Alan Watts telling the story of the Chinese farmer. You never know what life may bring…
Alan Watts telling the story of the Chinese farmer. You never know what life may bring…
In Theravada Buddhism there are four stages of enlightenment. They were originally couched in the language of how many more lifetimes one would at most need to reach Nirvana, along with the psychological descriptions of each state. We can dispense with reincarnation nonsense and just stick to the psychological descriptions of enlightenment. They are often described as different paths, the 1st path is the first stage of enlightenment, the second path is the second stage of enlightenment and so on.
1st path: One is no longer deceived by perceptions of self, and self-existent reality outside the mind. There is less attachment, less suffering, less craving , more inner peace, more love, more generosity. Obtained through the direct experience that the reality we see is largely a manifestation of our mind. The most common event that triggers this insight is called a cessation.
What is a cessation? A cessation is an event that occurs during meditation where the mind completely shuts off and reboots. Consciousness disappears, and then reappears. This is often referred to as a ‘blip’. A cessation deeply imprints into the mind that the reality we see has always been at least in part a creation of our own mind, including our sense of self.
2nd Path: Desire and aversion, while not completely extirpated, have vastly diminished and only appear when tired, or unmindful, and are easily overcome when they do arise with a little mindfulness.
3rd Path: One becomes completely and totally free from the compulsions of desire and aversion and their manifestations — greed, hatred, anger, jealousy, and sadness.
4th Path: The meditator has completely overcome the conceit and restlessness associated with “I” and has put an end to suffering.
How does one become happier? How does one become healthier? How can I function at my best? How can I be more focused, calm, and productive?
Biohacking takes the mystery out of human well-being. At it’s core, the philosophy of biohacking is that human beings are biological machines, and that human well-being is not an insolvable enigma. Instead by taking a systems-thinking approach, we can break down the causes and conditions of how humans operate, what causes us to be stressed out and unhealthy, and what causes us to feel vitality.
For a concise definition, I like this one from Dave Asprey:
Biohacking (verb): To use science, biology, and self experimentation to take control of, and upgrade your mind, your body, and your life
Biohacking (noun): The art and science of becoming superhuman.
His noun version of biohacking gets into a bit of hyperbole, but you get the idea. Biohacking is about making yourself better.
Common topics that biohacker’s are interested in include: What is the optimal diet? How can I maximize efficiency in my workouts so that I don’t have to spend two hours in the gym every night? How can I get better sleep? How can I raise my IQ? How can I slow down the rate at which I age?
Biohacker’s are fond of self-experimentation and with tracking results. They’ll use sleep apps that measure how long they were asleep and how much REM they got. They’ll look for variables that could have caused a poor night’s sleep — Did I drink coffee this afternoon? Have I been more stressed out lately? In order to test for stress, they will use heart rate variability monitors and check their resting heart rate upon waking. They’ll look for correlations between mood and the amount of sunlight they got. Do I feel happier when I get sunlight first thing in the morning? How does my diet affect my mental performance? Is eating too much sugar causing me brain fog?
Biohacking is about becoming your optimal self so that you can enjoy life to the fullest. It’s hard for me to think of a more rewarding hobby to take up.
Here is the opening chapter to my book, The Awakened Ape: A Biohacker’s Guide to Evolutionary Fitness, Natural Ecstasy, and Stress-Free Living. Available on Amazon
The happiest people in the world don’t wear underwear. If they have clothes at all, it is either a simple sheath that covers their genitals or a cloth they wrap around their body in colder climates. They have almost no possessions. They don’t eat at restaurants, they don’t use smartphones, and they don’t watch television. They don’t have money. They don’t even know what money is. What they have is more valuable — a sense of serenity and self-confidence that would astound the average person. A joie-de-vivre, an easy laugh, and an absence of stress and worry. They love freely and have a deep sense of oneness with the earth.
They are also the healthiest people in the world. They know little, perhaps nothing, of cancer, heart disease, obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, allergies, diabetes or even poor eyesight. They have never been to a doctor. They are athletic, strong and muscular. They do not gain weight as they age or show signs of dementia. Most remarkable of all — for 95% of human history, this described the life of nearly every single human being on earth. Skeptical? It’s ok, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I might not have believed any of this either.
How can we most enjoy the brief moment of time we have to be alive? This question first struck me sometime during my formative years when the finiteness of life and certitude of death became palpable and utterly undeniable. A period of existential crisis took hold, and I became obsessed with finding a solution. I consulted everyone from the ancient Greeks to the most cutting-edge science in search of an answer, mixing and matching like an alchemist working on the philosopher’s stone. Take two parts psychology and anthropology, add a hefty portion of evolutionary biology and sprinkle with a dash of Eastern mysticism. Wash, rinse, repeat, until a dozen years later I have emerged with the concoction you now hold in your hands. This final elixir is not at all what I expected to find when I first set out on this journey. Many of the recommendations to follow will seem at best odd, and at worse sacrilegious, to ears molded in the technology driven consumerist milieu that is the modern world. But it is in embracing our primordial nature that the highest happiness is found.
Since the dawn of our existence up until the advent of agriculture, we scoured the earth from Africa to the Arctic in search of wild game and fresh fruits and vegetables. Along the way, the forces of natural selection attuned us to our environment in such a magnificent way that our hunter-gatherer ancestors felt a natural unity with their surroundings, leading to a life of robust health and merriment. There are tribes of people alive today, hidden in remote jungles of the Amazon and the sprawling Kalahari desert who still live in this ancient way and enjoy the fruits of life matched to its genetic potential. Most people in modern society look down upon these tribes as relics of the stone age. How unfortunate that they don’t have access to the wonders of technology! Yet the scientists who have lived among these ‘primitives’ describe them as the happiest and healthiest people they have ever seen.
The claims I have just made fly in the face of everything that we have been taught to believe and what is considered common sense. I majored in philosophy in college and much to the chagrin of the people unfortunate enough to sit across from me at dinner, I questioned and analyzed everything — from the color of the apples on the table to the most arcane theories in quantum physics. But it never dawned on me that things like stress, worry, and heart disease are modern illnesses. I took it as a given that as I grew older I would slowly lose my mind, my stressful life would cause my nervous system to degenerate, and I would eventually succumb to cancer. Then, while in graduate school and writing my master thesis on the evolutionary psychology of health and happiness, I began poring over the anthropological literature on hunter-gatherers. What I read blew my mind. I didn’t understand how this wasn’t public knowledge. I wanted to run out on the street and grab people by the collar, yelling what I was learning to their faces, “Did you know that hunter-gatherers don’t get cavities? Did you know this? They don’t even brush their teeth!” It is partly in the interests of not looking like a madman, and saving your nicely pressed Banana Republic button-down shirt that I have written this book instead.
Luckily in the last few years, the ancestral health movement, popularly depicted as “the paleo diet” has become hugely successful, and people around the world are thinner, stronger and suffer from fewer illnesses and chronic conditions as a result. A smashing success, and for those unfamiliar with the basics of paleo eating I have devoted a chapter to it. But in this craze to get healthier, thinner bodies, people consistently left out what I consider to be the far more interesting question. Why is it that hunter-gatherers were so happy? Why did they have such great mental health?
It may surprise you to know that psychologists began seriously studying happiness — the most important question in all of human existence — only at the turn of the new millennium. Before that psychologists were focused mainly on treating mental illness, taking a person from being sick to functioning normally. That is where all the money was; people don’t pay for a psychologist when they are simply feeling what Freud called “ordinary human unhappiness”. Since the question of how to make the most of this one and only existence we have on earth has been my driving motivation throughout my entire life and was the reason I studied existential philosophy as an undergrad, I was naturally intrigued by this new development in the field of psychology. I wanted to get my hands dirty. I decided to work in a positive psychology laboratory while pursuing my graduate degree in Mind, Brain, and Behavior Research. In the last decade, the field of positive psychology has blossomed with thousands of journal articles and seemingly as many books published on the subject. The modus operandi for studying happiness has been to take a sample from our modern society and figure out the personality, social, and economic correlations to well-being. Does money buy happiness? Yes, but only to the extent that one isn’t poor. After that it doesn’t matter much. People with lots of close friends tend to be pretty happy and those who are neurotic are not. A lot of this research has been insightful and overall a great boon to our understanding of the human condition. But when asking the question, “What is it that makes a person as happy as possible?” the field of positive psychology has come up short in six key areas. These are the issues I seek to address and clarify. They correspond to the six sections of this book. Let us begin.
The Meaning of Life
How strange a thing it is to be alive! This maelstrom of conscious experience, with its sensations of pleasure, pain, thought, and vision. How different it is to be human beings, rather than the rocks and oceans we share the planet with. How did it come to be so? Why do we feel what we feel? Why do we have the desires, likes and dislikes that we do? The average man is too busy, lost in a world of click-bait ads and Walmart aisles, ever to ponder such questions. The smarter, hard-working, type A’s among us, are too focused on achieving their dreams to question why they have those dreams in the first place. Only in the aftermath of heartache do we even pay lip service to these most important ideas.
That people can live their entire lives without knowing what it means to be a human being is a great misfortune. For without this philosophical foundation, we are liable to flitter away our short lives mired in needless dramas and pursuits. This section is about steering you on course, setting you in the direction of what is truly essential. Lest you worry that I am advocating for a life of pure asceticism or self-flagellation, or that one must devote oneself to some serious cause, I can assure you I am not. This is a book about pleasure and fun, about health and happiness. Through a series of thought experiments, I will argue the attainment of such well-being is the highest purpose to which one can aspire.
Unfortunately, there exists a cabal of contemporary psychologists who believe that any deliberate attempt to improve our happiness will only backfire. Trying to be happy they say, will only remind us of our unhappiness. Even such historical luminaries as John Stuart Mill, the philosopher most famous for espousing the view that pleasure was the greatest moral good, once said, “those are only happy who have their minds fixed on something other than their own happiness.”
As a biohacker, I never understood the affinity for these mysterian views of well-being. Biohacking is the principle that the human body is like a machine, and if we can figure out how it works, we can improve the way it functions. Happiness is not some nebulous ether, but a biophysical state that functions on the principle of cause and effect. In this way, it is similar to having a healthy heart. No doctor would advise his patient to “Stop trying to have a healthy heart if you want to have a healthy heart!”. And no psychologist should be telling anyone that happiness cannot be improved directly. If your attempts to improve your happiness are failing, it is not because it is impossible. It is because you are doing it wrong.
The majority of the research conducted on the happiest people on the planet has not been done by psychologists but by anthropologists. This happened completely by accident. When the field of anthropology exploded in the beginning of the 20th century, scientists had no idea that while traveling to the ends of the earth in search of lost tribes they would inadvertently be discovering the happiest people alive. They went out to study their social customs, their ways of gathering food, the tools they use and their sex habits. The study of their well-being was only ancillary, yet anthropologist after anthropologist would come out of the jungle remarking time and again how fit, confident, and relaxed their subjects were. The public found this hard to accept as the reigning belief was that history was a progressive march towards a better culture and way of life culminating in the apex of human existence that was modern European and American society. It doesn’t matter where you are, people around the world have an innate bias to assume that their culture is the best culture, and that everyone else in the world are poor saps who had the misfortune to be born in the wrong time and place. Unlike you.
Enamored with the stories of hunter-gatherers, I traveled deep within the Amazon rainforest to see these happy tribes with my own eyes. After two days of canoeing up the river and hiking through a dense thicket of vegetation, stepping over poisonous snakes and hearing the sounds of growling jaguars, I reached a community of hunter-gatherer’s called the Waorani. I found the women and children to laugh and giggle constantly. The men were stoic, self-confident and stress-free. The anthropologists had been telling the truth all along. I have sprinkled tales from my time with the Waorani throughout this book.
The Why of Happiness
From an evolutionary perspective, it is pretty easy to understand why nature makes an orgasm so pleasurable. For our genes to live on in their quest for immortality, they must make copies of themselves. To do this, the genes of the male must escape from the body they currently inhabit and find their way into the body of the female, at which point they will bond to form a new person programmed to carry their genes further on to the next generation. This bodily exchange of seminal fluid, the crux of what carries us forwards as a species, would seem an odd and perhaps repulsive pastime that no one would indulge in if Mother Nature hadn’t designed our brains to release pleasure-inducing hormones in the process. Our genes reward us for doing their bidding by making the behaviors that propagate our genes pleasurable. Sex is easy to understand. But why do we feel love, joy, enthusiasm, and serenity? Not all animal species feel these emotions. So why do humans? What evolutionary purpose do these emotions serve? And what kind of activities and what kind of society would allow us to feel these emotions more frequently?
The flip side of happiness is unhappiness, which results from negative emotions. The evolutionary purpose of fear and anxiety is pretty simple. It’s not a good thing for our genes to wind up in the belly of a ravenous beast. So we evolved a defense mechanism against large carnivorous predators that might want to eat us. See tiger. Feel fear. Run away. But for the vast majority of us today the most fearful predator we will ever come across is our neighbor’s fenced in German shepherd. So why is it that so many of us suffer from chronic stress, anxiety, and depression? Why is our stress response on constant alert when we have relatively little to be genuinely worried about? The answer to this will be found in the dramatic mismatch between our current lifestyle and the one in which our genes originally evolved.
Training the Mind
The benefits of mind training are so extraordinary that if I were to just come right out and tell you about them, you might think I had gone off the deep end, was a gullible fool, or worse, declare me a charlatan. To win you over to my way of thinking let me first present an analogy, a fictional scenario that has a moral you are already aware of: the benefit of exercise to one’s physique and health. What would it be like if someone from a society of people who had never exercised a day in their lives were to meet someone from a society where exercise was built into the very ethos of their community? A society in which, from a very young age, all of its members engaged in physical activities like running, jumping, throwing, wrestling and lifting weights. As adults, they would resemble our Olympic athletes. Now let’s say a member of this society — we will call him Achilles— is an adventurous type and travels across the ocean to a distant land where he meets the people who are unfamiliar with the concept of exercise. All the people in this society live a desk-bound existence, and suffer the resultant maladies caused by obesity. How would a conversation between Achilles and a man from this society go? I’d imagine that their exchange would be filled with puzzlement and wonder and unintentionally offensive statements, as meetings between people from distant cultures often are.
Upon pulling his boat up on the shore, Achilles is met by a dignitary from this foreign land of roly-poly’s named Mr. Rotund.
Mr. Rotund: Well hello there! …garbled chewing noises …Sorry, sorry, excuse me, I was just eating. tosses candy wrapper to the ground… How do you do? I am Mr. Rotund.
Achilles: Hi, my name is Achilles, and I have come all the way from across the sea to observe what kind of people there are in this part of the world.
Mr. Rotund: Achilles! Ah, well that explains it.
Achilles: Explains what?
Mr. Rotund: You are Achilles! You have the muscular body of the Greek Gods we have statues of in our museums. You are only half human, your mother was a Goddess, which is where you must get that incredible physique from!
Achilles: Why thank you, but that is a silly legend. I assure you that I have two fully human parents, and there is nothing spectacular about my physique as this is what all humans look like. What I have never seen is a creature like you before. In our culture it is only the women that have protruding mammaries.
Mr. Rotund: Do you mean to tell me that you have no obesity in your society? Huffing and puffing as he waddles through the sand. That people from your society do not get diabetes and die early from heart attacks? Hold on..let us slow down the pace. I am getting winded. That they don’t have hypertension, strokes or keep their shirts on while swimming in the pool?
Achilles: Obesity? Diabetes, stroke? I have never heard of these things. Are these diseases you get due to your immense lardness?
Mr. Rotund: Yes! They are terrible conditions.
Achilles: Mr. Rotund, my friend, I do not understand. Why would you ever let your body get like this?
Returning from our imaginary meeting let me propose the following: Achilles, as depicted in our story, could very well have been one of our paleolithic ancestors. Anthropologist Jared Diamond has remarked that the hunter-gatherers he has visited have physiques that resemble miniature bodybuilders. And they don’t go to the gym! Their low fat, muscular physiques are the result of living and eating the way a wild human animal is supposed to. They move frequently, walk long distances daily, often while lugging heavy buckets of water or a large antelope leg on their shoulders. Do this every day of your life and you are going to look like an underwear model.
Contemporary life is spent sitting in chairs. As a the result of this sedentary lifestyle, we watch our bodies generate excess blubber around our midsections until the once beautiful, strong and powerful apes that we started out as, are hardly recognizable. For those of us less inclined to develop a pear-shaped corpulence, we use a technique to stimulate muscle growth and improve our cardiovascular system. We call this exercise. Modern life is so far removed from the way our natural bodies are supposed to move that without the intervention of regular exercise our physical health will rapidly deteriorate.
Now here is the important point — just as our physical health will decline from the sedentary lifestyle we have adopted in the modern world, our mental health is in equal peril from this unnatural environment we find ourselves in. The inability to pay attention, stress, worry, depression and anxiety are the mental equivalents of diabetes, stroke, and hypertension. Hunter-gatherers do not get any of these modern diseases, mental or physical.
Unlike Mr. Rotund, those of us in the modern world are lucky enough to live in a society where the benefits of physical exercise and sport were discovered long before the computer and car, and so along with a good diet we have ways to combat our poor physical health. But what about our mental health? Are there exercises to combat everyday stress and worry? If so, how often do we perform them? Are we mental Mr. Rotund’s, unaware that there is a treatment that would prevent us from getting these common maladies of the mind? Are we resigned to the idea that stress, worry, and low self-esteem are inevitable features of the human condition for which we can do little about? What would happen if we were to meet a society of people trained from a young age in the art of mental exercise, who grew to possess such great mental strength that some of us might be fooled into thinking they were divine? And what if I were to tell you that this has already happened?
One of the many hippies to travel to Tibet in the 70’s was a young Californian by the name of Alan Wallace. He had become fed up with western culture, but fascinated by Buddhism. He wanted to learn how to meditate at the feet of the greatest masters in the world and became a monk in a Himalayan monastery. It was there that his ideas of mental health were completely turned upside down.
The abbot of the monastery was giving a talk to the monks about a common psychological problem amongst Tibetans. He lamented that people have a tendency to think very highly of themselves while putting others down. At the end of the talk, Alan stood up and said, “My problem is not that I have too much pride, but that I often think negatively of myself. I often don’t like myself and don’t think I am very good.” The abbot glanced up at Alan with a sweet expression, smiled and said, “No you don’t.” The abbot didn’t believe him. He had never heard of the concept of someone not liking themselves before.
Similarly in a meeting between the Dalai Lama and American psychologists in 1990, one of the psychologists brought up the concept of negative self-talk. Since there are no words in Tibetan that translate into low self-esteem and self-contempt, it took quite a long time for the psychologists to convey what they meant. But this wasn’t a translation problem. It was a problem of conceptualization. Self-loathing? People do that? The Dalai Lama was incredulous. Once the Dalai Lama understood what they were saying, he turned to the Tibetan monks in the room, and after explaining what the psychologists were talking about, he asked, “How many of you have experienced this low-self esteem, self-contempt or self-loathing?”
Here was a psychological state of mind so ubiquitous in our culture, that everyone experiences it from time to time, if not every single day. Yet these Tibetans, trained since childhood in the art of a mental exercise they call meditation, acted like they were being told about some alien life form. The Dalai Lama turned back to the psychologists and asked, “Why would you ever let your mind get like this?”
The Nature of Reality
The final and most esoteric aspect of happiness that is left out of all those positive psychology books is talk about a deeper nature of reality. Philosophers on the other hand, have opined on this subject since the very beginning. The man who coined the term philosopher, meaning “lover of wisdom” was Pythagoras, who intertwined his philosophy into a worldview and way of life that only members of his secret sect were privy to. Concrete facts about Pythagoras’ life are few, as there are no surviving biographical sources from his contemporaries. What information we do have was written down many years later and presents Pythagoras as a nearly divine figure, saying he emanated a supernatural glow. Did he know secrets of the cosmos that have been lost to us today? Unfortunately, we will never know as Pythagoras beliefs died with him and his followers millennia ago. What we do know is that his society practiced communalism, had no personal possessions, followed a strict diet, adhered to an ethical code of honesty, selflessness, and mutual friendship. Advice very similar to what you will find in this book. While the wisdom of the Pythagoras has been buried by the sands of time, the teachings of an even more luminous figure from the ancient world remain. The teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, more commonly known as the Buddha, which means “the awakened one.”
What is it that he woke up to? Buddhist philosophy states that in our everyday lives we are overcome by delusion, which creates attachment and aversion and traps us in a cycle of suffering. By waking up from this delusion, we attain nirvana. Nirvana literally means ‘blowing out,’ as in a candle flame. It is by blowing out the flames of attachment, aversion, and ignorance that suffering is extinguished. The result is a mind that experiences sublime peace.
Does this sound too good to be true? As scientists we will examine Buddhism from a secular perspective, focusing on the pragmatic teachings related to ending suffering and increasing happiness while ignoring the dubious religious elements like reincarnation. How does this secular Buddhism stack up to the demands of modern science? Is there truly a reality hidden beneath our eyes that would lead us to extraordinary well-being if we could only see? Is nirvana the highest happiness a human could possibly experience? Do people actually attain it? Or at the very least, do they get close? How far along the path can we reasonably expect to get? These questions will be the focus of the second half of this book.
The Buddhist term ‘bodhi’ is often translated in English as enlightenment or awakening. Bodhi refers to a special kind of knowledge, that of the causal mechanisms that lead to human suffering. Our aim here is the same, to fully understand the causes and conditions that lead to suffering and happiness bolstered by the latest revelations in contemporary science. This book seeks to integrate two separate traditions of ancient wisdom with modern science so that we can live the happiest and healthiest lives possible. By learning about the environment in which our Paleolithic ancestors evolved and how our genetics are still wired to that way of life, we can begin to organize the outer conditions (the diet we need to eat, the exercise we need to do, the sunlight we need to get and the social relationships we need to build and maintain, etc) that will give us the best chance to flourish both physically and mentally. From there we will add the most successful techniques ever developed by humans to work on the inner conditions (our ability to relax, focus, and experience states of ecstasy and compassion, etc) of our mental lives — that of Buddhist soteriology.
This book is also about integrating what we learn into our daily existence in a modern world. Obviously we can’t all live like hunter-gatherers in the Amazon or Buddhist monks in the Himalayas; We have jobs, families and responsibilities. Within the pages of this book, you will find tips on how to live in a more natural way while still waking up every weekday morning to brave the congested commute on your way to the office. As you make changes to your diet, begin a meditation practice and stop using shampoo (read on), you will gradually notice a sense of calm and mental balance replacing the stressed out habitual thought patterns that previously occupied your mind. Your waist will narrow, your sense of vitality will increase, and even things like the common cold will be a rare occurrence.
I assume most people will take their practice only this far. That is fine. There’s a lot to be said for being happy, calm and healthy. But for those who feel the calling to make the best of their time on earth and reach the highest peaks possible, this book is also a guide that will point you in the right direction. Follow this path and you may find that one day the world around you has become a dancing, playful thing, filled with a previously unimaginable serenity and bliss.
Yesterday science writer Ferris Jabr posted an article on the Scientific American website called How to Really Eat Like a Hunther-Gatherer: Why the Paleo Diet is Half Baked. Some of his gripes with paleo are accurate, but not unknown to paleo afficiandos and others are simply not well thought out. I’ll go through them here one by one.
Diet has been an important part of our evolution—as it is for every species—and we have inherited many adaptations from our Paleo predecessors. Understanding how we evolved could, in principle, help us make smarter dietary choices today. But the logic behind the Paleo diet fails in several ways: by making apotheosis of one particular slice of our evolutionary history; by insisting that we are biologically identical to stone age humans; and by denying the benefits of some of our more modern methods of eating.
On his website, Sisson writes that “while the world has changed in innumerable ways in the last 10,000 years (for better and worse), the human genome has changed very little and thus only thrives under similar conditions.” This is simply not true. In fact, this reasoning misconstrues how evolution works. If humans and other organisms could only thrive in circumstances similar to the ones their predecessors lived in, life would not have lasted very long.
There is a difference between ‘surviving’ and ‘thriving’. In terms of health and happiness I would not consider the majority of the human race today to be thriving. Obesity is skyrocketing, mental illness is everywhere and even those considered to be of normal psyche’s are far more stressed out than your hunter-gatherer’s – who really do exhibit a remarkable lack of stress and worry. And while species do need to be able to survive new environments; and while we have evolved slightly since the paleolithic era, our genes have changed no where near as fast as our culture has. If you took a person from 20,000 years ago, gave him a haircut and dressed him in clothes from your local mall he would be indistinguishable from the other shoppers, albeit in better shape. However, that mall and everything inside placed next to a paleolithic village of huts would seem like from another planet. We are simply not adapted to live sedentary lifestyles, indoors and munching on the Western diet.
Even if eating only foods available to hunter–gatherers in the Paleolithic made sense, it would be impossible. As Christina Warinner of the University of Zurich emphasizes in her 2012 TED talk, just about every single species commonly consumed today—whether a fruit, vegetable or animal—is drastically different from its Paleolithic predecessor.
This critique of modern paleo diets is true. Although none of this is new to the paleo community. As Fabr himself writes, people who follow a paleo diet try and mimic the ones of their ancestors as best as we can.
But where Fabr really gets into trouble is when he starts talking about our ancestors and their health. He writes..
[ The Paleo Diet ] ignores much of the evidence about our ancestors’ health during their—often brief—individual life spans (even if a minority of our Paleo ancestors made it into their 40s or beyond, many children likely died before age 15
Fabr needs to do a little more research into the lifespan of hunter-gatherer’s. Perhaps he is unaware of this study entitled
Longevity Among Hunter-Gatherers: A Cross-Cultural Examination that found the modal age of death in extant hunter-gatherer tribes to be 72. While it is true that childhood mortality is much higher (which significantly brings down the mean age of death) in these cultures the reason for their early deaths has nothing to do with diet. It is believed that somewhere between 15%-50% all young babies died from infanticide. Many other’s during childbirth. Infant mortality in hunter-gatherer tribes was 30 times higher than in modern society and childhood mortality 100 times higher. The reason for these high rates is the natural dangers of living in the wild and living in a world without modern medicine. Ask yourself, would you have made it out of childhood if you had never seen a doctor? I know that I had a terrible case of pneumonia at age 2, and whose to say without the help of modern medicine that I would have survived.
We can look at the chart of the actual deaths of members of the Hiwi tribe, the tribe that Jabr references and see exactly what it is that killed them. Most interesting is the data collected from pre-contact times as that would be the most telling of a natural hunter-gatherer tribe. Although it should also be mentioned that the Hiwi have a higher rate of mortality, especially from warfare as in comparison to other extant hunter-gatherer tribes.
Of the 169 total deaths recorded, here is why they died.
Infectious disease (Malaria, respiratory infection, diarrhea, measles)= 70
War (with each other or Venezuelans) = 33
Congenital infant death (birth trauma and other childbirth deaths)=12
Human Caused Accident=7
Organic and pathological conditions (heart problems, cancer, liver problems, “swallowed tongue”) = 1
Nutritional deficiencies (starvation or malnourished)=0
Jabr used the Hiwi as an example of anti-paleo but looking at their mortality rate it looks like a glaring win for those who choose to eat a Paleo Diet. Only one single Hiwi died from a pathological condition(the most common form of death in the US) and considering that “swallowed tongue” was even considered in the category by the researcher’s that could very well have been the reason for that death. While 0 of the Hiwi tribe died from either nutritional deficiencies or starvation. This means that the diet of the Hiwi was certainly not giving them cancer and heart disease. Where does this leave Jabr’s argument? Basically “Lots of Hiwi died from malaria, therefore you should eat pancakes.”
A recent study in The Lancet looked for signs of atherosclerosis—arteries clogged with cholesterol and fats—in more than one hundred ancient mummies from societies of farmers, foragers and hunter–gatherers around the world, including Egypt, Peru, the southwestern U.S and the Aleutian Islands. “A common assumption is that atherosclerosis is predominately lifestyle-related, and that if modern human beings could emulate preindustrial or even preagricultural lifestyles, that atherosclerosis, or least its clinical manifestations, would be avoided,” the researchers wrote. But they found evidence of probable or definite atherosclerosis in 47 of 137 mummies from each of the different geographical regions.
Dr. Stephen Guyanet breaks down this study and what we can draw from these conclusions excellently here. Most importantly he writes that developing atherosclerosis does not equate to having a heart attack. Atherosclerosis may just be something that happens as we age and while it is a risk factor for heart attack, numerous studies of non-industrial cultures have shown them to have atherosclerosis and yet have almost zero incidence of heart attack. It should also be noted that only 6 of the mummies came from a hunter-gatherer culture (what an incredible sample size!) and these hunter-gatherer’s were from the artic, and had to adopt a very extreme diet out of necessity with almost no plant food. In other words, these are not your average hunter-gatherer’s- most of whom lived in more moderate climates.
And even if heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes were not as common among our predecessors, they still faced numerous threats to their health that modern sanitation and medicine have rendered negligible for people in industrialized nations, such as infestations of parasites and certain lethal bacterial and viral infections.
Actually many of the viruses that humans have fell to over the years came from animals that we were breeding. Hunter-gatherer cultures existed largely without these deadly viruses and hence had no immune system response to them when the white man came and devastated their populations with small pox and other diseases. Certain hunter-gatherer tribes never even got the common cold. While it is true parasites and bacterial infections were a problem, what does it have to do with modern people eating a diet based on our paleolithic ancestor’s? Absolutely nothing.
If we compare the diets of so-called modern hunter-gatherers, however, we see just how difficult it is to find meaningful commonalities and extract useful dietary guidelines from their disparate lives (see infographic). Which hunter–gatherer tribe are we supposed to mimic, exactly? How do we reconcile the Inuit diet—mostly the flesh of sea mammals—with the more varied plant and land animal diet of the Hadza or !Kung? Chucking the many different hunter–gather diets into a blender to come up with some kind of quintessential smoothie is a little ridiculous.
Here’s the thing about modern day hunter-gatherer tribes. They have been pushed to the ends of the earth by agriculture societies, and now only exist in the harshest of places. Places where most people have no desire to live. The Hadza and !kung live in sweltering heat of Africa, the Inuit in the freezing cold of the Artic and the Hiwi deep with the jungle of the Amazon where malaria runs amok and all sorts of other things large and small that want to kill you. Yes their diets are extremely different, but that is out of necessity of where they live and what is available to them. The vast majority of our hunter-gatherer ancestors would not have lived in such dramatic conditions and have far more variety and food available to them.
Even as diverse as the diets of the Inuit and the !Kung, they do have some commonalities. Neither of those tribes eats bread, pasta, pizza, cookies, or drink coco-cola. As Jabr himself admits, “The [paleo] diet is largely defined by what they do not do”
Meet Grok. According to his online profile, he is a tall, lean, ripped and agile 30-year-old. By every measure, Grok is in superb health: low blood pressure; no inflammation; ideal levels of insulin, glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides. He and his family eat really healthy, too. They gather wild seeds, grasses, and nuts; seasonal vegetables; roots and berries. They hunt and fish their own meat. Between foraging, building sturdy shelters from natural materials, collecting firewood and fending off dangerous predators far larger than himself, Grok’s life is strenuous, perilous and physically demanding. Yet, somehow, he is a stress-free dude who always manages to get enough sleep and finds the time to enjoy moments of tranquility beside gurgling creeks. He is perfectly suited to his environment in every way. He is totally Zen…..
..In contrast to Grok, neither Paleo hunter–gatherers nor our more recent predecessors were sculpted Adonises immune to all disease….Drop Grok into the Hiwi’s midst—or indeed among any modern or ancient hunter–gather society—and he would be a complete aberration. Grok cannot teach us how to live or eat; he never existed
Oh really.. Let us check out a few descriptions of hunter-gatherer’s who don’t live in such extreme conditions of the Hiwi. Here is Weston Price’s description of the Torres Straight Islander’s:
It would be difficult to find a more happy and contented people than the primitives in the Torres Straight Islands as they lived without contact with modern civilization. Indeed, they seem to resent very acutely the modern intrusion. They not only have perfect bodies, but an associated personality and character with a high degree of excellence. One is continually impressed with happiness, peace and health while in their congenial presence (p.187).
Or what was said about the people of the Marquesas Islands by the early navigator’s..
The people of the Marquesas Islands were enthusiastically extolled for their beauty and excellence of physical development by the early navigators…They reported the Marquesans as vivacious, happy people…The early navigators were so impressed with the beauty and health of these people that they reported the Marquesas Islands as the Garden of Eden (p.116).
While you can find pictures of clearly underfed hunter-gatherer’s living today in extreme conditions of Africa, when we look at pictures of hunter-gatherer’s before they were kicked to the ends of the earth we do find Adonis looking figures. Check out these Australian Aborigines
Here is another picture…Do you see how well built these guys are? Especially the one on the far left and the far right? This is about as perfect as you can get. And these guys don’t go to the gym or drink protein shakes!
In case you are thinking it is just the aborigines..it’s not. Here are the Waoroni Indians of Ecuador. Studies on them when they were first discovered showed them to be totally absent of hypertension, heart disease, cancer, anemia, the common cold, polio, pneumonia, small pox, chicken pox, typhus, syphilis, tuberculosis, malaria or serum hepatitis
Or we can take a look at the Asaro mudmen of Papua New Guinea. Horticulturists who eat similarly to modern day paleo dieter’s. Eating sweet potato’s and fruits from their garden and meat from livestock.
Over on twitter, Ferris Jabr proclaimed that he “sees no legitimate reason for prohibiting grains, dairy or legumes”
Well I’m going to give him a few. They aren’t optimally nutritious, and they have immunogenic and allergenic properties in their proteins. They also have higher food palatability and reward which causes you to eat more than you should. Dr. Mattieu Lalonde who got his Ph.D on organic chemistry from Harvard gave a great speach at the Ancestral Health Symposium in 2012 on just why you shouldn’t eat these foods. He is a very smart guy and this is well worth watching. Grains especially don’t come out too well. Legumes fair better and dairy does fine. If you are one of those people who can handle dairy I’m all for it, but many are not. And even Jabr arch-nemesis Mark Sisson says that legumes are ‘ok’. Although people should still be concerned about their phytic acid content, which stops you from absorbing a lot of the nutrients present in legumes. Meaning legumes probably aren’t as nutritious as their content contains. They are also high in lectins which are potentially toxic and can lead to autoimmune problems.
But the answer on grains is clear. If you are looking for the optimal diet, why would you make grains a staple of your diet when they simply aren’t as nutritious as meat and vegetables? Especially grains in their modern form. And the reason they are not as nutritious to our bodies has nothing to do with chance, it is because we did not evolve to eat them over millions of years. These are a relatively new food group to our species. Paleo logic, and it is backed up by nutritional data.
Ferris Jabr says that people like Mark Sisson and other paleo folk don’t understand evolution and science, but I think this post shows that he is the one who has it backwards. After all, Mark Sisson is 60, follows the paleo diet and lifestyle as best he can and has the body of a 20-something UFC fighter.
Ferris Jabr is a 20-something year old who thinks Mark Sisson’s lifestyle is illogical and has a body similar to Screech.
Here are some more quotes from Ben Franklin in the happiness, ease and tranquility of Indian life.
” To those who remained behind, it was often rumored that those who had gone over to the Indians had been “captured.” While some captives were taken, more often the whites took up Indian life without compulsion. As Franklin wrote to Peter Collinson May 9, 1753:
The proneness of human Nature to a life of ease, of freedom from care and labour appear strongly in the heretofore little success that has attended every attempt to civilize our American Indians. . . . They visit us frequently and see the advantages that Arts, Science and compact Society procure us; they are not deficient in natural understanding and yet they have never strewn any inclination to change their manner of life for ours, or to learn any of our Arts.
While Indians did not seem to have much inclination to exchange their culture for the Euro-American, many Euro-Americans appeared more than willing to become Indians at this time:
When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return. And that this is not natural [only to Indians], but as men, is plain from this, that when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived awhile among them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet within a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of Life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.
Franklin followed with an example. He had heard of a person who had been “reclaimed” from the Indians and returned to a sizable estate. Tired of the care needed to maintain such a style of life, he had turned it over to his younger brother and, taking only a rifle and a matchcoat, “took his way again to the Wilderness.” Franklin used this story to illustrate his point that “No European who has tasted Savage Life can afterwards bear to live in our societies.” Such societies, wrote Franklin, provided their members with greater opportunities for happiness than European cultures. Continuing, he said:
The Care and Labour of providing for Artificial and fashionable Wants, the sight of so many Rich wallowing in superfluous plenty, whereby so many are kept poor and distress’d for Want, the Insolence of Office . . . the restraints of Custom, all contrive to disgust them with what we call civil Society.”—-http://www.ratical.org/many_worlds/6Nations/FFchp5.html
Savages we call them, because their Manners differ from ours, which we think the Perfection of Civility. They think the same of theirs.
Perhaps if we could examine the Manners of different Nations with Impartiality, we should find no People so rude as to be without Rules of Politeness, nor any so polite as not to have some Remains of Rudeness
The Indian Men when young are Hunters and Warriors; when old, Counsellors; for all their Government is by Counsel of the Sages; there is no Force there are no Prisons, no Officers to compel Obedience, or inflict Punishment.—Hence they generally study Oratory; the best Speaker having the most Influence. The Indian Women till the Ground, dress the Food, nurse and bring up the Children, & preserve & hand down to Posterity the Memory of public Transactions. These Employments of Men and Women are accounted natural & honorable, Having few artificial Wants, they have abundance of Leisure for Improvement by Conversation. Our laborious Manner of Life compar’d with theirs, they esteem slavish & base; and the Learning on which we value ourselves, they regard as frivolous & useless. An Instance of this occurr’d at the Treaty of Lancaster in Pensilvania, anno 1744, between the Government of Virginia and the Six Nations. After the principal Business was settled, the Commissioners from Virginia acquainted the Indians by a Speech, that there was at Williamsburg a College, with a Fund for Educating Indian youth; and that if the Six Nations would send down half a dozen of their young Lads to that College, the Government would take Care that they should be well provided for, and instructed in all the Learning of the White People. It is one of the Indian Rules of Politeness not to answer a public Proposition the same day that it is made; they think it would be treating it as a light matter, and that they show it Respect by taking time to consider it, as of a Matter important. They therefore deferr’d their Answer till the Day following; when their Speaker began by expressing their deep Sense of the Kindness of the Virginia Government in making them that Offer, for we know, says he, that you highly esteem the kind of Learning taught in those Colleges, and that the Maintenance of our young Men while with you, would be very expensive to you. We are convinc’d therefore that you mean to do us Good by your Proposal, and we thank you heartily. But you who are wise must know, that different Nations have different Conceptions of Things, and you will therefore not take it amiss if our Ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same with yours. We have had some Experience of it: Several of our young People were formerly brought up at the Colleges of the Northern Provinces; they were instructed in all your Sciences; but when they came back to us they were bad Runners ignorant of every means of living in the Woods, unable to bear either Cold or Hunger, knew neither how to build a Cabin, take a Deer or kill an Enemy, spoke our Language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for Hunters Warriors, or Counsellors, they were totally good for nothing. We are however not the less oblig’d by your kind Offer tho’ we decline accepting it; and to show our grateful Sense of it, if the Gentlemen of Virginia will send us a Dozen of their Sons, we will take great Care of their Education, instruct them in all we know, and make Men of them.—
Having frequent Occasions to hold public Councils, they have acquired great Order and Decency in conducting them. The old Men sit in the foremost Ranks, the Warriors in the next, and the Women & Children in the hindmost. The Business of the Women is to take exact Notice of what passes, imprint it in their Memories, for they have no Writing, and communicate it to their Children. They are the Records of the Councils, and they preserve Traditions of the Stipulations in Treaties 100 Years back, which when we compare with our Writings we always find exact. He that would speak rises. The rest observe a profound Silence. When he has finish’d and sits down; they leave him 5 or 6 Minutes to recollect, that if he has omitted any thing he intended to say, or has any thing to add, he may rise again and deliver it. To interrupt another, even in common Conversation, is reckon’d highly indecent. How different this is, from the Conduct of a polite British House of Commons where scarce every person without some confusion, that makes the Speaker hoarse in calling to Order and how different from the Mode of Conversation in many polite Companies of Europe, where if you do not deliver your Sentence with great Rapidity, you are cut off in the middle of it by the Impatients Loquacity of those you converse with, and never suffer’d to finish it—
The Politeness of the Savages in Conversation is indeed carried to Excess, since it does not permit them to contradict or deny the Truth of what is asserted in their Presence; By this means they indeed avoid Disputes, but then it becomes difficult to know their Minds, or what Impression you make upon them. The Missionaries who have attempted to convert them to Christianity, all complain of this as one of the great difficulties of their Mission: The Indians hear with Patience the Truths of the Gospel explain’d to them, and give their usual Tokens of Assent & Approbation: You would think they were convinc’d. No such Matter. It is mere Civility. A Suedish Minister, having assembled the Chiefs of the Saquehanah Indians, made a Sermon to them, acquainting them with the principal historical Facts on which our Religion is founded, such as the Fall of our first Parents by eating an Apple; the Coming of Christ, to repair the Mischief; his Miracles & Suffering, &c. When he had finished, an Indian Orator stood up to thank him. What you have told us, says he, is all very good. It is indeed a bad Thing to eat Apples. It is better to make them all into Cyder. We are much oblig’d by your Kindness in coming so far to tell us these Things which you have heard from your Mothers; in return I will tell you some of those we have heard from ours. In the Beginning our Fathers had only the Flesh of Animals to subsist on, and if their Hunting was unsuccessful, they were starving. Two of our young Hunters having kill’d a Deer, made a Fire in the Woods to broil some Part of it. When they were about to satisfy their Hunger, they beheld a beautiful young Woman descend from the Clouds, and seat herself on that Hill which you see yonder among the blue Mountains. They said to each other, It is a Spirit that perhaps has smelt our broiling Venison & wishes to eat of it: Let us offer some to her. They presented her with the Tongue, She was pleas’d with the Taste of it, and said, Your Kindness shall be rewarded: Come to this Place after thirteen Moons, and you shall find something that will be of great Benefit in nourishing you and your Children to the latest Generations. They did so, and to their Surprise found Plants they had never seen before, but which from that antique time have been instantly cultivated among us to our great Advantage. Where her right Hand had touch’d the Ground they found Maize; Where her left hand had touch’d it, they found Kidney Beans, and where her Backside had rested on it, they found Tobacco.—The good Missionary disgusted with this idle Tale, said, What I delivered to you were sacred Truths, but what you tell me is mere Fable, Fiction and Falshood. The Indian offended, reply’d, My Brother, it seems your Friends have not done you Justice in your Education, they have not well instructed you in the Rules of common Civility. You saw that we who understand and practise those Rules, believ’d all your Stories: Why do you refuse to believe ours?— [interleaved is a sheet with no writing, but a sketch of what appears to be a hot air balloon]
When any of them come into our Towns, our People are apt to croud round them, gaze upon them, & incommode them where they desire to be private; this they esteem great Rudeness, the Effect of & Want of Instruction in the Rules of Civility & good Manners. We have, say they, as much Curiosity as you, and when you come into our Towns, we wish for Opportunities of looking at you; but for this purpose we hide our Selves behind Bushes where you are to pass, and never intrude ourselves into your Company.—
Their Manner of entring one anothers villages has likewise its Rules. It is reckon’d uncivil in travelling Strangers to enter a Village abruptly, without giving Notice of their Approach. Therefore as soon as they arrive within Hearing, they stop & hollow, remaining there till invited to enter. Two old Men usually come out to them, and lead them in. There is in every Village a vacant Dwelling called the Strangers House. Here they are plac’d, while the old Men go round from Hut to Hut, acquainting the Inhabitants that Strangers are arriv’d who are probably hungry & weary; and every one sends them what he can spare of Victuals & Skins to repose on. When the Strangers are refresh’d, Pipes & Tobacco are brought, and then, but not before, Conversation begins, with Enquiries who they are, whither bound, what News, &c. and it usually ends with Offers of Service if the Strangers have occasion of Guides or any Necessaries for continuing their Journey, and nothing is exacted for the Entertainment.
The same Hospitality esteem’d among them as a principal Virtue, is practic’d by private Persons, of which Conrad Weiser, our Interpreter gave me the following Instance. He had been naturaliz’d among the Six Nations, & spoke well the Mohock Language. In going thro’ the Indian Country to carry a Message from our Governor to the Council at Onondaga, he call’d at the Habitation of Canasetego an old Acquaintance, who embrac’d him, spread Furs for him to sit on, plaid before him some boil’d Beans & Venison, and mix’d some Rum & Water for his Drink. When he was well refresh’d, and had lit his Pipe, Canassetego began to converse with him, ask’d how he had fard the many Years since they had seen each other, whence he then came, what occasion’d the Journey, &c. &c. Conrad answer’d all his Questions, & when the Discourse began to flag, the Indian to continue it, said, Conrad, you have lived long among the white People and know something of their Customs. I have been sometimes at Albany, and have observed that once in Seven Days they shut up their Shops, and assemble all in the great House; tell me, what is it for? what do they do there?—They meet there, says Conrad, to hear and learn good Things. I do not doubt says the Indian, that they tell you so: They have told me the same; But I doubt the Truth of what they say, and I will tell you my Reasons. I was lately to Albany to sell my Skins, & buy Blankets, Knives, Powder &c Rum &c You know I us’d generally to deal with Hans Hanson, but I was a little inclin’d this time to try some other Merchant; however, I call’d first upon Hans, & ask’d him what he would give for Beaver. He said he could not give more than four Shillings a Pound; but says he I cannot talk on Business now; this is the Day when we meet together to learn good Things, and I am going to the Meeting. So I thought to my self, since we cannot do any Business to day, I may as well go to the Meeting too; and I went with him. There stood up a Man in Black, and began to talk to the People very angrily. I did not understand what he said; but perceiving that he look’d much at me, and at Hanson, I imagin’d he was angry at seeing me there, so I went out, sat down near the House, struck Fire and lit my Pipe, waiting till the Meeting should break up. I thought too that the Man had mention’d something of Beaver, & I suspected it might be the Subject of their Making. so when they came out, I accosted my Merchant, Well, Hans, says I, I hope you have agreed to give more than four Shillings a Pound. No, says he, I cannot give so much; I cannot give more than three shillings & sixpence. I then spoke to several other Dealers, but they all sung the same Song. Three & sixpence, Three & sixpence. This made it clear to me that my Suspicion was right; and that whatever they pretended of meeting to learn Good Things, the real purpose was to consult how to cheat Indians on the Price of Beaver. Consider but a little, Conrad, and you must be of my Opinion. If they met so often to learn Good Things, they would certainly have learnt some before this time. But they are still ignorant. You know our Practice. If a white Man in travelling thro’ our Country, enters one of our Cabins, we all treat him as I treat you; we dry him if he is wet, we warm him if he is cold, we give him Meat & Drinks that he may allay his Thirst and Hunger, and spread soft Furs for him to rest & sleep on: We demand nothing in return. But if I go into a white Man’s House at Albany, and ask for Victuals & Drink, they say, where is your Money? and if I have none; they say, Get out you Indian Dog. You see they have not yet learnt those little Good Things, that we need no Meetings to be instructed in, because our Mothers taught them to us when we were Children: And therefore, it is impossible their Meeting, Should be as they say, for any such purpose, or have any such Effect. They are only to contrive the Cheating of Indians in the Price of Beaver.—
Looking for a high intensity full body workout that you can do just about anywhere, anytime and you don’t need any fancy equipment? Here is a great one from the American College of Sports Medicine.
“The following is an example of a 12-station HICT program. All exercises can be done with body weight and implements easily acquired in almost any setting (e.g., home, office, hotel room, etc.). The exercise order allows for a total body exercise to significantly increase the heart rate while the lower, upper, and core exercises function to maintain the increased heart rate while developing strength.
Exercises are performed for 30 seconds, with 10 seconds of transition time between bouts. Total time for the entire circuit workout is approximately 7 minutes. The circuit can be repeated 2 to 3 times.
High Intensity Circuit Training seems to be an efficient means of exercise to help decrease body fat, improve insulin sensitivity, and improve V˙O2max and muscular fitness. As the hectic pace of today’s corporate world continues to infringe on the amount of time individuals have for exercise, these types of programs can offer a good option to help busy individuals improve their health and recover from stress via exercise.
The practicality and accessibility of HICT using body weight as resistance makes this exercise program a viable option for the masses. Individuals who previously believed that they did not have the time for exercise can now trade total exercise time for total exercise effort and get similar or better health and fitness benefits.”
Bhante G, a buddhist monk residing in Washington D.C found out that his mother was gravely ill and would die sometime in the next few days. He immediately hopped on a plane and started heading towards his native Sri Lanka. After making a pit stop in Hawaii, he switched planes to a jumbo jet. Two hours into his flight over the vast pacific ocean, he looked out the window and noticed one of the engines was on fire!
The pilots voice came on over the intercom and said that they would be turning around immediately and would hopefully be making it back to Hawaii, giving instructions on what to do in case of an emergency landing. As you can imagine, there was panic on board. People weeping, couple’s kissing, the fear of death plastered over the faces of all the passengers. Except Bhante G. Bhante G was having a grand ol’ time.
Bhante G had reasoned to himself that if he was going to die, being afraid wasn’t going to prevent him from dying, so he might as well keep his mind calm and clear. He thought to himself that he bad been doing a lot of good deeds recently and didn’t have any regrets, he thought of the moment as a good opportunity to meditate on the concept of impermanence and let go of his attachment to life.
I’ll let Bhante G explain the rest in his own words from his wonderful book “Eight Mindful Steps To Happiness”. The most clear and modern explanation of the Noble Eightfold Path out there.
“I felt no fear.I actually enjoyed watching the flames come out of the engine at 39,000 feet! The flames were blue, yellow, and red. You seldom see such blue flames. Sometimes they were streaming out; sometimes they were low. They looked like fireworks or the aurora borealis. While I was enjoying the drama, the hundred other people on the plane were suffering terribly. I looked at the other passenger’s from time to time and saw the agony they suffered from the very thought of death. They seemed to be dead almost before they died….
…We did make it back to Hawaii and the plane made an emergency landing. We went out the emergency doors as instructed, sliding down the chutes. Going down the chute was an entirely new experience for me. Perhaps everyone else on the plane had at least down a playground slide in their childhood, but I had never done such a thing in the poor village where I grew up. Thus right up to the end, I enjoyed it all very much.”
Let’s recap what was going on in this man’s life..
1. His mother was on her deathbed and he was flying halfway around the world to see her die.
2. As he is flying over the largest ocean on the planet the plane catches on fire and there is a decent chance that it is going to go down and everyone will perish. Can you even imagine the terror you would be experiencing on a plane that was about to crash over the Pacific ocean? What would you be thinking about? All the things you have yet to do in life, how you don’t want to die, how your poor mother is not only dying, but she might find our right before her death that her son died in a plane crash on the way to see her. How you would never see x,y,z person again. It would be absolutely terrifying.
3. Yet this man has such strong control over his own thoughts and emotions that he rationalizes that negative thoughts aren’t going to help him and decides to instead keep a calm mind and focus on the beauty of the flames!
Oh the power of meditation! Keep this in mind the next time you are stuck in traffic, bogged down in work or think you are in some other situation that is ‘just awful’ and ‘couldn’t possibly keep a positive attitude’. Just remember this story, think about the time that plane crash landed in Hawaii and of all the terrified passengers going down the slide, getting off and running away as fast as possible in case the engine blew up just as they were instructed. Meanwhile, here is this old, bald Sri Lankan man wearing the red and orange robes of a monk and he is going down the slide like “WEEEEE”..