There is an extraordinary collaboration between human beings and the plant kingdom. We are perfect symbionts: oxygen — the waste product of plant respiration — sustains life for us humans, and our respiratory waste – carbon dioxide — sustains life for the plants. Plants turn sunlight into nutrient-dense foods we can use to nourish and heal ourselves.
Our Paleolithic ancestors regarded green plants as their primary source of sustenance. For them, survival in the wilderness was a natural outcome of respectful interaction with nature. Knowing which berries were nutritious and which were poisonous and where to find edible roots required humans to communicate with green life in a way unknown to most of us today. Back then, there were no tests for hazardous ingredients other than sampling every potential food and hoping not to die from toxins. Today, indigenous people who carry on the tradition of respectful dialogue with nature will tell you that they know the qualities of plants, not through trial and error, but because the plants speak to them.
The ancient means of acquiring knowledge has been written off by science, which can’t measure, contain, explain, or reproduce these results. The relationship between Paleolithic hunter-gatherers and nature was one of trust: they never doubted that the earth would help them procure what they needed.
So, how did we lose this intimate connection with Spirit and the natural world? Anthropologist Jared Diamond traces it back 10,000 years to the agricultural revolution, when humans exchanged the fat-and-protein-rich Paleolithic hunter-gatherer diet for a diet based on grains. Diamond calls this dietary shift “the worst mistake in the history of the human race.” It led to centuries of war and conflict, he says, and gave rise to society after society of cruel masters, ruthless warriors, and hapless slaves.
With a diet based on wheat, barley, rice, and maize — grains with a high glycemic index, or blood-glucose potential — our early ancestors were essentially living on sugar. As my colleague David Perlmutter explains in his bestseller Grain Brain, our bodies and brains are still suffering the health consequences of this dietary shift. A brain steeped in sugar is sluggish and dull, as opposed to a brain fueled on fat.
With the rise of agriculture came the notion that survival and security were paramount and depended on a powerful ruler who could rally forces to protect the land, the peasants, and the grain stores. Humans became fearful and warlike, no longer trusting Spirit or each other. Direct experience of the divine gave way to religions overseen by intermediaries between God and man.
To find peace within ourselves and live harmoniously with all beings on the planet, we need to shift our allegiance away from the tyrannical mind. We can’t go back to the old ways of our Paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors, but we can reclaim their way of experiencing the cosmos. And we need this to upgrade our neural circuitry if we hope to achieve wellness.
As discussed in a recent blog, research now shows that most of the diseases of modern living are related to our diet. You can read more about the hazards of modern day eating habits in my book, One Spirit Medicine.