When we think of Grok, we often imagine him in full-fledged hunting action – spear in hand, muscles in action, eyes on the latest prize prey. (Hence, the logo.) But such dramatic displays of power and prowess were fairly limited engagements. Grok, of course, had no full-time job. The lives of hunter-gatherers entailed much more than our label for them suggests. Experts who have studied modern hunter-gatherer societies estimate that most members of these communities spend about 3-5 hours a day “working,” which included all the basics of their food preparation. So, what else did Grok and his contemporaries do with their time? Could it be that hunter-gatherers weren’t poor slugs incessantly roaming and writhing in near starvation? Could it be that most of the time they actually had ample leisure time – to play, create, decorate, imagine and invent? Yes. Now ain’t that a kick in the head?
From a leisure standpoint, what did Grok’s world look like? Although researchers admittedly work from limited remnants, there’s actually quite a bit we can surmise about hunter-gatherer cultures. Hunter-gatherer societies varied – and continue to vary – considerably, but the overall picture is far more elaborate than you might think. There’s the cave art, of course, which in many cases reveals impressively intricate narratives of cultural history as well as myth. Then there’s the pottery, baskets, bags, boxes and paddles among other practical items that that display aesthetic as well as functional character. Add to this the ornately carved spears and other weaponry, totem poles and rattles to signify social status and accomplishment. Finally, there are the costumes, masks, body paints and other ceremonial items that some of Grok’s contemporaries used for celebratory and spiritual occasions. Oh, and let’s just throw in a 12,000 year-old temple for good measure. Not what they taught you in school, eh?
Yet, beyond the concrete (and often surprising) accomplishments were the more common pastimes: socializing, dance, music performance, storytelling, sleep, and play. Yes, Grok as beach bum. (I knew there was a reason I liked him so much.) Although often criticized by colonizers and earlier anthropological researchers, hunter-gatherers’ leisure activities served integral purposes to the social stability and survival of the community. Socializing, music and celebration strengthened communal relationships. Story-telling passed down a sense of tribal history and cohesion as well as technical knowledge their ancestors had learned for living off the land. Napping through the heat of the day helped members conserve resources, while activity at night helped keep predators at bay. Play honed physical skill and fostered a cooperative culture within the group.
The point here is not to put the hunter-gatherer existence on a pedestal or to declare them executive geniuses of time management. I’ve said numerous times before that there is much I don’t envy in Grok’s existence, the constant threat of ferocious predators being the most obvious. Nonetheless, there’s something to be gained, I think, in contemplating the disparity between our lives and those of our ancient ancestors. Our modern culture with its penchants for motion, commotion, individualism, productivity and specialization tries to sell us the idea that this is normal and ideal – that it’s not the way it’s always been only because it’s the pinnacle of ever moving progress. We’d better keep up, or we’ll be left behind. Even the little free time we do have is too often filled with the obligatory chores of modern life: yard keeping, house cleaning, car maintenance and endless errands. As for vacations and longer breaks, we better come back with a good story or we clearly just wasted good time. The modern practice of leisure is co-opted by achievement.
Shouldn’t leisure be more enjoyable, more life-giving, more leisurely? When it comes to real R&R, what can our ancestors’ example teach us? For example, we sometimes imagine that if we can just “manage” our time better and organize our lives better that we’ll be happier and more relaxed. Maybe we need less to manage in the first place. (That goes double for the kids.) We need more impressive weekend plans. Then again, maybe we should just spend more time sprawled out in the grass laughing with the kids or curling up with our partner. A Sunday afternoon nap. Lounging at the beach – or in a kiddie pool – in the backyard. Simple but scarce pleasures, I guess.
What do you want to do more of this summer? Have you filled your leisure quota, or do you feel like the summer’s gotten away from you? What role does leisure play in your Primal life? Lessons you’ve gleaned from Grok’s example?
I’ll look forward to your comments. Thanks for reading, everybody, and have a great week!