Imagine for a moment – nothing around us holds us back any longer.
We are suddenly free of physical constraints and have a new independence to act as we please, tempered only in that we must allow others their independence. We can find food and shelter with only modest effort, enjoy the company of others or solitude in proportion to our wishes, and have any human knowledge we might need or want to possess. We can travel as we would like, live where and however the laws of physics will allow, and enter deeply into nature or walk the streets of any city or town in safety. We can busy or rest ourselves, think and feel as we want, and spend much of our waking time however we please.
Do you wonder what such new freedom would be like? If you could have this type of unrestrained and unbounded life, do you know how you would live? Can you begin to imagine what you might change in your life and what you would do differently with your days? Would you move or stay where you are? And how would your relationships with others be affected?
In truth, if we can become perhaps just slightly more attentive to our outer and inner landscape, to the world around us and to the thoughts and feelings that we live amidst in our surroundings, many of our lives might be much like this already, and our personal choices and futures very different from today. Our external world is already profoundly changed, after all, even from only a few decades ago. We are surrounded with new technologies and opportunities, and new security and freedom to pursue what we most value and desire. And yet, there is a persistency in the way many of us live. We often still think and feel in familiar ways and thus may be held back in important aspects of our lives. Our actions often more than vaguely resemble those of our parents and grandparents, despite external change and new lives lying in wait around and inside us.
In our new human environment of advanced knowledge and technology, as an example, we are at a point where there should no longer be material want, and yet material want remains widespread and is even heightened amidst our new affluence. In the developed world at least, most of us are able already to live and work creatively and joyfully if we want, our biological needs readily assured in the modern world. But creative and joyful life and work are still not yet the rule. Seemingly, we use or approach our new knowledge and technology to increase human want and longing, rather than to satisfy it, and to keep us from the most essential and emotionally compelling parts of ourselves. In this inability to seize our new potential, we even often conceive of our contemporary social environment as limiting and threatening, instead of one of unprecedented human freedom, security, and choice.
From this perspective, perhaps you will agree that new ways of thinking about our lives and life choices are not just possible now, they are needed too, if we are to find new health and vitality in our lives, and use rather than be used by our modern world. As our external environment has changed, in important and even startling ways that we may take for granted or not yet fully appreciate, our inner landscape can and should change too, if only so that we actively understand and seek to optimize our lives and potential as people – and not live passively, unimaginatively, and in lower conditions of health amidst the opportunities life now (and always) presents for new choice. With changes in how we think and feel, we may well be able to begin to perceive and act in our modern world in fundamentally new and more vibrant ways.
Today, I would like to encourage you to consider new and more liberated personal choices of all kinds in your life, ones that might lead to very different forms of life for you and others. By this, I mean life that is freer and more freely chosen, more open and moving, and better aligned with the opportunities that come with an advanced and advancing society like our own. As my title suggests, I even mean to suggest the possibility that our lives might become more fluid and less fixed in location and outlook than we are used to. I mean a life more of movement through and richer experiences in the world, and even in new types of human communities than we are accustomed. Seemingly, this potential for free and mobile life is of a distant future, but may be a more natural and desirable form of life that is already possible today.
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I raise the prospect of new nomadism both as a tangible portrait and potent symbol of more fluid life, however much we might ultimately choose to move in our lives physically, and because nomadism is a form of choice that is now increasingly available to us and worth considering on its merits. Modern life has become far more mobile than in past centuries already, and promises even more indifference to our location as we move to an information-based economy and automated industrial production (allowing us to access the world from either one location or many), so we must consider the opportunity of re-emergent nomadism in our time seriously. And we can also consider the distinction between healthy and unhealthy mobility, as a topic on its own, and learn about human life and health more generally, better informing choices of all sorts, regardless of our personal patterns of physical movement or however much the world around us becomes mobilized.
Whatever you might think about my suggestions that our lives should become more fluid and less fixed, and that life today may changing in ways that might make it more nomadic, you will have to agree that nomadism is an ancient way of human living. It is a form of human life much older than the streets and buildings, the landmarks and many icons, that populate and define much of our settled world and even our own identities today. The nomadic life goes all the way back to our human origins, and is one that has withstood droughts and famines, and even ages of ice and the rise of settled human life.
Historically, nomadism is life lived more directly on and from the earth, more directly in wild nature, and less of and often avoiding or only moving through our cities and towns. Nomadism often has been human life more lightly and flexibly resourced than in settled life, with an obvious inherent adaptiveness and ability to quickly move people relative to changing opportunities and more desirable conditions. Nomadism even underlies the adaptiveness and many of the most desirable aspects of fixed living, where we move resources rather than people to opportunities and use a nomadism of goods to make fixed life more secure and prosperous (and create a nomadic class of transporters – who alternatively and instructively long for both home and open skies). For these reasons, nomadism is a human approach that is potentially much more naturally and sustainably lived than typical settled life, even if it brings costs or requires inventiveness along with these benefits. In the least, nomadism is an approach that has a great deal of time on its side, one worthy of our consideration as the world becomes physically freer and a ancient counterpoint to the life and thinking of our times.
Despite having five million years or more of history, the idea of traditional or now modern nomadism may seem curious to you, or impractical and foolish, or perhaps even dangerous. Settled life and our gradual advance to true civilization has brought with it many obvious advantages, including a new level of security and freedom from natural hardships (with violence in the developed world now reduced a hundred-fold from pre-modern times) and the opportunity for more cultivated and refined life. Civilization and modern scientific methods have increased human understanding by perhaps an even greater magnitude, to the point where we struggle to grasp what we know, and our new social institutions help us better cooperate and navigate the many capricious aspects of unregulated human life. In a world of increasing nomadism, you may wonder how our streets and buildings, and our landmarks and icons, would be tended and kept secure. You might wonder how modern human life as it exists today and its many benefits and advancements would continue, and continue to advance.
One answer might be with the aid of machines, especially with communication and information technology to ensure transparency, security, and resourcing amidst more mobile patterns of life, an option that becomes increasingly plausible with each passing year, even if still considerably amorphous in precise form and method of operation. But even with the evolution of automation and new technology, lawful and orderly human life has certain requirements and many opportunities for disorder, and will require human involvement in ways that will continue and that we cannot foreseeably abdicate, so some aspects of modern life as it is today would have to remain as they are or be consciously adapted or improved in the face of more widespread nomadism and more mobile and less settled life. Our social order today would have to change and evolve with consciously mobile life, as it is likely to anyway, even without resurgent nomadism – or incessant mobility, a pejorative that may but need not characterize the general trend of greater movement in the world, as I will explain.
Perhaps then, the idea of a deliberate or conscious move to modern nomadism is more likely a potential catalyst and driver of change, rather than a clear and present danger to our social order, or to social order generally, one that requires structure and institutions, even amidst its prospects of freer and more improvised life, and thus a form of life thus has a discernible character and foreseeable limits. We know the structure of life today well and rely on it, but also know that it was unimagined in earlier times. We can see that our form of order is mortal and will age, and that other forms of order are possible and will inevitably evolve (always with the potential of a return to relative disorder). Our present-day world is one we rely on and therefore may cherish, but only few would say completely or uncritically. Most understand and can see that our society can be improved in important and realistic ways.
Because of this, I would like you to consider the idea that more nomadic and mobile life might be very desirable, affording people more open lives and new experiences and for the changes it might usher in, since it would require structure and our continued commitment to civilized life, and perhaps in new and more subtle ways. Modern nomadic or more location flexible living, in the context of enabling structure and control, might well bring more efficient, beneficial, and even satisfying modes contemporary of life, and be a step into the future and progress, offering new cosmopolitanism and not a regression to the past. If society will and should evolve, ideally it will be in a way make it more sustainable and environmentally-friendly, and more supportive of the health and well-being of all its members. These goals suggest a lighter or more subtle human footprint on the earth, one that modern nomadic living might help to provide.
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When we first reflect on the idea of nomadic life, whether our thoughts are positive or negative, and whether nomadism is seen as life without a fixed center or moving around one, much about us, as people dwelling in modern and fixed or semi-fixed civilization, is revealed. While some of us may initially think romantically and favorably about nomadic people, we are often apt to concretely envision nomadism as a step back in time, and see it as a meaner and more precarious life. Our initial thinking may form a picture of dust and dirt, of people living with little, of impoverished and less secure conditions, and the hardship and rigors of subsistence living. We may turn to thoughts of our having to give things up, of physical discomfort and pain, and even of social isolation. Again, this is telling, and more than you might at first realize. Both our positive and negative ideas about nomadic life, after all, are often quite biased and reasoned from our time, both as historical facts and as a portrait of how nomadism might be in the future, revealing unexamined prejudices and limiting beliefs we may carry within us – and might well want to work to be free of, making our presence in the world lighter and more open, and thus more nomadic in at least some sense of this word.
As I mentioned before, there is increasingly little reason for any of us to live in poverty and hardship or without the rule of law in our time, to subsist or have material hardship or systemic violence in our lives of any kind. I will suggest this idea is true today regardless of whether we move or remain in one place, as long as the social institutions that foster economic activity and law and order are maintained and extend to our transportation networks and the places we live or move through. Negative ideas about nomadism and visions of nomadic life as poor and lawless might therefore be out-of-date, even if they were once accurate. In truth, nomadic people historically did have less materially than people in settled life, but likely were no more insecure than people in other forms of life before the rise of the modern state (forms of life which often added insecurity through life involving increased and unequal possession and power). But we must also consider the idea that nomadic people in history may have been quite satisfied with their lives, just as nomads today often are. Studies of traditional, present-day nomadic people reveal very high levels of life satisfaction, often even much higher than people dwelling in our most affluent cities and modern conditions, if with levels of security many of us would find unacceptable. Our ideas and assumptions about nomadism may therefore be very different than the life experiences of actual nomadic people of the past and present, and especially the future.
If natural and traditional nomads had and have less of some things, their life is often one with more of other things that we frequently lack and long for today. To begin a list, and knowing that nomadism can take many forms, free time would be at or near the top. Often, nomadic people have far more free time than we typically do today, even considering periods of movement as only semi-free time, since far less attention and effort is devoted to creating and maintaining fixed property (an opportunity but hardly a reality today in fixed life). Because nomads often more work much less and have more time than we do, they often have more opportunity for social contact, and far more rewarding contact, with friends and loved ones (nomads may need this social contact to enable their form of life, at least in its traditional forms). The nomadic life is thus often a more gregarious one than ours, especially at its best, and thus rightly the object of contemporary nostalgia. The traditional nomad’s life of course also involves greater travel and a greater diversity of experiences, generally much more so than in traditional settled life (and perhaps even modern settled life). It is therefore in many ways a more natural human life of moving on the land, with many benefits for our physical health and emotional well-being. It is also worth considering that traditional nomadic people are of necessity skilled at and able to quickly change their surroundings and re-create orderly life when needed. In our modern context, it is thereby a life that is perhaps more apt to encourage us to change and re-create ourselves, a dynamic many of us want for ourselves today, and thus an approach to make us far happier with and fulfilled in ourselves in modern times.
These potential advantages of nomadic life may help you to move past negative and unexamined first impressions of nomadism. But perhaps not, so let me clarify my idea in asking us to consider more nomadic life, today and for the future, rather than as a historical phenomenon only. Most importantly, I do not mean the intentional return to life of an earlier era. Going back is a topic I have written about, and against, elsewhere. Regression is unlikely ever a successful life strategy for people, for a good many reasons. Instead of the past, my idea is instead to think about our present and future more deeply, differently and perhaps more innovatively. By this, I mean reconsidering our current relationship with the world and others around us today, our patterns of movement and mobility and commitment and freedom today, and the benefits and limitations that come with these things and how we might change them if we were free to (as we are to an increasing degree, in fact if not yet in spirit).
In my proposal to consider modern nomadism, I mean to have us ask whether new mobility or different forms of mobility, enabled by our knowledge and technology, might make more sense and create better life for all of us, now and for the future. Since our global industrial society is becoming more mobile already, perhaps the idea of modern nomadism is not so implausible and its prospect even should raise concerns given current social trends and potential for mobility to take more positive and negative forms. As I suggested before, there is an important distinction waiting to be made between the modern forms of increased mobility we are familiar with and our potential for more natural, health-conscious, and self and community-affirming forms of mobile life. This distinction is quite important, pointing to the need for change in the way we think about mobility and even fixed modern life today, and to new opportunities for more expansive life amidst our increasing mobility and modernity.
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In my work as a health advocate, I have gradually learned that to be at our best – to be optimally healthy, vibrant, and well – we need two, seemingly contradictory structures in our lives that relate directly to our consideration of nomadism: community and mobility. Once we pass the preliminaries of maintaining a natural diet and ensuring adequate natural exercise, we inevitably must turn to broader life challenges in our quest for greater health and well-being. I have called this pursuit for new health in our life the task of natural living. Natural living, in fact, forms most of the life and focus of a natural health practitioner. In a very basic way, natural living can be seen as the creative synthesis and inter-weaving of the central elements of community and mobility within one’s life and natural health practice.
Our need for community is our natural individual requirement for and offer of security and support: strong, self- and health-promoting people around us to enrich our lives and help us be at our best, through reciprocity and our helping them to be at their best. Our need for mobility, seemingly contradictory to the demands of community, is part of our natural and universal human need for change, growth, and novelty throughout the course of our lives, as even a short time without mobility or progressive life reveals to us. When we are true to ourselves and our natural requirements for health, we seek both community and mobility, in varying measures and forms, depending on our circumstances and time of life. When we are optimally healthy, as humans, we have both of these things in abundance in our lives – the ability to move and grow and to be with others positively and intimately, in a way that forms a harmony greater than their sum. Community and mobility are primal sources of human health, strength, well-being, fulfillment, and renewal. Together, they are central dimensions of natural life, our human nature and needed life experience in all times, and the basis of much of our spirituality, values, and aspirations.
I spoke before of community and mobility as seeming to be contradictory. In civilized society, it can appear that they are. After all, traditional civilization and community have often demanded a great amount of consistency, regularity, fixedness, and immobility from people of all social classes. This may less true now, after industrialization and the rise of modern life, but the demand for rootedness has been a driving force in society for many centuries before our time. In earlier times, in fact, we often were compelled by a number of forces to stay in one place for great lengths of time, to defend those places and adapt to them (and them to us), to live as our parents lived and according to strict cultural ideals, to be limited and unchanging as people, and to demand this of others for our survival. Much of this was required for our survival and thus the rudiments of our health, but of course was often limiting and pernicious to our well-being (though far more so when this thinking carries forward into our time in an unexamined way).
People of these earlier times often had limited interaction with and knowledge of nomads and wandering people, and from our literature seem to generally have held more negative outlooks about nomadic people and primarily envisioned the precariousness and threats of mobile life, with some amount of romanticism, just as we do today. Also like us, our settled ancestors were usually primarily focused on their own society and the vagaries of life within them as they were given. Almost all looked upon fixed civilization as necessary and its demands for rootedness inevitable. Writers from earlier times often viewed civilization as inherently oppressive, limiting human freedom and mobility, but often for a greater good (though in more recent centuries with a growing sense of limitation and lost opportunity). These ideas about civilization, as being a negative state but necessary and better than the alternatives, of course continue into our present and are not wholly untrue. But they often lead to an ironic or tragic sense of life, one that we may not fully realize or observe carefully, and to the de-energizing and passive idea that we are constrained and without fundamental control of our lives, even as we suddenly now have new freedoms and opportunities only imagined in earlier times.
It is important to put these earlier ideas and our modern sensibility and inhibitions in context. Both continue despite at least two centuries of rapidly advancing society and social institutions, profound technological progress, great expansions in human understanding, and startling changes in the way we live, or perhaps can live. Our resignation to settled and traditional life also comes despite an increased understanding of – distinct from but related to our increasing romance for – the often rich lives and life experiences of nomadic and less settled people of various kinds in history and today. Old beliefs and ideas die hard, and many may be genetically or culturally selected, requiring the force of new awareness to understand and permit new free choice.
We may fantasize about nomadism and new mobility in our lives, but still see community and mobility as antagonistic and impossible together, since this was the case in many earlier fixed forms of life, and it may still be the case without an attentive approach to our uprootedness. We can readily look to contemporary mobility and see its destruction or erosion of traditional community, or at least its incompatibility with our ideas of how life was before our time. In this focus on the destructive aspects of mobility, we may overlook new, more subtle, perhaps still unrecognizable forms of community in our midst, community that may even be superior in many ways to those of the past.
When we consider the idea of a tradeoff or contradiction between community and mobility, between rootedness and freedom and committed and more fluid life, it is important to realize (at least as a counterpoint to our thinking) that this tradeoff usually did not exist for people in wild nature. In nature, after all, until the last ten thousand years (~0.2% of human life) people lived exclusively in mobile or semi-mobile communities, regularly moving with band and clan to optimize resources. Natural human life even demanded communal mobility, since a fixed and more solitary life was not sustainable for us until both the evolution of domesticable plants and animals and then the later rise of lawful life. If our life was necessarily communal or cooperative, and if our communities were necessarily mobile, natural selection encouraged these things through the gift of joy and fulfillment in the belonging and movement of natural life – strong emotions that are still with us and that undergird us today. Life in nature may have been harder, shorter, and even far more limited in scope than in our time, but it was often deeply satisfying human life, in a way that modern life is often not. Natural life was not always nasty and even more rarely alone, as studies of aboriginal, pastoralist, and nomadic communities have shown (communities distinct from settled, pre-state agricultural communities).
Our natural human life of both belonging and moving may seem impossible today, given our general belief in the inevitability and historically constraining nature of civilization, and our current experience of the general corrosive effects of mobility on existing community, but I would encourage you to think more critically and creatively about these constraints in our time and emergent new age. I would like you to consider that a life of both natural community and movement may again possible now, in new and quite compelling forms. Physical and economic barriers to mobility still do exist of course, and may always exist to some degree of necessity as we have discussed, but perhaps to a much lesser extent than in the past and than we factor into our choices today. It may be possible and even desirable for you to pursue and create a more nomadic life today, a life of both more movement and deeper community, more than you perhaps realize and potentially with transformative consequences for you and others.
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In thinking through our modern potential for new forms of mobility, we might take an extreme position and argue that community is no longer necessary at all – except as needed to support our social infrastructure – and that we can and would be better off free and independent in the world, informally coming together with others and moving apart when and as we wanted.
Though a distinct possibility in our time and near in some respects to my own ideas of how a new nomadism might shape itself, this idea of mobility risks misunderstanding our natural need for community and the natural requirements that underlie the compelling company of others. Supportive community motivates and demands from us a continued investment in and attention to our relationships, and simply does not permit more simplified and episodic relations of convenience (you can experiment with and validate this in your own life and investments of time and emotion). The mistake of assuming that an independent individual life of transient relationships can be healthy and fulfilling is a common one, however. It is an idea, in fact, that is implicit in many modern forms of mobile life today, where our need for human community and family is at least partially overlooked, regarded ambivalently or secondarily to our material or physical aims, or assumed able to be met by a loose network of co-workers and service providers (in the extreme, including sexual and reproductive service providers). The totality of such thinking, or lack of thinking, underlies and even fuels the growing and globalizing pattern of itinerant work and life, and engenders the often corrosive and less than healthy mobile life of both unskilled migrant workers and corporate professionals today.
This modern approach to mobility, intuitively and scientifically, runs against the foundations of our health and the strong case that exists for nurturing community to ensure healthy, intimate, and nurtured human life. Data-intensive studies affirm the continued value to us of close, lasting friendships and supportive communities (both once required for survival in nature), showing that community and support can maintain our health and well-being at much lower levels of consumption and the important correlation of shorter lifespans and higher rates of health problems with single and isolated life. Modern mobility, so often but not always, has created life of increasing movement within an obvious disregard to our need to belong – impoverishing communities, families, and individual lives, even as this form of life often raises the material prosperity of each.
In the place of traditional communities, mobility and loose relationships based on shared work and entertainment have often inserted themselves, but failing to fully fill the void they create, let alone promoting the goal healthier and more fulfilled life. To me, this seems inevitable in all relationships dedicated to extrinsic and relativistic goals of higher income and consumption, which are in truth means to other things only and often competitively motivated, and which overlook or are misaligned with our more intrinsic, absolute, and more foundational needs as people. Modern work communities, in particular, often accentuate natural antagonistic, hierarchical, and zero-sum thinking, rather our equally natural and usually far more rewarding cooperative and nurturing behaviors. Not surprisingly, traditional work communities are thus inherently more transitory, stressful, and unfulfilling social networks, and now increasingly subject to rapid decomposition – which may be a positive development and an opportunity for more natural and satisfying formats for shared work.
While we often do need to re-assert or re-create community in our lives today, the case for human mobility, if in modified and more creative forms, is strong too, though this area is less well-researched and understood than community effects. Studies suggest that at least thirty minutes of movement each day is essential to our psychological well-being. Less travel than this is correlated with increases in reported feelings of stress and measurable circulating stress hormones in our bodies, reducing our ability to repair tissue and fight disease. But we can infer a much higher level of mobility is needed than this. If we consider our imperative of an hour or more of relatively challenging daily mobility is needed to ensure our physical fitness, and even greater periodic mobility to help promote new life experience, perspective, and our personal growth, the case for mobility well beyond traditional civilized levels seems secure – as long as our mobility can be made secure, and even as our need for healthy mobility remains a seeming counterpoint and corrosive to our requirements for communal life.
Evolutionary science also suggests that both our needs for mobility and community are likely fundamental human and even mammalian adaptations, deeply hard-wired into us, adaptations that we overlook at our peril and with enormous consequences for the quality of our lives. These basic human needs, and the prospect of healthier life in the new context of affluent global civilization, challenge us to rethink our ways of living and frames of reference regarding mobility and community, both incrementally and perhaps more radically, if we are to create new choices for more optimal lives and health for ourselves. I say this, even if the idea of such new and more nomadic ways of living amidst conditions of freedom and prosperity seem uncertain and poetical at first, and even if the scientific case is less far than clear what types and amounts of mobility and community best ensure our optimal health and well-being.
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I have just moved, and it is not the first time – I enjoy a reputation among my friends and family as someone who has moved quite frequently, one that is deserved even as it may be misunderstood and not completely in keeping with my own ideas about optimal mobility. In truth, I am not far from where I had been living, just a few kilometers across the northern Appalachian forest where I lately live. My move was from a traditional cottage by a lake to a smaller but more modern and iconic house in the hills above a somewhat larger lake, a reservoir in fact that serves one of the world’s largest cities.
This move was not a momentous one, I admit, but it was a move nonetheless, offering a real-time and quite personal case study in nomadism (and inspiring this writing). As with other moves I have made before, the new place I am in right now is brimming with fresh sights and sensations, and inspiring new ideas, in a way that I know my old place can too but no longer was for me. Around me are unexpected vantages and compelling new folds and unexplored turns in the land. There are new natural paths and places where wildlife converge, and new faces and human places to visit and experience for the first time. In truth, there is even a fresh and remade sky for me overhead, just as there is fresh sunlight and remade earth at my feet. The total effect of this most recent move, as many of my other moves have been, is an enticement of my senses and spirit. Moving has again renewed me. I am more alive once more, alive in a larger way and as never before.
However modest in distance, the effects of this move are palpable and heartfelt for me, and a lesson in mobility and its importance to us more generally. In these few days following my move, I am awake and active earlier in the morning, despite the declining autumn light and weather. I am more engaged and inspired in my life, in all my life, even the less appealing and inspiring parts of it. I make better use of my time, beginning new projects and finishing old ones, while letting go of old preoccupations and attitudes and perceiving the world with a new freshness. I am eating more optimally, exercising more stridently, and easily and committedly in both cases. More importantly, I can see ideas in my life that had been invisible to me only a few days before. I realize now that I had grown comfortable, too comfortable these past few months, in my old setting and with growing habits and patterned living, despite the charm and tranquility of my old house. I suspected then and know now that I simply was no longer attending to life in the way that I can be and am again now – far more consciously and creatively. My move has even compelled me to consider more carefully and write and think about nomadism, its unappreciated potential for human renewal and more progressive life in our more secure and prosperous times.
As you likely can tell, the case for new mobility and nomadism in modern times is strong for me right now. So strong, in fact, that I would like to encourage you to join in my experiment in mobility and to explore the nomad within you too, as soon and as freely as you can, and knowing we do not yet have hard science on our side. Your exploration of new mobility can begin simply enough, perhaps by extending your daily travels to new places, or by using new routes to get to old places, but in any case I would encourage you to begin your own non-clinical trials now and as attentively and creatively as you can. You may well find that the benefits of added mobility almost immediately far exceed the seeming costs and inconveniences we are apt to focus on when we contemplate change and think of new movement from more sedentary stations of life. I suspect you will find that new mobility allows you to become more alive in the world and alive in the world in new ways, just as I have been reminded and re-energized by my recent move.
If you do join in this experiment in mobility, you may awaken with new eyes on the world like me, and perhaps ones with a clearer connection to the natural values and aspirations deep within you. Even in changing only how and where we travel in our daily life, or other routines of life that can dull us and let us live less consciously, we can begin to see how new mobility can provide important insights and perspectives, and experiment in our lives without radically altering or disrupting our relationships with others. You may well come to agree that a nomad lies within you too, or at least a creative spirit that lapses into and lives in regular and mundane ways only inadvertently. Perhaps you will then feel compelled to further explore and find new ways to bring this deeper part of you out and into your life. By this, I do not mean abandoning all that that we cherish, and especially I do not mean that we destroy supportive community in our lives, but simply that we explore and test the edges of our life against the deeper values we discover during conscious change, which likely will always include our ancient affinity for compelling life with others.
If the presence within you of a natural or at least a modern nomad proves to be the case for you, if you really do notice an appreciable and positive change in your life through conscious new movement and the breaking of routines, then you might decide to more definitively explore nomadism, to see what deeper movements and more fluid acts of living might hold for you. As only one of many ideas, you and your family might rent a house in another place temporarily, or live or swap houses with a friend or family member (a topic I will return to). Such exploration can be in an area near enough to your work and friends so your life is not substantially disrupted, allowing you to experience life after a move and giving you insights into what further nomadism might bring to your life and demand of you, especially if you are to move naturally and amidst family and community.
Through such explorations and experiences, you might become committed to still deeper experiments in nomadic and natural life, as I have, moving periodically in your area, or perhaps positioning yourself to be able to migrate with the seasons. In this exploration, you begin movement for movement’s sake, or for life’s and fulfillment’s sake, which may seem odd when you first consider it. But if you live with the idea of regular movement for a while, and then explore new opportunities for mobility and less routine living in your life, movement and change for itself may seem less and less odd and impractical, and even quite important, over time. Exploring movement may help you discover the important benefits mobility offers in creating a more open and natural life, and helping you to experience and appreciate life in deeper ways.
Of course, in all potential experiments in mobility, we also need to experiment with ensuring community in our lives too, which is why I encourage initial experiments within the reach of and ideally even involving with your existing social network. When I began my own experiments in deliberate nomadism about ten years ago, it was after several less than deliberate and health-conscious relocations in my professional work, including some careless acts of mobility that were not family or community-promoting at all. The results were perhaps inevitable – a decline in my sense of well-being and in the breadth and richness of community and social relationships in my life. My own sense of declining wellness in fact led me to renew my long interest in natural health practices, and eventually compelled me to better balance my mobility with my need for supportive community and family. In my case, I had come to understand and value the positive aspects of mobility and did not give up on regular movement, but I also put new emphasis on maintaining and enriching community amidst my regularly mobile life. In striking this new balance, consciously aimed at increasing health and well-being in my life, somewhere in the process I became a post-modern nomad, even if I did not realize this at first or was able to structure my life optimally for this alternative approach to life for some time.
I have maintained a quite mobile and healthy life for over ten years now, increasingly in ways that preserve my extended community and friendships, while allowing me and others to experience the joy and new outlooks that a change in surroundings and scenery can provide to us. This effort is of course aided by the Internet and email, but mostly I have found that achieving community amidst mobility is enabled keeping a home, even if it changes periodically, and by keeping an always open door, extra beds and closet space, and a commitment to invite and in turn visit with friends and family in an extended way. Extended visiting has quite a bit of history and is an extraordinary means to deepen and renew family relationships and friendships, and is easily done, despite how you may first react – requiring only care and kindness, reciprocity, and personal fluidity. All of which we may seek or need in our lives. I can tell you that each of my health-conscious moves and my now frequent house-sharing have been a positive experience for me, transforming and expanding my relationships and feelings of community. Both so often provide the feelings of renewal and re-engagement that I feel now, after my most recent move.
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As you might imagine, some of my more traditional friends think my nomadism is a curiosity and struggle to understand it, but I counter gently that they should try the approach and offer them the same ideas and encouragement I have offered you (and an open door and place to live for a time). Some have taken up this challenge, and have discovered similar feelings of renewal and new vibrancy in their lives, and have created deeper friendships through sharing living spaces, simply from gradual experiments in moving for moving’s sake. Of course, since increasing mobility is the norm for many people in my life, the choice is often more rightly framed as one between traditional and often health-compromising forms of modern travel and economic migration, and more health conscious and community-building nomadism.
With my growing experience and comfort with at least one modern variation on natural mobility, the greater curiosity for me are the many people around me who passively accept or stridently defend settled life, and who avoid and abhor movement and even simple changes in their often highly routinized lives. Their position seems increasingly unnatural and inflexible to me, excessively conservative and unhealthy, and contrary to the opportunities of our time and the experience of mobile people of other times. After all, consider the nature of highly settled life today, whether in an urban or rural setting. We are apt to think of settled life first nostalgically and even reverently. But we may then gradually reconsider our view and see how settled life can also be oppressive, staid, and conformist. Settled life is, in fact, often far less vibrant and energetic than the life we can have through movement, as artists, the wealthy, and other self-possessed people have long known. Mobile life is one that has fewer routines and limitations, but does require more attention and improvisation, and is thus often richer in itself and even as it often offers a much richer range of experiences.
One important objection to mobility, and implicitly to nomadism in all its forms, that I hear frequently and strongly is in the case of the movement of children. In these discussions, people are apt to repeat arguments that children must be kept with their friends and especially in the same schools, year after year, to promote their health and development. I believe this position, however well-intentioned, is incorrect and contrary to the true nature of healthy children, but it does get at the important issue of our innate needs for community and fulfilling social relationships we have considered. We do all need this type of community, children included, and all proposals for healthy life must encourage healthy family life.
The case for childhood mobility is similar to that of adult mobility, except perhaps in one important area – its potential to impact both our ability to form healthy peer relationships and the quality of our peer relationships during important periods of our development. We know that moves change peer groups, requiring children to rebuild their social networks and find their place in them, which takes time and energy. One might well argue that frequent moves can negatively destabilize a child’s status and self-esteem and development, or alternatively, that it could positively encourage a child to become adept at developing new relationships and to develop a self-image that is more robust and independent of changing social groups.
Movement can allow a child to find higher quality peer groups, or escape poor quality peers, which have been shown to be quite important to self-development (statistically and controversially more important than parenting quality). Given modern mobility to our time, many of us may have moved frequently as children, or know others who did. We may remember or have been the new kid, seemingly quite typecast as an outsider and misfit, especially after moves made during adolescence, but likely having little bearing on the quality of adulthood (though perhaps making for a less happy childhood). Similarly, modern school redistricting has often repeatedly reshuffled children seemingly without lasting harm, just as entry into college inevitably does, and mercifully and very positively for some children who have had highly fixed or disadvantaged lives.
These observations suggest that peer relationships can be interrupted and resumed, and remade if needed, even as this area is likely rightly one for special attention. They also suggest methods for balancing community and mobility for children: organizing movement during times when school is not is session (often many weeks of the year), around a fixed center or between centers so that relationships are maintained, and ideally always in the direction of high-quality peer relationships.
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If we should be mobile regularly in order to renew and be truer to ourselves, and also bring or encounter supportive community in our movements, how can we make such healthy nomadism a reality in our modern lives today? There are likely many ways to do this, some visible in our times already, but all suggesting the need for at least slightly more creative approaches to contemporary life and new openness to life options we are willing to consider for ourselves and our families. As I highlighted at the beginning of our discussion, we are fortunate to be alive in modern times, and amidst modern knowledge and technology, which together make tenable the idea and practice of new forms of nomadism and new freedom from fixed life.
With community defined as a network of reciprocally supportive and nurturing people, or even as intimate and health-promoting life in society, rather than the more traditional conception of community as a generally self-reliant group of people holding a fixed place or location, existing options for collective mobility, and for collective life and work amidst movement, immediately come into view. Some of these forms seem quite compelling and deserve our attention and exploration, just as other forms appear lacking in important ways and unlikely to become broader models for contemporary people seeking healthy mobility (though they are still instructive to us in their omissions).
Perhaps the simplest and first of the insufficiently robust examples of modern mobile community include groups of many forms based on shared interests, such as hobby and pastime groups, especially ones that involve regular collective mobility and encourage social interaction and discovery within their domain. One can think of regularly mobile communities of like-minded sports fans, collectors, and travel and recreational enthusiasts, some gathering people from and moving them across large areas, but very often and often obviously lacking sufficient attention to the health of their members.
A slightly higher order of mobile community involves networks of people having common values and aspirations, and who often engage in active and regular reciprocation, for example sharing in a life covering a preferred geography or involving a specific lifestyle. For many North Americas, the thought of “snowbirds” will come to mind, often quite gregarious and interdependent retirees who spend winters in the Sunbelt and return to in the northern United States or Canada in the summer months, sometimes moving between locations throughout the year. In North America, as elsewhere, we are also familiar with roving bands of explorers and empty-nesters, whether on motorcycles or in cars or mobile homes, crisscrossing the continent in search of adventure and new horizons, and often forming new relationships and mobile community in the process. There are also new year-round and working communities formed in areas of the world that are considered highly desirable – numerous resort, wilderness, and historical areas now largely repopulated by relatively mobile transplants and expatriates.
From the standpoint of increased health and well-being, these modern forms of mobile community are a mixed phenomenon. They do afford people a degree of mobile community and perhaps access to and more time in wild nature and health-friendly climates. But often, this type of mobility can involve unhealthy pastimes and lifestyle choices, isolation from instead of immersion in nature, and relationships that are more situational than supportive in character (with only modest levels of mutual investment and social intimacy). I could begin a long list, but the excesses and limitations of modern mobile materialism are well-known and easily observed.
When I write about and advocate exploration of our potential for new nomadism, it is in the context of exploring opportunities for greater health and well-being, and more creative and consciously-chosen life. It is mobility aimed at a freer and more open and fulfilling existence for us, at greater intimacy with both nature and others, and at breaking the grip of fear and material dependency that holds so many people in the tight grip of traditional life and traditional outlooks on life, despite our changed times. As such, I believe we must look beyond these and other familiar patterns of modern mobility to find new opportunities for healthier and more optimal life in the world around us.
Two other forms of mobile or potentially mobile community seem much closer to this goal. The first and more perceptibly robust one is our potential to participate in and expand the new flexible work opportunities of our times. This includes contract work, job sharing, and online work, all potentially providing us with income, greater time and location flexibility, and new reciprocating social relationships. This form of mobile community can begin through contracting organizations, temporary work agencies, or online professional networking and consulting or project work, and has the prospect to create both cooperative economic opportunities and true supportive community for modern people. One can even imagine networks of this sort adopting shared principles and standards of conduct, just as in traditional fixed communities, and fostering not just exchanges of work, but promoting cooperation in living, education, childcare arrangements, and health promotion too.
A more health-oriented and potentially enduring form of or basis for modern mobile community involves groups of people sharing a common goal or interest related to their well-being and personal development. Such goal-prompted communities might begin as physical or virtual cohorts of people pursuing education and skill development, or similar health and well-being goals such as forms of exercise and weight loss, walking and hiking experiences, and other quality of life changes. From any of these beginnings, these cooperative and mutualist but seemingly bounded efforts can evolve to foster more open-ended relationships. They might well create or help to populate more complex distributed community networks, perhaps growing to become decentralized across large geographic areas and supporting at least some of the needs of their members amidst mobility.
In the world now, we see signs that such value or interest based networking is well underway, using the Internet to link people who share common goals and life preferences, people who often share a natural closeness and maintain supporting relationships across a geographic distance. Common in the evolution of these relationship networks already is the reciprocal sharing living spaces and professional networking. In truth, such lifestyle networks, and the work networks mentioned before, may well be sides of the same phenomenon and coalesce in our time to form new distributed community networks of shared work and values, in place of or alongside traditional communities of shared location and infrastructure.
Since enduring mobile communities in the past have usually provided for the material and social needs of their members, a critical consideration for modern nomadic living is, in fact, how economic and social activity amidst regular or periodic movement can occur, and even be enriched and strengthened by mobility. As we have discussed, cooperative work arrangements have the potential to both create new community and enhance member mobility within their existing extended communities, especially as work becomes more information-based and virtual. Members of modern work groups often have the opportunity of coordinated co-locating and or complementary settlement, targeting specific towns and residential areas for their homes, or certain businesses and organizations as agreed community workplaces, just as immigrant and traditional itinerant populations often do today. Such arrangements offer the potential for cooperative job and work-sharing, rich and evolving community, increased mobility, and more flexible lifestyles than many people have today.
Finally, it is important to note that existing social relationships can readily form new communities as well, simply by beginning to organized travel together or by moving along their often naturally distributed structure, using personal introductions and requiring reciprocity. This form of community amidst mobility has considerable history and is often used by people today, allowing people to spend parts of the year in different locals, create new and deepen existing reciprocating relationships, and move more freely across the land amidst supporting society. This process was made much easier before our time for older people by retirement income programs and now, by the new trend of digital, networked, and project-based work assignments for people of all ages.
In all cases, regular and shared work, life, and movement can create intense bonds between people, affording new forms of enriching and mobile community, while allowing far more free time and flexibility than traditional lifestyles. In these ways, mobile life and work, linked to goals of health and well-being and not only economic necessity, holds the potential to create, and not just destroy, community today. My own experience of house-sharing, and life and work amidst mobility, is likely an important and widely available means to open up new mobility, and to not just maintain but even deepen supportive community in our lives, especially in comparison with more familiar and individualistic forms of modern mobility.
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Let me end this discussion of our potential for new and healthy nomadism, or at least for better balanced community and mobility amidst modernity, and this last idea of developing new communities that can grow and evolve through mobility (rather be eroded by or exist in spite of mobility). If you are using the natural health techniques I advocate, and still feel less vibrant and less alive than you think is possible, you are likely right in your intuitions. It may be time to explore and experiment with added mobility in your life, changing at least your daily routines as a start, and then perhaps your locale itself and of necessity, the ways you define, organize, and cultivate community in your life.
My experience, like that of many others, is that change and mobility in our lives almost always expand and enrich us as people. New places bring us new outlooks, people, and opportunities into our lives. And they let us look at old places and faces with new eyes. Movement stirs us to change, and then to stir and move again. In the least, movement increases our confidence and skill in change and adaptation, and therefore is worth cultivating for its own sake.
To be fully healthy and alive today, I believe we must consider and become more open to the nomad within us. This way of living is older, lighter, freer, and more natural than is typical today. It is a way of life that can be much more connected to the earth, and potentially to others too. Ultimately, nomadism has been and can again be a rich human life in supportive communities, a life of growth and connection and richer experiences, a natural way in and of the land, a way that is forever new and timeless.
Mark Lundegren is the founder of HumanaNatura.
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