The recent statistic that shocked me was that the annual number of global deaths from suicide has overtaken the number of violent deaths from warfare and murder. In the 40 years since I first studied psychology I have watched rates of depression, anxiety, stress and insomnia soar, as have more serious mental illnesses, to the point where the World Health Organisation say these problems are the single biggest threat to our health, more so than cancer or obesity.
In sharp contrast I watch my four year-old granddaughter, Boudica, squirming with delight, full of wonder and joy (on a good day). What, I wonder, happens between age 4 and 40? How do we become so disconnected from the magic and majesty of life? It is like we are suffering from a disease that almost everyone has, so it just becomes the norm. It is a malaise that comes from the core of the modern world despite all its scientific progress, affluence and technology.
I call it disconnexia. It is what has allowed us to eliminate 99 per cent of the animal species on this planet, 90 per cent of its oxygen-producing rainforests and each other at a rate of half a million murders a year, with seemingly futile wars about religion, land, ideology, oil and money. It isn’t love, but money we are told, that makes the world go round. Yet global money markets teeter on the edge of collapse, with almost every country owing billions or even trillions of dollars to who knows whom. For every person who dies today from starvation two will die from obesity, a man-made disease.
Twenty-first-century living literally puts us on high alert, so that we expect constant stimulation. Few of us can sit still. In a recent study at Harvard, volunteers were exposed to an unpleasant electric shock, which they said they would pay to avoid. Then they were left alone for 15 minutes. No company, no smartphone. Just their thoughts. Twelve out of 18 men and six out of 24 women gave themselves up to four electric shocks. Two thirds of men pressed the button. One man gave himself 190 shocks to relieve the boredom!
That is how desperate we are for contact and stimulation. Yet on the other hand there is a move to encourage ‘mindfulness’ – to let go of thoughts, sensations and perceptions and focus on the space behind and between them, to ‘mind the gap’, so to speak. It’s ironic that this is exactly what most people are afraid of. Of having nothing to do, nothing to think, no button to press. In a US survey one in ten young Americans admitted to having checked their smart phone during sex! They suffer from what I call ‘out-of-contact-itis’. Even falling asleep can be difficult. They need continual engagement, constant stimulus.
All this adrenalin, non-stop, every day, wears us out. We are meant to produce adrenal hormones infrequently, in response to a real stress – hunting dangerous animals or avoiding being eaten for dinner. It triggers the ‘fight, flight’ syndrome – actually it’s the ‘fight, flight, freeze, f**k, food’ syndrome. Both compulsive food and sex can be part of this stress addiction, hence the boom in obesity and porn. As a result, we are wired and tired, channeling our ever-decreasing energy into nervous energy and away from digestion and repair. Even though we live longer, we age faster, and suffer decades of decrepitude. The average woman in the EU is destined to spend 10 years disabled.
From Disconnection to Connection
There is a better way. It usually starts with a wake-up call, an experience of unity or profound love, often from times of despair. It catalyses the start of a person’s growth to wholeness, coming out of the fog of ‘normal’ life into a more conscious, positive and creative interaction with the world we create. Whether we are moved by beauty, by truth or goodness, which the Greek philosophers deduced were the transcendental desires behind all desires, the key is love. Love is the proof that consciousness is shared, be it between people, an animal, an object or even an idea. Everything is happening in consciousness. That is the teaching of the Hindu ‘advaita’ philosophy - that we create the idea of ‘my mind’ from thoughts; the idea of ‘my body’ from sensations and feelings; the idea of ‘my bodymind’ from thoughts, feelings and sensations; and ‘the world out there’ from perceptions: sights, sounds, smells and sensations. Our total experience is made up of thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions, and all this is happening in the infinite field of awareness or consciousness. That’s not so hard to grasp intellectually but not so easy as an experience.
Balancing Body, Heart and Mind
An easier starting point is to recognize that we have a body, which is our physical zone, a heart and feelings, our emotional and social zone, and a mind, our intellectual zone that enables us to make sense and order out of our perceptions, thoughts and feelings. In just about every philosophical, religious or mystical tradition this triad is represented by points of attention or energy, called chakras in the Indian traditions. In Taoism there is the lower t’antien, in the belly, the middle t’antien in the heart and the upper t’antien in the head, or third eye.
The belly centre, in Zen traditions is called the hara. It is a grounding, centering point of awareness and all true martial arts are performed with awareness in this centre. It is your centre of balance, or core. "Don't be in a hurry, be in your hara".
Body awareness also means being aware of the Earth, and the food that grows in the Earth to nourish us and become our body. Yet we have become so earth and germ phobic to the point where the average city dweller’s microbiome is so sterilized that allergic conditions like asthma are becoming endemic in urban children. In my book, The Chemistry of Connection, I talk about how to connect to the Earth, and how to connect to your body, and nourish and heal your body with real food and the right attitude. I have met many ‘transcendental mystics’ who don't have this centering body and Earth awareness and somehow deny its importance. As the saying goes ‘Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth. Deal with it.’
The heart is the hub of all sacred places.
One of my first meditation influences was from Nityananda of the Siddha tradition. “The heart is the hub of all sacred places. Go there and roam.” That was his teaching. We have so much to learn about the metaphysical heart and the ocean of love that exists in us all. Modern scientism is only just starting to wake up to the fact that the heart is more like a brain than a pump, and that there are more connections from the heart to the brain than the other way around. The Hearthmath Institute have pioneered ways of measuring our heart coherence, with simple ways to encourage heartfelt living. Opening the heart, and letting go of all the negative patterns and unexpressed pain that stop us being able to connect with each other, is the next key to connection I explore in the book.
Opening the third eye
The third ‘intelligence’ centre is the ajna or third eye. It correlates with the pineal gland, which is light-sensitive in many animals and is necessary for them to be connected to the environment and the ebb and flow of day and night, as well as seasonal changes. We produce melatonin, the neurotransmitter that keeps us in sync with the Earth’s cycles, and di-methyl-tryptamine (DMT) a powerful entheogen that is thought to be primarily produced or stored in the pineal gland, along with serotonin, the brain’s feel good chemical. They are central to dreaming and imagination. Indian mystics consider the pineal to be an antenna for ‘inner’ light. Where does the light come from when you dream? René Descartes considered it to be the seat of the soul. Opening the third eye is another key to connection.
The Alchemy of Sex and Spirit
A recurring theme in any true exploration of connection is the two principles: the material and the spiritual; the relative and the absolute; Earth and Heaven; physicality and transcendence. We experience these two principles every day as subject (I) and object (world).
The merging, the meeting point, the co-existence, the alchemy of these two principles provides the greatest opportunity for a fully connected existence. This is the dance of Shakti, the energy that manifests as the world, and Shiva, the awareness or the container, in the Hindu tradition and the goal of many mystical practices. While for most of us the world is not experienced as blissful – that is, we are trapped in the separateness of ‘I’ and ‘that’, or subject and object – the enlightened ones, on the other hand, see no separation. In their view, ‘Shakti dances for Shiva’s delight’. Everything is just energy, and that recognition is blissful.
Energy itself can be seen as a dual force. The ‘Earth’ force, or life force, or desire for life, is the fuel of our sex drive. Sex makes life. That Eros energy is what makes life juicy. The ‘Heaven’ force is the desire and drive for transcendence. They are the same energy, albeit with a different direction. Freedom and love. Enlightenment in the higher schools of Buddhism and the tantric traditions of India is having a foot in both camps, so to speak.
Think of your essential self as a projector – the light of awareness. In one direction, or eye, you are looking out at the world of appearances (and in on the world of thoughts and feelings). This is the mind of concepts. This eye is perceiving the relative world that is always changing through cycles of birth, death and rebirth. Nothing stays the same. This is the samsara that the Buddha was referring to when he said, ‘All life is suffering.’ Due to our attachments, aversions and desires to things being a certain way, we suffer. If you were free from those attachments, you would be watching the film of life with wonder and compassion.
In this analogy, your other eye is aware of that which never changes– the ‘empty’ screen of pure being or ‘is-ness’ onto which this film of life is projected. This is absolute, pure awareness. (It is not truly empty, but full of all potentiality. It is no-thing as of yet. It is not, however, nothing.) It exists in all of us as the absolute ground of our being. It has been described as the shadow of the creator, while the manifest world is the creation. It is one eye looking out and one eye looking in.
The Five Keys to Connection
The ultimate goal of our evolution as human beings is to be fully connected with all five aspects of our existence. You may recognize those aspects that you are least in touch with and those that are your strengths. I have created a free online Connection Quiz, which gives you an assessment of where you are now, showing your strengths and weaknesses. Some people are full of heart but quite ungrounded. Others are intellectually sharp but out of touch with their deepest feelings. Some are focused on transcendence and out of touch with their body and/or sexuality. We all have our strengths and weaknesses – the weaknesses being our greatest potential areas for evolution.
Five Keys To Connection Seminars
Don’t miss my seminars and workshops on the Five Keys of Connection and the Power of Connection, happening nationwide in the UK and Ireland. Click here to find your local event.
To find out more about the Chemistry of Connection visit this page.
© Ashnandoah. Used with permission.