It had been several days since we started trekking into the Porcupine Mountains. The unrelenting rain and crashing thunder made us weary. Every tired step in our water-logged boots, our heavy packs exacerbating it, sunk us into the knee-high mud. We longed for the simplest of pleasures: a warm bed, drinking water and dry clothes.
As the storm made the evening dusk darker, we settled in for the night. Splitting up to set up camp, I filtered water over a fire. Disgusted with my rain and sweat-soaked clothes, I stripped down to just underwear and made my way barefooted over to the rocky mouth shore of Lake Superior.
The frosty water reinvigorated my spirit. I faced hundreds upon hundreds of miles of open water. As I weathered the gale and bullet-like rain, constant thunder hitting the waters illuminated the sky, turning night into day. Here I was: a lone man facing the edifice of God’s creation, stripped of all worldly niceties. I was a barbarian; our ancestors thousands of years ago lived like this, contemplating the exact intricacies I faced of this ‘brave old world.’
The Transcendentalists – namely Henry David Thoreau – described the reasoning for my trip best in his book Walden, or, Life in the Woods:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived,” Thoreau said. “I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear… I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life.”
Like Thoreau, my friends and I decided to brave the wild to pursue what our forefathers experienced by living off the land and navigating the stars, having no modern-day tools to assist them. We sought to pursue authentic emotion and experience, to see what the human body and psyche can accomplish unassisted. After all, humans are natural and emotional beings who need to pursue such pure experiences with no mechanistic distractions, to see what we are truly capable of.
However, we are abandoning the noble pursuit of seeking out genuine, natural experience in this age of post-industrialization and computerization.
Where once a skillful hunter-gatherer lifestyle was required, supermarkets replaced the need.
Where once wisdom and knowledge was acquired through generations, the internet gives us superficial “data” and “facts” at a moment’s notice.
Where once unbreakable camaraderies were formed through adventures and life-or-death situations, a simulacrum of bonding occurs on Snapchat and Instagram.
The human experience has been altered unnaturally. At one point in time, we worked for a long time to receive a reward, yet now we accomplish these basic life tasks in a moment, receiving dopamine hits instantaneously.
To me, it is apparent that a myriad of problems occur from this unnatural societal model, among them, psychological and mental health problems.
The rapid onslaught of industrialization brings with it consequences of perturbed emotions as humanity itself was brought from a peaceful, natural state of life to an aggressively fast-paced, unnatural state of life. In a study titled “ [The] Industrial Revolution left a damaging psychological ‘imprint’ on today’s populations,” which sought to define the impact of the Industrial Revolution on localities, the University of Cambridge, found that:
“According to 400,000 personality tests [collected from 2009 to 2011]… people living in the former industrial heartlands of England and Wales are more disposed to negative emotions such as anxiety and depressive moods, more impulsive and more likely to struggle with planning and self-motivation.”
It is thus clear to me that when our social and emotional loyalties are pledged to mechanized and systematized behaviors, it leads to these aforementioned issues.
Of course, these issues have not gone without notice. During the Student Council executive board elections in March, the ‘mental health stigma’ was a prime policy that many voters concentrated on, with candidates advocating for more outlets to address and heal mental health issues. Nationally, organizations such as the National Institute of Mental Health are attempting to combat it through resources and policy implementation. But, in my mind, these flawed methodologies in combating the problem is the equivalent of applying a band-aid where a tourniquet is needed because the source of the problem is mischaracterized.
The currently proposed solutions only focused on the external manifestations and symptoms of mental health issues whereas they should be concentrated at their roots. One cannot fix an innately natural sociological problem with mechanical solutions that stem from what caused these problems in the first place.
After all, the basic premise of this problem lies in the naturality of what we do on a daily basis, in other words the humanness of our lives. As I look around, I’ve noticed most people are engulfed in a soma-induced coma, perpetuated by the chaotic culture of social-emotional inebriation of politics, social media, work and college applications, etc. When I think back to my raw experience of being in the woods, I have to wonder: are we, as people, truly living?
Naturality and living do not come from external sources where one acts as a spectator, rather it comes from oneself. In this day and age, living an authentic life is a choice that must be made consciously, with the full involvement of the will. To divorce oneself as much as possible from the culture where daily satisfaction is ultimately unsatisfying, where the things that occupy our attention without our consent tire us and run us down, a choice on the individual level needs to be made.
Of course, these changes do not need to be grandiose. They can be minute changes. Eventually, those changes can and will lead to a grander lifestyle change.
Finding this naturality in one’s life can lead to self-fulfillment. So go out there:
Turn off your phone.
Take a hike.
Despite adversity and confrontation, do that which your primal soul demands of you and be unrelenting in your conquest to achieve it.