Half of Americans suffer from loneliness. In my travels I've seen its prevalence around the world. The world, however, is spilling over with people. How is this possible?
To answer that question it's worth looking at how humans evolved. The Pharaohs of Egypt seem like long ago, but this was a recent event in the totality of our history. For 95% of this time we lived in tribes of 20-100 people that were completely egalitarian . Everybody intimately knew everybody. Everything was shared. There is a strong possibility (as reflected in some modern day hunter-gatherer tribes) that they had no words for "mine" or "yours". Their concept of autonomy was much different than today's idea of individualism.
Flash forward to 2018. The tribes are gone. We are encouraged to believe that success means having your own house and living in it alone or with a small nuclear family. The 4,000-5,000 ads you see in a day prod you to distinguish yourself from the pack: wear a better watch, drive a snazzier car, have cooler gadgets. "Exclusive" is an alluring word in marketing, but who is being excluded is worth considering.
Johann Hari, in his book Lost Connections, has called materialism a "junk value", comparing it to fast food. It hits the right signals in the brain but does not deliver the goods. Multiple studies have shown that people who think happiness comes from accumulating stuff and superior status suffer higher levels of depression and anxiety. This doesn't keep marketers from trying. That's the nature of today's economic game.
The philosopher Epicurus emphasized three things for human happiness: Friends, freedom, and thought. Author Alain de Botton has demonstrated how advertisers consistently link these three virtues to their products:
On top of all the advertising misdirection there are a couple more doozies: pervasive religious beliefs that the world is, in fact, not our home; and agriculturist ideas that nature is our enemy. Whoof! No wonder why so many folks feel like lonely soldiers trudging through a hostile world.
The good news is we have the power to break free of this matrix and reform what we lost. If you were born in the bottom 95% of human existence you were born into a tribe. From the day you popped out of momma everybody in the group had your back. That tribe had an intimate relationship with nature, from which it did not consider itself separate. Today we get to form our tribes. It is, thankfully, not that hard to do. The toughest part is taking those first steps. Something I will ponder in an upcoming blog post.
An old friend calls out of the blue. He's got a ticket for you to come down to South America and join in a 5 day hike through a remote section of the Andes Mountains. You'll be carrying a 40 pound pack for 10 miles a day into scenery few have seen. Here is the catch: You have to get on the plane tomorrow. Are you physically capable right now, or will you have to decline because you wouldn't be able to keep up with the group? Are you "Adventure Ready"?
You're walking down the street to the coffeeshop. Suddenly you notice dark smoke puffing out of a window. There is a little girl barely visible through the grey billows. "Help!" She screams at you. A scan the building reveals a pipe running up the side. It would be physically possible to climb that and get a hand on the window frame. But.. can you do it? Or the better question: Could you do it if you were in your peak physical condition? Or will you watch in high anxiety hoping someone else will arrive in time?
Georges Hérbert, a French officer, was stationed in the island of Martinique when a terrible volcanic eruption put several lives in danger. Through his acumen, courage, and physical conditioning he managed to rescue hundreds of people. The event seared into his mind a philosophy: "Be strong to be useful". Georges "Natural Method" of fitness training is about remaining adventure ready.
In our era of passive entertainment it's harder than ever to adhere to this principle. Where could you carve the time out to improve the ability to climb, run, leap, swim, and carry? How much more enriching would hours developing these skills be than hours logged watching a streaming series? How much better would you feel in your body for making the active vs. passive choice? How many more opportunities could you seize if you were adventure ready?
"The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek." - Joseph Campbell
"You know what a free-range chicken is," the farmer asked me with a knowing smile on his lips.
"We keep chickens in the coop through their infancy. During the chicken's adolescence a door is opened which allows her to walk into a tiny open-air courtyard. But here's the thing: They never walk in. The chicken is so accustomed to living inside confinement that the courtyard seems like a scary, unfamiliar place."
Initially this conversation cemented my understanding that the marketplace is a unfeeling entity, prone to deception, which doesn't hesitate to capitalize on consumer goodwill. Recently, sitting beside a coffee table loaded with beer bottles and cocaine, I glimpsed a deeper parallel.
I had met the guy on the rooftop. We were both renting AirBnB's in the building. He was lonely and wanted company. In his apartment he spoke of the women he'd conquered and mentioned his sister was a slut for dating a few actors as she climbed the Bollywood ladder. He compared cocaine quality around the world as he chopped lines on his coffee-table. He asked about my favorite drug.
"Judging by quantity of consumption it would be caffeine," I answered, "but the substance which has given me the best experience is magic mushrooms."
"What does it do?" He asked leaning forward eagerly, a large Kingfisher beer in his grip, powder on his nose.
"It turns off all the filters. You see and experience everything. You're ego begins to diminish as the feeling of connection with everything else grows."
"Oh!.." He exclaimed flopping back in his seat, waving a cigarette, "No thanks. Beer and cocaine for me. I'm an alcohol and cocaine kind of guy."
I was surprised by his reaction, but now I realize what I told him. I told him that a doorway would open in his coop and he would be nudged outside under the open sky, star-lit galaxies stretching to infinity. Like the free-range chicken, he found the idea terrifying.
There is a reason why sitting in front of Netflix with a glass of wine sounds much more appealing than a multi-day meditation retreat. It's no coincidence that millions of people are drinking beer right now watching sports, while only a handful sit in psychedelic ceremony**. We've all been raised in the coop. Our limiting beliefs, fears, insecurities, and shame mixes with society's morality, norms, and materialistic values to create the walls. Our frail grip on identity is the interior decoration. Pharmaceuticals, alcohol, and mindless entertainment make us more tolerant of this confine. A spiritual journey leads to the exit.
** This reason, it must be clarified, is not physical safety as research has shown alcohol to be a more physically dangerous drug.
Disclaimer: Psychedelics are unlike recreational drugs. They belong in a separate category. Always do your homework before taking a journey being especially mindful of "set and setting". To learn more about humanities ancient relationship to magic mushrooms, tune into Road Less Traveled Season 4 where we visit the Huautla natives who kept these secret ceremonies alive as they were lost to the western world.
Noa and her friends were trapped on the side of a reservoir in northern India. A dam had been opened and the water was rising quick, cutting them off from their route. They climbed the banks and spotted police officers in the distance, approaching them for help. The cops decided to use the opportunity to search their bags. After extorting them for 100$ for the gram of weed they discovered, they guided them to safety on another route.
I was riding a Bird (electric scooter) yesterday when suddenly I fell into a Santa Monica police sting operation. They were swooping up riders in batches, collecting money from each person for not wearing helmets.
Why do we love firemen? They protect us from external threats. They are on our side.
Why do we have significantly less love for police? They also protect us from external threats. But somewhere along the way they took on the guise of protecting us from ourselves, which almost always entails money. Swooping up scooter riders at 200$ a pop is significantly more lucrative than chasing purse snatchers. Why did it take LAPD 30 years to catch a sloppy serial killer dropping clues like breadcrumbs, but a beer drinking tourist on Venice Beach will quickly find a dark police ATV ready to disrupt their vacation with a 250$ fine? The vehicle weaving between prostate sunbathers is clearly a bigger danger than the 6 pack. But it never was about safety.
This "protecting us from ourselves" routine has been a boon for law enforcement for a long time. During the 13 years of alcohol prohibition they seized on the opportunity to take off-the-books cuts of the money. Legalization of alcohol in 1933 was disastrous to their bottom line. They needed new income streams under the same pretense. Today police unions and prison unions have joined hands to lobby hard against legalization of marijuana. Portugal, which took the bold step of decriminalizing all drugs, has provided a model for the entire world on how to handle the subject. 17 years later we pretend the incredibly successful policy doesn't exist. American law enforcement doesn't have a more humane, effective, or compassionate idea. They have a more profitable one.
Uber, Lyft, Lime, and Bird are also squeezing police department margins. DUIs and traffic violation profits dipping to unexpected lows. New policy is created to fill the coffers back up. Unsurprisingly these are formed under the same sham of protecting a citizen from herself.
This entire enterprise is as disastrous for individual police officers as it is for citizens. Wouldn't they love to be embraced by the public the way firemen are? Loved in the old school sheriff, Andy Griffith kind of way? Of course they would. Deep down those SMPD cops know that most adults understand helmet safety just fine, and are assuming a comfortable level of risk. The same level of risk they would assume by going skydiving, white water rafting, or stepping on the top rung of a ladder. Any one of these police officers would find it ludicrous if a citizen charged them 200$ for cutting an apple with the knife directed towards their hand. It's risky, but is it not their body to risk?
"You need to eat more protein," said Jelena as she squished my arm in her grip.
At the legendary Muscle Planet gym in Belgrade I got a refresher course on pumping iron from a Serbian who's stacked up titles over a bodybuilding career. We met in Cyprus while filming a Road Less Traveled episode in January. I lamented about falling off the gym routine. She invited me to Belgrade for a restart.
Would you also like to lead an adventurous life for as long as possible (in the spirit of Jack Lalain , Georges Hérbert, and Laird Hamilton)? The carbon machinery moving our consciousnesses through the world must endure without a breakdown. Good diet, rest, flexibility, cardio, and weight lifting are all critical components in this endeavor.
The weight part, which I've sadly neglected recently, has undoubtably saved me from injury more than once. I've fallen off Japanese castle walls, Dutch titanium poles, and rugged Welsh cliffs. Indian wrestlers piled me into the dirt, MMA professionals threw me to the mat, and Thai kickboxers tossed me out of the ring. Core and back strength from compound weight exercises are key in maintaining a body that can take some dings and keep chugging.
In Belgrade one of Serbia's fitness icons got me back under the iron.
Article in Serbian covered by Telegraf's Jasmina Stakić
Photos and video by Maja Dobrić
Follow Jelena Jaksic on Instagram
Here are my favorite compound exercises: (Proper form is critical when putting your body under weight. Never compromise form to lift heavier).
Zach Vincent was mugged in Mexico City's central park. It was an assault that left him sputtering, "Look at that bru.. look at that perfect family having a picnic!"
Mexican towns are constructed in the world's imagination by films of hardship and dystopia. A creation which began with grainy westerns, the cowboy riding into a dusty plaza with the aura of violence soon to erupt. Later tales of cartels solidify the image: Mexico is a dangerous place.
As Zach and I walked though Chapultapec park it was clear that the city had other story lines to share. A place where neighborhoods still retain the intimacy lost to most of North America. Mom and pop shops thrive. Food spills out from restaurants to the side walk and then moves through the streets on carts. Colonial architecture mixes with modern design touches, creating fresh energy with roots in history.
Zach was the perfect cameraman for my new project. Talented, hungry, and well traveled; yet had never been to Mexico City. Through his lens I knew we'd get a professional shot tinged with the curiosity and enthusiasm of discovery. In his shots the viewer will see storylines that may never be fully articulated, but that's exactly the point. A good show, just like a good trip, shouldn't tie things up with a bow, but rather leave loose threads to work their way around the imagination.
I've now filming for three projects in CDMX, including two Road Less Traveled episodes. There are stories for a dozen more. Few cities in the world contain such an abundance of narratives, history, and magic. Your visit will surely unlock something unique and unexpected.
A haircut in Sarajevo left me ruminating on the dangers of tribalism and nationalism. Anyone who understands history will find this clear. What can we do individually to combat this trend? Besides political action we can work to change ourselves and have that change radiate out to our friend groups and community.
Some of the ways to break down the mental borders of tribalism are:
How we begin our days and end them has an enormous impact on quality of life. Doing it mindlessly leads to a trap: scrolling social media, light pumping into the eyes and comparison stirring up the brain. Sleep comes later and dreams are anxious. As an experiment sit in your dark room, let your eyes adjust, and then turn on your phone. Notice the amount of light that is now illuminating the space. Next scroll social media for 5 minutes, stop, and take note of your state. Are you full of contentment and peace?
For healthier rest try these elements to a healthy evening routine:
Venice Beach has had one hell of a roller coaster ride, but are the twists and turns about to give way to a dull cruise into blandness? The fate of Helmut's ice cream shop could be a watershed moment for the once proudly weird neighborhood.
In 1905 tabbacco tycoon Abbot Kinney created this beach resort in the style of its Italian namesake, complete with canals and gondolas. A few decades later it was covered with oil rigs. Next it transitioned from a beat generation hub, bodybuilding mecca, to a so called "slum by the sea" both edgy and dangerous. Recently a wave of tech has reimagined the neighborhood as "Silicon Beach", a sunny, gentrified office park.
It's in the hands of new tech residents, the remaining old guard locals, and the stream of tourists to decide what kind of Venice they want to experience: the same options or something different? Hinano or the Habit? Groundworks or Starbucks?
The market is now testing this neighborhood for its interest in homogeneity. Is the next phase of Venice to resemble any given strip mall in the America? Where we spend our dollars will answer this question. Charly Temmel's fate may predict the verdict.
So you had a little travel fling.. right on! Romantic connection is a beautiful, enlivening thing, It's a mind expanding experience (if you are actually taking interest in the contents of each other's brains).
Now you're back home and still flirting over a texting app. An invitation appears: "Come back and see me." You flip open your laptop and start browsing flights.
It's an admirable move. The mark of a romantic soul. However, let's adjust expectations and strategy before buying that ticket. Misadventure may await you. Are you ready for it?
These are ever present possibilities, but don't be dissuaded. Instead, change your perspective and approach:
Revisiting a travel fling is always a toss of the dice, but with the right preparation you can stack the odds in favor of a winning roll. By setting a realistic frame and controling expectations one can have a memorable trip no matter which numbers turn up. And remember the goal is that both people end up feeling empowered from this interaction. Let's all leave a trail of beautiful memories in our wake. Be honest. Be kind. Be your best self.
I'm Jonathan Legg
The road has been my greatest teacher.. challenging stagnant beliefs, disarming prejudices, and developing understanding of others. I hope the content on this blog will bring a sliver of that juju to you.