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I’m glad this article’s title got your attention. It’s a topic that has mine too, and it’s one I hope I can inspire you to act on, beginning today.
Whether you are new to HumanaNatura or a long-time community member, I would like to make a modest but important proposal to you: that you begin to think about natural health and the mission of HumanaNatura as “ahead to nature.”
You may wonder why I have proposed this turn of phase to frame the pursuit of natural health and as the mission of our community. As far as mission statements go, anyone can see that it’s much too short. Mission statements are normally longer, meandering along a bit and then ending brightly. Ahead to nature is so short – too short.
But “ahead to nature” is the essence of what the HumanaNatura community and the challenge of natural health are all about. Just as importantly, these three words also plainly underscore something that HumanaNatura and natural health in the modern world are decidedly not about, namely, going back to nature.
Back to nature is a gentle, familiar old phrase, isn’t it? It’s easygoing and inoffensive, pleasant and nostalgic. Everyone wants to go back to somewhere in some way, after all. No doubt you’ve heard the expression used many times. In my role organizing HumanaNatura, I hear “back to nature” a great deal. In fact, I hear it used to describe HumanaNatura quite often. And each time I hear this phrase ascribed to our community, I cringe just a bit inside. After all, HumanaNatura is not about going back at all.
Which brings me back to my proposal for you to think about, and ideally act on, the idea of “ahead to nature.”
Looking Back, Moving Ahead
For the record, it is true that HumanaNatura looks back to some extent. Our approach begins with the science of our pre-historic past and earlier life in nature, which we use to achieve a greater understanding of our health and human nature. This backward look is, in part, how we derive the core HumanaNatura principles of natural diet, natural exercise, and natural living.
Thanks to the unique lens of modern science, as opposed to direct experience or intuition, people of our time are now able to examine our past more critically and completely than ever before. We can see ourselves with fresh eyes, so to speak, and more fully and accurately. What we see is a species that is entirely new in many ways. This new science of ourselves includes a clearer portrait of the way we once lived in the past, the foundations of our natural health that lie in this past, and their important consequences and implications for our well-being today in the modern world – again, all of this new knowledge that was essentially unknown to people a generation or two ago.
So, in one sense, HumanaNatura does go back to nature, back to our pre-historical and pre-civilized human past in nature. But this backward look is only a means to understand as deeply as we can the past that lives in us today and, especially, new possibilities for the future we will inhabit tomorrow. I should add that, when looking back, we realize almost immediately that the way we have come through our distant and most recent past is unlikely to be the way we will want to proceed as we go forward.
Embracing the idea of back to nature, for more than obtaining these lessons for our present and future may be the greatest mistake we could as people today – except perhaps, as we will discuss, being careless with or indifferent to our health and future altogether.
To advocate going back implies that we could go or should want to go back to an earlier time or way of life. These ideas seem sadly mixed with feelings of despair and resignation, rather than the inquisitiveness that is our natural condition as people and a clear sign of true human health.
Getting Past Our Past
For those of you beginning from a point of view predisposed to a journey back to nature, I personally share your longing for a closer relationship with the natural world, including natural people.
For me, the idea that back to nature might extricate our planet from the strangle of modern industrial sprawl and consumerism is very appealing. Its logic is compelling and the solution so seemingly obvious – simply remove the problem we all see so plainly. Like you, perhaps, I look out on the subdivided land and want to see it united it again. Like you, I see people atomized by modernity and estranged from one another by the competitive ethos of our time, and want to replace these facts with supportive communities dedicated to our individual well-being.
But, as any physician might tell you, sometimes there is more to a problem than what you see and feel. What is obvious and manifested may be only part of a pathology, and thereby there is often the potential to do more harm than good by treating symptoms alone. Imagine, for a moment, the deliberate dismantling of our industrial society today and an organized movement backward to even a slightly earlier way of life. The romantic in me is ready to sign up and fall in line. But the realist asks: how would such a process of dismantling be organized? What would be dismantled first? Who would be the first to dismantle? And what would happen if many did dismantle but some did not?
Alternatively, we might examine our world history for epochs that appear from the vantage of the early 21st century to be healthier and more desirable than today and then work collectively to rebuild back to them. This form of going back might be more tenable, since people could better develop a vision or object for their efforts, rather than simply retracing our historical development to an uncertain (or perhaps all too certain) horizon or stopping point. This second way of going or remaining back is of course the basis of many religious sects in the world today, harkening and even codifying an earlier time to sustain an older way of life. These ways are typically in distant but clear orbits around and through modern population centers.
But, even in the case of rebuilding to a past epoch, which epoch would be judged most desirable and rebuildable? And what part of our history, in whatever time we might choose, is not imbedded with the inevitable errors and injustices of our past, and with the obvious inevitability of historical decline? We should remind ourselves that the forces of history have destroyed all prior times. No epoch has been able to maintain itself indefinitely in the face of time, which is to say in the face of nature. All prior human epochs have passed in either painstakingly slow or breathtakingly sudden deaths. The only unchanging fact of history and pre-history so far is – change.
The Choices We Make Today
Avenues or proposals for going back to nature, or to any other place in times past, lead to these types of outcomes. Going back is a path of existential vacuums, isolation and stagnation, and impossible dead ends. It does not reliably lead to new and more open relationships with nature and ourselves, which we seek today. Back does not take us to the health and vitality of the original and forward-facing natural life of our ancestors, the life we seek to recapture and transfigure in our time through HumanaNatura.
Proposals to move back come to us imbued with a type of weakness and an unintentional but implicit ethos of withdrawal. They do not spring from our natural human desire for growth and discovery, our instinct to abandon a tract of land or sea once overworked and too familiar. Perhaps ideas of moving back can be seen as coming from a love of the surface nature, but not from an appreciation of its depths, its inexhaustible depths, and a love of the unknown in nature that lies before us at all times.
The method of HumanaNatura is to instead imagine the possibility of a new and more vital and desirable way of life than has come before us, one that transcends the imperfections and limitations of our past and own times. From this possibility, we then look for what we can practically act on today. We look at what is inherently compelling and healthier to us today. We make choices and create new life each day, and then let these choices and creations frame and form our tomorrow.
Before you dismiss this approach as idealistic (it is, of course, but not worthy of immediate dismissal), consider the many choices you are making in your life right now, and the many alternatives you may be overlooking, unconsciously choosing not to chose. How have you structured your day, today? Is it optimal? Is it inspiring? Is it the best possible use of your time? Are there superior and more interesting choices in front of you, or next to you, that deserve your attention? Imagine making just a few of these superior choices each day. In a short time, this would become dozens of new and better choices in your life, and then thousands of more optimal choices over the next few years. Imagine the impact in your life, and in the lives of those you touch, of such a path of new choices.
Now, imagine millions of people similarly making more optimal choices in the way they live each day – millions of people choosing health, choosing nature, choosing community, choosing growth and discovery, in countless ways over the next few decades. Suddenly, our idealism and future focus seems more plausible and change achievable. In truth, a new future would and can begin to emerge from our time, a more optimal future and an unprecedented future too. This future would also be a living one and not frozen in time, a future capable of change and improvement, and therefore a natural and sustainable future.
It is also important to consider the risks for our future today. HumanaNatura and other alternative living movements exist because of our modern need to more consciously shape our individual lives and communities, enabled by the modern possibility that we might and can in fact shape our future for the first time in history. In HumanaNatura’s case, we promote a post-modern future informed by a new understanding of nature itself, our human place in nature, and our requirements for greater health and well-being. Our community seeks a decidedly different future path, challenging us all to consider the prevailing direction of our time and the limits of passive acceptance of what time will bring.
If science has brought us great benefits and the potential for new understanding to modern life, it has brought with them equally great risks – to the environment, communities, and individuals. All around us, substantial and far-reaching threats loom, threats that the future will be much less desirable than our past and present if we are not careful and creative in our time.
Examples of this are as close as any day’s headlines in the industrial world. Our personal and collective actions and choices count now as they never have before. When we move, the ground shudders. When we extend our arm, a tree falls or a river is polluted. The stakes are ever and ever higher, in this modern technological world of ours, this world of today that will not go back.
Natural Living: A Path Ahead
It is against this backdrop of great opportunities and risks that the HumanaNatura community calls on us all to move ahead to nature. Not back to nature. And not away from nature. Ahead, to nature. We believe that ahead and to nature are where a better future lies, where a more sustainable and beneficial human future lies, even where new and higher forms of human life lies.
If we must go forward, and if we must exercise great care in going forward, we are fortunate to have our past to learn from. We all can ask important questions of our history and pre-history, and hear back much that is intelligent and compelling. The many, very fruitful lessons that come from this line of inquiry, for those of us associated with HumanaNatura, are embodied in the phrase, ahead to nature, and are the day-to-day work that we call “natural living. “
Natural living begins with a re-envisioning of ourselves and our future in new ways, ones more closely, more deliberately, and more practically linked to our natural health and natural human desire for growth and well-being. Natural living then is the daily practice of living in ever more naturally, healthfully, beneficially, and in harmony with our vision, knowing that our vision will evolve as we grow and change. Natural living is a practical and lifelong process of making our visions of health and well-being our reality, and through our choices and actions, the world’s reality.
Guided Tour To Tomorrow
So then, where does natural living take us? Where does building on an increased understanding of our health and an attitude of “ahead to nature” lead? It leads into the unknown and the future, of course, as ancient people once knowingly faced ahead in nature (and as we do inevitably). This time, though, it is with the gifts of greater understanding and advanced technology to serve us in our quest.
If this answer is less than satisfying, if you would like a clearer picture of a future predicated on human health and wellness, perhaps you are still thinking that back is a tenable and safer bet. Or than standing pat and waiting is an option, and not simply an inactive form of moving back. In any case, consider again the risks of inaction, and then the lost opportunities and less inspired lives we will most certainly live if we wait for certainty before moving forward with needed changes in our lives and communities.
Between our desire for certainty and the risks of inaction, we each can seek new meaning and vision in the world around us, and re-prioritize our goals for the future. Imbedded in the idea of ahead to nature is the proposition that our natural health is a ready guide and reliable standard for us today. Is this really such an uncertain proposal? Doesn’t our health, forged over billions of years in countless settings, contain the deepest wisdom that is available to us as people? And doesn’t the standard of greater health stand in stark contrast and chart a far preferable course than the aimlessness that is so much of our modernity today?
Ahead to nature, a new and broad-based dedication to our natural health and to the primacy of human well being, also involves another form of wisdom – that of having many people work towards a common goal over time, in a loose and decentralized global network of local activity. With this approach, learning and successful innovation sharing can occur quickly, allowing for rapid adjustment, refinement, and progress. Where we might lack certainty today, we may take small steps and make needed corrections along the way.
HumanaNatura has suggested a number of principles that are likely to be useful to people seeking a healthier and more vital future. These principles of natural living include:
- Empowerment – securing the ability to create and maintain what we create
- Growth – an ethos that encourages continual learning and development
- Cooperation – life in caring relationships and supportive communities
- Freedom – physical and spiritual access to vital, creative life
- Nature – connection to our natural health and wild nature
Reflecting on these principles, perhaps you will begin to see their inner logic and potential to drive new direction in your life. Perhaps they will influence the small and not so small choices you will next make, even ones you will make today. What different directions these principles immediately create for most of us, through the new discussions and decisions they prompt and promote in our lives.
The principles of natural living point to an alternative future emphasizing universal health and vitality, learning and discovery, a new human openness, and life in search of transformation, all in a way that is possible but not yet imagined and pursued by the majority of people today. As principles only, of course, they require action to be made real and to catalyze meaningful and lasting change in our lives and the world. Perhaps this is where you fit in, perhaps where your special contribution to the future lies.
“Ahead to nature” may or may not be your personal vision for the future, but it is a compelling one, and I hope you will consider it. Ahead to nature is at least a worthy alternative to what is around us, given what is at stake in our lives and the world today. In our hands is the potential for new and unprecedented human development, in this unprecedented time in our history, and the equally great risks that passivity and indifference offer us alongside this potential.
Living with an ethos of ahead to nature, you will be better able to reflect on the type of future you would like to be part of, and the future you are inevitably helping to create through each of your individual choices and actions, now and in every day during your time among us.
With ahead to nature, you will understand the goals and aspirations of the many people associated with HumanaNatura, our many members and friends alike. You will know what is in our hearts, and perhaps in your own.
Mark Lundegren is the founder of HumanaNatura.
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