Could we engage more of our brain by practicing original ways of being human?
The life of forager and foraged are inextricably interwoven: humans would not be what we are without our relationship with deer and oak, springbok and mangeti, in a similar way to the co-evolution that has designed the bumblebee and the foxglove.
The Old Ways have come down to us from peoples who were, or still are, fully engaged with their environment and its inhabitants, who possessed a deep knowing of the other-than-human. Most of us no longer have such strong ties to the land, although it is still there in our genetic make-up, our ancestral blueprint, and many of us long for it: hunting, gathering, crafting, hearing stories and singing, among many other things, can re-establish that link for us.
Palaeolithic peoples had an extraordinary knowledge of animal behaviour and ecology as evidenced by parietal and mobile art. My studies on the bio-acoustics of the palaeolithic show that people were also manipulating sound to interact with the species they hunted, drawing on an intimate knowledge of the cycles and habits of these animals.
Lifelong hunters have a sentient, or felt, ecology: they possess “skills, sensitivities and orientations that have developed through long experience of conducting ones life in a particular environment” (Ingold, 2000). Like learning a language, they pay close attention, constantly reading the movements, sounds and gestures of animals. Our capacity to pay attention and learn in this way may have become dormant in our busy adult lives, but when we have a need for it, we have the potential to re-awaken it.
Dirt-time will give us a better understanding of the inter-connectedness of life and its processes, so that we may start to see the world again from native eyes (Young, 2001). If we sit or walk the same land long enough, over time, invisible threads will start to link the different aspects of that place: the mice that come hoarding when the cherries are ripe, the foxes and owls that follow, the ruckus of small birds that come to mock the owl, the feathers that tell of a struggle between owl and peregrine.
When an indigenous tracker sees a print in the sand it is not in isolation: he/she is reading the song of the track, its whole story (Song, 2013). The threads are intact, telling the who, what, when, where to and why from one small piece of the puzzle.
As awareness of all this strengthens, neurones will be firing in the brain, forming a network of knowledge that comes only from experience and engagement in the world. The internal and external networks of our mind and our environment become a reciprocal mirror of each other: perhaps this is why Westerners use such a small proportion of their brain. I’d like to hope that the larger part is only asleep, that it hasn’t atrophied, and that dwelling in one’s environment, remembering our relationship with the other entities, and the relationships between them, will reactivate more of the brain and bring us home to our original human design.