Hello, my name is Brenden and I am an addict. This is a difficult and significant statement for me to make. Admitting my helplessness over this type of compulsive behavior is the first step to recovery. Most rehabilitation programs that assist people who suffer from an addiction follow a 12-step process to recovery. I am currently taking my second step; to believe that there is a power, greater than myself, that can restore my sanity.
I’m a Primitive Trail junkie. These completely immersive experiences through Africa’s wild spaces have dominated my life for the past 16 years. Everything we need for this multi-day expedition is carried in a backpack. We don’t take tents, technology or luxuries. Each night is spent on the ground under the stars and members of the group share the responsibility of ‘watch duty’.
The Trails push me beyond my comfort zone, yet they get me so ‘high’. Although I’m devoted to treating the symptoms, I need to understand the cause. Why do Primitive Trails make me feel so good? I had to understand myself better. I had to understand us better. You see, evolutionary psychologists suggest that many of our present-day social and psychological characteristics were shaped during Homo sapiens ~200 000-year history. This is when our biological ‘software’ was programmed. The past 200 years during which we have become urban dwellers (and previous 10 000 years of agriculture) is a fraction of our evolutionary history. Our minds are adapted for a life of hunting and gathering.
Hunter-gatherers lived in small and tightly knit bands. Loneliness and privacy were very rare and they had a strong sense of community. Despite the perception that they were predominantly hunters, their main activity was gathering. In this way they gained most of their calories and resources. They spent very little time foraging (< 5 hours a day) and had very few chores. Consequently, hunter-gatherers spent little time ‘doing’ and more time ‘being’. Our ancestors lived a simple, adaptable and opportunistic lifestyle, following the seasons and resources in a nomadic fashion. They had no permanent settlements and therefore had access to a wide variety of foods across their home range. Hunter-gatherers moved across the landscape carrying only essential possessions on their back. They practiced ‘animism’ in which each place, plant and animal has an awareness. They too had a deep awareness of themselves and their relationship to everything around them. Our ancestors were part of the savanna ecosystem just as the Lion, Giraffe and Zebra still is today. We are all still wild, it’s just that civilization is getting in the way of our human being.
Our compulsive behavior, addictions and psychological complexes are a direct result of an incompatibility between our hunter-gatherer ‘software’ and a post-industrial way of living. Civilization may provide us with more material resources and longer lives, but it often leaves us feeling confused, anxious and depressed. Most factors that cause anxiety and depression do not reside in our biology. They dwell in the way we live. Our frantic pursuit of happiness has caused us to become the loneliest society in human history. More than 35% of the civilized world suffers from this feeling of loneliness. It’s a result of an unmet psychological need. The need for meaning.
We are defined by our relationships, both human-to-human and human-to-nature. Once we isolate ourselves from that which defines us, we experience a disconnect or sense of loneliness. This is dangerous territory for the ‘ego’. Ego plays an important role as it enables us to make sense of our world. It acts as our point of reference to who we are. And who are we without our relationships? Things get confusing and it’s very difficult to find meaning. Once the boundaries between thought, feeling, perceptions and intuition become indistinguishable, there is no sense of the ‘self’. We lose the gift of insight and reflection. This state is referred to as a ‘psychosis’. Sadly, our world is currently suffering from a social and ecological psychosis, and it manifests in our environmentally destructive behaviour.
Furthermore, we have been misled by the myths of a post-industrial world that has taken humans out of nature and placed us above all else. These myths have gained deep emotional significance in our lives. A recent study of Millennials revealed that their most important life goal is to become rich (80%). Of these, a further 50% want to be famous. We have been corrupted by the junk values of a consumerist and materialistic society that falsely advertise happiness. The end result is another unmet psychological need. The need for wisdom-filled values.
It suddenly became clear why Primitive Trails made me feel so good. They meet my subconscious psychological needs. You see, a Primitive Trail is a microcosm. It’s how to be a hunter-gatherer in a post-industrial world. It’s where you find your tribe and feel a sense of belonging. The experience jogs your genetic memory. Once again you move through a wild landscape in a small band with only essential belongings on your back. Your senses are engaged on a primal level, situationally alert and aware. Alive. With an animists’ sense of respect you rediscover the ‘laws of the wild’ and meet your ecological self. It’s where you rediscover the meaning of relationships. Primitive Trails have the potential to rewild the human imagination. It will enable ways of looking at the Natural World and your Self differently.
With this insight I amended the second step of my recovery process to; I am part of the great power that can restore my sanity. The power of nature. In the words of my favorite psychologist and poet, Dr. Ian McCallum, “We have forgotten where we come from. That we are merely the human expression of nature. That we are biologically and psychologically bound to the landscape and all living things. That wild spaces are not only conditions for life, but that our sanity depends on their existence.”
Hello, my name is Brenden and I am a hunter-gatherer of the 21st century.
A hunter of meaning and gatherer of values.