Fran laughs, remembering what it was like trying to describe to her children what it is she does for work. It really is quite amazing when you think about it. I have had a number of conversations with healers in other cultures, trying to explain what it is that I in my own work. I recall one shaman from the Bushman people who literally fell off the rock he was sitting on, laughing hysterically, when I told him how I work by listening to clients, helping them sort things out and talk about what is most bothersome. The shaman called over others from his village, yelling out, “Come on over here! You gotta hear what this white dude shaman character says” (that’s a rough translation). Once assembled with his friends, he urged me to repeat what I do in therapy. He was absolutely dumbfounded that I didn’t bring together the whole community as witnesses to the healing. There was no dancing, shaking, chanting, or drumming in my description of psychotherapy. There was no calling to the spirits. There was no fire built for the healing ceremony (although I thought about telling him about a kid who once lit a fire in the wastebasket of my waiting room). Again the shaman grabbed his belly and everyone laughed at my expense. Finally, when he caught his breath, he asked me if I had ever helped anyone with just this talk. It gets you thinking, doesn’t it?
Maybe the difference is that here, for a lot of people, it’s the whole community doing the wounding, not the healing. Our culture is so pathological that “my healing journey” sounds like a joke to us, instead of something appealing. You might have one nice person in your life, that you can talk to as many times as the rich people say you’re allowed, if you’re lucky.
Loneliness, particularly in developed countries, has been growing year on year. John Cacioppo, author of ‘Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection’ relates that in the 1980s “scholars estimated 20% of people in the US felt lonely at any given time, now it’s thought to be over 40%”. Worldwide, according to Psychology Today, the numbers suffering from loneliness are at epidemic levels, and, with an aging population throughout the west, are expected to continue to rise.
The suffocating condition of loneliness is the consequence of feeling isolated, disconnected, and adrift, not of being alone. It is related to loss – of a loved one, of a childhood, of an undefined relationship with oneself. Mother Teresa, who worked with the poorest of the poor in India, said that, “loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” It is extremely painful, erodes trust, and according to Cacioppa can cause lonely people to “feel others around them are threats rather than sources of cooperation and compassion.”
Like many associated mental health illnesses, loneliness is stigmatized and seen, Cocioppo relates, as “the psychological equivalent of being a loser in life, or a weak person.” In a world where being tough, successful and ‘driven’ are championed, weakness (particularly in men) and other such inadequacies are frowned upon. As a result people deny loneliness, which is a mistake, as this suffocating condition can increase the risk of an early death by a staggering 45%, higher than both obesity and excessive alcohol consumption.
Materialistic values characterise the present, all pervasive socio-economic model; governments of all political persuasions are the docile servants of the system, the partners of the corporations who run it. Together they form the contemporary elite. A contented, united and happy populace is the last thing they want. The ideal social unit for the benefit of the ‘Masters of the Universe’, as Adam Smith famously called them, is “you and your television set”, Noam Chomsky has said; in a world devoid of community spirit, where selfishness is encouraged, “If the kid next door is hungry, it’s not your problem. If the retired couple next door invested their assets badly and are now starving, that’s not your problem either.” Social unity and human compassion are the enemies of the elite and an unjust system, which promotes values of greed and indifference.