How do we balance the desire to stay connected with the cosmos with the demands of modern life?
Our internal life is often mirrored by our external world. It is no surprise that the health of our bodies and our planet is under fire. Mental health illnesses, including active addiction, depression, and anxiety, are increasing along with the number of unnatural forest fires, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels. How we treat ourselves is a direct reflection of how we treat the Earth.
In our modern life, our lack of spiritual connection to all that is may be leading to our possible demise. How and what has brought us to this juncture? Perhaps we have forgotten our origins and connection to the natural world and the web of life that unifies us. Perhaps it is time to invite the psyche, or soul, back into psychiatry for the healing of our bodies, our minds, our spirits, and the planet to become whole.
It may be difficult to stay close to our origins to the Big Bang or to the cosmos when we are sitting in traffic or in windowless offices under fluorescent lights and never touching the Earth with our bare feet. It takes extra effort to remember that we are spinning on a planet, swirling around a giant star in a corner of the universe. We may even forget our common human spirit in our daily interactions as we rush around town or race from one patient to the next. Our origins of social connection and collaboration are far removed from our days as hunters and gatherers. Competing, conforming, and consuming are the norm. We have lost our sense of our true nature.
Not only have we forgotten our origins to the natural world, but we have forgotten our spirit—our soul. In fact, psyche from Latin means “animating spirit,” and psykhē from the Greek language means “the soul, spirit, life.” Like our physical bodies, our spiritual lives require nutrition. When we are spiritually healthy, we may feel connected to an inner quality of love, compassion, and peace. However, when we have poverty of spirit, we may look externally for that same feeling of wholeness and integration. We may begin to chase fame, fortune, status, more credentials, or power in order to satiate this spiritual hunger and to starve the parts of ourselves that do not feel good enough or worthy.
The age-old question of “Who am I really?” can serve as a beautiful meditation to look further to this famished feeling. It provides an opportunity to quiet the mind and to create space between the thoughts. In between, there may be a feeling of presence, a still voice, or perhaps our inner guidance. Of course, the monkey brain likes to jump around and do acrobatics; however, we can learn to observe, bring conscious awareness, and accept the nature of the mind, connecting back with the spirit.
This is an urgent invitation to restore our native state of wellness, rhythm, balance, and harmony, and to address the root cause of our loss of homeostasis. This is a call to remember our origins to the natural world and to each other; to remember our true essence; and to bring back psyche, or soul, into psychiatry. Let us remember our deep roots to the Earth; to our animal, plant, and fungi friends; to the elements of water and fire; to the seasons and cycles of weather; to the stars and constellations; and to ceremony, ritual, and traditions. Our health depends on the health of the planet just as our inhale depends on the exhale of our planet’s trees.
May we see ourselves in a sunrise and stand in awe at the sight of a sunset. Let us feel so big and so small at the edge of the sea, delight in the mystery of a star-lit night, contemplate the wonder of a flower, cherish the warmth of a smile, feel the release of a cleansing cry, and marvel in the flow of creativity when time stands still and nothing is left.
So, how do we remedy the desire to stay connected with the demands of modern life? How do we stay connected to the cosmos while in traffic or while speaking with our colleagues or patients when we are feeling rushed, tired, hungry, angry, or lonely? How do we stay grounded in cement buildings and in sterile environments? How do we look deeply into each other’s eyes and recognize our own humanity? How do we practice being gentle with ourselves when we forget our great mystery and nudge ourselves back into remembering?
We can take a few steps to seek balance. First, it is important to acknowledge that it is normal to feel abnormal in a disconnected world.
We can then hold both the grief of modern life and the joy of being alive, cultivating compassion and grace for ourselves and each other.
We can tap into our inner wisdom and help each other and our patients to remember our true nature, our soul, and our loving awareness, and to empower each other to positively impact and be of service in the world. May we remember that we are made of stardust and that our soulful exuberance is always guiding us for our highest good, evolution, liberation, and healing in these wild times.
Vanessa Velez is a psychiatrist.