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Discovering My Inner Ape

  • Profile photo of Zander Hathaway Jun 5, 2012

    In a dream state, carried in the clutches of a great horned owl, I watched my shadow grow smaller. Through a dark and cloudy sky, I drifted across a vast ocean until the clouds parted ways and a warm breeze lifted my spirit. I approached a far away land, covered in mountainous jungle. Floating over the treetops, the sunlight illuminated a village, nearly hidden within the wilderness. I saw lively men and women, elders and children, appearing in simultaneous work and play. Enchanted by the sweet smell of ripe mangos, I land softly in a clearing and felt an intense presence around me. Through rustling leaves, I noticed two eyes peering down from a giant tree. The creature descended and momentarily stood upright. This was no human, but a wild bonobo, moving forward on all fours to greet me. After looking directly into my eyes for a long moment, he extended a gesture of support with a reassuring smile. As I took his hand, I became aware of an important message. “Let go of the illusion,” he beckoned without words, “Be free!”

    The Journey Begins
    In recent years, I have become increasingly aware of my disconnection from the natural world and dependency on technology (a condition sometimes referred to as Nature Deficit Disorder), and how this has impacted my health and well-being. When I realized that industrial food and medicine were actually making me sicker, I began learning about natural health and alternative medicine. While some modalities may be more scientific and others more mystical, those I found most conducive to resilient health are the more holistic ones. Many of these solutions are being modeled for us in nature, particularly by the other apes. Surprisingly, I’ve met many people who were not aware that humans are scientifically classified as great apes. By observing our closest cousins (orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and bonobos), we can gain profound wisdom about ourselves and relationship with the outside world. The more my lifestyle is inspired by the other apes, the happier and healthier I feel.  I am incredibly grateful for the loving support of so many amazing friends, family, teachers, and mentors along the way. I honor them all as healers in my life, yet many would say that one’s only true healer is within.

    Welcome to the Machine
    It wasn’t a very warm welcome. At over ten pounds, I put up a strong fight as the doctor grabbed at my head with his forceps. With a powerful dose of morphine for my mom and a surgical C-section for me, I was successfully delivered into the sterile, white world of high-tech commercial healthcare in the Silicon Valley of California. Perhaps as a biological good luck charm, I was born with a “horseshoe” kidney, which means my two kidneys somehow fused together and functionally act as one. As a protective measure, I was not allowed to engage in contact sports or other risky activities. Instead, I was directed to more cerebral endeavors.

    On the somewhat healthier side of the standard American diet, my family consumed an array of organic whole grains, meat, eggs, dairy, fruit, veggies, legumes, processed “health” foods, and many different junk foods in moderation. I was congested virtually all of the time, but had no particular food allergies (but I would attribute it to the normal mucous-forming effects of dairy, grains, and sugar). I was sick somewhat often, with conditions like the cold, flu, strep throat, and bronchitis. We took the typical Western approach with allopathic medical doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceuticals (such as ibuprofen, antacids, aspirin, and various prescriptions). For over two decades, I was engrained with a host of processed foods and synthetic drugs. Beyond a better diet, I also needed to be outside, actively moving, breathing fresh air, and engaged in the natural world around me.

    Sitting and Thinking
    My childhood was predominantly spent in the mental realm, generally disconnected from my body and encouraged to develop skills with language, math, science, drawing, music, acting, and especially church activities. While I am grateful for many of these skills, they came at a cost to my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.  The influence of fundamentalist “non-denominational” Christianity upon my psyche was profound. At the age of four, I confessed my inherent evil nature and accepted Jesus as my personal savior, highly motivated by the threat of never-ending punishment in Hell. I was made to believe that several members of my own family and friends were going to burn for eternity, for not believing what we did. My interest in the natural world gradually diminished, as I began postponing happiness into an imagined afterlife. Outside of school and church, I spent most of my free time sitting in front of the TV, watching movies, and playing video games. When I was just beginning the 5th grade, my mom decided to home-school both me and my sister. I was curious about many subjects, but Bible books seemed to comprise the lion’s share of my coursework. I grew frustrated and angry with all forms of control and began seriously rebelling. After two painful years, I was overjoyed to return to the public school system and interface with other people and worldviews.

    By the time I got into Little League baseball and soccer, I was relatively tall, skinny, and uncoordinated. I heard “chicken legs” more than once, and with feet that flared out, I also became acquainted with the term “duck feet”. Despite the funny bird names, I pushed myself to catch up physically. In both junior high and high school, I unsuccessfully tried out for the basketball teams (which at least gave me some good workouts). Ultimately, I was more empowered to earn good grades (which determined my monetary allowance), and I succeeded in trying out for theater roles and drumming for our jazz and marching bands. However, all the hours sitting on drum stools (with poor  posture) and carrying a large bass drum around a football field were tasking on my physical structure. It was then that I began cracking my neck to relieve tension.

    Breaking Free
    As my pain and frustration grew, I began challenging authority figures and questioning the assumptions behind the dogma I had been raised to believe. Just after my rebellion began, my mom was diagnosed with serious breast cancer and opted for allopathic medicine (surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation) along with more natural approaches like juicing vegetables. Over a period of six months, however, the cancer continued to spread, and the harsh treatments seemed to only contribute to her rapid degeneration and death. It was a traumatic loss for our family and friends, yet some wondered why I showed such little emotion. Inside, I felt a strange mix of sadness, anger, and shame in perceiving that I was a major source of her stress, joy in being liberated from her control, strangely detached (since she taught me that the after-life was all that really mattered), and perhaps also in denial that this was all really happening.

    When her brother died from stomach cancer earlier that same year, I learned that almost everyone on my mom’s side of my family had died from one form of cancer or another. Believing that there was no cure for this notorious disease (as much as I hoped “they” would come up with one), I came to the logical conclusion that I would most likely get cancer and die relatively young. With this defeated attitude, it was easy to justify whatever I wanted to do. My dad did his best to juggle both roles of working and parenting, but it ended up being far more laissez-faire than I was used to. I was relieved to be free from all the mandatory church activities, to think for myself like never before. I embraced the old adage of “carpe diem!” and began seizing my days with reckless abandon. By the time I left for college, I was already partying hard and feeling the negative effects on my health.

    Breaking Down
    This “anything goes” attitude led me to riskier activities (such as binge-drinking, excessive junk food consumption, smoking, and experimenting with various drugs) with little regard for long-term consequences. I endured several minor injuries (and a few hospital trips) from skateboarding, surfing, and contact sports. Considering my body’s early lack-of-use followed by aggressive over-use, with poor posture throughout, my structure was complexly compromised. I developed a habit of cracking my joints too often, causing hyper- and hypo-mobility in certain areas. Due to a confluence of lifestyle factors, my neck became the final compensation. Despite seeing various chiropractors over a period of years, this problem seemed to be worsening, sometimes seizing up such that I couldn’t turn my head either way. Eventually, x-rays revealed “early-stage arthritis” and “military neck” degeneration in my upper cervical spine. Not wanting to take personal responsibility, I believed that I must have some kind of specific problem that just needed to be discovered and fixed by some expert or technology. Using “quick fixes” like ibuprofen, caffeine, marijuana, alcohol, and numbing “comfort” foods to cope with my physical and corresponding emotional discomfort, I just kept pushing forward in school and part-time jobs to succeed in the technocratic world.

    As a result of these habits, and other acid-forming factors, my immune system became very weak. I suffered from respiratory infections several times a year, and began experiencing a host of new symptoms, such as intense stomach pains, mild yet persistent acne, difficulty concentrating, frequent headaches, hypertension, low energy, high anxiety, depression, rage… the works! I even noticed my vision deteriorating, as I had to stand closer and closer to read the “value” menus at fast food chains. I continued to seek healthcare from mainstream doctors, following my prescriptions for antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, but they only served to treat the symptoms rather than the underlying causes. I finally reached a point where I was ready to take responsibility for my self-care.

    Seeking Truth
    After successfully completing a summer internship with a house painting company, I took a year of academic leave to work as a general manager in the Bay Area. I shared an apartment with a co-worker, Brian Claypool, who was managing a nearby region. As we became friends, he shared many helpful insights with me, and recommended personal development books by Anthony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, and Deepak Chopra. These programs inspired me to make major positive changes in my life. One tool I found particularly helpful was creating positive affirmations and incorporating them into my daily workouts.  “Everyday, I am growing stronger and feeling more alive!”

    Another factor I attribute to my healing process, was the first time I tried psilocybin mushrooms. I experienced a permanent spiritual shift with a new-found awareness of my place in the great Web of Life, and viewed living things, especially trees, in a whole new way. Rather than organic objects in the landscape, I saw them as fellow spiritual beings pulsing with vital energy and consciousness. I saw the interconnection of all living things, and began valuing the natural world over the man-made world, more and more. Philosophy and history courses also helped me to better understand my spiritual programming, and eventually, to abandon my fear of Hell altogether. In reading Herman Hess’ Siddhartha, I experienced a powerful reflection of my own life journey. I felt the unity of all things, embraced the proverbial river of change, and began seeking to live in better harmony with the rest of creation.

    Finding Solutions
    Brian also introduced me to The pH-Miracle, by Dr. Robert Young, which was key in helping me understand how acid-forming habits contribute to virtually all dis-ease in the body, and how an alkaline diet and lifestyle can ensure resilient health. For the first time in my life, I realized that I didn’t have to die of cancer, or any other degenerative disease for that matter. I began adding powdered “supergreens” (a blend of living, organic, nutrient-rich grasses, leaves, barks, and roots) to my drinking water, and decreasing my intake of acid-forming foods (such as caffeine, processed sugars and grains, and most animal products).  In their place, I consumed a lot more leafy green vegetables (e.g., spinach, lettuce, celery, parsley, cilantro), alkaline fruits (e.g., citrus, tomato, cucumber, avocado), and minimal seeds and nuts (preferably soaked or sprouted). I experimented with pH strips on this type of diet, and verified that the more alkaline I am, the healthier and happier I feel, no doubt.  However, this protocol results in consuming calories from fat than from simple sugars.  Contrary to the Dr. Young’s assertions, I have learned that fresh, sweet fruits are indeed alkalizing (so long as they are not poorly combined with other foods or consumed while dietary fats are still lingering in the bloodstream from previous meals).  Nonetheless, I still appreciate a lot about this book.

    With all the big changes in my life, I wanted to take better care of myself, so I decided to lighten my work load. Upon returning to Cal Poly, I switched majors from Architecture to Business, took only courses of personal interest, and only 12 units per quarter. I worked part-time at a local salad bar, where I had access to plenty of alkalizing food to enjoy with fellow salad enthusiasts. Later, I landed a better-paying job at a mortgage bank, where I got a reputation for drinking “swamp water.” As I embraced natural health and more empowering beliefs, many of my previous symptoms began to lessen. I wasn’t getting sick as often, my stomach pains and headaches subsided, and I was enjoying more balanced energy and clarity than I had in a long time.  Brian and I began long distance running and training with ultra-marathoner, Stu Mittleman, who had worked professionally with both Anthony Robbins and Dr. Young. Within six months, I completed several half-marathons, along with both San Diego and San Francisco marathons. Over the next couple years, I added cycling and swimming to my workouts, and participated in four triathlons before slowing down to deal with chronic discomfort in my neck.

    I finally found the relief I was looking for with hatha yoga, which also provided me with increased energy, strength, endurance, flexibility, and mental poise. However, these benefits are not fully realized without a consistent practice.  Making time o maintain steady progress. I attended several classes and workshops, including a five-day yoga retreat at Esalen, where I learned to connect more deeply with my inner healer. After getting familiar with various forms of hatha (such as vinyasa, kundalini, Iyengar, Bikram, Tibetan Rites, and others) in person, I found videos helpful in expanding my practice at home. I also found relief from hanging upside-down with “gravity boots” from a pull-up bar, ecstatic dancing, and various forms of bodywork (such as massage, chiropractic, neuromuscular rehabilitation, structural integration, and craniosacral therapy). While these are all wonderful modalities, yoga has proven to be most helpful in healing my structure.  When I practice it daily, I feel much less need for physical therapy.

    Branching Out
    As all these lifestyle changes began taking effect, my peer group naturally shifted to more health-conscious circles. I was invited to Raw Food Night, a weekly raw vegan potluck where I met many amazing friends. I was astounded by the variety of delicious dishes, drinks, and deserts that could be created from such simple and fresh ingredients.  I started bringing basic alkaline salads and guacamole, and later began experimenting with gourmet creations like celery root pasta alfredo and holiday hemp nog. The amount of fun we all had gathering, preparing, and feasting on plants together was off the charts. Dancing and drumming would often ensue into the night. I loved that after filling up on raw living foods, rather than feeling heavy and tired, I actually had more energy and could even dance right after eating. I felt more connected and alive than I had in a long time. I soon discovered other raw food potlucks and began hosting some of my own. I sourced the freshest produce by shopping at farmers markets, and was also happy to be supporting the local economy and environment. I also started recycling, reusing bags, and composting my food scraps.  By the time I graduated from college, I was experiencing growth in all branches of my wellness: physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual, and ecological.

    One beautiful spring day in Solana Beach, Brian and I were walking through the farmers market, discussing the major challenges the world is facing with respect to the commercial food and health care systems. One major problem is that the pharmaceutical industry and other powerful interests are doing everything they can to keep people from being naturally healthy and happy. This is because they make big money keeping consumers dependent on costly drugs and procedures to feel better. Their primary weapons against natural alternatives are deceptive advertising, public relations, covert disinformation, and fear-tactics. However, more and more people are waking up to see this systemic sickness (which goes beyond just the food and medical industries). As this awakening unfolds, we are becoming evermore empowered to heal ourselves, our relationships, and our shared ecosystems. From this intention, we decided to help grow the global wellness movement by co-creating a free website for people to share wellness wisdom with the world. That seed of an idea germinated for several years before finally sprouting into

    Drinking Plant Blood
    Soon after this project began, I became very interested in chlorophyll, the lifeblood of plants, which converts the Sun’s light to energy and has the same molecular structure as animal blood (except with magnesium rather than iron at the center). It is no coincidence that consuming dark leafy greens is essential to maintaining healthy blood. After being inspired by some fellow health nuts, I decided to try a 30-day “juice feast,” during which I consumed only fresh fruit and green juices. By removing all the fiber, I gave my digestive system a break to free up metabolic energy for greater detoxing and rebuilding. Without the sweeping-out function of fiber, daily colon hydrotherapy (usually enemas at home) was crucial for flushing the toxins out of my system. After the first few days, my cravings for the usual foods dissipated. I found that four to six quarts of green juice a day was enough to keep me satisfied and able to maintain my busy schedule. After a couple weeks of mildly unpleasant detoxing symptoms, I woke feeling more energy and clarity than ever. I needed less sleep, and felt a greater sense of peace and joy within. I noticed my skin clearing up, healthier hair, nails, and teeth, and stress levels decreasing. By the time the month was over, I was very excited to transition back to raw foods (with a whole new appreciation for fiber). I was about 30 pounds lighter (from about 200 to 170), but felt stronger and more balanced energy than ever before. Since then, I have not been bedridden by any cold or flu.

    Another component of “plant blood” is the essential oil, which acts as the immune system of the plant, protecting it from disease, predators, and harsh environmental conditions. Plants contain various therapeutic compounds, which have been regarded as “mankind’s first medicine” for thousands of years. After being introduced to essential oils by my chiropractor, I began using them topically, aromatically, and internally. I also integrated them with my yoga, raw food creations, and affirmations, and eventually became a distributor with Young Living therapeutic-grade essential oils. After three years my business grew substantially, and I was able to resign from my day job to pursue my passions. This new-found freedom allowed me to spend more time and energy taking care of my health, furthering the development of WellTree, and learning about self-sufficiency.

    During this phase, I came to the realization that many solutions for natural health are converging toward one simple theme: living more like the apes do. After reading an outstanding book by Victoria Buotenko, Green for Life, it became clear to me that instead of having to figure out all the solutions, we can simply look to nature as a model for what works. Without needing to understand the “why’s and how’s,” we can simply learn from the natural behaviors of our wild cousins.  Since then, my curiosity has led me to researching more and more about apes.

    Rite of Passage
    After quitting my corporate job, I began making radical changes in my life, that eventually culminated in a major transformation.  First, I visited some communities in Hawaii, and volunteered on a permaculture farm, Pangaia, for a few weeks.  Upon returning, I moved in with my raw foodie friends at “pH-blue” (the name indicates an alkaline lifestyle). With awesome help from them and many others, I designed and created my first garden, a small “food forest” that produced an astonishing quantity of produce. Actually eating the fruits (and veggies) of my labor has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever discovered, especially when they are shared with loved ones. After learning about natural building, aquaculture, the Transition movement, and other radical approaches to local resilience, I became more and more interested in local economies and eco-villages. A year later, I accepted an invitation to live at Dancing Deer Farm, where I contributed my creative energy as a raw food chef and gardener. I also helped my spirit sister, Brandie, launch her raw, local, vegan Be Love Café, and loved making her “Liquid Love” green juice for our amazing community in San Luis Obispo.

    During all this transition, I experienced some of my greatest challenges, but found greater peace and inner joy from Tolle’s The Power of Now, which set me on a new spiritual path to greater awareness and connection with Source.  Present-moment meditation connects me to the “I AM,” which I like to interpret as the “Infinite Awesome Mystery.” While working on personal and relationship issues in counseling, I joined a local group of an international brotherhood, The ManKind Project, and underwent a formal rite of passage in manhood. Through this work, I have found numerous mentors and improved my communication, accountability, integrity, leadership, emotional intelligence, and experienced profound personal healing. The biggest blessing of all has been finding greater clarity and integrity with my personal mission in life: I co-create a resilient and joyful world, by breathing into the present moment, cultivating resonance with nature, and contributing my creative energy to a health-conscious, supportive, and fun-loving community.

    Ape Living
    The more my lifestyle resembles those of the other great apes, the better I feel physically, mentally, and on all levels. Despite our flexible diets and resilient digestive systems, apes are all scientifically classified as frugivores and the others tend to live in Old World tropical climates (namely, Africa and Asia). Despite their various differences in physiology, behavior, and social structure, their diets are all predominantly raw, organic, local, fresh fruit and leafy greens, with minimal amounts of starchy vegetables, roots, and stems.  When these foods are scarce, wild apes will seek out “fallback foods” such as insects, eggs, or small animals (these are generally seen as not essential to their nutritional needs, as they will often go months with them). Thanks to all the high-water content fruit and veggies, they need not drink water to stay hydrated, as carnivores do. They spend most of their time in trees (except for gorillas), walk barefoot upon the Earth, get plenty of sunlight, take naps after meals, communicate without written language, live communally without money, and use very primitive technologies. I believe that humans evolved with a similar lifestyle.

    Integrating this realization with my mission has led me to making major changes in my life, like selling my essential oils business and moving to Costa Rica with my good buddy, Craig Maupin. Upon arriving, we engaged in a 30-day “ape diet” cleanse, which was largely inspired by Doug Graham’s, The 80/10/10 Diet, recommended by our friend and holistic nutritionist, Chris Kendall. Having been mostly raw vegan for several years, I found it fairly easy to dive right in. After about a week of detoxification symptoms, I began feeling more consistent and balanced energy, heightened awareness of my senses and emotions, increased mental clarity, and better quality sleep. I enjoyed the most benefits while I was following it 100% for the first two weeks. Then, I began dabbling in other foods throughout the remainder of the month. Because my sensitivity was heightened from cleansing, I was able to feel the negative effects of conventional food in my body like never before. I now consider myself a “flexitarian” frugivore (enjoying occasional fallback foods even when they are not the only option around), yet I find myself following the ape diet more and more everyday, because it just feels good!

    I am dedicated to healing myself through healthy diet, yoga, climbing, hanging, weight training, breathing exercises, meditation, essential oils, affirmations, journaling, communing with nature. On the inter-personal level, I am exploring the tropics for opportunities to partner with like-minded apes to live more inter-dependently, in harmony with nature. I envision living on a permaculture farm that offers natural health retreats. I am inspired to co-create a retreat called Ape Living, which facilitates participants in reconnecting with their inner apes through activities such as present moment awareness, climbing, foraging, and non-lingual communication. In the meantime, I will continue my own healing my life, listening to my inner ape, and loving every step (and reach) of the way. Beyond the illusion of this hominid ego, I know that my true self is not separate from you or any other animal, plant, or aspect of our Universe. I am just one tiny creature in a magnificent Web of Life, remembering who I am.  Thank you for joining me in this epic journey!

                   Relaxing my awareness into the present moment, I reach for a strong branch, feeling energized and fueled by living plant foods.  Breathing in the oxygen-rich air, I feel the Sun’s energy absorbing into my eyes and skin. I climb down to a nearby glade, where friends are gathering around a golden fruit, in celebration of the abundance we share.  We live joyfully in harmony with nature.  We are free!



  1. avatar
    Scott Worthington says:

    Wow, what a great article.

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