“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
– Albert Einstein
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
– Albert Einstein
I am an expectant father. Like most first time parents, I have no clue what is coming—a fact made far more terrifying by the maniacal laughter and cryptic congratulations that characterize the response of every father who learns my fate. It is almost always the same. Women tell my wife and me “you’ll be wonderful parents,” and men are overcome with an almost vengefully joyous laugh. Then with a mischievous grin, they’ll say something ambiguous like “your world is about to unravel!”
In preparation for my world’s unraveling, I picked up The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp. Karp’s perspective immediately spoke to my inclination to understand the world through understanding the needs established by our long history of hunter-gatherer heritage.
This lens has always brought clarity about what conditions promote mental, physical, and emotional human thriving. It only stood to reason that it was also the best way to approach taming the fussy baby.
Natural Infant Development
On the day they are born, horses can run, pigs walk, and fish swim. Humans, however, are completely helpless. Despite our need for physical development, even the most prolific full-grown humans are unimpressive physical specimens comparable to most of the animal world.
Our brain is responsible for our species’ tremendous success. Yet at nine months an infants head is as big as can safely navigate the birth canal. It is destined to grow harder and larger. Thus, according to Dr. Karp, human babies forgo a necessary fourth trimester and come barreling into the world three months too soon.
What makes a happy baby? Replicating the womb’s environment with tight swaddles, cadenced motion, human contact, and rhythmic vibrating sounds.
Consequently, while American parents struggled to impose industrialized regimentation, most tribal communities have thrived by a more natural approach to infant development.
For many tribal communities, like the !Kung San (also known as African bushmen), there is virtually no experience with babies that have colic. !Kung mothers hold their babies or work with them in tightly strapped carriers nearly 24 hours a day. They breastfeed almost constantly and are able to respond to cries within seconds.
These babies have just as many fussy episodes as any American infant, but over 90% are subdued in a minute or less. Even if you share my concerns about our society creating a generation of feeble, narcissistic, perpetual children, it appears you cannot spoil a baby in its first 9 months of life.
Best Living Practice Confusion
My philosophy on best living practices has always erred towards living in a more “natural” way that honors the environment human bio-evolution came to expect.
For 90% or more of human history, we have been nomadic hunter-gatherers who roamed freely and lived in bands of 100 or less. Understanding this environment is essential to understanding ourselves and our needs.
We should all explore characteristics of tribal life for insight into the lifestyles that promote physical, mental, and emotional thriving.
Humanity is engineered to move constantly and in every way imaginable. We climb, dig, push, pull, wrestle, carry, crawl, flee, and play as an afterthought of being alive.
In the tribal context, each person offers a vital contribution to the needs of the whole and is well-practiced at intense, high-stakes, coordinated missions.
With sharpened senses, we’d all be exceptionally in tune to the rhythms of nature. We’d have far more quiet and far less sensory overload while far more experience immersed in deep communion with those in our tight-knit tribe.
When you are born into the world, every ounce of your DNA expects that tribal environment. We are not hardwired with any adaptations for a world where donuts, Coke, couches, and smartphones dominate the human experience.
Living indoors except for our frequent ventures in speedy cars and pit-stops for fast-food is actually a terrifyingly insane reality that our adaptable systems try hard to normalize.
All our autonomic responses immediately go into overdrive trying to accommodate needs we aren’t equipped for. Like the boy raised by wolves, we are amazingly adaptable. In our biology’s perspective, we are all basically raised by extremely pampered wolves.
We are humans born into a world that expects us to fly and all the while we wonder, “why can’t I fly?” We can only expect so much surrounded by this environment deeply out of whack with our bio-evolutionary needs. Health and happiness are often the first casualties of a refusal to behave like humans.
The confusion is understandable. Most will never become aware that life could have looked different than the general understandings of their present schema. We assume the arc of human history is a simple stepping stone of consistent improvement in every regard. It just isn’t that black and white.
Furthermore, we were promised that “new and improved” was always the answer. Science was to offer perpetual improvement upon nature. It stood to reason that science could engineer elixirs far superior to what grew on trees.
In the 1900’s this illusion infiltrated breastfeeding. Led by convinced doctors who claimed it to be more hygienic, most moms began opting for formula. In fact, according to Dr. Kung, “by the 1960’s, breastfeeding had become so rare that women who did it were considered radical, eccentric, or backward.”
Recently, overwhelming research has indicated nature’s superiority and brought breastfeeding back in vogue. While there is no shame in a formula, it is terrifying in the Aldus Huxley fashion to examine how social pressure nearly removed the potential for this beautiful, natural path.
Understand the Biological Norm
I’m not advocating the dismemberment of modern society, but as is often the case, the solutions to many problems lie in an understanding of the biological norm.
The modern world has made incredible progress in human attitudes and capabilities that have allowed a radical transformation of the environment our people inhabit.
While the benefits are immeasurable, from life-saving vaccines to mind-expanding educational heritage, the cost of not honoring our bio-evolutionary needs is a near certain path toward mental angst and physical deterioration.
All of this is to say that if you get the right framework for perceiving the world, finding balance and health is a far more natural extension. If you embrace living more naturally, physical, mental, and emotional health tends to follow.
Rather than seeking a quick outcome by treating symptoms, this approach addresses the underlying causes. It is a perspective that promotes continuous learning and maturation while offering a quick formula for deciding what is “healthier.”
The problem with concepts like “be healthier” is that there are literally millions of things we could decide to do to improve health. Overcome by decision fatigue and lack of clarity, we opt to follow the masses and our impulses.
This is the challenge of living in the modern world. Tribal humans needed no training in how to live naturally. It was the only option. For our distant ancestors, the sweetest nectar available came from berries, figs, and other fruits. Calories were not always excessively abundant, so we learned to crave the sugars of these fruits.
According to Dr. Lewis Cantley, this prompted humans to gorge on ripe fruit in preparation for winters where food would be less available. In today’s environment, that same instinct is largely responsible for an overwhelming pull towards obesity. In fact, a 2016 Harvard study indicated that of youth ages 2-19, more than 57% would be obese by the time they were 35.
Let Nature Make You Well
“The physician heals. Nature makes well.” – Aristotle
Health and wellness tend to follow natural levels and honoring of our natural needs. Why has meditation been shown to offer such tremendous benefit? It promotes a mindful, less-agitated mind far more characteristic of tribal life than today’s screen-centric, sensory overloaded world.
Why move and participate in various physical exertion? Because it is the foundation of being alive. Movement improves and underlies every function within your body and mind. Until very recently, the concept of not moving most of the day was simply not an option. Watch the way 4-year-olds climb, run, and explore. Society has not yet beat out of them how to be a human.
Why eat real foods capable of existing 10,000 years ago? No mass produced amalgamation can compare to the perfection of real, whole foods. Inch your diet in this direction and it will almost certainly be an improvement.
Advertisers have caught on to this, and begun to promote with terms like “natural” and “nature.” Be forewarned, these, as any wrapped food, are rarely indicative of whole foods.
Don’t Forget to Enjoy Your Modern Life
The solution is not a total war against modern behavior. Enjoy your evening Game of Thrones episodes, your magical phone calls and Facetime conversations, your air-conditioned flights to the beach, and, if you can keep it from controlling you, go get ice cream every now and again.
It is a magical time! We just have to work to build self-mastery so we can keep these at safe levels. With a world pulling us away from natural behavior and towards addictions, it is no wonder obesity, depression, drug overdoses, and suicides are at an all-time high.
For many, the solution lies in honoring the needs of our biology, by understanding the environment in which it was made to thrive.