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Re-wilding our language

by Frank Forencich on March 14, 2015

“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.”

John Muir

Every now and then a word creeps into our language and begins to replicate like a fungus, invading every available corner of our consciousness. The word takes on a life of its own and begins to infect our conversations and weaken our powers. One such word is wellness.

The word itself can be traced back to the 1950’s. In the beginning, it was proposed as a push-back against Western medicine and its mechanical approach to the human body. Critics declared that “health is more than the absence of disease” and advanced a new concept that was supposed to be more complete and holistic. Health just wasn’t good enough anymore.

But as popular as it has become, wellness is a weak concept with no significant history. It can be traced back a few decades at most and even at that, it doesn’t have much substance to draw on. No wonder people are confused: Is it now possible to be well but not healthy? Or healthy but not well? Why muddy the waters with conflicting concepts? What exactly is wrong with the word health anyway?

In fact, health has great merit and substance. Everyone understands what it means: doctors, veterinarians, therapists, trainers and lay people alike. And health has a immense, colorful history, full of drama, struggle and sacrifice. From ancient shamans to Hippocrates and Galen to Joseph Lister, Louis Pasteur, William Harvey and Jonas Salk, the history of health and medicine reads like one of the greatest stories ever told.

The problem with the wellness meme is that it’s become weak, pale, thin and flabby. It has no claws, no teeth, no bone and no blood. It’s sterile, corporate and lifeless. Even worse, wellness has now been watered down and repackaged into a marketing pitch, a glossy layer that’s added onto a vast range of products and services. No one really knows what wellness is, but it has a certain look and feel that can be readily hawked to consumers. Slender, smiling, Photoshopped models may look well, but they sure aren’t real.

And so the time has come to trash the word wellness and replace it with the word wildness. The beauty of wildness is that it has a deep and powerful history that puts us back into community with all the other creatures of the earth. It’s a powerful antidote to the domestication that pulls so many of us into the pit of sedentary living and ill-health.

Wellness is bland, indoor language, but as we all know, people are spending too much time indoors as it is. In contrast, wildness is a vibrant outdoor word, one that conjures up associations with seasons, textures, wind, water, animals and vistas. The word resonates with our innate sense of biophilia, our inborn desire to associate with living things.

We can feel our wildness at a deeply cellular level; it’s our original, Paleolithic nature. In contrast, wellness feels like nothing at all. It doesn’t inspire our spirit, our passions or our connection with the living world. When was the last time you saw a powerful, healthy animal in a natural outdoor setting and exclaimed “Wow, that animal looks really well”?

 

great-tiger

 

Wildness has heart and spirit, guts and gonads. It’s vibrantly alive and unpredictable; when pushed, it might well push back. It’s got Africa in it; it connects deeply into human and animal history, into the very spirit of the biosphere. Wildness is exciting, risky, dangerous, exuberant and in turn, highly erotic. In contrast, wellness is dull and sexually tepid. Do you really want to sleep with someone who is merely well, or would you rather sleep with someone whose heart and body is on fire, surging with animal spirits and ready to pounce?

Wellness is a low bar that demands little in the way of commitment or risk. In contrast, wildness is an aspiration to merge with the totality of the biosphere and the spirit of every animal that has ever lived. Wellness is simply a state of being OK, but wildness is the feeling of being outrageously alive. It’s what we feel in the midst of a really challenging outdoor workout, when all our juices are flowing. It’s what we feel when our hearts are pounding, our blood is surging, our muscles are quivering –when we want to quit, but we really want more. This is the feeling that keeps us coming back, over and over again.

And it’s not just about the experience of physical power in movement and exercise; when the action is over, the wild animal relaxes completely, into a deep state of quiet, ease, healing and rejuvenation. This wild cycle of activity and rest is millions of years old and extremely effective. In other words, wildness works.

So I say to hell with well. I want to be a vital, powerful, loving and exuberant force of nature, a good animal. The time has come to expunge the word wellness from our conversations about the body. This means re-thinking every program, every practice and every curriculum that’s based on this flabby, pathetic word. Most importantly, it’s time to eliminate the phrase health and wellness from our dialogue. At best, it’s redundant; at worst, it’s nonsensical. Instead, we ought to replace it with health and wildness. This phrase will bring some life back into our practices and our programs. It will remind us of our animal nature and the original source of our health. Like it or not, our health comes from our wildness. We can live without wellness, but once we give up on wildness, it’s the beginning of the end.

 

wolf-howl-copy

 

Note: Exuberant Animal will be in London, June 20-21, offering a workshop: “Health, Performance and the Human Predicament.” Sign up information: click here.

For books by Frank Forencich and more information about Exuberant Animal, visit the website

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Habitat is tissue

by Frank Forencich on March 9, 2015

A human being is part of the whole… He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

Albert Einstein, 1950

 

If you’re a health advocate, your hair is probably on fire right now. You know that the human body is capable of great things and that health is a kind of birth right. But everywhere we look, we see something else entirely. Lifestyle diseases and diseased lifestyles are everywhere. You know the list: obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, stress and depression; it’s an epidemic of epidemics. The question is “Why?”

Our knee jerk reaction is to point our fingers at the usual suspects: sugar, grains, gluten, sedentary living and stress. But to do so misses a larger point. That is, there’s something fundamentally out of balance with our relationship with the world at large and that imbalance is reflected in the state of our bodies and the habitat around us.

davinci-earth-optThis becomes obvious when we think about the human body in a larger sense. Native Americans have spoken about “the long body,” the physical body plus its life-supporting systems of habitat and tribe. The body does not stop at the skin; it is continuous with the land and the people around it. This view is  common in many indigenous traditions. In fact, our Western view of the body as an isolated, independent organism is unusual and in the context of human history, abnormal.

For many of us, the long body is an idea that will take some getting used to. After all, the body looks, at first glance, like an independent unit. But appearances deceive us. We fail to see the continuity between body and habitat because we have been trained not to. We have been trained to focus our attention on objects in isolation.  This leads us to all manner of delusions, most notably the delusion that the body can somehow survive without a functional habitat. Even the health and fitness industry, a culture that ought to be screaming in fury about the destruction of body-supporting habitat around the world, chooses to remain silent. The environment, we are told, is somebody else’s job.

But there can be no ignoring the connection between human and environmental health; the parallels are simply too obvious. In the long body sense, there’s no real difference between what we do to habitat and what we’re doing to ourselves. Not only do we exploit habitat, we also exploit our bodies. We treat human resources and natural resources as inexhaustible sources of wealth to be plundered. We do it by making impossible demands on workers, impossible demands on kids and impossible demands on ourselves. We drive all of our systems to the limit.

Our extractive, imperialistic relationship with the world extends deep into our bodies. And so we strip mine human health, we clear cut human health, we over-fish human health. External organs, internal organs; it’s all the same thing. We dump poisons into our tissues as if our organs were landfills. We pump cortisol and other stress hormones into our bloodstreams in the same way that we pump carbon into our atmosphere. Big agriculture poisons the land and abuses animals to produce products that poison the body in one of the most pathological lose-lose systems ever conceived.

Today it’s fashionable to abhor the clear cutter and the strip miner, but we fail to see that we’re doing the same thing to our bodies. What we do to mother earth is what we do to ourselves. Sugar and gluten are the least of our problems. What really matters is our failure to honor and respect the long body and the intimate relationship between health and habitat. Native people are right to be shocked at what we do to our bodies and the earth; they saw this coming a long time ago.

What we need now is to revive the long body view of our lives and most importantly, the continuity that extends across all of nature, from organs to atmospheres. As Darwin showed us, we are intimately related to all life on earth. Our bodies are utterly dependent on habitat; without habitat, there can be no health. When we touch one, we invariably touch the other. Environmentalism is a form of health care just as health care is a form of environmentalism. Until we see this unity, we will continue to suffer.

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Exuberant Animal coming to London, June 20-21, 2015!

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Join us for an exciting two-day training experience led by Frank Forencich, creator of Exuberant Animal. Firmly grounded in biology and evolutionary science, this event features functional movement training, meditation and intriguing presentations on the art and science of health. The experience is primal, transformational and intensely meaningful. Ideal for trainers, coaches, teachers and health professionals, […]

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