In the information era, we’ve heard time and time again how our technology, this virtual matrix in which we are living, has sucked the life out of us. The more connected we’ve gotten to our devices, the more disconnected we became. Unreal seems to be the sentiment of so many as of late, which to me translates to disconnection, a word used to describe what is underlying our mental health crisis. Perhaps it would be more accurate to attribute our sense of unrealness to the mass reproduction of images.
My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was 10. Watching him for the first 10 years of my life was a strange experience. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, (it was too small in any case), but something wasn’t quite right, which fascinated me from the moment I could walk.
Every morning, my father would, with militaristic precision, get up at 5 am and go into the bathroom for two hours. That was how long my father groomed himself. It was the same script, every morning, which he played every day like notes in a score. I thought this was nuts.
As a young child, I began getting up, sitting on the bathroom counter, and observing this man’s relationship with his youth played out in front of the mirror. Strangely, it brought to mind Snow White, a movie in my orbit at that age, though it was a man engaging in this symbolism.
Mirror mirror on the wall who’s the youngest of them all.
The crisis of disconnection was present in the mirror, even if I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, in my father. It was not something that came out of nowhere, in other words. However, it was most obvious in the simple fact that he was getting old, which isolated him in a culture (United States) that does not value age. We’ve been saying that our world is in a crisis of loneliness. Now, we are all isolated in our homes. I don’t know if there’s ever been a clearer reminder just how connected we all are.
Thinking about my father now, born in 1926, it’s hard to say what happened over the past century that brought us all to this moment. Political theorist, Hannah Arendt, believed that the 20th century was defined–at its inception–as “the break from belonging.” It is that break, she wrote, from which our loneliness and feeling of modern isolation come, along with Totalitarian regimes. Considering our current state of affairs including our politics and mental health states through that lens, the lack of belonging is crystal clear. When I started taking psychedelics in a ritualistic setting, the teachers with whom I worked always spoke about belonging being the fundamental wound.
Even if we’re not in the same room, currently, I can summon the feelings of so many with whom my paths have crossed, and hold them in spirit. There’s comfort in sitting quietly with my loved ones that are here and not here and everyone out there that is going through this.
While I was interviewing Rachel Harris, psychologist, and author of Listening to Ayahuasca, she shared an observation that the bond her patients created with the ayahuasca plant spirit seemed to facilitate the healing process. In other words, our connection to spirit is just as real as the connection that happens between two people. It is not a force that is separate from us or buried deep within ourselves. It’s within us and all around us. I have felt the spirit at baseball stadiums, theaters, plant ceremonies, alone on a bench, everywhere really. The “spirit of the nation” is a common phrase.
There is nothing like some new virus to remind us just how real shit is and how connected we truly all are. This is a moment in which we cannot escape from the reality of that truth, nor the fact that we are also alone. Right now, though we are separate, it is never been more crucial to think and feel like a community. Our planet, our collective consciousness, this fabric of which we are all part is communicating that something must change. We need to take care of ourselves and each other.
I’ve heard some in the psychedelic community express that this, in many ways, is what we’ve been working towards. Now, that language might come across as strange. Using psychedelics as a way to work on what? People do psychedelics, and anything else for that matter, for their own reasons. However, one of my teachers placed particular emphasis on the heart-opening aspect of the experience. When we open our hearts, we are able to bond. Trauma is often described as a separation from self. Thus, healing comes through connection. This is the moment, my teacher said, for those of us who want to bring more love, compassion, and consideration into the world.
Outside my window, of late, the sounds of ambulances have become more frequent. I pray for each one of them. It has nothing to do with religion, but rather taking a moment to hold someone I don’t even know in my heart for a moment. It’s not idealism, nor wishful thinking. It’s presence. This is a moment to be present for ourselves, our loved ones, and for those that we will never meet. Though we cannot touch and gather closer than six feet, Governor Cuomo said it this week– “socially distanced, but spiritually connected.”