Being Human

By John Metcalf

In this Article...

John Metcalf, Permaculture Designer, dives into what it means to be human.

What is it to be human? This is a question, that in some form or another I have consciously asked myself throughout the last 15 years of my life.

It’s difficult to describe what encompasses being human, as there are so many expressions throughout culture, history and beliefs, which illustrate ‘what it is’. If we think of; Art, Philosophy, Music, Literature, Science, Spirituality and so on, we find that all of these are expressions of life experiences; from what we observe, feel, think, how we react, and many other expressions.

All of this, is what it is to be human; to feel love, when you see a flower bloom or a baby smile, to have an inspirational moment; as if from nowhere, when you find a solution to a problem you have battled with for ages. The same can also be said, when you feel saddened by something, fearful or powerless to help. These are the emotions that drive our thoughts, words and actions.

It’s good to get angry, but where does that anger go? How do we use it? Most of our lives, our daily actions are quite often influenced by being in an emotional state which is reactive, rather than responsive. This creates a chain reaction, which is sometimes difficult to control. Many of us live in this way, because quite frankly, the world we live in is set up to create stress and conflict. We live in a dog eat dog world, where acts of kindness seem to be overshadowed by celebrities’ private lives and reality TV shows.

How many of us struggle to have time to actually stop completely and breathe, look up at the stars or get caught in a moment of joy, at something almost nonchalant. It’s these moments that we can use to observe our minds and see what is happening.

But the sad fact is many people use their free time to relax in unhealthier ways, like watching TV, gaming and going to the pub to socialise. Not that I am condemning any of these, as almost everything in life can have a positive element to it. But it is in these new technological devices that have replaced their natural predecessors that the issue is found.

If we look back 1000’s of years ago, we see that our ancient ancestors had a deep connection with the universe, the natural world and ultimately themselves. We can see this evidence in many monolithic structures. Some which are still preserved today, which date back as far as 11500 years ago, like Gobekli Tepe, which blows away the current mainstream idea on anthropological evolution of civilizations. The detail and quality of artwork carved into the 5 m stones is beyond belief, and a structure within the site, has been constructed exactly to the true North South longitude. 

With structures built with this kind of precision, just as with the pyramids humanity must have been advanced enough to have the time to dedicate to constructing them as well as taking care of the essentials of life. Essentially these buildings represented an expression of our ancestors connection to the universe. We can also see this expression through art of the thousands of petroglyphs throughout the world that have common symbols of what our ancestors saw in the night sky, symbols like jacob’s ladder and sprites that were observed as messages from the universe.

How does any civilization reach this pinnacle? To reach the point where a society is prosperous enough to give time to expression through art, culture and language; there has to be a mastery of the basic survive and thrive skills. If humans have nutritious food, clean drinking water, shelter and warmth-then they are able to then focus on more important things, that truly make us human beings.

Human beings have never had a linear evolution. The cultural and societal developments have happened because environmental conditions have favoured human development. Most of the population of the human race are located in the mid to higher latitudes of our Earth. This wasn’t always the case. Many of the ancient monolithic sites are nearer the equator, or certainly within the warmer parts of the planet, rather than the temperate zones. What has enabled us to survive up until now? Knowledge and the ability to be able to adapt to an ever changing world.

We now live in a one click western world, where we can get anything we want in one day, but we have forgotten our basic human needs. No wonder why so many people are lost. Confusion about who we are, disconnection from our true heritage and history.

So what does it mean to be human? It means to understand the history of humanity and mother earth. To gain a true understanding of our history, we cannot rely on what we learnt at school, or even our history books. The study of Geology for instance, gives us a glance into earth’s history and it hasn’t been a steady one, just like the universe, our earth is in constant flux.

In geological time our earth is constantly moving. We can look at individual accounts and even into literature, and be able to see a correlation between changes in rock sediment accumulation and those accounts of human history recorded in that period.   

Through this we can see that our relationship with Mother Earth has been one that not only challenges the human race but also defines our evolution. It is this connection which I believe we have lost. When you find this connection then it is easier to see what is healthy and what can be destructive.

Connecting with nature; How do we realise in actuality this most fundamental of being? The practical art of preparing is now gaining a reputation among people who are already seeking a self-sufficient and off-grid life. Before the modern era, we would naturally be prepared for most eventualities. Preparing by growing our own food, mending our broken items, harvesting water, building our own homes. All of these acts are not only practically rewarding, they also empower us to realise we are more capable than we give ourselves credit for.

Preparing is actually about connection. All of nature prepares in one way or another, from gathering a winter’s store to wolves that have a coordinated hunting strategy. It’s only humans who have forgotten how to prepare with nature for the future.

Historically it was based on knowledge which had been passed down on how to plan for most of the eventualities that life could throw at us. We knew how to read the changes in the seasons, the migrations of the animals and the seasonal bounty of nature. We could read the subtle changes and respond to them to ensure the health and prosperity of the community. Working with nature, understanding our responsibility towards it and knowing how to survive when times got hard and if disaster threatened us, was essential.

It’s only down to the fact we have had a relatively quiet and comfortable period of peace on the planet the last 80 years, that we have become blinded to the reality of inevitable and unstoppable change. People in my view have become complacent to the fact that we have endured many hard times in the past. Upheavals of society, just like today, presented people with a do or die situation.

The purpose of life is for each of us to know our purpose! The richness and the abundance of this earth is beyond anything humans could create. To understand and accept this is the first step to being in harmony with nature, with the natural rhythms of life. The happiest people on the planet are the ones that have this balance and they are able to harness this and show it to the world.

It is the interconnection of ourselves and our world that encapsulates what it is to be human. It is the beauty of expression of culture, love and celebration. The search for knowledge about ourselves and our deep and ancient connection with the cosmos is, in my opinion the most empowering action we can take for ourselves and our Earth. 

The human spirit is indestructible. Forget opposable thumbs and voice boxes (although these are fundamental for the expression of our spirit).  It is our soul, heart and spirit which is the cause of the myriad expressions of culture, language and individuality we see today. Without the human spirit, we would have not overcome the atrocities that were caused by the ignorance of base man and the natural and sometimes sudden cyclical climatic changes.

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