A common theme many authors, philosophers, artists, and now it seems, bodyworkers and therapists continue to explore is the difference between tribalism and civilization. I honestly believe that one of the main reasons I have clients and a purpose in my life is because as people, our nervous system was not created to live in metropolitan or even modern communities. I say that as a city boy who was raised in the suburbs of Phoenix, AZ.
What many believe is that we strayed from the way the world intended us to live when we became "civilized," began using controlled time and schedules, invented currency, created governments, and well, you get the picture. We abandoned our primal and animal instincts to be more "human." The Old Testament even expresses this concept from the beginning when Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge and are punished by being cast out of the Garden of Eden, being forced to work for their food, rather than have it at an arm's length. Many people see this as a parable for when people decided to stop living in the wild and began creating cities and commerce, a.k.a., Babylon. If you take the book of Genesis literally, then you might take issue with the following as this writing rests on the idea that we share the same nervous system as all mammals and as we maintained during evolution.
So why is this a huge issue for our health and well-being? Our nervous system was not designed to take in the stimulus we've subjected ourselves to. The sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight) was designed to be triggered upon encountering a perceived threat while our parasympathetic nervous system (rest/digest) should ideally be our dominant state of being. All mammals have these two aspects of their nervous system, but it plays out in a sort of balance that enables them to survive and deal with stress in a healthy manner. What humans perceive as a threat has changed dramatically since the Stone Age. Allow me to demonstrate this a little more clearly.
If I live in the wild and survive by growing, foraging, or hunting for food, the only time my fight/flight response should be triggered is when external condition are literally threatening my survival. That might be a storm from which I struggle to find shelter, a drought from which I struggle to find food, or a bear chasing me through the forrest as I run in hopes of staying alive. When I have food in a safe environment and I remain unchallenged, I shouldn't have anything that causes me stress. While these are all serious problems, they're simple ones, unlike those of a modern society.
Now lets fast forward thousands of years later and look at the world we live in. What I perceive as a threat is considerably more complicated and frequent than my ancestors did in God-knows-when BC. I'm going to feel stress if I can't make enough money to feed my family this month and keep up with rent and bills. My sympathetic nervous system is going to be triggered if I have to have a difficult conversation with my boss, family, partner, insurance company, landlord, lawyer, neighbor, or anyone else who I feel threatens my sense of peace. I might even be triggered because my phone or computer isn't working properly, my appointment was cancelled, I didn't get the promotion I was counting on, my server forgot my order, or somebody stole the catalytic converter from underneath my car (Oakland, I love you but man this sucks to deal with).
And these triggers formed from trauma patterns during my childhood, some might even say from the womb. So my experiences growing up have already molded these patterns, and no matter how amazing my family might have been and how healthy my upbringing was, I still have to go out into the world around me and hope I can withstand the trauma patterns of others and live in the shape of the civilization in which I live.
I often have to explain this concept using these examples to my clients because the fundamental aspect of my work is rebalancing the central nervous system so that people can feel the health and wellness trapped by traumatic imprints. This supports other organs and systems within the body not functioning at full potential because of stress and trauma. Craniosacral therapy helps push the reset button so that people can go back out and get retraumatized by the world all over again!
So no matter how healthy and balanced our lifestyles might be, our nervous systems are tampered with fairly regularly whether it's from the bright fluorescent lights of the sign on our right, or the two people engaged in a heated political debate to our left. The stress is going to affect our health and well-being and unless we want to live on a commune or in solitude in the woods and find our food, this is the reality we face.
So we learn to eat healthy, regulate our nervous systems, engage in activities that bring us resource, and if we're really smart and lucky, we find occupations that we love and give us a sense of purpose. Good for you if you've been fortunate enough to live in a place that makes those things accessible, and even better if you've been focused enough to utilize them. We also need to find ways to withstand that trauma and stress; for some that's mediation, others exercise, others therapy, or whatever the individual needs.
However, even the brightest, most balanced, and most successful of us experience things we perceive as failure.
If we can acknowledge that our bodies were not built for the stimulus that we endure on a daily basis, we can find survival techniques within the concrete jungle to keep our heads above the water. We have to find resources to keep our nervous systems balanced, own or trauma/processes/patterns, seek help when we need it in whatever form it might present itself, and it wouldn't hurt to feel a bit more compassion for those of us wired differently from ourselves. We may not be designed for the world we've created, but it's the only world we've got and we owe it ourselves and each other to keep working at it.