One of the biggest lessons I have learned during my life has to be how I’ve grown by challenging myself and being open to life’s challenges. One of my favourite things is to constantly be learning new skills and knowledge, whether that’s by pushing my body to do things that I once thought impossible, or pushing my mind to learn concepts and ideas that I once thought were outside the realms of my intelligence. My skills and strength have come from a conscious choice to grow and develop myself.
Whether it’s rock climbing, learning music, writing poems or my interest in anthropology, neuroscience or quantum physics, every aspect of my life has developed from the knowledge that growth can only come from challenge. Embracing challenge isn’t always easy, but that’s exactly the point. A fundamental aspect of rewilding is the understanding that each and every one of us has the power to develop ourselves,if only we learn to embrace challenge instead of shying away from it.
Until relatively recently, the nomadic lifestyle was a fundamental part of our history as a species. So how does the fact that we’ve become a sedentary civilisation in the last 12,000 years impact on us now?
Being nomads meant that we did not call one place home all year round. Depending on the seasons and our ecological context and resources, we – much like many animals – moved around in order to survive. This meant we were extremely adaptable in every way. Our bodies were put under regular stress and adapted to this stress with strength and resilience. For example, as hunters we used natural primal movement capacities to successfully hunt for prey, and as gatherers we were adapted to regularly squatting down in the bushes and climbing trees for fruit. Our movements were extremely varied as a result of the daily challenges we faced to survive. We naturally built strength in order to survive. Not only this, but the natural challenges of our surroundings enabled us to tune in to our highly developed senses. The unpredictable dangers faced by the nomadic tribe gave each individual mental resilience, and the sense of community and trust between each person within the tribe was most likely the strongest it’s ever been.
Being sedentary means that our basic needs are met without having to face the daily risks of survival in a natural and wild environment. Living in a developed, industrial society means that we are protected from nature. Our relationship with the wild has changed and, along with it, our relationship to challenge and personal growth. Many of us have jumped to the complete other end of the spectrum as we embrace a domesticated life full of easy solutions and daily comforts. Technology means we can get everything at arms length if we so desire. If we’re hungry or thirsty we can order food and drink straight to our homes or desks. Any work that needs to be done can be done by sitting down all day long. We have created furniture to fulfil our every comfort. We can even create microclimates wherever we go, live or work by turning on air conditioning. We no longer even have to adapt to the natural fluctuating temperatures of the outside world. But why does this matter? Why can’t we always be comfortable? Why would we choose discomfort over comfort?
What we’re talking about here is a mindset and perspective on how we can live and grow simultaneously. I am not about to suggest that we suddenly decide to let go of all our comforts, as that would not only be unsustainable but also unnecessary. What I’m talking about is shifting our perception of comfort and discomfort and taking on the challenge of discomfort when possible and/or appropriate.
Our highly domesticated environments are highly regulated, which means that we inevitably have lower tolerance whenever we step outside our comfort zone, whether this is an airconditioned office in the middle of the summer or the regularity of our predictable lives. However, it is important to realise that most often, staying well within our comfort zone is usually a recipe for stagnation and can even lead to a decrease in personal health and strength.
Ironically, the more we surround ourselves with comforts the less comfortable we become! This happens as we lose strength by always being comfortable. Our bodies lose their core strength, our skin becomes soft, we lose our adaptation to fluctuating temperatures and environments. We lose the skill to adapt and fight in the face of unpredictable and unforeseen events. The comfort zone we protect and maintain actually becomes counterproductive, eventually leading to a body and mind that feel less and less comfortable in any situation. The comfort zone can in this way be seen as a danger zone. So what can we do about it?
One simple, yet challenging way to start to build resilience both physically and mentally is by exposing yourself to cold showers on a regular basis. I started doing this about five years ago and it remains one of my favourite challenges. Apart from building strong willpower and emotional resilience, cold showers are said to have many health benefits such as boosting the immune system, circulation, and muscle recovery, as well as reducing stress.
Deciding to take cold showers on a regular basis is like deciding to confront the defeatist within us. The defeatist mentality tells us that, before we’ve even tried something, we believe that it’s something we can’t do. We tell ourselves we’re not strong enough or good enough to do it. But why don’t we believe we’re strong enough? I believe the answer lies partly in the fact we no longer know how to challenge ourselves to grow.
Learning to disassociate pain with negative emotion is also part of the game. Although at first the cold feels almost painful and like something bad, it soon feels exhilarating and healthy, and therefore positive. The same goes with any pain that is initially felt when we push our bodies close to their limit or stretch deeper into that yoga pose. Learning good pain from bad pain is also an essential part of stepping outside our comfort zone.
Many of us understand the crucial role of putting our body under stress in order to grow. We go to the gym, run marathons, train hard and push our bodies. Yet while this is obviously very beneficial and helps us grow, there may be other parts of our lives in which we stay well within our cultural and domesticated comfort zones, whether it’s socially, emotionally, or perhaps even financially. Confronting these aspects of our lives is about figuring out where our limits lie and how we can challenge ourselves to push them and promote growth.
On a personal level, I have become increasingly aware of the constantly evolving challenges I face in the different areas of my life. As a traveler who has been on the move much of the last four years, my nomadic lifestyle has been unpredictable, unstable, and even at times extremely emotionally painful. Yet I wouldn’t change a thing. The challenges I have faced have boosted my growth in the most incredible way and led me to be the strong person I am today. Not to mention that now, when a challenge comes my way, I know how to embrace it and have the tools to go beyond it.