Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

Tell Me More
Stay Connected
August 22, 2013

Sheltered: Missing the Primal Power of Nature

By Mark Sisson
71 Comments

MountainIn her book about human-animal relations, Made for Each Other, Meg Daley Olmert tells the story of C.J. Buffalo Jones, a 19th Century frontiersman who, in her words, “witnessed one of the last demonstrations of the natural order that shaped the logic of our ancestors” and left record of it. “On a hill in Canada’s Northwest Territory,” she explains, “he watched herds of caribou congregate until all the eye could see for ten of miles around was a giant mast of animals whose antlers became a mighty forest. For several days this living landscape flowed past him day and night.” The number, which Jones estimated at 25 million, absolutely staggers the modern imagination.

Whether or not his approximation was accurate, still the size and force of such an experience seem beyond comprehension. Yet, it’s exactly the kind of natural event that inhabited our ancient ancestors’ communal consciousness and, not surprisingly, directed their cosmology. As Olmert suggests, it’s a major mental stretch for us moderns “to fathom a world in which we were not the top predators.” Yet, we evolved not in a state of dominion but coexistence, observance and even reverence for nature’s many forces.

What a far cry from our experience today of course. Few if any of us (at least among the Internet connected readership) live at the whim of wilderness anymore. Our society has done a good job at erecting a pretty solid wall between us and these experiences. For better and worse, the power of nature can feel like a remote concept at least in day to day living. Seldom are we humbled by it with the exception of random, localized weather emergencies.

Even if we fit in our “green hours” and get the kids to the local preserves on a regular basis, even if we live in the countryside, even if we’re avid outdoors people, as great as these are, there are whole dimensions we miss, I believe. How many of us have ever hiked – and camped- above the tree line? How many have come face to face with an animal predator? How many have taken on a wave or mountainside that could easily undo us? The beauty of nature is one thing. The power of it is another.

Anyone who’s ever sat with a dying animal (dying by natural/hunted means), experienced first hand true natural devastation or had a genuinely life-threatening run in with the wildlife knows what I mean here. Experiencing the wild world in all it’s glory means encountering its fierceness as much as its grandeur, the danger as much as its sublimity. As reader Kyle Rife put it to me in an email when describing a nasty experience with a hive of yellow jackets he’d had, it was somehow “satisfying,” this “encountering nature and losing.” I think there’s something essential and revealing to that.

While nature was the living, looming backdrop of our ancestors’ experience and imagination, for many of us moderns it can seem more like postcard material – remote places we go “visit” that have relatively little meaning to our lives or how we perceive them. When we manage to get out of the city or suburbs or farmland to spend time in the wild, we definitely enjoy ourselves. The day or weekend or week fulfills a primal desire but probably also modern expectations – a story much tamer than frontiersmen, let alone hunter gatherers, would’ve witnessed. No judgment. That’s simply the age we live in.

What happens, however, when we change not only our itinerary but our attitude? It’s not about consciously donning a Grok style mindset but more about shedding the modern mental baggage to even give our primal awareness room to breathe. We can head deeper into the woods, farther into the state or national park, but it’s ultimately about letting go of expectations, being in the moment and encountering the particular environment fully on its own terms – as a force as well as a setting.

What’s possible when that happens? What opens up? What rises to the surface? How do we come away changed as a result? Do we need the hair-raising peril to get in touch with that humbling energy? I’m guessing it helps but isn’t necessary. The days of massive migrations are gone, and seeking out danger is as foolhardy now as it would’ve been in Grok’s day. Perhaps there’s something to the authentic fight or flight response though. An encounter with death, after all, can be profoundly life affirming.

Yet, brush with death or major injury aside, I think there’s plenty of room for our experiences in nature to change us without threatening life and limb. For me sometimes it’s just spending the day in the dustiness and brightness of the SoCal chaparral. In the face of something bigger and harsher, we can come undone – bared down to our essential primal humanity. We can perhaps imagine a kindred hunter gather spirit some 20,000 years earlier gazing with the same open observance. It’s enough to take us out of ourselves and put us at the center of life – a force greater than our own, an experience more timeless than our individual existence.

I think that’s when we get at the heart of it – when, for so many readers who write me about this – Primal living becomes a way of seeing and experiencing parts of life, particularly the natural world and their part in it. Once you’ve felt that inherent energy and ancient sense of proportion, you gain a different (some would argue pretty counter cultural) perspective on modern life. You live less sheltered and more grounded for it.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Have a good end to the week. Share your thoughts and comments.

Subscribe to the Newsletter

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

Leave a Reply

63 Comments on "Sheltered: Missing the Primal Power of Nature"

avatar

Sort by:   newest | oldest
Clack_Attack
Clack_Attack
3 years 3 months ago

That’s it! Anyone down for a week long hiking/camping trip at Mt. Rainier?

Mark P
3 years 3 months ago

I’m down! hahaha!

Sadly, I find this post to be almost too relate-able. I rarely get out into nature, and when I do, it’s not as “deep” or “profound as I’d imagine it to be. Maybe it’s because I never stay long enough, or am afraid of getting too dirty or doing something too dangerous, or am stuck using glasses to really see anything (which makes it less enjoyable).

*Sigh*

Josh
Josh
3 years 3 months ago
Try to live in the moment when you get out there. That’s the only way to connect, otherwise you may be physically present, but mentally still at work, chatting (text/call) with friends, or planning the next thing you’ll be doing… let life slow down when you are outside, and you will get there mentally as well. Focus on the trees, the grass, the wind, the bees, the insects… don’t think of them as pests, but rather “locals” trying to live their lives; to them you are the pest. Lately I’ve been trying to get bees to land in my hand… Read more »
Darcie
Darcie
3 years 3 months ago

I don’t get that “cleansed” feeling unless I have at least part of the hike to myself, where I’m not talking to anyone who’s with me. I have a few friends with whom I can do that, and they’re my preferred hiking companions. I’d like to go by myself sometime, but I’m not comfortable with the risk.

Josh
Josh
3 years 3 months ago

@Darcie, I can relate to this. Sometimes I feel like people are merely making noise (“talking”, some call it) to fill the emptiness… when they should really be embracing it.

Tracy
Tracy
3 years 3 months ago

I actually love going out hiking by myself, so I don’t have to hear everyone else’s chatter…but then I end up talking to myself to sort out my head! When I suddenly notice that I haven’t said anything for a while, then I know I’m in the zone and entirely peaceful. Inevitably, I’m refreshed upon my return.

Scott UK
Scott UK
3 years 3 months ago

Hmmm… I think it’s only when you fail, that you realise your limitations (and either decide to live within them, or do something about it). I can see why that knowledge would be satisfying…

Charlotte
3 years 3 months ago

living in the middle of a city, its shameful what’s become “nature” to me: a perfectly manicured park. the wildest animal: squirrels who are practically trained pets, they are so used to being around people. thats… probably not a good thing 🙂

Tom T.
3 years 3 months ago

Don’t forget the trees that are growing out of the 3′ x 3′ space in the sidewalk.

Groktimus Primal
3 years 3 months ago

I don’t think trading our cow for these magic beans was very wise. Besides, they’re just high alkaloid legumes anyway!

Harry Mossman
3 years 3 months ago

A wilderness area and a vivid imagination seem enough to produce this state for me. I think of going to wild, rugged, empty beaches in Point Reyes National Seashore. It gives me a chill thinking about being a Native American Grok there. No doubt a long journey far into a wilderness would produce stronger feelings but that isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

On another note, I’m convinced that we are all going to be experiencing major natural disasters soon enough.

Colleen
Colleen
3 years 3 months ago

You can still see the AWESOME caribou migration in Alaska and Canada. My husband and I have seen it twice, camping and paddling on the banks of the Noatak River and base camping in ANWR. Life changes when you isolate yourself from technology for two weeks and just live with nature.

lockard
lockard
3 years 3 months ago

ready to live in the wilderness – give me the northern (BC) Rockies for life please

Julie
Julie
3 years 3 months ago

A couple weeks ago I was in a badly leaking tent in a thunderstorm on the shore with no tree cover. This did make me rethink my relationship with nature, but not in a way that made me want less shelter.

Wenchypoo
Wenchypoo
3 years 3 months ago

Mentioning Mt. Rainier made me homesick for just a minute. The only thing roaming wild and free around here are stray cats and homeless people.

YvonneJean
YvonneJean
3 years 3 months ago

The one that really brought it home for me recently was Yellowstone, especially if you go in the early hours/off season so there aren’t so many people. The volcanic features really hit home that it is a giant super volcano, ready to blow. I remember this one large steam vent called dragon’s tounge that sounds like a dragon breathing, including big gouts of steam. It was humbling and awe inspiring at the same time, and really made you think about nature’s power and how little we can really do about it.

tkm
tkm
3 years 3 months ago
Such a bittersweet topic for me. I live in downtown Los Angeles, and so, yes, I’m pretty disconnected from nature on a regular basis; however, I don’t want to get into a mindset where I feel like the connections I do get to experience aren’t valid. The older and more health-conscious I get, and the longer I continue with the Primal lifestyle, the more I crave connection with nature. And the more I seek that connection, the more I am able to see that I am indeed still part of nature despite all the trappings of modern urban life that… Read more »
Christin
Christin
3 years 3 months ago

I really love this comment.

tkm
tkm
3 years 3 months ago

thanks!

Cal
Cal
3 years 3 months ago

Me too! 🙂

2Rae
2Rae
3 years 3 months ago

Well said. Pretty much how I feel but I’m not there in LA. Nice to hear another person who can appreciate the beauty that we are able to experience where ever we may be. Thanks for your lovely post.

Ponee
Ponee
3 years 3 months ago

Good post.

Peter
Peter
3 years 3 months ago

Mark, I’m happy to see you writing more and more about the natural world.

Coincidence? But since adopting a primal lifestyle I want to be out in nature more than ever. And this weekend I’m heading to Maine’s magnificient Baxter State Park for 3 days of hiking, swimming and quiet!

joe
joe
3 years 3 months ago

hey i wrote a stupid, hatefull, unfounded comment a few weeks ago. it was completely unfounded. i was not in a good state at the time. Please disregard it. And supplements have aided and benefitted my body.

Janey
Janey
3 years 3 months ago

Joe–everybody makes the occasional misstep. Not everybody has the grace to admit it, though. Glad you’re feeling better.

Matt
Matt
3 years 3 months ago

Wow, Joe. Spoken like a gentleman. Thank you, and best wishes for the future.

Nocona
Nocona
3 years 3 months ago

The natural world is our true home. We have become so disengaged from it. We will pay the price someday. As my old wilderness teacher, Tom Brown Jr. used to say, “If you have no place you need to be, you can never consider yourself lost in the woods.”

Basil Cronus
Basil Cronus
3 years 3 months ago

Wow, I read me some Tom Brown Jr. back in the day. Now that man made me want to live in the woods and track some stuff.

Leo
Leo
3 years 3 months ago

I live on the East Coast and have easy access to the Atlantic ocean. Being out in the ocean (when you cannot see the land) drives home for me how powerful Mother Nature is…

chris
chris
3 years 3 months ago

Liquid Mountaineering! Running on water.

Karen
Karen
3 years 3 months ago
I was a Rotary Exchange student in Argentina in 1994. I participated in two major trips and with both of them Duncan Chase, our Rotary mentor, had us participate in moments of quiet reflection, alone with nature. These were profound experiences, but I didn’t fully appreciate them until reading this post today. I was a Girl Guide for most of my life, but haven’t been camping since 2007. I’m taking my boys (2 and 4) and their father, camping this weekend. This post also makes me think a song we sang in Girl Guides – Have you ever seen the… Read more »
Susan B.
Susan B.
3 years 3 months ago

Oh, I like this song. Have fun camping.

Deanna
Deanna
3 years 3 months ago

Nice song! Of course, as soon as I read the first line, I broke in to….

Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon?
Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grins?

I might have to have myself a Disney moment before or after I go hiking today!

Matt
Matt
3 years 3 months ago

So thought provoking, Mark. Thanks! There must be a happy medium between the danger, discomfort, and precariousness of primitive living on one hand and, on the other, the unhappiness of the human zoo that most of us inhabit. Like Leo said above, the ocean provides some kind of nourishment and healing for me. But even there you have chartplotters, satellite phones, EPIRB’s, etc. If you use them you are not really disconnected; if you don’t use them and something happens…well that seems dumb. I don’t know the answer.

Bill C
Bill C
3 years 3 months ago

Try bringing them and not using them. “I’d rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.”
Simply leave them powered off until and unless something happens. And put away in a not-readily-accessible place with the batteries out, if need be.

Sean
Sean
3 years 3 months ago

Reminds me of this

“The sea’s only gifts are harsh blows, and occasionally the chance to feel strong. Now I don’t know much about the sea, but I do know that that’s the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once. To find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions. Facing the blind deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head.”
? Christopher McCandless

Mimulus
Mimulus
3 years 3 months ago
I just returned from a 50 mile backpack with my son’s Boy scout troop in Yosemite. Once you get more than 10 miles or so from a trailhead you stop seeing people. And once you get above about 9500 feet you stop seeing non-native plants. And once you are above treeline you are looking at scenery very much like what the native Paiute and John Muir for that matter would have looked at. I love the backcountry: its so raw, and smoky, and hail-filled, and star-studded, and boulder-strewn and crazy-loud with rushing water and wind thru the conifers. It makes… Read more »
Kelsey
Kelsey
3 years 3 months ago
This post bums me out. I used to live in Nebraska, and we went and watched the Sandhill Crane migrations which is magnificent… and I also used to live in Connecticut, and it’s fairly easy to “get back to nature”… now I am in Louisiana, and it is too hot to go outside, and if it’s not too hot, it’s too buggy, and if it’s not those things, then there is just NOWHERE to go. (If I were in New Orleans or on a lake, that would be a different story, but I am landlocked in sprawling Baton Rouge). Anyone… Read more »
Alvin
Alvin
3 years 3 months ago

We live in Baton Rouge as well! There are ways…though I’m halfway out of town (in my mind anyway) to the foothills of North Carolina. You should email me – I get the fam out there a decent amount and it would be great to connect with a local grokster. raetzsch at geemail dot com

Jerry
Jerry
3 years 3 months ago
Good post Every weekend (Sat & Sun) and usually 1 -2 days during the week, my fiance & I are roaming the woods in the Oregon Coast Range with our longbows stump shooting, practicing abo skills, enjoying nature all year long, in all weather conditions. This weekend is the start of our archery deer & elk seasons where we try to put very organic healthy meat in the freezer. I’ve never felt closer to my ancestors than when drawing a arrow back on a deer/elk and the experience that comes afterwards. We both work full time jobs and have to… Read more »
Stace
3 years 3 months ago

I can relate to the yellow jacket encounter having an odd “satisfying” feeling later…last winter I was nearly trampled by a moose. While it could have been much, much worse, being that close to major injury by a wild animal was a reminder of nature’s power. Living in Anchorage, seeing moose is not rare, but I always take the time to admire their beauty and now, their power.

This was just a fantastic post. Very thoughtful and thought-provoking. My favorite kind. Now I need to check my calendar to see when I can go camping next.

Madeleine
3 years 3 months ago

25 million caribou? Did I read that right?
And people freak out when they see a spider or a cockroach in their house! We are completely disconnected from our environment and the ecosystem.
But I still hate that mouse in my kitchen.

Ellen
Ellen
3 years 3 months ago
Funny Mark mentions hiking above the tree line. I commented the other day about spending a few months at a research camp in the Colorado mountains (my favorite place in the world) and encountering a bear at my cabin door. We drove/hiked above the tree line one time with a view of nothing but more mountains. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had. Even though our hair literally standing on end from the electricity of a storm nearby (that was probably pretty stupid, could have been struck by lightning)I never wanted to leave. I recall making… Read more »
Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand
3 years 3 months ago
You, who dare to regard us as the moral inferiors of any mystic who claims supernatural visions-you, who scramble like vultures for plundered pennies, yet honor a fortune-teller above a fortune-maker-you, who scorn a businessman as ignoble, but esteem any posturing artist as exalted-the root of your standards is that mystic miasma which comes from primordial swamps, that cult of death, which pronounces a businessman immoral by reason of the fact that he keeps you alive. You, who claim that you long to rise above the crude concerns of the body, above the drudgery of serving mere physical needs-who is… Read more »
Tim
Tim
3 years 3 months ago

As I read this it made me sit back and appreciate what I have. I live on the edge of civilization on the Alaskan highway. Just got back from planting 5200 trees in the city. My job is to reclaim land that has been messed up from human population. Thanks Mark, for sharing this artical with us.

s. l.
s. l.
3 years 3 months ago

How does one get a job like that? What are the qualifications? It sounds amazing…

Peter W.
Peter W.
3 years 3 months ago
Hmmm…… I thought that one of the attributes of the male WAS a willingness to take on risk. Partly because those who cannot take a risk for themselves will not take it for others. Churchill wrote that courage was the pre-eminent virtue, and I believe that he is right. Without courage we do nothing difficult or dangerous. I work in a high-risk industry, agriculture, and also fight wildfires. As I look at the determined efforts of government to surround us with the padded cell of regulation, I realise that it strangles initiative and effectiveness. Personal safety is more important than… Read more »
Kirk
Kirk
3 years 3 months ago
Peter This is almost exactly the post I was formulating in my head. I’ve been a firefighter for over 22 years now, and have always been a back-country camper, canoeer and kayaker since my youth. It’s difficult to get the life/death experience in the wilderness now, at least where I live in eastern Canada, but I was going to suggest that anyone who wanted to experience raw life or death situations consider the fire service. Fire is as elemental as big gnarly teeth, and if you fight it long enough, you’ll have enough experiences that you’ll fear nothing and be… Read more »
Peter W.
Peter W.
3 years 3 months ago

Josh….

If you want bees on your hand, wait untill the weather is hot and dry, then find a water-source that is frequented by bees. Inevitably, some fall in , but if you put your hand under the water then lift it up underneath them so that they are resting on the flat of your palm, they will rest there without stinging. They will sit on your flat hand while they dry themselves and then fly away because they have things to do, not because they fear you.

Peter.

Kim Allen
Kim Allen
3 years 3 months ago
I taught Outward Bound for over 20 years and I took for granted weeks and months of hiking, sleeping, eating and living, under the stars, intimately with each season. My body, mind and spirit knew the subtle shift of the ecliptic and the movement of the constellations from summer to winter. Now, I can only escape for a week or two a year into the desert or mountains and if I’m lucky I’ll find a river trip and paddle through the Grand Canyon immersed both in her unforgiving currents and breathtaking red walls. It is so easy to let life… Read more »
Megan
Megan
3 years 3 months ago
On one of the Alaskan trekk shows, one of the particpants says something along the lines of “If you have to ask why we choose to do this, you wont understand the answer.” I understand – I grew up in the country on a farm, spending most of my days on horseback roaming through Shades State Park which was on the other side of our back property line. My dad is a hunter, a living history re-enactor, a survivalist, a martial artist and a hand to hand combat and firearms safety instructor, so as I grew up outdoors was where… Read more »
Susan B.
Susan B.
3 years 3 months ago

To get the experience of living with a close connection to nature, read or reread The Little House on the Prairie books. I don’t know how I missed them as a kid, but I love them now.

Lora
Lora
3 years 3 months ago

I love those books! I recently re-read them, and experienced the simple life all over again. Living in a dug out home or a log cabin, eating simple food, the luxury of a single piece of candy, the ability to drink straight out of a cold stream. Oh what we have lost….

Lea
Lea
3 years 3 months ago

I see deer on my weekly walk about half the time. Does that count?

Michael
3 years 3 months ago
The way you started this article about the caribou as far as the eye can see, reminds me of the movie ‘Dances With Wolves’. In about the middle part of the movie after the main character(Kevin Costner) informs his new friends(a Lakota Indian Tribe) about a herd of Buffalo nearby, they break camp and head out after their trail. The movie does a pretty cool job of creating a scene were in the open plains of North Dakota hill after hill is covered with endless herds of buffalo as far as the eye can see. That scene gave me goose… Read more »
Rob
Rob
3 years 3 months ago

I think getting oneself outdoors and into nature is an experience that obviously cannot be duplicated or experienced by any other means. We recently had the worst flooding in more than a century. The damage to our city was heartbreaking. The devastation upstream in the foothills and mountains was absolutely stunning. The power of nature is frightening to say the least. But it’s not about danger, it’s really about living your life now not later.

mister worms
mister worms
3 years 3 months ago
We are fortunate enough to have a house in a wooded area, near a large state park and forests, where we spend weekends and summers. I LOVE it here. I am so sad the summer is ending and that I’ll be surrounded by concrete and cubicle walls in a short week. Even indoors we have 360 degree views of trees, a waterfall and all of the critters that pass by. I have to admit that completely surrendering to the outdoors stresses me out. Somehow I can’t fully embrace being food for a swarm of mosquitos, deer ticks or interacting with… Read more »
Cory
3 years 3 months ago

Perfect. I am truly a domesticated man. I’d say its time to change that some.

George
George
3 years 3 months ago

I lived in a rural area in the country and have gone fishing in remote areas. I once heard an Appalachian woman who grew up in a remote community once say, nature is a mother, but she is a mean mother 🙂

Too true!!

Deanna
Deanna
3 years 3 months ago
I had a hard time figuring out what this post was getting at when I first read it, because honestly I’m okay with never coming face-to-face with a bear and don’t see how I need to face nature in that way to get some profound meaning out of my life. I’ve started hiking again recently and am picking away at the mountains in New England. I hiked up a “real mountain” today and finally realized just how profound of an influence one hike had on my life. A few years ago, a friend who had gotten seriously into hiking took… Read more »
Joanne
Joanne
2 years 6 months ago
I’ve done a great deal of long distance hiking but it was over a decade ago. I now judge how close I am to nature by how often I am “scared of bugs.” I literally have to remind myself that even if a bug stings/bites me, it will soon be dead, crushed in my hand. I’m the bigger predator. The mind is a flexible thing. Stop using it in a certain way, and it adapts quickly. It’s amusing that old yoga books talk about finding a place “without insects” in which to do asanas. That cracks me up every time.… Read more »
Tyrannocaster
2 years 4 months ago
I live in the middle of a pretty big city (1 million people in the metropolitan area) but I am still surprised by the things I come into contact with, especially since I get up early every morning to walk my dogs. I have come face to face with coyotes several times; it was never particularly scary because they are smart enough not to mess with me. My dog looks a lot like a coyote but that doesn’t fool them, of course. But they will just stand there and look you in the eye until they are ready to leave,… Read more »
Kathy
Kathy
2 years 3 months ago
Grew up in the city (Orlando, Fl) but as a kid, we spent all day in the woods “exploring”. One time, my friends and I found scorpions! We often saw deer and hogs. There were undeveloped areas back then in neighborhoods! Later we moved to a lake and I spent many afternoons and weekends swimming, skiing, fishing, etc. on that lake. My husband and I bought a house on the same lake and raised our two kids (who were not much interested in the lake except for swimming) and we kayak here as well as many Florida springs and rivers.… Read more »
wpDiscuz