A popular version of the human predicament holds that our ancient past was a golden age of health and that the modern world is a breeding ground for lifestyle disease and unhappiness. But both the Paleo and the modern have their light and darkness, their pains and pleasures. Life in the Paleo was highly physical and spectacularly beautiful, but often dangerous and extremely uncomfortable. The modern world, for all its excess and health-negative conditions, offers us incredible knowledge, power and opportunity. Our challenge is to create a "best of both worlds" culture. Use the modern tools in life-enhancing ways, but keep one foot in raw, outdoor physicality, vigorous movement and natural sensation.
The Long Body
Appearances deceive us. It looks like the human body is a single, isolated entity, independent from the world around it, but this is only the "short body." In fact, the human body is intimately connected with habitat and tribe. These long body relationships are enormously influential in our behavior and our health. The more we understand about the true extent of the body, the more we are called to action in matters of environment and social harmony. In this sense, environmentalism is health care.
Throughout most of the 20th century, most people believed that the human nervous system and brain were static, fixed entities; no new nerve cells could be generated. But today our view is far more accurate and inspiring. We now know that the nervous system–the entire body in fact–is incredibly plastic, continuing to learn and grow throughout life. In every moment of our lives, our bodies are adapting to the way that they're used. People may have certain aptitudes and inclinations, but the more interesting fact is that we can learn anything. With smart practice, there is no limit to what we may become.
Big Picture Paleo
Today's popular Paleo culture is focused primarily on diet and exercise, but there's much more to be learned from human history than recipes and workout formulas. Our deep experience in the Paleolithic was highly diverse: there was no single right way to live, survive or stay healthy. The fundamental challenge was adaptation and putting ourselves into right relationships with habitat and tribe. Sensation, learning, memory, opportunism, attachment and social intelligence – these would have been essential skills on the grassland, as they are today.
Much of the physical training that takes place in the modern world is focused on appearance. Magazine covers show us sculpted bodies as the physical ideal. In contrast, functional movement training puts the emphasis on the ability to move skillfully and powerfully, without regard to how our bodies look. In this kind of training, we seek integration of sensory-motor circuits and long kinetic chains. We use bodies, gravity, terrain and momentum to build our skills. This practice leads to superior athletic performance, injury-resistance and longer careers of physical enjoyment.
Literally, "love of life." The instinctive bond between humans and the natural world.
"I have argued in this book that we are human in good part because of the particular way we affiliate with other organisms. They are the matrix in which the human mind originated and is permanently rooted, and they offer the challenge and freedom innately sought. To the extent that each person can feel like a naturalist, the old excitement of the untrammeled world will be regained. I offer this as a formula of reenchantment to invigorate poetry and myth: mysterious and little known organisms live within walking distance of where you sit. Splendor awaits in minute proportions."
Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia, 1984, p. 139
In Western culture, most of us think of ourselves primarily as individuals. But in traditional African cultures, people hold a powerful social orientation known as ubuntu. In these cultures, identity is not individual, but is shared across the tribe, village or community. As the saying goes, "We are people through other people." Likewise, "I am who I am because of who we are." This orientation makes sense in terms of human history. When your habitat includes dangerous and hungry carnivores, it's best to stick together and protect one another. In this kind of world, individual survival is unlikely. The success of the tribe is your success as well.
Adapted from martial art culture, the Dojo Rules are crucial to setting guidelines for behavior and creating an atmosphere of mutual respect. In short, the rules call for maximum engagement and focused attention: Events run on time: no late arrivals or early departures are permitted. Use of electronic devices is restricted. Everyone is expected to train with everyone else and show respect for people, process and place. This helps create a balanced atmosphere of gravity and levity in which people can train hard and enjoy themselves.