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Get Lost Walk

A Grand Experiment

This walk would be a grand experiment.

It’s one thing to think an act of defiance, another to go through with it. If I didn’t sell this idea to Rose, she’d be the one showing me the door. So, I wimped out of telling Rose about my epiphany straight away. Instead, I tried to nail down the inner force behind the decision to walk three thousand kilometres, alone, while abandoning my wife to an uncertain fate.

Why would anyone trade the comforts of a city to go into deep dark forests, cross forbidding mountains and plod down windswept beaches? Why would you give up screen time, shopping, and a cafe latte lifestyle to swat flies, battle mosquitoes and ruin a good pair of expensive shoes? It has taken humanity ten thousand years to insulate itself from the perils and discomforts of nature. So why would any modern person willingly go back to the Stone Age on a quest for neolithic nirvana in the 21st Century?

You would have to be crazy, or at least selfish. On the face of it, fleeing the city for backcountry trails could be seen as the act of someone in the grip of a mid-life crisis.

I had spent my forties as a psychotherapist working within four square walls. That’s what you do when you go into business, isn’t it? You buy or rent office space, hang out your shingle and work indoors. It is what is expected. I didn’t even think about following a different path. Hard work, constant learning and a willingness to take risks led to a full appointment book, a waiting list and eventually a second clinic. I helped pioneer virtual therapy sessions for clients living in remote locations, like mining camps and outback stations. I hired a business coach and under his guidance developed a program for stressed-out small business owners. I wrote and recorded personal development audio programs, led workshops and spoke at seminars.

This well-trodden pathway promised what everyone seemed to want: steady income streams, a predictable life and a secure old age. But, at some visceral level, settling down and following a well-travelled road, felt, unsettling.

We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life. All that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.

Albert Einstein

Could it be that we are simply not designed for the modern, sleep-deprived, socially-isolated, sedentary, indoor, fast-food laden, artificial light-filled way of life? If so, then the comfort and luxury urban life offers is an illusion that our inner caveman and woman rebels against. Would adopting the ancient hunter-gatherer lifestyle would be a balm for the mind?

Mental health disorders are almost non-existent in contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes, even though they live incredibly difficult lives. Like us, they are wired to be resilient, creative, focused, social and healthy. But unlike most of us, they are also deeply connected to the natural world.

So, what would happen if a stressed, deflated, post-PTSD shrink at midlife took his addled yet still-curious mind and and ageing but still-strong body and plonked himself into the wilderness? The city is doing his head in anyway, so maybe a stint as a quasi-hunter-gatherer might unscramble it.

So, the reason behind the walk came down to this. It would be a grand experiment in pursuit of an answer. Could the modern epidemic of depression, anxiety and stress be cured by a return to a Stone Age hunter-gatherer lifestyle?

There was only way to find out. But first, I would have to tell Rose.

By Richard Margesson

Director of Free The Tree- a biosecurity and biodiversity restoration service on Waiheke Island in New Zealand's Hauraki Gulf.

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