II. HOW TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE (AND EVERYONE ELSE’S)
1. Reconnect to yourself
Put on your oxygen mask before helping those around you, says the airline guru. Indeed. Remember the wobbly monkey from above? Now is the time to show her some love, help her attain balance and happiness, however stunted she may be. Start with the basics: all that Shallow Paleo stuff from above. Learn how to eat, move, sleep. Reconsider as many medications as possible — antidepressants and hormonal birth control actually dampen our emotions and numb us. If you think you’re happy, be suspicious. Just because you are following mainstream cultural scripts successfully does not mean that you are happy. It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society, wrote Krishnamurti, and our society is sick indeed. Embrace negative emotions and pain — they can guide us to deeper truths and positive change. Start meditating. Stop faking smiles.
2. Reconnect to others
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived with a sense of togetherness that we can barely imagine in this age of alienation. Tight-knit groups of kin worked together, played together, slept nestled together without any walls. We are deeply programmed to be nourished by the physical and emotional presence of others. And yet, we are now starved for connection and touch. A third of Americans live alone, 25% have no close confidants at all. Young people are spending a fraction of the time in face-to-face social situations that they used to, even a generation ago. We’ve forgotten how to live together, to be together, and our loneliness is driving us to despair. It’s time to reconnect. However scary it might be to leave our digital cocoons, the alternative is even scarier.
3. Reconnect to nature
There’s a lot we don’t know about our ancestral environment. But there’s one thing we know for sure: we spent millions of years living in raw wild nature before civilization came along. There’s a lot of new research showing what should be patently obvious to the sensitive among us: spending time in a natural environment is good for our physical and mental health on every level. It boosts our mood, our cognitive skills, our creativity, our immune system. When we spend most of our time indoors, we are cutting ourselves off from a powerful source of health and happiness. There’s a reason why the No Child Left Inside movement has begun, why the #cabinporn hashtag is taking off. We’ve evolved to thrive in a natural environment, and the more we honor that connection, the better off we’ll be.
4. Question everything and embrace change
Now that we’ve gotten some of the foundations in place, it’s time to push further. Remember the huge mess we’ve gotten ourselves into since agriculture? Remember systems thinking? It’s time to get serious with ourselves and our lives, taking nothing for granted. Like Deep Ecology, Deep Paleo is about deep questioning and deep change. Most of us spend most of our time doing things because they are expected of us, not because we necessarily enjoy them. And we often get confused about what we actually enjoy, because we’ve been trained to assume that the stuff our culture thinks is great is actually great. It’s time to stop all that, and be ready to walk away from everything that doesn’t sustain us deeply, even if it means drastic changes, even if it means deviating far from the norm. Don’t fear change — it’s the best thing you can do for yourself, if you’re interested in growth. And that’s why you’re here, isn’t it?
III. HOW TO DEAL WITH ALL THIS CHANGE WITHOUT GOING INSANE
1. Know that it’s a journey
Yeah, change is hard. And it’s even harder when you look ahead of you, and see all the people who seem to have come so much further than you. Don’t worry, there’s a way to frame things that will help a lot. You need to understand, and really internalize, the metaphor of the journey. In short: if you’re moving in a positive direction, learning and growing and making as many changes as you can for personal and societal good, then you can relax. You’re on the path to sustainable/regenerative living, which is exactly where you need to be. The sorts of shifts we’re talking about are going to take many years to implement. We’re on the bleeding edges here, testing out old/new models and behaviors. There will be others behind you, and others in front of you. Be inspired and inspiring and keep going.
2. Pursue right livelihood
When you start questioning everything, you may well notice that you hate your job. 80% of Americans do. The Buddhist concept of right livelihood can help here. Right livelihood means that you do no harm through the work that you do to earn a living. Better yet, it can be interpreted to mean that you should do work that actively helps the world, feeds your soul and connects to what you love and care about. If you spend most of your waking hours doing something you don’t care about, you might as well be dead. Changing jobs and/or careers can be scary, but we’re in a changing world, where multiple career shifts in a lifetime, and even multiple simultaneous micro-careers are becoming the norm. In the ancestral environment, we only worked about four hours every day, and those hours were spent doing work we were connected to, in the company of people we liked, in an environment that nurtured us. Let’s reconnect with this spirit, and put an end to the Dilbert era.
3. Put technology in its place
We are living in an age of unprecedented technological ubiquity, and we are guinea pigs in a massive experiment about the effects of mediated experience on the developing (and developed) brain. While this experiment still needs to play out, a lot of the data are in, and it’s quite clear: our smartphones are making us crazy. Our brain takes a full 20 minutes to recover focus after a single distraction — consider the cultural impact of a mass inability to concentrate. We’ve become addicted to the positive-but-ultimately-unsatisfying stream of texts and ‘likes’ and alerts that come to us all day — we actually respond like addicts when our phones are taken away. This is hardly a Deep Paleo way to live — in the ancestral environment we were always in the moment, present with whoever was around us, and now we’re risking being perpetually absent from everyone, including ourselves. Yes, our phones can be valuable tools for connection and communication over distance, but their dangers are very real. The solution: use airplane mode whenever possible, and practice leaving your phone behind whenever you can. It’ll feel better, I promise.
4. Be here now
Hunter-gatherers lived with an ‘immediate return’ mentality — that is, they didn’t accumulate goods beyond what they needed in the immediate future. With the onset of agriculture, people began to establish a ‘delayed return’ way of thinking. We all know how that turned out — have you taken a look at a chart of global inequality lately? — but another important impact of the shift to a delayed return culture is the loss of our ability to truly be present in the moment. Reclaiming this presence creates a state of mind and heart that is profoundly joyful. Rather than planning, hoarding, worrying about possessions, and chasing after castles in the sky, we need to allow ourselves to feel the light expansive freedom of the immediate unencumbered present. Yes, we need to take actions with a sustainable future in mind, but we also need to learn to let go.
5. Play, always
One of the hallmarks of hunter-gatherer cultures, witnessed cross-culturally in all the remaining hunter-gatherer tribes on the planet, is an all-pervasive playful spirit. Not only do hunter-gatherer children play constantly, but adults retain this sense of playfulness, even using play as a tactic to resolve disputes. As should be quite obvious by now, we are living in troubled times. It’s easy to get glum and anxious, taking our predicament all too seriously. This is where play can help. We need to rekindle our playfulness, allowing ourselves to poke fun at ourselves and others, to subvert the status quo with satirical humor, to add layers of absurdity upon an already absurd scene, to defuse a tense situation with a ridiculous gesture or turn of phrase. Play may seem frivolous, but as a tactic for survival in a world that is none too easy to navigate, it is deadly serious.
IV. ADVANCED MOVES FOR CULTURE CHANGE
1. Create change from within the system, as well as without
As we pursue right livelihood, we find ourselves within a world of ambiguity. Short of living an entirely subsistence-oriented life, there are few ways of living in this modern world that allow us to completely dissociate ourselves from a delayed-return model, from the capitalist system. In this time of seismic cultural upheaval, we need to recognize that changes from within a system can be extremely effective at creating large-scale systemic change. Although it’s tempting to ‘drop out’ when we see the fatal flaws in our reigning institutions and belief systems, a complementary approach is to subvert institutions from within, transforming them into new and better models for human functioning. A Deep Paleo life does not require returning to a cave — it means creating stories that have not yet been written.
2. Lead by example, educate and fight
Deep Paleo, like Deep Ecology before it, is a resistance movement. Deep Ecology included a call to action, and so must Deep Paleo. We are activists, working to bring our species back into balance. We are fighting the mainstream medical establishment, the grain lobbyists, the soy lobbyists, Big Food, Big Oil, Big Ag— pretty much everything big, except maybe Big Stock Pot (for making bone broth). We need to recognize that what we are proposing is revolutionary and different, which may make us targets of ridicule. Fortunately, we’ve got science on our side. And the ability to outrun our Standard American Life detractors. So let’s sing our message from the rooftops and treetops — our future depends on it.
The Deep Paleo movement goes way beyond the diet/exercise/lifestyle shifts embraced by Shallow Paleo. Sure, it acknowledges these shifts as important, but it goes much further. At heart, Deep Paleo is about systems thinking, about seeing ourselves as part of an intricately interconnected whole. Deep Paleo is about sustainability on every level — of our every action, of our every interaction, of everything we put into the world and everything we take from it. A Deep Paleo perspective is a demanding one, because it asks us to question everything that we — and those we care about — hold dear. It asks us to look hard at our lives and our choices, to be self-critical, to be open to radical change.
Most of us have been raised on scripts, social structures, and belief systems that are out of sync with our ancestral programming. We take as sacrosanct many behaviors and institutions that are rooted in relatively recent history — agriculture, inequality, patriarchy, wage-slavery, conspicuous overconsumption. The Deep Paleo movement isn’t going to make all those things vanish overnight. But over time, with conscious and concerted effort, we can narrow the mismatch and expand our possibilities for deep happiness in this modern world. The tenets of the Deep Ecology movement shifted and matured over the years, as will the tenets of Deep Paleo. Let this platform be a marker in time. It is my greatest hope that in 40 years, we’ll be able to look back and see progress.