An Environment For Life
While it is my position that everything you need to know about the concept of human health is contained within the workings of a maximal quality of life described elsewhere, the purely physical realm does present some unique issues. While the world inside your mind is enhanced by, but not highly depended on, your environment, the same cannot be said for the body. Human health is, at its core, an extension of the environment. There is such a thing as a “perfect” environment for health and, in its absence, the best we can hope for is to prop up the shortcomings to the best of our abilities, which are often grossly inadequate and limited by understanding. Even that can only happen after we have gained the insight necessary to even identify those shortcomings.
A perfect environment is one in which everything required is present to insure that the spirit, mind, and body are all functioning as designed and at their highest level, and in a way that supports the aspirations we all have for our experience in this world. This perfect environment will also support ancillary qualities like longevity and resistance to illness and injury. Given that description, the only environment that fits that model is nature in its original form. This is the environment in which all of the body’s contributions to our quality of life (a.k.a., health) are a guaranteed byproduct of the various tests and tasks presented by that environment, and our survival in it.
You probably perceive the paleolithic environment to be a harsh existence, and you are right. But that’s rather the point; it is from that relative harshness that our physical resilience arose. We didn’t always like what the natural world presented—much like how we feel now about going to the gym or eating well when so many other and more attractive options abound—but in doing so we cause the body to thrive. And nothing else ever created by humans can duplicate the amazingly intricate maze of influences that produced all of the positive effects of survival in a natural environment. No pill, no machine, no attitude, no practice, no philosophy, nothing can replace the benefits that are produced when we are forced to survive in a natural environment. Everything else is just a human attempt to find a more comfortable substitute to what we already know works. That is the entire mystery behind creating health.
It is interesting also to consider how someone would gauge the Quality Of Life of a species like humans at any given point in time. One viable candidate must certainly be the degree to which they express discontent. In light of that, it would be hard to make a case for an era in which humans complained about their circumstances more than this one, even as our species knows an unprecedented level of comfort and protection.
There are actually 2 forces at work in determining Quality Of Life that, when combined, present the perfect storm for the creation of a thriving human: 1) our genetic disposition for survival and procreation, and 2) the purity of the environment in which we are forced to do the surviving and procreating. It is in this “soup” of circumstances that Quality Of Life is produced at its highest level. Only one of those forces is still guaranteed, and the other can still be found to some degree if we care enough to look for it.
It is also valuable to point out, to those that believe the quality of the human experience in historical times was low, a thriving body is a huge determinant of that experience. In other words, humans have the ability to be happy and fulfilled in any environment, but that is a much tougher proposition when the body is weak and in pain.
We will all fall short of choosing to live in that perfect environment even if we knew where to find it. But, at the very least, we must never cease to recognize it as the gold-standard for the creation of health. The closer we can come to that through our choices of lifestyle and the environment available to us, the less we have to know about health, or even think about it. Conversely, the further we are from that natural combination for the ‘accidental’ creation of health, the more we have to know and the more we have to think. That is a challenge that we are not up to. The sophistication of the subject baffles the best minds on the planet today, as evidenced by all of the confusion about health; down to and including the meaning of the word.
If you’re finding this a little tough to follow, imagine that the original environment of earth is like a favorite song from your youth. If you can remember a recording from the 50s, 60s, or even 70s that was a particular favorite of yours, it may have occurred to you that there were many elements that comprised the specific memory: the songwriting (it was a good song), the performance (the musicianship was good), and even the production of the recording (the exact instrumentation, the various techniques used in the actual recording of the song), all contributed to the impression that song left on you. Of those qualities, the production of the recording involves an interesting time-stamp (if you will) in that it is indicative of the times in which the recording took place. Technologies advance with time, and even the specific techniques for recording music evolve.
That last point becomes poignant in the case of a popular song from an earlier time that is re-recorded at a later time (a decade or more)—either by the original artist, or a remake by another artist, using superior recording equipment and techniques. No matter how true to the original the latter recording attempts to be, it can never capture that original memory for you, and it usually leaves you far less satisfied than hearing the actual recording that you originally fell in love with… even with the inferior sound quality.
The point here is that—like the ideal stimuli for health—it isn’t a matter of technical perfection, or the ability to improve on the process. It’s always a matter of the experience that the environment produces. Just as the remake of a favorite song that leaves you unsatisfied, so it is with the manufactured environment that most of us live in. It is technically better in so many ways, and you can appreciate it for those improvements, but in that superiority there is a failure; a failure to create a stimulus for optimal health.
Nature knows what it is doing. We don’t. No matter how technically imperfect, we can never improve on the original recording of our favorite song, nor can we improve upon the original environment in which we were mindlessly healthy.
While it’s tough to equate the Saharan Desert with the frozen arctic tundra as one in the same when it comes to a “natural” environment, there is a common thread: humans can always adapt to any environment that is naturally created and shares the global atmosphere. That is evidenced by the fact that humans have lived and thrived in both places—and many others equally disparate—since well-before recorded history. The key is this: as long as natural processes created it, it has the potential to support life and to stimulate adaptation. The same cannot be said for that which is human-created.
For example, as I write this, Bejing, China is choking under a massive and thick blanket of smog produced largely by their coal-fired power plants. That is an example of a human-created environment, and not one to which a human will ever adapt.
So little of the world that once contained nothing but a natural environment remains, and so little of the human population alive today lives in what does remain, that we are in distinct danger of having no naturally occurring places left on the planet. Along with them goes any naturally occurring health. It has been said for quite a while that humans have now influenced every square inch of the planet in one way or another. In many of those places, nothing of the natural environment remains. In others, only traces. What we have created is the need for us to now attempt to duplicate the natural health influences of nature. We will fail at that to some degree. That level of sophistication is simply outside of our ability to comprehend. Once you realize that there is no health without a natural environment, you see how a failure to protect the planet is a failure of our own life.
So far, it seems, we’re not even trying to duplicate nature. Man-made environments so far are blatantly artificial, with barely any regard for nature. A great example of this is the heart of any major metropolitan area, like New York City. Millions of people now live their days within the confines of that environment, rarely venturing out into anything natural. Those who live there spend most of each day inside the walls of a high-rise condo and/or office, and little exertion is required to get through the day: elevators whisk them to and from the condo; taxis await at the curb to cart them to their destinations, and everywhere in between is hard, smooth surfaces for them to walk. Nearly every stimulus of health would have to created by and/or for you, and by intentional acts.
A troubling example of this are domestic animals forced to live in this artificial world. Animals are tragic victims of this environment because they have no choice. Humans are the only creature on the face of the earth to ever have deemed it acceptable to alter their natural environment in any way. And we’re only pretending that this is an improvement—the animals know better, and their health and overall quality of life declines quickly in this world. So does that of humans, actually, but we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s just the new face of aging. We’ve also taught ourselves a few tricks for propping ourselves up against the ravages of this artificial world; things like health clubs, low-cal diets, and pharmaceuticals. Failing those, city life takes a toll on humans pretty quickly also. Even with those things, we end up with a decidedly lower quality of life for most if not all of our years.
First of all, you accept the fact that you will not likely find unspoiled land outside of national parks or perhaps a few other spots that are impossible for you to own and/or where you can live. We’ve already concluded that there are precious few places left on earth that are truly natural. Bottom line is: compromises are the order of the day. Just minimize them as much as possible and as much as tolerable.
Ideally, you’ll want your primary residence to be adjacent, or as close as possible, to one of those unspoiled spots. I’m not suggesting that you then dig a hole, climb in, and call it home. In fact, I expect that you will make many significant compromises in the purity of your actual home environment, but it is crucial that you always acknowledge that they are compromises. Simply being aware of what the benchmark environment is will cause you to come much closer to it than if you were totally won-over by modern life and all of its conveniences.
Then, my hope is that you would first find opportunity to spend as much time as possible where nature is in an unspoiled and unimproved state. Then I invite you to interact with that environment in as many ways and to whatever degree imagination will provide; run, climb, throw, tumble, get dirty, eat what you find there, and these are just for starters. It is completely unnecessary for you to understand the “science” of why this is a catalyst for human health, it is simply axiomatic and innate wisdom that it is. And it is the most powerful catalyst there is.
You can try to simulate this dynamic in any way that appeals to you more—go to the gym, pound out the miles jogging on city streets, buy “health food” in packages, try to supplement away the deficiencies with pills, et al. But in the end, the health that produces is a mere shadow of the real thing.
The truth remains: the environment is the ultimate determinant of health.