4 Ways To Use Ancestral Wisdom (For Better Health And Happiness)
Though I’ve been an athlete since middle school, I didn’t start truly learning about health until just before my 22nd birthday. Fueled by the desire to compete in the Crossfit Games, I began listening to podcasts and reading books about nutrition and movement.
When I came down with a chronic disease shortly there-after, my efforts doubled. Over the next years, I consumed hours of material. I learned about the epidemic of chronic disease sweeping the world, from thyroid dysfunction to Lyme disease and everything in between.
I also learned that while many of these conditions need modern medicine, you also need to optimize your lifestyle. You can detox mold from your body, combine trauma therapy with targeted supplementation, and use mitochondria enhancing pharmaceuticals, but if you don’t live in a healthy manner, you’ll stay sick.
This poses the obvious question: What does it mean to have live healthy as a human being? As I’ve continued on this journey, it seems that again and again, our ancestry holds the answers.
We are biological beings, and we developed over millions of years from single celled organisms to the incredible creatures we are today. Agriculture and many of the factors of modern human life are still incredibly new on an evolutionary timescale. We are still incredibly similar to Paleolithic man, and I have found success in emulating the diet, physical activity, and social habits of hunter gatherers.
I believe that remembering where we come from is the secret to unlocking health. These are the ways I use ancestral wisdom for better health and happiness.
1. I Eat Like A Caveman
I eat animals (nose-to-tail)
Photo by Chloe Leis on Unsplash
Look, as a once Buddhist, I am extremely happy that people are so concerned with the welfare of animals that Veganism has become so popular. However, on my journey to discover better health, I have never found enough evidence supporting this diet for health purposes.
For what it’s worth, I did try veganism while healing from chronic disease. It is the worst I’ve felt on any “healthy” diet. Though I did not consume grains or ultra-processed foods, I still felt inflamed and had gastro-intestinal issues. These issues have both resolved with my current, more animal-based diet.
One issue is that most of the research backing veganism and/or demonizing meat are epidemiology studies. These studies use surveys observing people’s health with regard to what they already eat. This quickly becomes problematic, as it is difficult to separate other factors and biases based on the population being studied.
In the U.S. for example, red meat has been demonized for almost 100 years. Therefore, many people who eat red meat in this country are going against mainstream health advice. They may be more likely to partake in other unhealthy habits such as smoking, eating processed foods, and lack of exercise. Someone who avoids red meat, on the other hand, is likely health conscious in other ways. This is called the healthy user bias.
We can see how this compromises epidemiology studies by looking elsewhere. In much of Asia, red meat is considered a symbol of wealth and doesn’t have the health stigma. As one might expect, the epidemiology studies in Asia do not show that red meat is unhealthy.
Though overall red meat consumption is lower in Asia, studies here show that as people eat more meat, health and longevity improve. Correlation does not mean causation (or else we could say Nicolas Cage movies cause drownings,) so these studies are not useful in either location.
Much more accurate are intervention studies, which take a group of people and assign them a diet. Then their health is observed over time in a controlled setting. These studies are expensive, and few in number, but the few that exist show little to conclude that meat is unhealthy.
In this intervention study, red meat consumption had zero influence on the weight-loss benefits of caloric restriction. Another showed no relationship between animal protein vs. plant protein in inflammation. This doesn’t tell us much in the long run, but if we treat meat as innocent until proven guilty, the nutrition science so far still says “innocent,” as far as I can tell. Then we have the anthropologic data.
As I continued to learn, I came across evidence that eating meat is a big part of being human. For one thing, organ meats are some of the most nutrient dense foods that exist. I write about this in detail in my Better Humans article: Organ Meats, Why I Eat Them, And How To Enjoy Them Yourself. These foods have fallen out of favor in The U.S. and Australia, but otherwise they have been commonplace around the world since our very beginnings.
Second, though we have primate ancestors who were largely (though not entirely) herbivorous, much of what makes us uniquely human has to do with eating meat. I dive deep into this topic at: Humans Are Carnivores (How Evolving To Eat Meat Made Us Who We Are)
The PH balance of a human’s digestive system is right in-line with common predators, carnivores, and scavengers. At an average of 1.5, this is more acidic than the 2–4 PH averages of omnivores, and the up-to-7 PH digestive systems of many herbivores. The length of our intestinal tract also massively reduced in length from that of our primate ancestors. Large digestive systems are helpful for extracting nutrients from low calorie leaves and other plants, but we seem to have sacrificed this ability for a more meat-friendly gut.
What’s more, tools allowed ancient man to access the calorie rich animal food: fat. Even in smaller, less fatty kills, we could access the brain and bone marrow using tools. There is a compelling theory that this ability to eat fat is involved with the single greatest mystery of nature: The rapid growth of the human brain.
But that is still just a theory. What really blows my mind is the amount of meat humans ate in ancient times. By measuring the levels of nitrogen isotopes in the bones of a creature, we can determine how carnivorous they were. These radio-isotope studies show that both ancient man, as well as other genus homo species like the Neanderthaal, consumed more meat than even the highest trophic carnivores. We often ate more meat than wolves.
Now, I’m not saying that we cannot eat plants. One of our greatest features is our adaptability, and the radio-isotope studies do show that while Neanderthal likely exclusively consumed meat, the diets of homo sapiens varied based on location.
This is reflected by studies of modern tribal peoples, who consume as much as 35 percent of their annual calories from carbohydrate at the high end of the spectrum, and as little as <1% in groups such as the Mongolian steppe peoples and the Inuit tribes of the arctic.
Either way, hunter gatherers consume far less carbohydrate than most members of the civilized world.
This has led me to a diet that I would have called extreme a few years ago. I eat what I call an ancestral diet. I eat mainly red meat from grass-fed and finished sources, along with animal fat and organ meats. I also consume a decent amount of honey, and do not shy away from fruit especially in the spring and summer. I do not consume any grains, and when I eat other plants like leaves or stems (think broccoli or spinach,) I ferment or cook them. You can read about the surprising role of plant toxins in my article: Your Vegetables Want To Kill You (The Role of Plant Toxins in Human Nutrition)
For my part, following this diet has led to a massive reduction in food sensitivity. Before this diet, I always felt inflamed after eating. Even foods I considered “clean” like brussel sprouts and sweet potato would trigger a reaction. The only exception was meat (if it is grass-finished.) Most of the time I do well with fruit and a few plant foods, but in general I am least reactive to animal foods.
I do not know how this diet fares when it comes to longevity. What I do know is that it is aligned with hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution. Time will tell what the science says, but I’m willing to treat it as innocent until proven guilty. For now, I am feeling great.
If you’re not convinced, that’s fine. There’s another key factor to ancestral nutrition that is much more important than whether you eat meat: Remove ultraprocessed food from your diet.
I don’t eat vegetable oils
I think it’s important to understand that animal based foods are likely healthy. Despite the mainstream adoption of veganism, I think meat is a keystone of human nutrition and definitely counts as ancestral wisdom.
With that said, it definitely counts as ancestral wisdom to remove foods that have never been staples of our diets. These are things that have never been in any animal’s diet until the industrial era of man. I’m referring to the high PUFA vegetable oils, as well as the chemicals, pesticides, and the preservatives common today.
I want to make a special point to address high PUFA vegetable oils. PUFA stands for poly-unsaturated fatty acids. It is common, and even likely, that you’ve heard these are healthy alternatives to saturated fat. The problem is that PUFAs are easily oxidized. They react to light, heat, or oxygen to become rancid. In this state, they cause inflammation in the body, regardless of whether you have a food sensitivity or not.
Natural PUFA sources are fish, nuts, and a small number of other foods. The many vegetable oils we use today did not exist until the industrial era. Most often these foods are a byproduct of some kind of production, such as cotton or corn processing.
Over the years, cottonseed oil (Crisco,) corn oil, sunflower oil, and many others made their way into our food supply.
Simultaneously, a scary new disease began to emerge. Believe it or not, heart disease was a “new” epidemic in the early 1900s. This was influenced in part by the development of new technologies to measure disease, but this cannot entirely explain the increasing rates of disease over the last century.
Instead of looking at the vegetable oils we’d recently added to our diet, red meat and saturated fat became the scapegoat for heart disease. Even though we had been using animal fat, butter, and lard for millennia, saturated fat was blamed while these new “healthy” vegetable oils got a free pass or were even promoted.
Fast forward to 2020, and powerful meta-analysis studies show no relation between sat fat consumption and disease. Many circles have changed their opinion as a result, but we still aren’t discussing the potential negative consequences of vegetable oils. That isn’t to say there’s no research. This study observes the relationship between PUFAs and the development of fatty liver disease and diabetes in children and teens. Another scientific review discusses the danger of oxidized fats, and yet another observes the health implications of high consumption of dietary PUFAs.
These oils certainly have no ancestral basis. They largely come as a byproduct of industrial vegetable processing. We can debate the role of meat in human nutrition all we want, but first lets remove the processed, often-rancid vegetable oils. This isn’t always easy. Take a look at most packaged foods and you’ll run into high-PUFA oils. I’ve reached a point where the only fats I use are grass-fed animal-based fats (butter, tallow, suet) coconut oil, avocado oil, and olive oil.
I have often heard that avocado oil and olive oil are often cut with low-quality vegetable oils (that don’t appear on the label) in order to save costs, so I exclusively use the Primal Kitchen and Braggs brands. I don’t consume anything that has corn oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil, etc. etc. etc. This means I pretty much cook all of my food from scratch, and rarely eat anything pre-packaged.
I avoid pesticides by eating organic and grass fed
Lastly, I endeavor to eat organic food as much as possible, and stick to grass-fed and finished meat. Though current research shows that grain-fed meat has nearly the same nutrient status as grass-fed meat, I believe there other health benefits from eating grass-fed.
Toxins can accumulate in fat tissue in animals. Being that many of our animals are fed moldy pesticide-laden grains, plastic, and all sorts of junk, I worry that we are delivering these toxins unto ourselves via our food. I’ve always noticed that when I eat fatty cuts of traditionally-raised meat, I will sometimes feel a little nauseous as I eat the fat. I never get this response to grass-fed meat.
With other foods, especially anything where you eat the skin or outer layer, I go with organic. I personally believe it is important to avoid consuming pesticides. Whether there is good research or not, I try to keep my body away from anything that is unnatural, as often as I can. This way of eating can be more expensive than eating traditionally, but I think people overemphasize this. For one thing, you can save hundreds per month just by cooking your own food exclusively and not eating at restaurants.
I have had so many times when a friend will balk at my $600/mo grocery bill, when they eat fast food for lunch every day. Sure, their “grocery” bill may be closer to $300 per month, but they spend $10 to $12 a day on fast food, not to mention splurging on weekends out on the town. By the time you add it all up, I usually spend less on food than they do.
Photo by Andreas Haslinger on Unsplash
I just wanted to include this section because many peoples concern about meat is that factory farming destroys the environment. My primary reason for eating the way I do is to optimize my health. However I also believe in optimizing the health of our planet. Here are some reasons why I eat meat to support the environment (bet ya never heard a statement like that!)
While traditional factory farming is indeed damaging, meat production doesn’t have to be.
Animal foods are not bad for the environment. In fact, they may represent our best hope at saving it. There is something to be said about the wisdom of nature here. In health, understanding our evolution is often how we discover robust energy and vibrant living.
With regard to agriculture, imitating natural ecosystems has led to a new movement of carbon negative practices. Regenerative agriculture involves using animals to graze vast swaths of land. Like the wild Buffalo that once roamed the U.S., they restore soil environments by tilling with their hooves and fertilizing with their feces.
The result? A net negative carbon footprint. The lifecycle analysis company Quantis in partnership with General Mills compared the carbon emissions of an imitation-meat Beyond Burger to the burger of a regenerative farm called White Oak Pastures.
While the Beyond Burger put less emissions into the atmosphere than traditionally raised beef, White Oak Pastures burger actually resulted in a reduction of carbon from the atmosphere: a negative emission value. Because White Oak Pastures’ grazing techniques restore topsoil environments, their grasslands become a carbon sink. The result is that carbon is removed from the atmosphere in greater quantities than it is emitted by the animals and production practices.
I am both surprised and happy to see the excitement of General Mills at these results. I hope this means that members of big agriculture will begin to adopt and promote regenerative agriculture techniques soon. For a great resource on the topic, I recommend either the book or documentary of the same name: Sacred Cow by former research biochemist Robb Wolf and Diana Rogers, Rd. It offers one of the most unbiased, research based assessments of meat that I have ever read.
Humans enjoy trying to outsmart nature. We bend over backwards looking for the next solution, be it lab-grown meat or machines that remove soot from the atmosphere to turn into diamonds. But we are not smarter than nature. Not yet. The tally of ways our methods have gone awry is greater than those which have stabilized our world. We see this in both our health and our environment. It is my belief that someday we will have to adopt widespread animal-based regenerative agriculture. The availability of grass-fed, grass-finished and low toxin meat will help our health in my opinion, but aside from that, we will need these farming techniques in order to restore our soil and continue growing crops.
Regenerative agriculture practices are growing in popularity. You may be able to find local farms using these practices. If not, there are many leading the charge that ship nationwide. My top sources for grass-fed, grass-finished, sustainable meat are:
(I have no affiliations with any of these companies at the time of this writing.)
2. I Go Outside & Move
Stagnation is the enemy of health. Movement, though not necessarily intensity, is the ally. I endeavor to be constantly moving. Based on research by NASA, sitting or being in static positions for long periods of time has consequences for our health that are not solved by exercise.
I go into depth on this topic in my Better Humans article: Solving Sitting, A Guide To Optimizng Your Movement, but the gist is that our bodies rely on posture changes to regulate our health. Changing posture often throughout the day promotes healthy blood pressure, cardiovascular function, etc.
With regard to our ancestry, we see supporting evidence in modern hunter-gatherers. The Hadza, one of the last groups of true hunter-gatherer tribes on the planet, engage in up to 14 times as much Moderate-to-Vigorous Physical Activity (MVPA) as the average American. They maintain these activity levels throughout their lifetime. There are many factors at play, but it’s worth noting that this same study found no risk factors for cardiovascular disease in the Hadza across lifespan.
For my part, I try to keep on my feet as much as possible. I have adopted tactics such as writing articles on my phone as I walk around my neighborhood. On most days, for the 3–4 hours I spend writing, I am walking. The rest of the time, I prefer to stand or sit on the floor rather than in a chair. I also spend as much time outside as I can, even braving wind and snow so long as I can still use my phone.
3. I Breathe Like The Iceman
A huge bounty lies in merely being outside. Sunlight regulates our circadian rhythms and produces hormone building vitamin D.
Suffice it to say, hunter gatherers are not nearly as sheltered from the elements as we are. Deep structures in our biology are designed to withstand the extremes, but they appear to be dormant for most of us. I have been experiencing this directly by following the teachings of Wim Hof, otherwise known as the ice man.
Wim Hof began experimenting with cold over 40 years ago. One day on a gut feeling, he jumped into a cold body of water. Rather than fight or flee, he let his body breathe how it wanted to, and discovered a technique that has changed the lives of thousands.
Through his breathing technique and gradual cold exposure, Wim has gone on to perform feats considered by many to be superhuman. He has run marathons barefoot in the Arctic, swum hundreds of meters under a frozen lake, and ascending Kilimanjaro in shorts.
What does this have to do with Cavemen and health? We can answer that by looking at Wim’s followers. Scientists have observed that Wim can stop his body from reacting to injections of E. Coli, but so can his followers. Anecdotally, members of the Wim Hof Method have reduced symptoms of Multiple Schlerosis, Autoimmune Disease (Guillan-Barre in this case), Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lyme disease, and Depression among many other conditions.
Wim also regularly leads expeditions to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak. The members of Wim’s expeditions typically have no mountaineering experience. They wear minimal clothing, often reaching the summit shirtless, and do not use supplemental oxygen.
Despite these factors, his expeditions teams boast an 80% success rate, nearly twice that of the mountain average. Furthermore, Wim and his crew complete the summit in a mind blowing 2 to 4 days. Typical ascents take a week.
Wim believes that we have great power within us that is unlocked by exposure to the elements and powerful breathing techniques. Those wishing to understand Wim’s feats have observed supporting evidence among tribal people living in cold climates. Despite less reliable clothing and shelter, they withstand cold without succumbing to frostbite.
I myself have come to appreciate this only very recently. I’ve been writing about health using the knowledge I gained overcoming a chronic condition. Despite the fact I became “functional” again, the truth is that I still deal with CFS to this day. I have periods of time where I have needed breaks from regular work, and all the symptoms of my condition have resurfaced at one time or another.
But I now wonder if all that’s all behind me, and I don’t say that lightly.
Last Saturday I listened to an interview of Wim Hof. Although his work was one of the first things I looked into after getting sick, I never actually tried his breathing technique.
In this interview, Wim Hof sits down to speak with Dr. Jordan Peterson and his daughter MiKhaila Peterson. Jordan is a psychotherapist and in-my-opinion the most important thinker of our time. However, Jordan and his daughter Mikhaila have both suffered mental and physical illness at the hands of autoimmunity. For her part, MiKhaila turned off severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis using a strict carnivore diet, and Jordan experienced similar success addressing depression.
Unfortunately, Dr. Peterson has been going through mental and physical hell for the past two years due to benzodiazepine withdrawal. In his own words, he spends two to three hours a day unable to sit still and screaming, and he is currently at his best since this ordeal began.
Knowing what it’s like to be deal with extreme health issues, I was very interested in the fact Jordan was looking into Wim’s Hof. Partway through the interview, Wim guides Jordan through his breathing technique. Literally on a whim’, no pun intended, I decided to follow suit.
The result? By regularly using Wim Hof breathing, I went from dealing with semi-regular heart palpitations to almost none. Fatigue that had plagued me since before christmas gave way to robust energy (I cleaned my entire house in a day instead of what would normally take me several.) And last but not least, I have experienced zero carbohydrate cravings during this time. I feel resilient and energized, yet relaxed and calm all at once.
Other benefits I’ve experienced are:
Warm hands and feet. I often experience cold extremities, but since doing the breathing techniques, my hands and feet have been warm even when I’m out in the cold
Less need for sleep. I aim for 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night. I usually need the full 10 and rarely wake feeling rested. Now I’m averaging closer to 7, and though I stay in bed for the full 8, I’ve felt consistently well-rested.
Emotional Health: During my health crisis, I noticed difficulty feeling emotion. One of the issues with fatigue and anxiety is that it leaves little room for anything else. I often am too tired for joy or sadness. Since starting Wim Hof breathing, I’ve felt wellsprings of contentment and joy, as well as the permission to feel sad when appropriate. I have also had a massive reduction in anxiety.
Almost No Food Sensitivities: I am far less hungry during the day, and it’s easier to stick to my diet. Yet at the same time, when I do eat foods that I normally react to, I have felt fine. Yesterday I ran out of stew beef and ate some cheese, which normally raises my heart rate and causes cold hands and aches joints. I felt nothing of the sort, merely ate some food, stopped feeling hungry, and continued my day. Food sensitivity has been one of the worst problems of my health condition. To be able to eat and truly feel fine, even with cheat foods, is a huge blessing.
All of this because I started a breathing technique.
I’m not sure if cavemen did the Wim Hof method, but considering Wim himself “discovered” his breathing technique by jumping in cold water and listening to his body, I think it’s fair game to call it ancestral wisdom. I think most of us have filled our heads with how we’re supposed to live, rather than going with our instincts. Like a mother who naturally begins Lamaze breathing during labor, man likely has many instinctual patterns for the real world.
Perhaps this is why I never had luck using cold therapy alone for my health. Having grown up in the modern world, I thought I knew how to breathe in all scenarios: slowly and as little as possible. The Wim Hof method involves big, deep breaths that almost feel like hyperventilating, a pattern I have always tried to avoid.
I am a firm believer that our bodies harbor wisdom, but most of us grew up being estranged from our instincts. If we’d lived in tribes, out in the cold, in otherwise un-influenced natural human social environments, perhaps we’d all know these techniques naturally. I don’t know.
If you want to learn how to do Wim Hof breathing, I strongly suggest watching this video. Wim Hof promotes listening to your body, and he can be very vague when it comes to actually describing what he does. This follower has solved that issue by making “the video he wishes he had,” before starting Wim Hof.
I also strongly recommend the book What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney. Scott is a journalist who specializes in exposing false gurus and snake oil salesmen. He expecting to do this to Wim, but instead goes on to write one of the best books analyzing why Wim’s work is so powerful. Scott has himself ascended Kilimanjaro with Wim, as well as competed in some of the toughest obstacle course races, usually shirtless, during winter.
4. I Build My Tribe
NOLS Wind River Summer 2011 by Keenan Eriksson
This may be the most important form of ancestral wisdom in this entire guide.
Tribe: On Homecoming & Belonging is a powerful book by journalist Sebastian Junger that uncovers what it really means to be fulfilled as a human being. Interpersonal connection is so incredibly important, yet the way most of us live forgoes the development of close ties for status and material gain.
In his book, Junger details the way many Europeans fled the colonies to attempt living with Native Americans, but reports of Natives attempting to do the same with white society were unheard of. He points out that in tribal life, humans live in bands rarely larger than 100 people. In this setting, combined with the constant struggle to find food and contend with the elements, humans find fulfillment and connection. Everyone has a role to play.
In my own life I have come to understand the bonds of tribe from sports and backpacking. The closest friends I’ve ever had were 10 teens and 3 instructors from National Outdoor Leadership School Wind River 30 Day Backpacking Expedition I did when I was 16. For a whole month, we hiked beyond the wilderness boundary with only what we could carry. We slept shoulder to shoulder in tents, cooked meals together after long days hiking, and had zero access to the internet. At first everyone had an opinion. Being that we were all within the age range of 15 to 17, it’s no surprise judgments had been made before any of us really knew one another.
That all changed by day 7. Both as a result of hiking together in arduous conditions, and rotating tent groups so that we all ended up interacting directly, we quickly resembled a family unit. There’s something about living with people 24/7, in an environment where no one could do it on their own. When the trip was over, we still all felt close, but it wasn’t the same.
Since that summer, I haven’t seen a single member of the expedition. I’d like to one day, but it wasn’t who we were that bonded us. Don’t get me wrong, the people on my expedition were and are extraordinary individuals, but it was the environment that brought us together. Common struggle, and interdependence.
Since then, I’ve paid close attention to when and where I feel similar connection. So far, I have found it with a set of close friends, all of whom I’ve struggled alongside at one time or another, and in a small number of sports.
I’ve competed in many athletic endeavors, from rock climbing to water polo. There are two sports that stood out when it came to a sense of community: cross country, and CrossFit. A theme of both? Voluntary suffering. In cross country, if we weren’t at practice and running by 6am, we were punished with push-ups. Every day we logged 12k at least. Not everyone loved each other, and there were some slackers, but the bonds we had were stronger than anything I experienced elsewhere.
I found this sense of community again when I joined a CrossFit gym. Though often criticized for its intensity, the hardship of a CrossFit workout is, in my opinion, the same reason it has such an enthusiastic following and community. CrossFit is a cult and I was a happy member.
When you go and voluntarily do something difficult with other people, it builds a sense of bonding and respect. I may be fit and you may not be, but at the end of the workout, we’re both lying on the ground in a pool of sweat trying to get enough air to speak. If we were pushovers or unreliable members of the tribe, we wouldn’t be doing something like this in the first place. It’s an environment where you naturally feel that even your weakest link is darn strong.
Another way you can tell a good tribe-building community is that you bond with people you don’t even like. On my backpacking trip, there was one kid who I just did not like. I disliked his opinions and I disliked his way of doing things. Even so, if you’d assigned me to go camp for a week with him, or some of my best friends from home, I’d pick him almost every time. Why? Because I knew how to rely on him. We had already figured out how to cooperate in the setting of getting things done. Furthermore, some of the very reasons I disliked him are also why he excelled in certain roles.
Selfish, task-oriented and harsh people tend to annoy me, but when a kid slips in a river and we had to prevent hypothermia, this very same personality became our leader. He was the first to bark orders, assign someone to get in a sleeping bag with the victim and then directed the rest of us to start a fire. Like a tribe, we all had personality traits that made us better and worse at certain roles. In the setting of backpacking, the person who led a scenario was the person best suited for it. Minor differences of opinion fell by the wayside and we naturally figured out who should do what.
As you can imagine, we all had a strong sense of meaning and purpose. If you ever had doubts about your contribution, they were quickly assured away by the voice of a tent-mate. Any time someone was down on themselves, we lifted them up. This went beyond the basic human decency we might offer back home. Instead it stemmed from a deep sense of empathy and appreciation. We were all exhausted and all had difficult points every single day. We all knew exactly what each other was contending with, and over the course of the month, all supported each other at one time or another. If you felt weak today and I felt strong, I took on an extra chore, put your gear in my pack, or just supported you with words and conversation. Odds were that tomorrow I’d be weak and you’d be strong, and these roles were never taken begrudgingly.
This is the way of community in a tribe. I hope now you can see how rare these experiences are. How many have you had?
So, the final aspect of caveman living I suggest is to build your tribe. It is not easy. I still rarely have experiences like those from my backpacking trip, but it’s certainly not impossible. The best sources I’ve found are to work hard alongside others. CrossFit and difficult athletic endeavors are a great option, but not the only ones.
Volunteering to build houses, going on a mission trip, camping, road trips, and many other activities offer the opportunity to band together. Hell, even your job can be source of connection. We often separate our lives into parts. This is not the way of the caveman, whose hunting party consisted of brothers and friends he lived with day-in and day-out.
At the time of this writing, Covid has us locked down and social distancing. Only you can decide the level of social interaction you are ok with, but when the pandemic ends or we are forced back to normal life despite it, I strongly encourage you build your tribe.
Call friends and family regularly. Go stay with that aunt, uncle, or cousin you always got along with. Build experiences. Help your neighbors or ask for their help. Benjamin Franklin is famous for suggesting the best way to build relationships is to ask for favors. It breaks the ice and now they will feel comfortable calling on you for aid.
I have been long amazed at how little interaction occurs in suburban neighborhoods. I’ve lived with 6 roommates in a low income neighborhood, and I knew more of my neighbors by name in a week than I did in my parent’s neighborhood in months. This doesn’t have to be the rule though. I believe people genuinely want to know their neighbors and form connections.
We are surrounded by so many people we don’t even know where to start. In one suburb I lived in, my neighbor held monthly front-yard Friday get-togethers. From that activity, I came to dog-sit for both neighbors to my left and right, play music with another, nerd out about Bruce Lee with a martial artist who lived down the road, and collaborate in cooking 5 course meals with yet others.
Step outside your front door and look around. In each home is a different story, people with passions and families. People you could have a community with, if only someone would take the lead and bring them together.
I must admit, I fall short in this field. I still seek community mainly through rock climbing with friends on the other side of town. I rarely host, and though I run into people every day on my walks, I barely know my neighbors. Perhaps I’ll go to Office Depot today and create some fliers for a get-together. There is a large river walk occupying most of my neighborhood, complete with two fully-furnished but seldom-used fire pits. Mayhaps a socially distanced front-yard Friday, hosted by Keenan the writer, is in order.
Thank you for your reading, truly. This article began as an attempt to articulate the many ways pursuing better health has led me to study our ancestral ways. I’ve done my best to cite evidence that these things are good for us, but honestly I think they speak for themselves.
Eat real food that eats real food. The biggest enemy in our diet is the stuff that was never there in the first place. I believe we thrive on meat, but even if I’m wrong, we most certainly do not thrive on junk vegetable oils and pesticides.
We are designed to move! Not to sit stagnant all day. This doesn’t even mean we have to exercise. You can walk, do a few push-ups here and there.Just try to move more often than you sit. Can you do your work on your phone? Take a hike with it then.
Don’t fight your natural instincts in response to stress. You may need some guidance here. We can never know what it was like to grow up in a tribe and face cold, injury, etc. naturally. However I think those such as Wim Hof are onto something with their breathing and cold exposure techniques. I have personally been amazed by the results of his breathing practice alone.
Finally, and perhaps most important, find tribe in your life. This can be very difficult. Life simply does not ask us to band together. Scenarios like backpacking or CrossFit or facing a natural disaster can bring about community and connection. In their absence, we can build our own and take the lead. People are often lonely. Something as simple as hosting a front-yard Friday hangout or staying with a distant but loved family member are great ways to build connection.
As I have continued to pursue higher alignment with health and meaning, I have found that many answers lie in nature. We are incredible beings. We erect cities and command our world, but we also forget ourselves. I believe it is our destiny as humans to balance these opposing forces. To learn from our instincts, from nature, and from our ancestors that we can steward the world. As we align with such things, our health and the worlds health will improve.
I hope you find this article useful, empowering, and that it helps you become better humans.
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