how to see the costs of a job and how I made this shift to needing so much less.
Money can be a huge stressor. To make this stress go away is not to choose poverty but to choose simplicity. It is to make structural changes in how you live so that you don't spend too much on housing, transport, heat and food. It is to find ways of exchanging time for money. For if you do this right, you will have lots more time. When I had a job I had a time deficit, so I paid cash for everything. With time, I need much less cash. With time I can cook real food and even grow it. With time, I can heat with wood. This also gets me active and outdoors and makes my diet healthy. It's a positive cycle.
Having time is I think the new status too. I used to have lots of things, smart cars, smart houses, smart clothes. It looked as if I was succssful. It appeared that I had high status. But I was one pay cheque away from trouble. I was as much a slave as most people.
Status and control are the main social drivers of our health. With control over my time and high freedom, I have real status and control. I have met most of my health needs in the social sphere. No one can take this away from me. I am in charge of my place in society as a HG would be.
But there remains another layer of challenge to get free from. We have to get free from the shackles of our family experience and we have to get free from our fear of death. This is the really hard work and I was not ready to start this until I had got a lot of what I have just talked about well under way.
Escape from the shadows of your nuclear family
Our reality is created by how we react to our home culture before we are 3. Our brain is wired for life then. This experience can make us stronger or weaker as we age. We sometimes need to take stock and make a correction.
This is a huge and a sensitive subject. Here is a link to the science.
How we are raised affects the trajectory for how we develop over our life. It affects how we learn or not. It affects how we behave or not. It affects our health. It affects our emotional development too. Will we grow up as a real adult or remain stuck at some earlier point? Will we keep playing out our own family drama and story in the other parts of our life? Much is determined by what we experienced before we are 3. Many issues that we not resolved then, play out in our adult lives.
The modern workplace is full of people playing out these family dramas. Mine was, the Missing Father and so I looked for "fathers" who would finally accept me. Outside of work I played out the Missing Mother and looked for "mothers" who would love me. All of this was of course very bad for me and for all I chose to play these games with.
Many of us, whose development has been stunted by a dysfunctional home, stay an infant or a child. Many who have been bullied, bully. Many who have not been loved enough, love too much.
As I got to be more me, the demons of my childhood that had lurked in the background, moved into the foreground. This was a terrible time for me. When I had been so busy, and so shut down, I had been able to surpress this awareness. It seemed to me that my new freedom had come with a curse.
I did seek professional help. This can help. But I found a better way. I found a way that I could put my demons aside for myself. I could rewire my brain. This process is called neuroplasicity. Though I did not know this at the time.
In the HG world, we all know everything about our ancestors. In the modern world, we often know nothing. My starting position was that my parents were uncaring infantile people. That I had been dealt a bad hand by them and that they were not good people. As these feelings surged up, I became very angry with them. I judged them cruelly.
This was very stressful. Again, I was stuck. I knew that this was very bad for me. I could not change what had happened, so what was I to do? I had to find out why they had behaved the way that they had. I had to find out why.
As I began to learn about their lives, I began to have compassion for them and then shame at how cruel I had been. I saw how they had suffered. I started to understand. I looked at myself and found no parental paragon either. Who was I to judge? I started to change my story from "Poor Me" to "What Can I do Now?" I started to rewire my brain. I created new thought habits.
After a few years I stopped feeling bad at all. I had rewired my brain. I had new tapes that were better and productive. I could love my parents again. There was in the end nothing to forgive. All this corrosive again, fear and pain fell away. And with that, all the related stress.
I had thought that I was a grown up adult in my 40's. I was not. I was still playing out my childhood losses. My observation is that most of us are. The nuclear family is too fragile a child raising unit. Most of us have less than ideal social settings for this critical part of life. Most of us are raised as children by grown ups who are in many ways still children themselves. The job world places them in an impossible conflict.
It is now time to start to rethink the family again.
Work to create a real tribe
I am reaching the time of my life when productive work is less of an option. In the HG world, 62 year old men did not go hunting. They advised the hunters. They told stories. They adjudicated disputes. They looked after the young. 60 year old women also made the same kind of shift away from the primary economic work.
In my 40's I sought a work tribe. I now seek the larger and more complete tribe. I seek the ideal which is a unit that provides both the economics AND the full social setting for all ages. I now seek a place in such a tribe that is mainly a nurturing role.
In my 60's, my tribe is evolving. Before, it was mainly about making a living. It could be virtual. It is now evolving onto a close group of people, some of who are related, who are starting to look after each other in practical sense. It is more a close physical tribe.
And we we do this, we extend this care to our adult children who themseves are struggling with small ones and to each other. I don't know how this will work out. But I know this, if I get to 80, there will be no seniors homes. I had better be healthy and I had better have a network or I am in big trouble.
As I look ahead, I see that all the institutions that we take for granted can fail. I don't trust that the food system will feed me. I don't trust that energy will be easy and cheap. I don't trust that the education or health system will be there. I don't trust that pensions or investments will be there. I don't trust that the government will be there. I don't trust that even money will exist. I certainly don't trust that the weather will be the same.
I cannot control any of this. I can only get ready myself and help my tribe get ready. I see the great work of our time as this project. Getting ready to be more resilient so that we have half a chance to cope with the vast changes that seem inevitable.
For surely it was the Tribe that enabled humans to cope with all changes for millions of years. It is the ideal social container for challenging times. It enables each of us to have some control in a world where there is none. The wonder of this project is that there are millions of people out there who are also involved. We can all help each other. We can be supported by each other. What a feeling of community!
But there is one further step. One thing is certain. That you and I will die. I think that the final stage in our development as a human is to learn to accept death itself. For death is the last great stressor. For if we deny it, we are in conflict with our deep truth.
Get a dog, get outside and stop worrying about death
We are the only species to have self knowledge about death. This is a terrible burden to carry. In the modern world we don't. Most don't think about death consciously. Most deny it. We try and be eternally young. We worship youth. People hope that there will be a god to save them. But the truth of our death eats away at us, if we deny it.
If we deny our own death, we prevent oursleves from truly enjoying life.
I was as frightened as anyone can be. But I am not scared of death anymore. As a result, I am at peace. Peace that I have never felt before. So how did this happen? It mainly happened as a result of me spending a lot of time in nature. Living in a rural setting is a start. It happened because I had the time to be open.
I also have a very good spiritaul and nature advisor. I have a dog. Every day, rain or shine, snow or sleet, clear or windy I walk the dog. We take the same routes. Each day, we see the differences as the cycle of life plays out. We see the first wormcast that heralds spring. We see the last leaf fall. We see how the leaves change colour and how the wild flowers rotate. We see dead animals. We see birds nesting and chicks fledging. We see how everthing has a cycle.
The dog takes me there. She opens my eyes to the detail of all this life and all this death that surrounds us all.
My dogs also show me how to enjoy life. The dog is excited by just waking up in the morning. The dog loves every meal as if it might be her last. Dogs love to love me and they love to be loved. They embody love. They love me as I am. They want to be close to me all the time.
And their short lives show me that I cannot avoid my own end. In 12 years Jay goes though all the stages of a life. The bounding puppy, the mad teen, the stud, the calm older male, the gentle soul and then only the memory.
Knowing how precious every day alive is, I too now get up in the morning glad to be alive. I too eat every meal with gratitude. I welcome people into my life. If I had a tail, I would wag it.
The greatest irony has been that allowing myself to be certain of my death has made my life so much better. After all, what can happen to me: I am going to die anyway? I used to worry about all sorts of things. But now that I know that I will die, and that this is OK, all my projects and hopes have a perspective. Now I can live for the moment.
I could never have got to this place without having taken all the other steps first. I write this aged 62. I cannot know how I will develop further. I only know that giving up the job, and the culture attached to the job, has set me free to get back to the life that all humans are designed to live.
We can go home
I don't live in a cave and wear skins and hunt mammoths but I hope that I have been able to show you that I have made a lot of progress in living like a hunter gatherer in today's world. We can eat like one. We can use our bodies like one and we can live in the same kind of social environment as one. We can have a spiritual life of a Hunter Gatherer. We can do all of this and still be in the modern world.
It's a matter of choices and design.
The big choice is to leave the world of the Job. For it is the Job that forces us into eating poorly. It is the Job that sits us down all day. It is the Job that takes us away from our ideal social setting. It is the Job world that is at the cause of all our chronic illness.
500 years ago, pilgrims came to America to enable them to escape the prevailing culture of the old world. I think that we too are pilgrims. We too have to escape todays prevailing culture. There is no new land but there is a new world. It is in our mind. When enough of us go there, we will change the larger culture.
But for now, each of us can do this. We need to wait for no one. It is in our control and the path is known.
....... we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the heropath. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the centre of our existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world."
Joseph Campbell, Hero of a Thousand Faces
As you can see, this is a very complex subject. I can only offer you a survy here. Here is a link to a companion website that I have set up up where you can see a lot more. On the site, you will find a mass of articles, videos and posts that take you much deeper.
Here is an introduction to the best scientists in this field. You will find more of their work on the site as well.
Our Social Environment - Dr Sir Michael Marmot
Do you work at the bottom of a hierarchy? Then you will get ill and die 4 times earlier than those at the top. Married to your work as a man? Retirement will kill you in 5 years. Are you at the lower end of the vast income inequality in the US and the UK? You will get ill.
How much control and Status we have in life directly affects our health. Medicine and access to healthcare has nothing to do with these differences in health outcomes.
Dr Sir Michael Marmot is the world's leading authority on how human social environments affect our health. Cubicle land and factory work is lethal. Large differences in national income is lethal. Inequality is lethal.
His research on the Brtish Civil Service is a landmark piece of work that sheds light on how this works.
Our Social Environment - Professor Robert Sapolsky
So how does this process work? All primates get stressed by social issues. Zebras only worry at the moment when they are being chased by the lion. Baboons worry all the time about their place in the troop. Humans worry even more. Our consciousness can be a curse. We can worry oursleves about the mortgage or global warming too.
Sapolsky is the leading scientist studying the primate and human stress mechanism.
Sapolsky is a brilliant scientist and a remarkable explainer. His lectures online are very accessible and offer massive insights as to why we, as the most social of all animals, have to pay attention to our social environment and do all we can to make it less stressful.
Social Environment Early Childhood - Dr J Doug Willms
The single most important social factor on our health over a lifetime is the social environment that we had from 0 - 3. When I say 0, I mean from the moment of conception. Children's world view, and so their stress reaction to life is set by 3. This setting drives the development trajectory for life.
Professor Doug Willms is the authority on the link between family culture and long term development outcomes for children.
So how we parent is key. If we are too top down, use power all the time, don't touch enough, speak to but not converse with - all signs of a stressed person - then we set up poor conditions. If we allow everything, let the child run her life, don't stand firm on important issues, are distant - then this too has poor outcomes. The worst being when each parent has one of these two styles.
The best outcomes are from parents who stand firm on important things but allow a lot of room for all others. Who have lots of conversation with their infants. Who touch their kids a lot and who are affectionate with each other.
This style of parenting is not tied into any one income level. So many of us have been captured by our own stress response to the corporate world. It leads me to believe that earning our living in a different way will help.
Social Environment Parenting - The Late Jean Liedloff
Just as Michael Rose goes back in time to show us a lifestyle that is suited to how we evolve, so the late Jena Liedloff does this in how best to parent. Her work is the manual of our evolution and is very accessible and pragmatic
Social Environment - PTSD - DR Jonathan Shay
PTSD is a massive issue in the west today after more than a decade of warfare. Here again people have been shaped by their environment. So is the cause of PTSD the trauma of seeing or doing bad things?
Shay has discovered that this is too simple a perspective. The deeper cause of PTSD, and all illness caused by trauma, is Betrayal. This is why incest is such a terrible act as it involves the worst betrayal of all.
PTSD is driven by bad leadership. A military that has leaders who care not for their men but for their careers. A political class that goes to war and exploits the patriotism of their young men for a game and not a real cause. A system that rotates men too often and breaks their attachments.
This betrayal was seen everywhere in Vietnam. All that was wrong in Viertnam has taken place again in Iraq and in Afghanistan. As those involved learn that they were betrayed, their feelings will deepen. The PTSD epidemic will grow.
Shay also has done the work to find a way for these men to come home. And it is not drugs or experts. It is in helping people help each other. It is in helping them find a tribe again. Medicine and conventional therapy does not work. Only the tribe can offer the trust required to quiet the demons.
Changing Deep Beliefs - Alan Deutschman
How do we change our wiring? If we have depression, PTSD, had a shitty childhood, have addictions? There is no pill. There is no smart man in a white coat. But there is a proven social process and journalist Alan Deutschman has made a lifetime study about what this is.
His work, Sapolsky's, Mate's, Frankl's and Shay's all intersect and support each other. Alan offers a special clarity and great case studies.
Changing Deep Beliefs - Neuroplasticity - Dr Norman Doidge
And so what is this kind of change that Alan reviews so clearly? ? We have to rewire our brain - literally. Our beliefs, or our automatic responses to an event, have been hard wired in our brain by repetition. The more times we go to THAT place, the faster we go there. It is like a river cutting a chasm.
Doidge and Sapolsky have unravelled how this mechanism works and are using the understanding of the plasticity of the brain to change the wiring.
Dr Norman Doidge has had great success in helping people rewire. Even people with schizophrenia.