How Does Ancient Wisdom Intersect with a Primal Perspective?

I spend a lot of time talking about evolutionary blueprints, primordial logic and genetic instinct because I happen to think there’s value in it. We live today with the belief (or maybe bluster) that we’re “evolved” beyond our evolution. Too often there’s a resistance to scrutinize our innate responses to the world, to question our choices or to imagine that what we want to pursue is anything other than deep and enlightened rationality at its finest. Sometimes people are offended by the concept of seeing themselves as products of their evolution. For some people, it’s the equivalent of calling them advanced animals, to which I basically agree (much to their continuing exasperation). And, yet, there’s the crux of our human story – these additional, incredible capabilities that we can access and use to guide our lives. These capacities over the millennia have impressively flowered into everything from science to art to, most notably for today’s post, life philosophy.

The truth is, we’re heavily influenced by the impulses of our evolutionary wiring, but that doesn’t mean we’re helpless against them. Our lucky species developed a reflexive thinking capacity – the ability to observe our own mental states, our own cognitive processes and emotional responses. In short, we can – when we’re willing – observe our own thoughts and motivations with a degree of objectivity.

So, while our primal inclinations are always a factor, they aren’t the only factor – or even necessarily the voice that wins out. In this context, the benefit of understanding our evolutionary default is that we don’t have to do it all the time. We have more options – and can consciously distinguish the underlying sources of our choices.

The Importance of a Life Philosophy

Although I’ve always been a science guy, I’ve found myself drawn to philosophy at times. For the most part, I take a pretty practical approach to it. I want something I can use. Navel gazing doesn’t interest me, and neither does splitting hairs or playing a game of clever semantics. Philosophy, as I appreciate it, isn’t an academic study but a useful template (or choice of templates actually) for life practice.

Recently, I enjoyed a great read for this purpose: A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine. It’s a thoughtful but readable primer for understanding and practicing Stoicism, the branch of Hellenistic philosophy cultivated over the span of a few hundred years by figures like Zeno of Citium, Diogenes, Cato, Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, although shadows of Stoic philosophy would pop up now and then among the works of famous figures and movements into the 19th Century.

Irvine begins by asking us to consider our primary objective in life – the goal which takes precedence over all others, the goal which all our interests should ideally serve. He challenges us to think “what we want out of life” not in the short-term or even in decade-oriented aims but as the overarching pursuit we attach to our lives. Only when we identify this, he says, can we have a “coherent life philosophy.”

Living in alignment with this ideal is the crux of the “good life.” The Stoics – and Irvine’s book as a reflection of their interests – both define a good life and strategize for it.

It’s a cause that intrigued me and that touches on the purpose of the Primal Blueprint as I see it – how to live the healthiest, happiest life with the least amount of pain, suffering and sacrifice.

It’s why I wrote both The Primal Blueprint and, later, The Primal Connection – as a response to the restless, discontent, searching condition in which many of us find ourselves. What is the reality behind the modern ennui, midlife crises and end-of-life regrets many experience? And so that all-too-common question of personal satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) intersects with that of life purpose: Is this all there is?

At issue here is the threat of “misliving” our lives, which according to Irvine, is more likely than ever. As he explains, most people “spend their days working hard to be able to afford the latest consumer gadget, in the resolute belief that if they only buy enough stuff, they will have a life that is both meaningful and maximally fulfilling.” Sound familiar?

He implicates evolutionary programming, what he considers the culprit behind our “assiduously seeking out what feels good and avoiding what feels bad.” Personally, I see our evolutionary blueprint in a more complex light, with implications for social altruism and even duty, which he highlights as a Stoic principle. Nonetheless, I believe he’s correct that our evolutionary instincts do steer us more toward situational response than overarching purpose.

While the modern age is full of life-wasting distraction, it simultaneously offers us an historically unique opportunity for more people to make the most of their years – to decide where instinct will have its way and where some greater vision will guide them.

Defining “The Good Life”

This good life, according to Irvine, varied in detail among the individual philosophers but as a whole hovered most consistently around the concept of “tranquility,” the experience of relative peace and satisfaction in light of nearly any condition. The ultimate goal, as Irvine describes, is “to make [our] happiness depend as little as possible on [our] external circumstances.”

And, yet, it also seeks to maximize joy while limiting detriment. As Irvine explains, it’s an “enlightened hedonism,” with which we seek and enjoy pleasure but simultaneously attempt to conquer our Desire (with a capital D rather than a particular desire). It’s about developing – through discipline – an unshakable equilibrium through which we can gain the most from our lives and give as little to distraction and dead ends as possible. When we are no longer ruled by our “tendency toward insatiability,” we are able to experience fulfillment at a deeper, more substantial and satisfying level.

The result is, as Irvine puts it, “less comfort and pleasure, but considerably more joy.” It’s a discipline that minimizes our valuing of the external possessions and situations, maximizes our cultivation of our internal capacities and obliges us to live from greater appreciation for the relationships and experiences that fulfill us.

Materialism, vanity and indulgence, they warned, are the surest ways to “mislive” our lives and are the most likely to result in regret. We do better to master ourselves, they believed, and live a life larger than chasing our instinctual insatiability. According to Stoic thought, we’re better off and more likely to experience long-term, sustainable joy and contentment with a sense of purpose, a priority of self-control and a belief in tranquility above all else.

At various points he asks us to compare the situations of those who know or care nothing of a Stoic perspective with those who practice this philosophy. While it’s impossible to do justice to all of what he illuminates about Stoic thinking, consider these points.

In Matters of Emotional Influence…

Do we want to hold on to anger, to use it as a motivation, to allow a sensitivity to take root in ourselves that makes the slightest provocation feel dramatic? Can we let go of anger as a waste of precious life and even contemplate with humility our own annoying natures?

Can we believe that grief has a purpose but that it can also pass? Can we believe that at some point reason can speak to grief and help us reenter life beyond it?

In Matters of Material Wealth…

Can we see how desire for and attachment to money or material goods can cause us to sacrifice experiences, to compromise relationships, and to make choices that do not serve our greater happiness – the kind that in our final days we will take ultimate comfort in? Do we see how acquisition can never lead to contentment but simply perpetuates the cycle of desire and may keep us from appreciating small joys?

Can we accept living with the likelihood of more modest means because we choose not to prioritize acquisition or exertion that compromises other areas of our happiness and tranquility? If wealth does, by happenstance, come our way, can we live in detachment from it?

In Matters of Social Standing…

Can we accept that valuing the opinion of others can enslave us? Do we feel truth behind Epictetus’s saying, “‘What upsets people is not the things themselves but their judgments about those things?’”

Is it possible for us to envision a life in which we are indifferent to what others think of us while still caring for those we are closest to? Do we believe in the impact of selectively socializing with those who share our basic values? Can we relate with boundaries that allow us, above all, to remain true to ourselves?

In Matters of Control…

Can we not only intellectually embrace Irvine’s adaptation of Epictetus’s theory – a “trichotomy of control” (what we have total control over, what we have some control over, what we have no control over) and apply it to our everyday choices? Can we commit above all to cultivating the best in ourselves? Can we stick by a primary desire to “not be frustrated by forming desires [we] won’t be able to fulfill”?

Can we accept a middle ground that encourages us to engage in processes we find valuable in and of themselves, investing insomuch as the process itself (e.g. for health, well-being, professional development) fulfills us – but letting go of “bigger” outcomes?

In Matters of Physical Comfort/Denial…

Can we see value in keeping ourselves a little uncomfortable at times? Can we accept forgoing pleasure to a certain point in order to avoid feeling entitled to it all the time? How can we embrace cultivating mental fortitude and physical resilience?

In Matters of Aging…

Do we believe that life is supposed to always go our way – especially when we do everything “right”? Or do we see the sense in cultivating an acceptance of circumstances for the sake of tranquility? Even though we invest in making our later years as vital as possible, can we be satisfied without our desired outcome?

How do we respond to Seneca’s thought, “Let us cherish and love old age: for it is full of pleasure if one knows how to use it”?

In Matters of Death…

How much are we willing to invest in our overarching goal and committing to a life philosophy designed to leave us without regret in our last days? How do we feel about a “good death“? Do we live with purpose and even believe in causes worth dying for?

What Does It Mean to Become a Primal Stoic?

All this said, what does this mean for a Primal Blueprinter? How does one make the connection between primeval and ancient – and go on to practice a Primal Stoicism?

Just as I claim to merely be an interested explorer on this path, I think the question is open to wide interpretation. Maybe you already have some ideas or questions you’d like to propose on the comment board.

But here’s what I think – and let me add a bit about the primary points that Irvine highlights.

The “single most valuable technique” in practicing Stoic philosophy as Irvine sees it is negative visualization. (I can just hear the energy and manifesting folks gasp.) I’ll acknowledge I was a bit skeptical initially, but stay with me and see what you think.

According to the Stoics, we should regularly visualize negative occurrences – losing our possessions, losing our faculties, even losing those we love – in order to not take them for granted. We don’t have to stay there long, but in imagining these scenarios, we can practice detachment from what fills our lives. We can forestall or reverse, as Irvine explains, the natural “Hedonic adaptation” that causes us to get bored with the various elements, possessions and people in our lives. Without requiring a blatant “catastrophe,” we can remedy the ennui and “jadedness” that too often sets into our minds and, as a result, live and act each day with greater appreciation for all we have. In its proper perspective, I think this tactic (as a thoughtful practice and not a fear-based obsession) is brilliant.

In the end, however, what draws me most to this book and to the Stoic perspective is the focus on and acceptance of what is. It’s about being present to our lives – each moment – no matter what.

This might surprise a few folks who see me as a chronic do-er always in search of the next ambitious development. That’s true, too. But there’s a difference – especially in the last decade or so for me.

While the Stoics themselves wouldn’t likely call me a fitting poster child for their movement, I believe in the primacy of reason and see it as the formidable and natural counterpart to evolutionary logic – when interpreted correctly.

I believe in the power of letting go of outcomes. I commit only to projects where the process itself is worth my time, energy and enthusiasm even if the outcomes end up miserable failures. This way, I know I haven’t wasted my personal investment, which I view as separate from any monetary input.

I believe in gratitude as a discipline. I’ve seen it firsthand in people who have almost nothing, and those experiences have had their sway. Entitlement never did anyone any favors, and we moderns (in the more affluent subsections of the so-called first world) I think have to consciously battle this mental and cultural pest. An infestation of entitlement has the power to undermine and even level lives in a way hardship doesn’t. The best way I’ve found to take on the lulling patterns in which we take what we have for granted is to regularly remind myself of their impermanence. It’s all on loan, and seeing it as such helps me appreciate all I have today.

Finally, it’s how this sense of impermanence and this prioritization of small, present joys connects with the immediacy of our primal ancestors’ reality that intrigues me. To live a life where value resides in the here and now – and to embrace it, discover it, every day as a deliberate life vision ultimately feels like the best of both philosophical worlds.

Thanks for reading, everyone. What thoughts came up for you as you read through? Do you connect your Primal perspective with another philosophy to guide your life and choices – and how so? Have a great end to your week.

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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72 thoughts on “How Does Ancient Wisdom Intersect with a Primal Perspective?”

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  1. Interesting application of the Stoic philosophy to PB and I agree. Humans are very capable of holding the perspectives of “now” and “later”. We plan for our futures and place a lot of hope in those wants, but we must simultaneously be right here and be mindful that those futures may never happen.

  2. to what extent is Stoic good versus bad stuff but why
    apply it to all of life versus enjoyment/Hedonism being cut loose!?



  3. So cool that you are getting into this. I just started getting into this too. It’s amazing the parallels between stoic philosophy and Buddhism. I think taking care of our mental space is crucial to a happy life.

    1. Yes! Love the “parallels between stoic philosophy and Buddhism.” A happy life is not necessarily the narcissistic outlook so often adopted by the New Age. Ancient wisdom born of the austerity of then real life worldwide shaped the building blocks of both the Stoic and the Mahayana Buddhist systems to appreciate our fleeting lives and others in our community, treating all, including ourselves, with compassion, simplicity and common sense.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this pertinent information and summing it up in a meaningful way. I’ve been on a part of gratitude and moving toward three greater good which has allowed me to be at peace moat of the time.

    I’ve been on a mostly primal diet for approx five years and have noticed remarkable improvement. I enjoy your articles. Thanks

  5. You’ve beautifully summarized the basis of living a good life… I’ve been a seeker of Joy, as the fulfillment of what it is to be human. I would add the practise of meditation and conscious breath, to develop the experience of a deeper energetic dimension, beneath our beliefs and stories and identifications, and the ancient physical and mental health benefits.

  6. Stoicism …..the greek philosophies in ancient times succumbed to the fact of the resurrection of Christ. For the resurrection answered the question of the identity of the One to whom we express ‘gratitude’. Resurrection was a singularity and a game-changer. We find then, that the good life in this world is lived as a prelude and preparation and an icon of the next. The Resurrection also answered the question of suffering for suffering by the Cross of Christ, transformed all experiences of suffering and movement towards non-being into portals into life rooted in an Eternal Energy, personal and loving. So, I suggest not reinventing the wheel. Stoicism was found wanting 1600 years ago, conquored by Christ. Jesus Christ is the light of the world.

    1. yup…..stoicism like all other philosophy and religion has been found wanting……….God is God to all and He is knowable….and something ex nihilo….is nothing for God.
      I love that Jesus called Himself the truth………Some things are either true or they are not…….and our beliefs or ways of seeing things do not change reality(truth)………a favorite quote from a not so well known professor of Christian apologetics who studied much philosophy – “Philosophy is nothing more than well articulated unbelief”
      The reason primal living works is because it is true…there is truth in it….

    2. Genghis Khan conquered.

      Alexander the Great conquered.

      Cortez conquered.

      Conquerors use applied military force.

      The “Prince of Peace”? Not a conqueror.

      1. Conquerors do not only use military force. A conqueror is simply the noun titling a person who commits the act of conquering. Conquer simply means ‘overcome’.

        You can overcome food, you can overcome obstacles, and one who overcomes is then a conqueror of that item they overcame. The ‘Prince of Peace’ as you have called out, overcame death. Hence, he is a conqueror.

        First century Jews expected the Prince of Peace (Son of David), Jesus, to be a conqueror in the sense you laid out, a military commander. This view was a major cause for division because they expected the next King David, who would be sent to overthrow Roman occupation. Instead, they received a Messiah who taught personal change and not military might.

        It was prophesied by Simeon (Jewish Elder) that He would be ‘a sign of contradiction’. Rome was eventually overthrown, and now His followers inhabit the same city that once stood as the capital of their oppressors.

    3. “Resurrection was a singularity and a game-changer.” Here’s a short list of heroes, demi-gods, and gods who underwent death and resurrection: Tammuz, Sumerian god; Krishna, Hindu god; Dionysus, the Twice Born, Greek god;
      Persephone, the daughter of the Greek Goddess Demeter; Osiris, Egyptian god, died and returned to life twice; Ganesha, Hindu god; Quetzalcoatl, Mesoamerican god, Lemminkainen, mythic Finnish hero; Odin, chief Norse god.

      Most, if not all, cultures have heroes or god-figures who die and are resurrected. It started long before the story of Jesus.

      1. Christ is more than just a story and the reason for the similarities is that the people behind them are all related.

      2. is there such a thing as chronological snobbery reversing after a certain amount of time? It seems to me we sometimes act as if our recent ancestors were fools(and we don’t even know how to eat without poisoning ourselves)

        then if we go back in time to ancient mythological crap …..that seems wise somehow………then back into times we really know very little about …and we make out grok to be a genius of sorts.

        it seems like we sometimes act like we know more about what happened ten thousand or a million years ago than what happened two thousand years ago…..or yesterday.

        maybe it is just a pick and choose intellectual snobbery based on nothing else but the attempt to support our own thinking – or lack thereof.

        but I must say it is just plain ridiculous to compare the life of Jesus to demi-gods, or mythical heroes, etc. noted above. Nothing in ancient texts is supported as well historically as the life….and resurrection…of Jesus.

    4. Hey, man, this isn’t a discussion of religion, but of philosophy. The difference is that religion is based on faith (belief without evidence), and exploration of the thoughts/results of real people who lived and kept records is intellectual and based on evidence. I realize that suggesting that one can live a good life without religion may be ruffling your feathers, and the cognitive dissonance is making you uncomfortable so you have to preach. Just know that you are only making yourself feel better, not winning over converts. Be cool. Believe whatever you want to believe, but save it for church on Sunday.

  7. When I saw the title of this posting in my email I thought, “Mark is going Woo on us. ‘Wisdom’ of the Ancients, yeah, my butt.'” Gimme Science, not religion under any guise.

    For six years I’ve acknowledge that Mark is smart, just look at his capabilities with science. Also, wise, just look at the wisdom woven throughout the entire Primal philosophy of healthy living. But this blog displays Mark’s wisdom and intelligence together, over the top.

    “Gratitude” is a proven hallmark of those living happily into old age. (Closing in there, just turned 69.) One of the foundations of Buddhism is that attachment (desire, longing for) is the source of all pain. I am not a monk sworn to poverty, but once I shook the shackles of Madison Avenue off, I was free of so much pain.

    The biggest gift I ever gave myself in the category how to live is when I realized that “The universe doesn’t care one whit about my existence.” That surely puts Ego in its proper place, i.e., out of existence.

    I’m a nothing in the big scheme of things. And yet, this universe/existence was also created for me to exercise my best in, a palette to be a good member of my communities, to be a father and grandfather to raise offspring that are givers and not takers of their communities and place in time, to leave this world a tiny bit better in some way than when I came here.

    At this point in my six decade spiritual seeking, I’ve embraced the Navajo concept of “Hozho,” best as I (white dude) may understand it. The concept of “harmony” is overarching, that every thing and every person has a place here, that how we live with each other and all of our brother and sister humans, animals, and plants is what matters. No God required or wanted.

    Our culture is so imbued with what we call “justice,” both legal and theological, we are blind to the fact that some cultures do just fine without it. If a Navajo (and forgive me if I speak incorrectly) say, kills someone, the community is more concerned with bringing that person back into harmony and beauty than punishment.

    I’ve long embraced and toyed with paradox. Only when one understands life is paradox are we free. Years ago I discovered this old Hassidic observation: “A man must keep two pieces of paper in his pockets. On one are the words ‘I am but dust and ashes.’ On the other, ‘For me alone was this universe created.'”

    1. “For me alone was this universe created.”…you are sooo loved that “for me alone was this universe created”…so loved that He gave…you are very close.

    2. Thanks for your post. Agree with you 100% on how we are constantly living in a state of paradox.

      How the Navajo forgive is very similar to how the Babemta tribe in South Africa forgive – “In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the centre of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the centre of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.”

  8. Thank you for sharing your insights…the timing is perfect as I find myself considering how the Law of Attraction has laid its hand upon me and I sit here with a fractured ankle. (and no, it was not some Xtreme athletic event…) I have historically used the word “stoic” to refer to my patients who won’t complain about pain, or even have their needs met because they don’t want to “bother” me. I enjoy reading about what is behind the philosophy Stoics have discovered for a fulfilling and satisfying life. Your article fills me with hope, comfort, and joy. I am pleased to know that my deep thinking and self awareness has value, especially as I discover how to observe the thoughts through meditation and experiencing art, dance, fitness and life. I have been ignoring my deeper signals to slow down…so here I am. Thanks for your deep thinking. I always appreciate it so much!

  9. It is enough to re-read some of Eric Maria Remarque’s books (Three Comrades, etc.) once in every few years to see things in a different light…

  10. Great article. Already bought the book. Didn’t know anything about Stoicism but sounds like it is saying the same thing as Buddhism – stay present in the moment. Funny how people from all over the world came to the same conclusion – when all of them were actually paying attention and not looking forward to getting the iWatch.

    Couple of typo’s – fulfil/fulfils (one “L”) and tranquillity (two “L’s”). You’re welcome Mark.

    1. You must be from England. Neither of your typos applies to American English.

    2. I’m constantly having to catch myself too, being a speaker and writer of Standard English. I worked as a copy editor for a US journal for several years, and it was really hard not to correct what I saw as mis-spellings and bad grammar and punctuation…it actually made me a very good proof reader because I checked everything carefully! Now I’m working on my Master’s degree at a US university. I write my papers for school in US English, but for my personal communications I use my mother tongue.

  11. Nice post.

    Many Paris restaurants have banned taking pictures of food because it takes away from the moment. I am fine if a restaurateur wants to be ban food photos while other restaurateurs do not. Let customers via the market place drive and cater to different customer wants and needs.

    I for one like the idea and was once a foodie “instagrammer”. Rarely would I ever look back on the pictures. Often I was oddly gratified with collecting “likes” from strangers then to appreciate the moment of the meal and/or present company. Very rude and self-centered of me but that hard wired dopamine hit was a rush.

    To be more in any moment I focus on my breath. When on autopilot I take many shallow breaths, often which are inverted, and my body is more tense. By focusing on my breath I’ve been training myself to be more consciously conscious, present, and relaxed. Hopefully the latter will become my new autopilot habit. The benefits have been more rewarding in many aspects of my life.

    1. I recently attended a retreat where I was taught to meditate by feeling my breath. Not watching it. Not counting it. Not observing it. Not making myself apart from it. I just offer that distinction as a fellow traveler and enjoyer of your avatar.

    2. Thank you, and appreciate the foodie dopamine connection. Will keep redirecting to the breath. Best wishes!

  12. Greek philosophies and their undergirding evolutionary myth- revisited. Darwin’s hypothesis, formulated when the cell was viewed as an undifferentiated blob of protoplasm, came with Darwin’s own criteria for falsification. If there could be shown structures too complex to be formed by gradual intermittent changes, then it would be false. If there was no evidence in the fossil record for transition forms- a probelm that disturbed Darwin in his day- then his theory would be falsified. The late Steven Gould falsified classical Darwinism when he admitted that life forms emerged quickly, and fully formed and he developed his ‘punctuated equilibrium’ theory along with ‘hopeful monsters’, thereby making an evolutionary theory corroborated, not by evidence, but by the lack of evidence.
    Add to that the enormous complexity of information theory. The genetic code is well known since Watson and Crick; however, what has not been realized are the impilications for macro-evolution. The Code is not in inherent in the chemistry, which means it had to be imposed from ‘outside’. Second for the code to be read in the DNA requires the proteins of the cell to translate, but for the proteins to exist they require the reading of the Code- an impossibility. Finally, add to it the statistical impossibilty of even one rung on the DNA ladder to emerge by accident given a putative 13.4 billion years of time with a change taking place every second and we see vast ‘complexity’ that could not arrive by gradual incremental changes.
    Then there is the fossil record. If Darwin is correct the vast majority of fossils ought to be transition forms, but the opposite is the case. In fact, there are no transition forms in the record. Eohippus has been proved false. The peppered moth has been proved false. Archaeopterix was a fraud and a composite. Piltdown man was a fraud. Java man a Gibbons skull with human femurs. Lucy, had a knee cap found a mile away and hundreds of feet deeper….on and on and on…..the drawings of ontogeny recapitulates philogeny were concocted by the original proponent. So, evolution as a model? Only if we are deeply deluded?

    1. Hey Ben, I’m sure you have covered it before, and I’m asking this as a genuine question out of curiosity…..why is it that a lack of physical evidence is enough to discredit the theory of evolution? Seems to me that none of the worlds religions would stand up under the same rational thinking.

      1. Dan, I don’t know about religions but archeology and science have backed up what the Bible has said about history quite a bit.

      2. @2Rae: I’m an archaeologist. Archaeology and science back up a number of cultures’ mythologies. For example, Oceanic legends have been shown to be rooted in actual fact. Quite a lot of the claims made in the Norse epics are also based in reality, backed up by archaeological and scientific lines of evidence. Native American stories have been shown to be true. Homeric epic poems have been backed up by archaeology and science.So the meshing of some parts of Judaeochristian narratives with archaeological and scientific data is not in any way unusual.

        The fall of Troy is an archaeological and scientific fact. The heavy meat diet of the Homeric heroes has been proven to be factual by isotopic analysis of bones. Burials have revealed that claims of fabulous treasures of gold and jewels are true. Nobody uses this as good evidence of the reality of the godhood of Zeus the all-mighty, or as a sound basis for worship of Poseidon the earth-shaker, despite ongoing earthquakes and sea-storms.

        Discovery of the name of King Hezekiah in an aqueduct in Israel may be taken as evidence that Hezekiah lived and reigned. It isn’t hard proof of the existence of YHWH.

    2. I am sure I would enjoy talking with you.

      Are you familiar with Stephen Meyer – Author of “Signature in the cell” …and the many other discovery institute fellows?…..a brilliant and humble group

      In the last 6 or so years Westminster seminary and the Discovery institute have held conferences concerning faith and science in Philadelphia……..the list of speakers has been impressive………

      you would have loved them all I am sure…..many or all of the info should be able to be available thru the Discovery Institute site

      This is not a bunch of new earthers talking nonsense about God……..

      I really appreciate you speaking out on this……and there is much more!

      thank you for your post….My name is John

  13. Wow- got this in my e-mail inbox this morning and it has taken my breath away. Totally amazing post, Mark. You’ve become a philosopher! Your words resonate with me on so many levels.
    As to the negative visualization — I recently did a training program to volunteer with hospice and we did this kind of exercise – you choose things, people, activities, personality traits that are important to you and then sit with the experience as one by one they are taken away as you approach “death”. It was incredibly powerful. really puts things into perspective.
    I also think a thoughtful practice of something like yoga, tai chi and/or meditation, to move inwards, is invaluable on the path to a life of joy and connection.
    Like you said, this kind of introspection accompanies the arrival of middle age. THese are the kinds of things you start to wonder about once you’ve set yourself up in the world, so to speak, and you stop, look around, and ask yourself “what’s it all for?”
    My own “life philosophy”? Kind of Buddhist – With every thing that I do, with who I am, that I am reducing suffering in the world, and at the very least not adding to it. (and that includes my own needless suffering by not taking good care of myself…)
    Thank you again for a remarkable post.

  14. Mark, thanks for the philosophical insights.
    The Stoic “negative visualization” reminded me of a game I played with our kids–they asked what we would do if we won the lottery, and then I asked what if we won the “lottery of desire”–realizing that we live in a place of peace, not war, we have a comfortable house, eat great food every day, have friends and family, have all our limbs and faculties…I mean, really, can it get much better? Fancier car, bigger/newer house, really? Acceptance and gratitude rule.

  15. Mark,

    Good post.

    I’ve practiced variations of stoicism since my teens. in my forties now. Always nice to read new stuff on it.

  16. This post was really interesting, and I basically agree. But I have some questions. When we talk of self-control and lack of vanity, at what point does striving for good health – and good looks as a result – overlap vanity and a Desire for the good looks? Even living as you suggest, not obsessing over the body, leaves plenty of room for Desiring the beautiful body. What to even do with one’s physical self, the looks, the dressing, the hair and makeup – where does that fit in with the Stoic philosophy? How much striving and desire in terms of our looks is Stoic, if any?

    1. Good questions. IMO everything in the category of “looking good” is defined by the culture you’re living in. This is highly variable from era to era and culture to culture. So it’s not in any way intrinsic to being human. I also think that getting beyond this is an essential part of finding lasting fulfillment and joy in life. When you allow your satisfaction to be defined according to extrinsic measures, you will never be “enough” – thin enough, strong enough, beautiful enough. When you cultivate an inner life you can let go of all that. THe irony is that often, when you take good care of yourself, the outer stuff settles into place in a healthier way.
      The pursuit of looking good is ultimately futile. We all age and we ALL die because we are not robots, but housed in decomposable bodies with a limited lifetime. When your happiness is attached to how you look, you will suffer as you age and your body fails.

  17. Great exploration, Mark! Many of your concluding thoughts resonate with me…but what prompted this comment is the concept of “negative visualization.”

    In my reading here, that idea set in motion a train of thought that led to something I call “intentional deprivation” in my clinical practice. This is not at all the same as negative visualization, but there are some parallels so far as opening up new perspectives and new “space.” And both could easily be taken the wrong way if considered out of the intended context.

    Overall, in my own life and in working with patients, I embrace and celebrate the abundance of paleo-primal eating. And I honestly don’t experience a sense of “deprivation” or “restriction” around it.

    That being said, I also appreciate–and prescribe–a dose of intentional, mindful deprivation every now and again. It too holds value. Offers a gift.

    One way it does so is by lifting us out of us our comfortable, familiar “okay point.” It helps us appreciate things more…and pushes us to look deeper and to ask useful questions: What’s really happening here? What do I really need? What do I really want—and why? Anything else? Yes, and?

    Another gift of “intentional deprivation” is that it opens up space. What’s more, the discomfort, investigation and questioning that arise create movement toward filling this space with something useful, something valuable, something needed. And of course, it also heightens awareness of what we already have, and what’s truly important.

    So far as primal eating and lifestyle, some of the most straight-forward practices for creating intentional deprivation are 1) going on a strict, no-cheat “elimination” diet for a set length of time–we do this as part of our eating program and also do it ourselves, once a year or so; the “rules” are different, depending on the individual, and 2) going on a social-media / electronic-device fast–we prescribe this but, honestly, have fallen a little short on doing it ourselves…so it’s very much a place of personal work and challenge.

    Those are of course just 2 examples–but, again, the idea is to grow awareness, open up space, shift perspective. And both negative visualization and intentional deprivation (exercised in a balanced way rather than a predominant mode of outlook and lifestyle) can support this.

    1. Yes, “intentional deprivation”, or creating periods of discomfort in your life is an advanced Stoic practice, as Irvine describes in the book. Irvine (or ancient Stoics, or both, I forget) would suggest doing things like walking around town in rags as if you were homeless, to experience the feeling of being without any material wealth. Doing things like this can help you appreciate what you do have (you get to go home and crawl into your own bed at the end of the experiment), and help you develop an ability to care less about what perfect strangers think about you. I’m not suggesting anyone does this, exactly, but it’s an interesting idea.

      I’ll add to your list: fasting. Intermittent fasting is a Primal practice. I’ve written about it from this Stoic perspective without referring to Stoicism by name:

      1. Right on, Mark. IF is another great one for the list.

        I gravitated toward IF without a “plan” and just because it “felt right” after going primal–makes my two meals of the day taste all the more amazing, keeps my energy levels high and even, and allows me to focus more fully on other things besides what’s on my plate and in my belly.

        I love sharing your articles on IF with patients who are already fat-adapted and following a primal eating pattern.

      2. Today, with my ankle in a huge boot thing, I had the experience of riding around the super market in one of those electric cart things. What a humbling journey! People were so kind! A young man asked if I made the goal! A 70 year old man in excellent physical condition stopped to discuss his own disdain for aging bodies. We are all so connected to each other, and I appreciated the new perspective…..not seen until this “annoyance”. Thanks for the insights!

  18. My current read. It was recommended by the same friend who three years ago gave me a business card with the Whole9 url which started my primal journey. My life is much better for having been introduced to both. Much, much better. One surprise is how often I laugh out loud while reading Irvine.

  19. I’m currently in the middle of “The Purpose Driven Life.”
    Now that’s a great read, but from a very different perspective.

  20. Irvine is a decent introduction but if people are really interested in Stoicism they should dig into the source texts, all but the most recent translations are in the public domain.

    Mark if you are intrigued by Stoicism and the idea of philosophy as a practice instead of navel gazing I STRONGLY encourage you to read anything by Pierre Hadot, especially The Inner Citadel and Philosophy as a Way of Life.

  21. 1. Mark, it is such a pleasure to share your thoughts. I have been reading your blog since 2009 and your posts recently echo my feelings on what balance, fulfillment and peace in life are all about.
    2. I have used the ‘negative visualization’ for years with amazing benefit. Without dwelling in fearful thoughts, briefly solving the ‘worst case scenarios’ , for example, getting old alone, or losing my job, has alleviated countless anxieties in my life and helped me stay focused on the basic most fundamental gifts that bring me true joy AND how I could still find joy even if I lost them.
    3. I absolutely love Paleo Ron Burgundy 🙂

  22. Surreally interesting stuff, congrats for bringing it up! Practical philosophy should be taught in first grade, skip all else for later….

  23. How refreshing to hear from a fellow reasonable man. And thus is the reason my younger nephews and the current, exponentially self-indulgent, generation does not understand me . . .

  24. …But if I had to put my finger on the primary obstacle, I would say it is having wrong views of the journey. Paradoxical though it may seem, the passage through consciousness or self moves contrary to self, rubs it the wrong way – and in the end, will even rub it out. Because this passage goes against the grain of self, it is, therefore, a path of suffering. Both Christ and Buddha saw the passage as one of suffering, and basically found identical ways out. What they discovered and revealed to us was that each of us has within himself or herself a “stillpoint” – comparable, perhaps to the eye of a cyclone, a spot or center of calm, imperturbability, and non-movement. Buddha articulated this central eye in negative terms as “emptiness” or “void,” a refuge from the swirling cyclone of endless suffering. Christ articulated the eye in more positive terms as the “Kingdom of God” or the “Spirit within,” a place of refuge and salvation from a suffering self. For both of them, the way out was first to find that stillpoint and then, by attaching ourselves to it, by becoming one with it, to find a stabilizing, balanced anchor in our lives. After that, the cyclone is gradually drawn into the eye, and the suffering self comes to an end. And when there is no longer a cyclone, there is also no longer an eye.

    So the storms, crises, and sufferings of life are a way of finding the eye. When everything is going our way, we do not see the eye, and we feel no need to find it. But when everything is going against us, then we find the eye. so the avoidance of suffering and the desire to have everything go our own way runs contrary to the whole movement of our journey; it is all a wrong view. With the right view, … right suffering is the essence of enlightenment.

    Because self is everyone’s experience underlying all culture, I do not regard cultural wrong views as an excuse for not searching out right views. After all, each person’s passage is his or her own; there is no such thing as a collective passage.

    Bernadette Roberts

  25. Good stuff. I like how Mark approaches things from a holistic AND pragmatic standpoint, pretty rare to find guidance like that out there. Recently read “The Four Agreements” and currently reading (a little more esoteric) “The Power of Now”, some similar zen-like concepts. It is good to appreciate what we have and to realize that some worst-case-scenarios may not be as damaging as we think, and can sometimes open new paths … but I would not spend too much time doing the negative visualization, but that’s just me.

  26. Nassim Taleb in his book “Antifragile” goes brilliantly into length about Stoicism. The book is right in line with alot of the Primal Blueprint and maybe even beyond!

  27. Hey Mark, you have changed my life. You just keep getting better and better and so do I because of your advice.

  28. An excellent article! I have been practicing many of the things you describe as I am in the process of selling everything I own to travel the world for a couple of years. Nonattachment and equanimity are seeing me through as I watch a lifetime of stuff dwindle down to a single backpack. And all this at 58 years old. I can’t wait! Thanks again!

  29. watched a movie recently “Ex Machina”, which went into the depths of altruism and narcissism, it sort of relates to this topic – it raised a lot of unanswered questions for me anyway.

  30. Philosophy and science are inextricably connected now as they were for the Greeks. It stands to reason that a good scientist will venture into uncharted territories. This is where our best scientist have found the well for their greatest theories.

    If you consider the tiny house movement, and the fact that 2014 had the highest recorded number of US citizens relinquishing their passports, you can conclude that the relinquishing of possessions movement is underway. It’s already more than just a negative consideration for many. In fact, for those who have let go of all their “stuff” there is nothing negative about it. They are free.

  31. It’s interesting, Mark, that you consider stoics as “ancients”.

    I have been steeped in the practice of primitive skills for about five years, and there is a very profound and wordless wisdom that arrives from something as simple as making a hand drill fire with ones whole being. Our primal ways of life shaped us and made us as we are today, long before Stoics had the time and resources to dwell on how to live it.

    Our genome and “humanbeingness” stretches back in time much farther back than the Stoics. To me philosophy seems like an indulgence, invented by people with the time and comfort to sit around and just think things up.

    Were many of the Stoics taken care of by cloistered, silent wives? Did their ways of life include slaves? What was the context for their invention of stoicism?

    I’ve always like Ghandi’s idea that we are utterly complete as human beings when we align a “proper and harmonious” combination of head, heart, and hands.

    Interestingly enough, my experience has been that when I make that fire with my own hands and bits of tinder and wood, my head and heart and hands are in perfect alignment.

    Somehow, that is the only “philosophy” I need.

  32. What Does It Mean to Become a Primal Stoic?

    Ultimately, being Primal means being Stoic and being Stoic means being Primal.

    Back during evolutionary times, in primal living, we were not as sophisticated as to be able to develop the mind-body dualities that our consciousnesses developed in recent cultured living, in turn causing us here in cultured times to seek stoicism, to “go back primal” in the psyche.

    So essentially, the most stoic people living today in our world are going to be the most primal – i.e native people living in remote tribes, who still depend on their connection with nature and basic technologies to ensure their day to day survival. I believe we would find these people to have the weakest mind-body conflicts (that would eventually cause one to seek stoicism to resolve them).

  33. I was turned on to this book several years ago by Tim Ferris and it is an excellent starting point. Its a good read that makes you think. The concept of negative visualization is a technique for cultivating gratitude WITHOUT having to experience a catastrophe in your life.

    Unfortunately the book didn’t quite sink in to me, but it helped, and when catastrophe struck my family repeatedly last year its message resurfaced and helped.

    Do yourself a favour and read the book. It will make you think.

  34. Hi

    I don’t believe you went far enough. Well done for having some “balls” to speak outside of the generic lines. If you lose people for this one it can only make your people stronger.

    Again, well done, hold your head up high

    My best wishes


  35. I thought we were supposed to talk about these things late at night in a bar.

    but I would bet on us primal people in any drunken fight about philosophy, religion, or politics………….

  36. here is a good read ….”The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions”……written by David Berlinski —-a secular Jew that who is associated with The Discovery institute” , but not fully convinced about intelligent design –

    He is just a good thinker…..and a bit sarcastic….but not someone I would seek to argue with without sharpening my critical thinking skills….

    and Stephen Meyer – earlier mentioned —- received his Ph.D. in the philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge and is a former geophysicist. VERY well rounded in his understanding of reality….”follow the evidence where it leads – to the best explanation………”

    this type of thinking – or real science – is what got me started on your site Mark….your ideas about diet work because they are true. And you are open to changing your view. Who can ask more than that!

    and for those of you who want faith to be proven….or call it stupid…absolute proofs exists nowhere except in some mathematics………we all have faith that Mark Sissons eating principles work………..I am absolutely as sure as I can be about most of this stuff through experience(as I am in Christ – and I have tried many other things)……….but proof…..good luck…….life is not about proof……… is about truth!………… God bless you all………..And thanks Mark for your impact on my life.

  37. Well done Mark. I think living in the moment and in gratitude are the keys. Not always easy but rewarding when achieved. ” Life wasting distractions” similar to “lives of quiet desperation”. Blessed to be on the beautiful simplicity of the Primal Path.

  38. Hubby and I just finished this same book you have pictured. So thankful there are still stoics and cynics out there using their primal brains and keeping themselves healthy mind and body.