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
Civilization has given us great gifts. Infectious diseases rarely kill us anymore. We have hot running water that’s safe to drink (usually). We can go down to the market and buy a thousand different foods. Things are, for the most part, safe and comfortable. Of course, many of the benefits of civilization have been solutions to problems it introduced. That we rarely die from infectious disease is significant because the high population densities of early civilizations created such high infectious disease burdens; nomadic hunter gatherers didn’t have that issue. But there are benefits.
Civilization has also harmed us. There’s the usual laundry list of maladies, like industrialized diets, sedentary lifestyles, dysfunctional circadian rhythms, skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes, and cancer that we discuss on here all the time.
But there’s also our wildness. For a civil society to function, it must tamp down excessive wildness among its citizenry. Someone’s got to maintain the roads, fix the plumbing, drive the buses, and get up and go to work on time. Yet, the call of the wild persists….
Humans have always represented the intersection of wildness and order. We have animal urges and instincts, and we have reason and logic. We’re subject to the natural world, and we mold and shape it. We’re civil, but with an edge. It’s that precarious balance between chaos and order that helps us do incredible things. The crazy vision of stepping foot on the moon and the discipline necessary to get us there safely. When we become “too civilized,” we lose that edge. On the balance, I’ll take the civilization, but we can do it better by reintroducing wildness into our personal lives.
“Wild” isn’t “crazy” or “savage” or “violent.” It can include ebullience, but it’s mostly about loosening the shackles of what civilization expects you to be and do.
To consume is to be passive, comfortable, civilized. Civilization needs consumption. It’s necessary. But civilization and the humans who populate it also need creation, and that’s a bit more wild. It’s pushing the boundary, riding the edge. This isn’t an either-or situation. Everyone consumes. Everyone should create, too. How’s your ratio?
You don’t have to start a blog or write books. You don’t have to become an oil painter or sculptor. Although those are all great options for cultivating wildness via tweaking the create:consume ratio, they’re not the only way.
Creation can be almost anything as long as it introduces something new to the world. It can be minor or monumental. If you’re reading a blog and a thought comes to you, write a comment. If you’re scrolling through a Twitter conversation and have something to contribute, do so. Participate. You could be dungeon master for a Dungeons and Dragons group—that’s creating a narrative for others to inhabit. You could convince your buddies to start training with you—that’s creating good, healthy habits in people who didn’t have them. Direct your energy outward, rather than be a passive recipient of exogenous energy.
There’s a real human predilection toward violence that, if ignored or repressed, often explodes into tragedy. Martial arts can be a good outlet for that. Now, I don’t know this first-hand. As a kid, I got into my fair share of mostly-friendly scrapes and rough and tumble play, and it was great. Every kid should do that (few do these days). But I don’t have any real experience with martial arts. Not learning one is actually one of my major regrets in life. In recent months, however, I have done some very easy grappling drills with an acquaintance who’s been training for most of his life. It’s been awesome. Nothing too serious or intense. But I get a real sense of how I’d respond in a violent situation.
Don’t do what I did. Learn a martial art. There’s an element of wildness—you’re learning how to do and avoid violence, how to face another human being in simulated mortal conditions—tempered with control and the boundaries of civilization—no one’s going to die or get seriously hurt. From my limited experience, I’d say try a grappling art like Brazilian jiu-jitsu or wrestling.
Humans have a sense of tribalism encoded in us, a desire for allegiance toward and acceptance from a group. For some, that manifests as ethnic or religious hatred. There are obvious problems with those manifestations. Could there be a positive outlet for our tribalism? Research shows that diehard sports fans see physiological benefits when their teams compete, such as boosts to testosterone and increased empathy. Sports fans even have a higher-than-average sense of meaning in their lives, something many modern humans lack.
I’m guessing this may apply to more “nerdy” allegiances, like Star Wars vs Star Trek, Marvel vs DC, or Playstation vs XBox, though I have to draw the line at adult My Little Pony fans. Sorry.
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t let these tribal allegiances consume your life. Don’t spend every waking moment following sports, politics, or pop culture. That’d be like engaging in perpetual warfare with a rival tribe—no good.
In fact, I think some of these “open-ended” tribal conflicts are the most dangerous. In sports, as on the battlefield, there’s a definitive, objective conclusion to the conflict: Your team either wins or loses. Everyone accepts the outcome, because the outcome is undeniable. In politics or pop culture, the battle never ends. It drags on, and drags you down with it.
When chaos envelopes us at home—dirty dishes in the kitchen, clothes strewn around, papers everywhere, bills unpaid, responsibilities mounting—we devote most of our creative energy to blocking it out, to ignoring it, leaving us little energy left over to embody our true, wilder selves. Don’t do this.
Instead, deal with the issues directly. Clean the place up. Address all the energy suckers. You’ll probably find that most of them resolve rather quickly, and you have far more time and energy left over to create, learn, play, and indulge the call of the wild.
And, yes, I think there’s an argument to made for minimalism here.
Civilization has created neat, linear environments with walkways and paths and boundaries. Normally, we stay between the lines, stay off the grass, and generally follow the rules. Try not doing that.
Be a weirdo, not a jerk. You shouldn’t walk through wilderness protection zones or trample someone’s garden. Don’t trespass.
I’m curious how you foster de-civilization in your life? Any comments, reactions, responses? I’d especially love to hear about martial arts more experienced folks can recommend.
As we wrap up this kickoff month of 2018, the question becomes: how do you take your intention to the next level? Today I offered up some ideas for those often neglected but still essential “other” foundations of a healthy and fulfilling Primal life.
And I want to offer one random commenter on today’s post something to help in that regard—a copy of The Primal Connection and a $50 gift certificate to PrimalBlueprint.com to apply to other books (or anything on the site) that might support his/her next steps.
Just tell me some thought inspired by today’s post—or something you’d like to see me cover about these “extra” essentials of Primal living: play, sun, sleep, nature, barefooting, etc.
Be sure to comment on today’s post by midnight tonight (1/31/18 PST) to be eligible.
Take care, everyone. Be well!