Are we advancing?
July 20th, 2022
“The question obtrudes itself, is mankind better or happier because of civilisation?” Charlotte O’Conor Eccles
Our culture has the tendency to forget its heritage. We have this totally wrong impression that humanity is a few thousand years old, and has always been going in this crazy direction, building civilizations and creating technology.
We tend to think of it as our divine destiny: We were meant to build cities, use shoes on paved roads (if we walk at all), sit on executive chairs and order delivery pizza. This has always been our final destination. Previous humans have been trying to get there all along; they just weren’t smart enough.
Let’s bring some perspective into this view of what being human is all about. Humanoids have been around for over 3 million years. There is evidence of hunter-gatherer groups from over 1.5 million years ago. We were often smaller and slower than our pray, so we weren't hunting with our teeth and claws. Hunting required communication, planning and teamwork.
Without entering any scientific debate about dates and specific features and tools we can safely claim that humans more or less like us have been living successfully on our planet for millennia.
This time-scale can give us an idea of how we evolved to become what we are today, simply by imagining how we have survived and prospered for hundreds of thousands of years. We are built to walk and run barefoot on Mother Earth, on different textures and materials. Walk and run a lot, because this is our way to move about, hunt and forage. We are built to sleep on the ground, sit on the ground and do a whole variety of activities needed for survival.
Thanks to our upright posture, we have hands that are free from the task of carrying body weight, which allows us to develop complex and versatile fine motor skills. We have brains and vocal cords made for complex communication. We have the ability to learn from experience, predict, plan, socialize and tell stories.
These are some of the skills and abilities that make us uniquely human. They do not necessarily lead to creating shoes, skyscrapers, guns, and pizza. It is good to remind ourselves of this order of things, because thinking in terms of evolution, our particular brand of society may not be “the way people should live”. In fact, it looks more and more like a dead-end path, a deviation from the human way of living. Our uniquely human skills are deteriorating and weakening. Most of us won’t survive even a few days in a natural environment.
Many of our modern-day illnesses are lifestyle related. They are created by the food we eat, the air we breathe, the environment we inhabit (which is mostly of our own creation) and the way we move (or rather don’t).
We now find it necessary to develop systems to revert or correct the lifestyle we have created. We struggle to find those conditions that allowed us to survive and thrive as a species, because we have practically obliterated those conditions from our environment.
One key element we must regenerate is movement. We have constructed a living space of what we call “comfort”, which means that we hardly need to move at all, and an extreme level of specialisation in our day-to-day activities, which means that we get highly skilful within a very narrow area of expertise.
The result is that we move very little, and that little is highly skill-specific and therefore repetitive and limited. Whether it's typing on a computer keyboard, making bread, driving a taxi or playing the violin, we repeat the same set of movements for hours each day with little variety and variation.
We now face the need to reinvent ways to move enough, and in varied ways, applying a variety of skills like our ancestors did, in an environment that makes it nearly impossible.
Going back to the caves and the stone tools is not a real option. Awareness of the drawbacks of our modern lifestyle is a first step toward a necessary course correction.
I've been trying to find ways in my own life to revive that almost-forgotten ancestral wisdom that made us such a successful species. I offer what I've learned and developed to my students and clients: varied movements that develop and refine varied skills and challenge our mind to stay active and switch on the learning mode again and again.
It is possible to regain mobility, explore our marvellous movement versatility and keep evolving rather than sink into a modern-day "comfortable" immobility. It's not difficult and doesn't require hard work, but it won't happen without intention and awareness.
Persistent Growth is my attempt to move in that direction.
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Take a look at this 3-minute daily Mindful Movement practice I'm offering in the Persistent Growth Membership.