The Hunter-Gatherer Paradox

The Hunter-Gatherer Paradox

Hi everyone,

Today's meditation class explored the link between our natural connection to other people and to nature that works so well for our ancestors, but breaks down in modern societies with millions of people.

Unfortunately, I know the audio quality was poor and so I have cleaned it up and made it available as a podcast and on the meditation course website.

I also have a full transcript below and you'll be able to listen to it on this page, and on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

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The Hunter Gatherer Paradox

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‎Show The Meditation Course Podcast, Ep The Hunter-Gatherer Paradox - 9 Apr 2024

The Hunter-Gatherer Paradox

The hunter-gatherer paradox is that we may as well have been plucked out of nature and deposited unceremoniously in the modern world. We have not evolved for the modern world.

Ethnic Groups and Our Genetic Inheritance

There are a lot of things that large parts of the population experience, which is a product of the natural environment, lactose intolerance being one of those things. If you are from certain ethnic groups then you'll have lactose intolerance and in other ethnic groups you won't, which is a product of how long your ancestors have been consuming cow's milk.

The Relevance of Ancestry

Now the thing is when we hear about that, we think "Oh that's a little irrelevant thing", but this actually applies to everything. It applies to our physiology and our psychology. We're the product of our ancestors in a lot of ways.

Impact of Natural Environment on Traits

Now the thing is about these traits, they're not fundamentals, but what it does prove is that we're shaped by living in nature and our physiology is a consequence of living in nature and that natural environment isn't the modern artificial environment.

Modern Society and Lack of Connection

But it's not just about the environment, it's also about the modern world connection with others or more relevantly a lack of connection with others.

Hunter-Gatherer Individualism

So if we look back at our hunter-gatherer friends, they have very distinct personalities and they are perceived in a certain way. Everybody has some skill somewhere or another and so they are attached to that skill.

Self-Development in Small Groups

They might be the best hunter, they might be the best person at finding the honeybee's nests, they might be the best person at finding a particular fruit or fishing or making the best arrowheads or something. Everybody has some skill and so that skill is seen as part of who they are, but overall their character is the thing that distinguishes them.

Personal Identity in Modern Culture

Now the thing is about the small group cultures is that they're a lot tighter, and who you are develops within the group in front of everybody. In the modern world, we're constantly meeting new people with a different cultural perspective and I'm not talking about people from different countries.

Different Cultural Perspectives are All Around Us

Every family has a different cultural perspective. There's just a different set of responses to particular experiences and because we're constantly iterating through this, meeting new people, having new experiences, connecting or not connecting or disconnecting in different ways, our physiology and our psychology is designed for a world where that doesn't happen.

The Struggle with Loneliness

The lack of a tribe, the lack of the small group who are so deeply and intimately connected in the ways that our ancestors were, creates for us an undeniable feeling of separation and it's not all that unusual. Getting on for 50% of the population, feel lonely some or all of the time.

The True Nature of Loneliness

One of the many things that we've learned is that this loneliness isn't a product of being isolated per se (although obviously if for any reason you are isolated you'll become lonely). It's more a product of how connected we feel and how fulfilling our interactions are with other people.

Gaining Fulfillment Through Social Interactions

And so this lack of fulfilling connection, this lack a of sense of connection in a group leaves us feeling separate, rejected, isolated and lonely. Pick one, pick all, sometimes, all the time, occasionally, it doesn't really matter.

The Fundamental Challenge of the Modern World

I think this is the fundamental challenge, which is never discussed or even accepted, but it's undeniable. This is the fundamental challenge of the modern world, is our ability to connect.

If There Was Magic Connection Dust

I was chatting to somebody earlier and it popped into my mind, let's say I could just sprinkle connection dust on everybody in the world, then the Israelis would connect to the Palestinians and the Ukrainians would connect to the Russians and the Chinese and the Americans would connect and all of these people who are squabbling interminably, about ideology and what's right and wrong and true and false and moral and ethical and so on and so forth would connect.

A World of Connection

Wouldn't the world be a different place? I'm beginning to sound a little bit like John Lennon here, but I'm not actually talking about necessarily the need to love everybody, although that's a wonderful thing. It's more about how separate we see ourselves. It's more about how separate we see ourselves from everybody else.

The Role of Meditation in Connection

I have come to learn from speaking to various meditators who've taken all sorts of different paths, experiences on other sides of the world, secular, or spiritual meditation.

Healing Disconnection Through Meditation

Meditation heals our sense of disconnection and that starts with the body, connects us to our emotions, they then stop becoming something to avoid and start to become part of us. And same with our thoughts. And then the thoughts and emotions of others begin to make sense.

Understanding Others

They don't make sense in that we can discern exactly what somebody else is thinking or even that there's any logic behind it. It's more a matter of the recognition that very often there's no logical foundation to whatever somebody might be doing, no benefit to them or anybody else.

Confusion and Disconnection

They're doing it because of the confusion that has caused them to feel the way they are. And then when you feel that confusion yourself and that discomfort, then it's easy to empathise and it makes more sense that people do and say things that aren't necessarily helpful.

The Journey of Connection

Once we get over that hurdle, then we're in a far better place. And this all happens through connection to the body.

The Power of Meditation Practices

And so I'm not going to do anything different in this meditation class. The usual sorts of meditations, I don't know which ones I'll do, but all of them, they're all connecting us to the present moment, to the body, to the mind, to others and to nature.



#meditation, #resilience and #mindfulness teacher (I’ve taught about 3,000 classes). Founder of @bromleymindfulness and @themeditationcourse
London, England.