Stuck In “N”

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By Mark Lundegren

I have been thinking about an idea for some time – the idea of our getting stuck in “N.” 

It is a thought that returns to me in my work for HumanaNatura, especially when coaching people at a particular stage in the development of their natural health.  In this stage, there is a common tendency to become stuck in a certain way, even in a strangely satisfying one, though in truth the path of health and life more generally holds many other risks of comforting entrapment. 

This particular trap is important, since it is quite common in many early natural health practices.  However appealing it may be and though it often comes because of personal progress, it is still a trap, a way for us to get stuck and not move forward.  It is thus a barrier that many of us must overcome to achieve new steps toward our health and well-being.  I struggle sometimes to help people see this personal barrier, and would like to share my perspective with you.  It may help you in your own quest for health, or with others you are helping in theirs.  In any case, I suppose it is just something that has been on my mind and I need to get it off my chest.

The reference I make to “N” may be ambiguous or uncertain to you.  It is a colloquialism that non-native speakers of English may not initially understand, so I do need to explain it.   With this upper case letter, I refer to the now ubiquitous symbol, in the English-speaking world at least, that indicates the neutral mode of an automobile’s transmission.  If one is not careful when starting off or changing gears in a car or other vehicle, it is possible to get stuck in “N,” stuck in neutral, and unable to move forward.

Whether one drives an automobile or not, the expression is used figuratively in many English-speaking circles, and perhaps in other languages as well.  Someone who is not making progress on a project or toward a deadline, or in their life more generally, is often said to be stuck in “N,” stuck in neutral.  In our free-wheeling and freeway-dominated times, the expression often arises in discussions of relationships, work groups, and other endeavors where we have become stuck, unproductive, or otherwise not making needed progress.  It is an easy metaphor that people use and can relate to, and a sign of our times as I said.

My own use of this fairly familiar expression, however, and the suggestive letter “N” in particular, is a bit different in this case and even less literal than usual.  In the context of HumanaNatura and the many people that come to or through our natural health community, I mean the “N” to mean “nutrition.”  One of my most surprising learnings, over the last few years of natural health mentoring, is just how many genuinely health-oriented people are stuck in “N,” stuck in nutrition, and because of this are unable to move forward – in this case, to higher states of natural health and the important new life experiences available to us through our health.

Don’t get me wrong.  Natural eating and nutrition are critical to our health, and I have written and spoken about healthy eating and nutrition on many occasions.  And there are of course worse places to be stuck.  If we don’t eat correctly, we are less likely to achieve even the first levels of our natural health, let alone learn to use our health to catalyze our full potential as people.  Without natural nutrition, we are unlikely to be freed of struggles with our weight and stamina, with common health problems, with unsteady energy levels and emotions, and even with mastery of our priorities and values, so important is natural eating to understanding and unlocking the power of our own natural health.  A healthy diet is the foundation of our overall health, and even a prerequisite to our ability to rise fully to the occasion of our lives each day. 

While natural eating is important, it is also not terribly complicated either, and need not and should not take up much of our time or attention once it is mastered.  After all, what is natural eating?  In simple terms, it is eating consistently with our human evolution and long life in wild nature.  It is a daily diet of what I like to call greens and reds (raw vegetables and gently cooked meats), with just a bit of fruit and nuts, and enough water (or herbal drinks) to meet our physiological needs.  This way of eating, being natural to us, is quite simple in both theory and practice.  It is not difficult to understand and assimilate this dietary pattern into our lives, with just a bit of determination and persistence, freeing and energizing us for new personal perspectives and challenges.  Pre-civilized people gave little thought to this way of eating, after all, and in the sense that it is natural and optimal for us, neither should we.  We should master nutrition and move on to the rest of our lives.

Since natural nutrition is this simple, it is both surprising and disquieting to me to meet the number of people I do who are stuck there, stuck in “N,” absorbed in natural eating and culinary pursuits or mired in arcane nuances of human physiology and digestive science.  I often meet people who feel accomplished in their quest for natural health through a natural diet alone, as though this is all we need do to complete ourselves and find full expression in our health.  It is a superficial outlook on our health, one that sees natural health techniques as augmenting the general life of our times, as our regular life only healthier, rather than encouraging and enabling entirely new and more natural approaches to life today. 

In reality, our natural health involves and offers much more than our old lives made cleaner and longer-lasting.  Our health offers us entirely new and different lives, in our modern times especially, if we want them.  It allows us to live in a more natural and grounded way, and in more conscious and uplifting ways, in our time.  When I meet natural health practitioners who do not yet see this, I suspect they may be stuck in nutrition, temporarily or permanently, and unable or unwilling to move forward to what comes after natural eating:  to natural exercise and a return to wild nature through walking and hiking, and then, to natural living, to the conscious restructuring of our lives for greater health and well-being each day – to the creation of new expressions of our self through our health.

As a friend’s arrival for lunch today reminded me and is covered in HumanaNatura’s natural health program, I should add that natural eating does have important psychological and social benefits, beyond simply meeting our physiological need to be nourished.  Enjoying our meals, alone and with others, and using meals as part of our celebrations of family and community, are definitely not forms of the nutrition fixation I am writing about.  It is very important to eat enjoyably and to use our meals to bond with and enjoy the company of others.  But enjoyment and bonding are really more about natural living than natural eating.  Which brings me back to my topic, and the idea of our getting comfortably stuck in nutrition, when we should be on the road to greater health and new life.

Perhaps like you, I take extended walks and hikes quite frequently.  As I write this, I am just a few weeks back from a long summer hike in the mountains, a journey that included periodic returns to village and city life after time in the alpine environment.  The experience of these returns to civilization, and the narrowness and much lower health and vitality in life there, remains fresh and compelling to me, and I should share this perspective with you while it is still vivid and palpable. 

Moving between nature and society offers a study in how important it is that we all “get out more,” another colloquialism, by which I mean out into wild nature – to better understand and return to our human origins, to know our original place as people in the natural world, and to understand the physicality of human life in nature and thereby better sense our full personal potential for health and well-being.  An extended hike is a reminder that we must not get stuck in nutrition, or in exercise, or in any other narrow preoccupation or imperative that limits the breadth of our life, our openness to new experiences, and growth in our conceptions of our own health

If you think you may be stuck in “N,” stuck in nutrition, whether comfortably or not, I would encourage you to consider the role and place of eating in your life, and if it is a preoccupation and obstacle to your next level of health.  A useful technique, at any time in our quest for greater health and well-being, is to make a list of the three things that most inhibit our health.  Likely, at least one of these things will be beyond the scope of nutrition, and maybe all three things if you are accomplished at natural eating.  There, you can look with new focus and for new sources of vitality.

Be patient and gentle with yourself in this process.  Remember that many people do not enjoy the benefits of natural eating as you do.  But it may be time for you to focus more on the world outside the supermarket and kitchen, to move from what you know to what you do not yet know about your health and well-being, to get out more and to be more.

A world full of new experiences, and new health, waits just outside all our doors and well-worn paths. 

Mark Lundegren is the founder of HumanaNatura.

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