How the shackling of our inner nomad has tested the mental health of humanity
Modern humans have been around for about 100,000 years and just about 8000 b.c.e. we started actually producing our own food out of the ground. The first city built was called Ur in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in 3800 b.c.e. and it was a fortified city to protect it from Nomadic raids. It was on this latitudinal axis that cities developed and the agricultural revolution spread around the world.
Up until this revolution only about 6000 years ago, modern mankind lived and knew only a nomadic life. A life which played an enormous role in our survival, our way of thinking and one which our collective consciousness has perhaps too easily forgotten. It is this loss of our nomadic past, our way of being for most of our existence that I think is contributing to the mental suffering we are experiencing today on a mass scale, and which has been exacerbated by the effects of the current Covid-19 Pandemic.
For most of our existence we settled only temporarily, with our minds always focussed on what was next over the horizon. We were always looking ahead, planning ahead, and expecting and living in a routine of change.
This ancient nomadic life was carved into the psyche of mankind. It developed over the span of 90,000 years and a million years if we include our evolutionary ancestors.
Creatures of habit, a fitting description of our human nature. But do not confuse our habitual qualities with a desire to stay still. We come from movement and progression. Today this instinct, though suppressed, has been rippling beneath us like an invisible but powerful undertow.
When we look a little closer at our collective and shared behaviours in our modern daily life, I beg to argue that our inner ancient nomad has found ways to express himself. He is there in our desire for adventure, discovery, making plans, creating and wanting change in ourselves and our surroundings. We are still looking to the horizon and changing the scenery, routinely, and habitually.
The gift of being human that separates us from other life is this ability to ask “what’s next?”. We plan holidays away to new places, home improvements, trips to exotic shows and events. We play sports and follow teams. We buy new cars, new clothes, new hairdos, arrange parties and family gatherings. We change jobs, and take courses to expand our minds. We plan our week the events ahead and ultimately we have been feeding our inner nomads without knowing it. Always planning what’s next.
What is on the horizon has been and still is a fundamental contributor to our ability to motivate ourselves. The coming of change has enabled us to hope, push through hard times and stay strong. Our ancient nomad has played a huge role in our mental health from the beginning and needs a serious tending to as we come out of the other side of this Pandemic.
The Covid-19 Pandemic has shaken this part of our psyche, this fundamental way we find meaning and thus motivation in an unanticipated and rather critical way. It took away our plans, our hopes, and our sources of motivation.
This is the Pandemic of our Psyche. Our nomadic existence has been woven into the fabric of our daily life as we have been trying to adapt to this alien way of living. The effects of our necessary response to this Covid-19 Pandemic shook the very roots of our being and some of the delicate strings that were holding us together.
I’ve observed this great loss in my work as a counsellor over the past year, as well as in myself since the beginning of this Pandemic. Everyone, from every walk of life and every age has felt this deep unraveling. Our view of the horizon ahead was suddenly no longer in sight and an intangible mysterious grief rolled in. We were grappling with a loss we could not fully grasp, only knowing we were missing a part of ourselves, a part of our daily lives, our daily purpose.
Mental health, a rather new concern in our history, has been gradually entering the conversation more and more. 2020 suddenly catapulted mental health to the forefront, making it an issue for humanity, and not just of an unfortunate minority. An emptiness has been growing within the human soul, yet without even knowing it, until this Pandemic struck, we had been nurturing our inner nomad and he had been playing a very critical role.
Conversation in my office often comes around to the exploration of our abiding nature as humans in an effort to study the self, our needs, our ways and develop an ability to extend compassion within. Too much of new age regurgitated philosophy encourages a leap over our past and our history. The goal being to crashcourse our way to enlightenment and a better self. It is one of my passions to dispel the notion this is possible. Our homosapien instincts must be utilised, tended to and understood. We must first know where we came from if we are to navigate and map out the future we need.
Lockdown is not natural. It is human to resist, to worry and to squirm from within. Lockdowns and social restrictions have taken from you and the quality of your life. What you are feeling is not extreme, it is normal. You are feeling intense emotions because very primitive parts of your nature have been forced into silence and shackled in place.
If you have felt this sense of loss too and wondered “why is it so hard for us to just stay the hell home,” I invite you, and all of us, to give yourself a break. You’ve been a roaming, searching, and travelling nomad for 90,000 years, neither you, nor I are about to undo these instincts.
So make space for that inner nomad. Get familiar again with this part of your being and appreciate it and make some plans! Look to the horizon, to the end of this period in our existence and position some wonderful dreams, hopes and desires for that road ahead. A horizon that is coming again.