I have just spent 5 days on the Gold Coast swimming, soaking up the sunshine and reliving my youth on thrill seeking rides at Dreamworld and White Water World. Now I'm in a completely different realm.... I'm on a remote farm in rural Victoria for Xmas watching baby ducks hatch and chasing lambs around the paddock. Where ever I go, the connection to nature, or at least whatever is most natural or tries to replicate the natural, appeals to me. Why?
Simply because personal experience has shown me time again that the more I align myself with the laws of nature (ie a lifestyle that entails engaging in activities that we are biologically designed for based on our evolutionary past), the better I look and feel. Physically, emotionally and mentally. More specifically, the more I eat foods that we are biologically designed for (traditional nutrient-dense wholefoods), drink what we are designed to drink (pure water, lacto-fermented beverages, broth), sleep with the rise and fall of the sun, move the way we are designed to move (walking, stretching and short-duration high-intensity strength and interval training), breathe the way we are designed to breath (clean air deep into our bellies), have a positive mental outlook, engage in pleasurable activities and get out in the sunshine - then the more my mind and body hum and thrive. On every level. Period. The issue is that being able to tick all of these boxes is near to impossible on a consistent basis amidst my busy modern life in Sydney. Hence my dilemma. I feel my body tensing and my stress levels rising, I hear my voice escalating and I sense the imminent risk of my Cypriot temper exploding whenever I'm engaging in the "artificial"....when I'm rushing the kids to the point of tears in the mornings in order to get to school `on time`, when I'm stuck in traffic, when I scratch my car trying to wedge into an impossibly small car space, when a piece of equipment that we heavily reply on (eg mobile phone, washing machine) breaks down, when I'm trying to multitask to the extreme, when I'm running late for an appointment, when I've spent the entire day flying from task to task with zero breaks, when I'm sitting for extended periods of time (eg on a flight), when I've been staring at a screen or talking into a mobile phone for too long, when I'm walking around in heels for hours on end, when I eat less than optimal foods, when I get less than 7 hours sleep etc etc.....My body senses these assaults loud and clear. And the theme is that it always happens when the activity is one that we are not biologically designed for or is a product of the modern age. And it makes me want to run. Far away. Back to the depths of nature to a land- anywhere- far away from modern civilisation with its deadlines, toxins and digital devices. It makes me want to go truly primal. To live a life that mirrors our hunter gatherer ancestors. To live as simply as possible and truly in accordance with the laws of nature. A friend recently planted the idea in my mind on a couple of occasions "Soulla, I think you would really like living off the land." But the question is, would I and could I??
When I first learnt about the fallacies of conventional wisdom 8 years ago (eg the food pyramid is actually upside down, grains and legumes are bad for us, cholesterol and natural saturated fats are actually essential to our health and do not make you fat, extended cardio exercise actually weakens your heart, pharmaceuticals are bandaid solutions that often mask the underlying issue, natural salt is not bad for your health, not all animal products are the same - I could go on and on and on)...my reactions mirrored the death of a loved one - initial disbelief (no the government and medical establishment would never get such fundamentals wrong, could they?!?), shock (Oh My God they got it wrong and that explains why we are all so sick!!!), anger (I've been lied to God damn it!?!?) and eventually acceptance (ok, I'm going to have to get comfy with living in the fringe from now on in)....and then came an overwhelming imminent feeling to abandon modern life with its fallacies and big fat lies and go primal. To run and flee to a place where we once started before humankind took a massive detour.
I get the same feeling when I find myself immersed in mainstream childrens' culture of indoor play centres and video game arcades with all their loud noises, artificial lights and toxic fake "food" and sugared drinks being gulped down by overweight children and adolescence wearing glasses harbouring an increasing number of allergies and glued to electronic devises. The lure of McDonalds, Twisties, Red Bulls, and parties with fairy bread and blue icing makes me want to grab my kids and run into a jungle or forest or remote beach where they can explore the natural world, express their creativity, learn valuable life skills and eat what their bodies truly need grow up into content, well-adjusted, smart, beautiful, robust, productive adults. That is what they are designed for and deserve and anything short of that... well, I feel like they are being robbed of their birth right.
I have a close friend - a white, well-educated, well-travelled, highly successful mother/career women. During her work in Africa, she fell in love with a Masaai warrior. There was a period of time not so long ago when she seriously considered giving up her life as she knew it in Sydney and, in her words, "going to live in a mud hut in Africa". Instead of thinking her mad and trying to talk her out of it, I was excited about her grandiose plan, almost jealous. Again I found myself daydreaming of a simpler, less chronically stressful, more primal life.... and then hesitating and questioning whether if I were in her shoes, would I, could I, really do it?
Even Billy Joel's Uptown Girl tired of her high class toys and sought a more meaningful, raw experience.
Could I really give up my modern appliances and conveniences that I have grown so accustomed to using? Could I really give up my architecturally designed beach house in Bronte, my European car, my dishwasher, my washing machine, my food processor, my penchant for designer furniture, Italian shoes and expensive artwork? If push came to shove, could I really give up this "lifestyle" and go primal??
When I really reflect on it, the times when I have felt most alive and present have been when I have been in the thick of nature....trekking, scaling 5000+m mountain peaks, rock climbing, hiking through lush jungle valleys, swimming in pristine seas, even eating a simple meal outdoors on a picnic rug or at the beach hits the spot.
I don't for a minute hold any romantic notions that being a hunter gatherer was a walk in the park and that living off the land would be simple and easy in all respects. Our ancestors had to face all sorts of unpredictable hardships that mother nature threw at them - extremes in temperature, fire, being chased by a wild animal, killing and foraging all your food, carrying heavy loads of water, chopping fire wood etc etc. Even my treks in remote places around the globe, as incredible and life altering as they were, had me pushed to my physical and mental limits on many occasions, craving for my creature comforts back home. When trekking through the Himalayan mountain ranges at sub -20 degree Celsius, my extremities numb to the bone, I couldn't help but long for sitting on my couch back in Australia, toasty warm in the comfort of central heating, sipping hot chocolate while watching TV. When camping in Tanzania with a rhinoceros circumambulating our tent with the threat of it tripping over the tent ropes and squashing me to death, I couldn't help but want to be instantly transported to the closest hotel room. When I went a month without a shower whilst trekking in Nepal, the initial thrill of feeling so well, primal, started to be overtaken with desires of squeaky clean hair, makeup, a pair of sexy heels and dining at the latest hip restaurant.
For our hunter gatherer ancestors, periods of acute stress were punctuated with lengthy periods of rest, recuperation, and connecting with other members of the tribe through talk, dance and ceremony. This is in stark contrast to modern life with our chronic (relentless) stress that often makes me feel like I'm on a treadmill and I dare not look sideways for fear of being flung off, to land in a crumpled disorganised heap on the floor somewhere between the Dust Buster and the ironing board, my To Do list thrown out of my hand, still full of unchecked boxes.
As with the answer to most questions, I think the answer to my burning question of whether I could go truly primal depends on so many factors. The answer might be different depending on whether or not one has children (when security, protection and their education become more paramount), the duration of one's primal escapade (a 1 month escape from modernity is clearly not the same as the rest of your eternity), how primal are we talking (hunting and gathering one's own food and literally living off the land with few, if any, modern conveniences is a different kettle of fish from simply going ``more alternative`` in say Byron Bay, Bellingen or the Sunshine coast- communities where incidentally many of my Sydney friends have migrated to), and whether or not one is going to join an existing community (ones tribe) or go hard core solo (as per John Krakauer's "Into The Wild").
After much thought and reflection, I don't think that we can successfully go back to living exactly how we once did. And nor would I want to. I think I am far more useful to humanity living in urban Sydney than in some remote environment. The catch cry for my business ("traditional wholefoods for a modern world") reflects where I stand on this issue - I strive to marry the best of worlds - the wisdom of our ancestors with the conveniences of our modern, digital age- to unite them to create a new kind of homeostasis for the modern human. While at times I feel I have one foot in each camp, not really doing justice to either, I need to accept the realities of the world around me, to acknowledge that sometimes mankind has to dig itself so deep into a grave before it realises its mistakes and turns back. Instead of turning my back on modern civilisation I need to appreciate that everyone is on their own journey and will take their own time to see the pit they are falling into before they scramble out. And we can be there for them when they do decide to take a new path, to make that path easier for them. To help others we need to be the best we can be ourselves. And to do that I will take whatever slices of nature are at my disposal and enshrine them into my life. To continue to nourish my body with nutritious unprocessed food, to sleep more, to rest and play, to bask in the sunshine, to spend more time at the beach breathing in the ocean air, to move as we are designed and to manage my stress levels by not getting too caught up in the madness of modernity with its (often self-imposed) time pressures. And whilst this may not be a perfect outcome, sometimes even a perfectionist like me has to accept that that is "good enough". And this union of the past with the present, as clumsy as it sometimes feels, is good enough. For me. For now. And it's the reason why I have to be grateful that I have the luxury of chopping my cabbages to make sauerkraut in my food processor and not by hand :-D
As 2012 draws to an end, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your support and encouragement throughout the year. Thank you to those of you who bought my products, attended my workshops, cooking classes or retreats, had personal consultations or simply read or commented on my blog posts. Thank you for being part of this vibrant community to which I belong. And most importantly, thank you for allowing me to do what I love the most, to follow my passion and grow and learn personally and professionally.
May 2013 bring you vibrant health, boundless energy and much joy and laughter. I'll be back in Bronte, Sydney, from 27th December open for business. I would love to hear your thoughts on how primal could YOU go?