“Meditation, Stress and the Hunter’s Mind”
Staying present – the essence of both hunting and meditation.
For many of us today the biggest handicap to a happy, contented life is long-term stress. We live very different lives to those of our ancient ancestors. No longer do suffer the adrenaline rush of having to run away from wild animals, hostile members of other tribes, or the fear that we may run out of food to eat. The countryside has long since been cleared of dangerous predatory animals, the rule of law keeps most threats from humans in check, and cheap food is to be found in abundance.
So why then, when we are safe from these threats, are we all so stressed?
The simple answer is because our minds have run-amok. Filled with images of a fantasy, happy-ever-after future or a hazy image of a failing career or a failure to be a successful person we spoil the enjoyment of the present moment by continually allowing our minds to hark back to the pull of the past or imaginary images of the future.
For our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors, this was a luxury they rarely had. Their main ambition would not have been to afford a new BMW or a holiday in Ibiza. It would have been simply to keep themselves and their family alive. This meant that they had no option but to stay tuned to the present moment to sense possible danger. They could not afford to indulge in any tendency towards day-dreaming, introspection, over-analysis or worry. In doing so, they were able to appreciate what they had rather than dwelling on what they did not.
Walking through the pre-historic jungle, their senses would be finely tuned to every snapping twig, every change in tone from the forest animals and birds, and every footprint on the ground. Only in this way could they keep themselves safe and maximize their chances of catching themselves the supper they need for their family.
Today, this total focus on the present is rarely needed. One can even drive a car on without paying much attention to the process covering many miles with recollecting the journey at all.
Many of the world’s religions however, emphasise stillness and awareness, usually through prayer and meditation. It seems to me that in doing so, they are fulfilling our deepest instinctive need for a greater experience of the present moment and a more profound reverence for life and nature. These practices fulfill a modern desire to escape from our endlessly churning, critical, verbally-orientated mind, and to re-experience the sensation of observing life as it really happens.
Could it not actually be the calm, focused intensity and awareness of the hunter that is really missing in our lives?
An attitude of gratitude
Modern researchers into happiness and positive psychology repeatedly stress how important gratitude is in establishing a happy outlook. Without the influence of a consumer society, our historic predecessors would not have felt they wanted for much while there was a steady supply of food about. They thanked their gods for favourable hunting outcomes and that increased their sense of gratitude and good fortune.
Today we are constantly bombarded with marketing messages from the media telling us what we’re missing. It sells us stuff we don’t need by making us feel that our lives are vitally lacking something. It makes us feel in some someway deficient and that we could instantly feel more worthy if we just whipped out the old credit card again.
A focus on gratitude and life as it happens is the beginning of the enlightened life. Our modern western mind is dominated by analytical thought, self-absorption and a lack of spontaneity. It’s also plagued with rampant consumerism, with the message being that we can never have enough.
Is it going too far to say that the hunter-gatherer ethos offers an alternative mental, emotional and spiritual model, as well as a superior physical one?
Play and festivity
Although hunter-gatherers endured some tough times, these were matched by plenty of time for play, fun and relaxation. The natural way to celebrate a big kill was with a big feast. When they overcame genuine challenges (rather than the artificial type we know today, like ‘surviving’ an internal audit), their relief was easily expressed in dancing, joy, festivity and rest.
Today our lives are becoming increasingly regimented, ordered, measured and made to march to a timetable.
Try adding more opportunities for just messing about, exploring, having fun, and generally just being playful. Climb a tree, put on a play with your kids, write a poem, chase your dog in circles – it doesn’t matter much.
Spontaneous playfulness is at the heart of creativity; it’s the spark of genius at the centre of both our social and working lives – if only we could just stop being so uptight about productivity and tap its creative energy. That’s the Instinctive approach to exercise [link to ‘simple joy of movement’] and personal change.
Living a natural life isn’t just in the details – it’s in the spirit. So loosen up a bit. Get out and do things; experience things. Spend less time worrying about being able to afford stuff. What you can’t afford is to miss this precious time you have alive. Relax and enjoy what you have. Stay present with what’s around you. Appreciate the good things and the good people you already have in your life. After all, what else matters?