I met a friend for coffee & bone broth the other day and the conversation strayed to evolution, ancestral health and the modern condition. (Friends who will nerd out with me on these topics have a special place in my heart.) She mentioned that in an anthropology class she took in college, the professor referred to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle as the "original opulence."
Though it might not seem like these people have a lot, what they did have was happiness, community and time. Even today, travelers in the poorest areas of the world are impressed with how happy and content the people are even when they have very little. From the study of more recent hunter-gatherer cultures, anthropologists estimate that an individual spent 15-20 hours a week acquiring all the basic supplies they needed for food, clothing, and shelter.
Imagine what your life would be like if you only had to work the equivalent of a part-time job to provide for your needs? You'd have more time to pursue your passions; the things that make you come alive. There would be more time for family and friends, to create art, to build community. More cooperation, less loneliness and isolation. Less negative impact on your hormones and health from the constant barrage of stress.
Can we even go back to this original opulence? Or has that ship completely sailed for the modern human? Can we recreate an adapted version of original opulence that doesn't completely isolate us from the modern world? One where our modern technologies serve us rather than enslave us?
I believe the answer is yes. There is a growing tribe of folks all around the world who are 'rewilding' themselves, their families and their communities. These people are creating their own paths, rejecting consumerist culture and choosing conscious, intentional lives. Yeah, they still have an iPhone and a huge social media following, but they are using this technology to inspire and lead this growing tribe. (And they make it a point to put this technology away and experience uninterrupted connection with nature and community.)
So how do you get started on this rewilding lifestyle of living simply and sanely, of recovering original opulence? First, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach to living simply and there is no sequential number of steps to follow. Think of it more like spiral-shaped path: you'll often come back to certain issues and themes, with new insights and understandings at each revisit. Where you end up doesn't matter. That you take the first step, does.
With that in mind here's some idea of places and or themes to start with.
- Food. This is where it all started for me. Getting back to the basics of eating real food. Stuff that looked like it came out of nature. It started with organic, but moved in from there to local, sustainable food choices. Now I am learning about growing, harvest and foraging my food (which requires a ton more movement, see below). As I understood more about the connection between food and health, I came to realize that food was the most important investment I made each day because it was an investment in my life, my health, my body, even my future. I spend a greater percentage of my income on food than most Americans and I'm OK with that, even though it means there is less for the new clothes, a big payment for a nice ride, cable TV package, etc. I value my body and my health more. Change your diet and see what shifts and opens up for you. I'm huge fan of a paleo/primal eating as a way of getting back to real, nutrient-dense, health affirming foods and diet that is sustainable for you and the planet.
- Movement. There was a shift that happened for me when I dove headlong into the MovNat community. Moving in nature, using only the elements at hand to get fit and grow strong, I realized that I didn't need the latest and greatest fitness training program or equipment to move well and be healthy. I don't even need that gym membership I never use. A heavy rock or two, a tree limb and a downed log will do just fine. Through MovNat, I've come to see the environment and the elements not as something to shield myself from all time (and that require more clothing/gear to deal with), but something to be selectively and intelligently embraced to make me stronger and more adaptable. Try some MovNat training and see if it doesn't shift your perspective a bit.
- Stuff. The elephant in the room- sometimes literally. Our current economy is predicated on consumerism; buying 'stuff' you don't really need is the whole point. The 'gotcha' is that you have to work more to earn more to buy this stuff you didn't really need in the first place. Then you need a bigger house, more stuff to organize all of your stuff, a storage unit, etc. All of this requires you to earn more money, trading more of your time. Personally, the things I want out of life, turn out not to be material goods. At the core of many of the things I dream of doing and seeing and becoming, is a healthy, capable, adaptable body to get me there. I can actually give more focus to this goal with less stuff blocking my path. Start with room, closet, or maybe even just a corner of your home. Clean out the stuff there. Sell or give it away. Don't keep things for sentimental reasons; keep only those things that bring real joy, every day.
Many of these areas overlap for me and they probably will for you too. I have more money for high quality food when I choose less stuff. I have more time to be outside and play in nature when I can work less because I don't need as much money to buy all that extra 'stuff.' I have more time to spend with my family and community as well. It's a journey and I'm constantly learning too. (I hope one day to convince my husband to sell most of our furniture and increase the spaciousness of our small home while getting more movement in our day by sitting on the floor.) The point being, when we do the bits and pieces of work to rewild ourselves, we begin to reclaim that original opulence. Yes, we create extra work for ourselves at times, but that's the work that makes us stronger and fitter- physically as well as mentally. We reclaim our sanity when we no longer carry the anxiety and frustration that comes from excess 'stuff' management, the burden of debt or or the stress of working long hours in a job we hate just to 'pay bills.' We can be mindful and joyful in the present moment, with the people and places that we truly love, living from a place of authentic luxury.