There is a dis-ease in the Western world that is so all-pervasive that it is not really perceived as such. It is like water to a fish. 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 – a state of disconnection.
It is reflected in the ever-increasing rates of mental illness – depression, stress, anxiety, insomnia and failing memory. These problems are, according to the World Health Organization, the most prevalent health issues globally in the 21st century. Followed by obesity and cancer. We have not scored well, despite all the apparent progress of modern medicine. Nor do we appear to be happier. Globally, there are now more suicides each year than violent deaths.
As a consequence, though we are the most advanced and ‘successful’ species on the planet, we have a very real chance of self- destruction. We have eliminated 99 per cent of the animal species previously on this planet and 90 per cent of its oxygen-producing rainforests. The oxygen in every other breath we take is generated from algae, largely in the sea, yet we are in danger of not only destroying the conditions necessary for algae to generate oxygen but also of depleting the already small reserves of fish stock and coral habitats.
We are even destroying 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.
We are also destroying ourselves. So many mental and physical diseases have, at their root, disconnection. Cancer, for example, involves a breakdown of a cell’s behaviour in respecting its boundaries with other cells. Diabetes and fatigue are breakdowns, disconnections, in how the energy in food becomes energy in the body. Alzheimer’s may well result from a breakdown in methylation, the connecting principle of the body and brain that helps our system micro-adjust.
Depression – which is often anger without enthusiasm, or feeling cut off, often the consequence of not speaking our truth or living a life true to who we are – is a disconnection from our own nature or a biochemical disconnection brought on by a lack of omega-3, vitamin D or B vitamins and too much sugar or caffeine.
Few of us are actually content. Most are brainwashed into a kind of mindless existence. Many are living a horrible life on the edge of survival. The gap between the rich and poor is growing wider. Our culture, indeed our species, our ecology and our biosphere are getting ever closer to the tipping point of no return.
We were warned of this outcome by great visionaries such as George Orwell in 1984 and Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, yet here we are living, or starting to live, the nightmare.
Why should this be? Apparently we are more connected than ever, via TV and world news, mobile phones, the internet and social media. So much so that the average person checks their phone at least every 10 minutes and answers work-related e-mails on holiday. But what kind of connection is this? In a survey, one in 10 young adults in the USA admitted to having checked their smartphone during sex!
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,2 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, like the space between breaths – 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. They suffer from what I call ‘out-of-contact-itis’. Even falling asleep can be difficult. They need continual engagement, constant stimulus.
Almost two-thirds of travellers on urban trains and buses have their head buried in their phones, texting, playing games – anything to keep their mind occupied. In cities, the pace of the modern world sells us permanent stimulation, plus the drugs to keep us there. Caffeine sales just keep rising. Two billion cups of coffee are drunk every day worldwide, 70 million in the UK. The number of cola drinks is even higher. At least 1.7 billion Coca-Colas are drunk every day, and that’s just one brand of caffeinated drink. With the demise of the other major stimulant drug, nicotine, sales will no doubt keep on rising. Caffeine keeps you wired, which is, I guess, the next best thing to the true state of connection.
All this adrenalin, non-stop, every day, wears us out. We are meant to produce adrenalin, and the longer-acting adrenal hormone cortisol, infrequently, in response to a real stress – hunting dangerous animals for dinner 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 growth in obesity and pornography. As a result, we are wired and tired, channelling any 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, meaning unable to climb 10 steps.
Being constantly on the go is draining. One in five of us now needs to take time off work due to the ill-effects of stress. We try to fix the problem with caffeine, alcohol, drugs, sex, more things, more money, more power. We try to escape with endless TV, dramas, alcohol and other numbing drugs.
But the problem is getting worse, not better and that is, I believe, because of something so insidious that it has a real danger of killing us. It is the loss of understanding of who we truly are.
As an Englishman, born, bred and educated with a degree in psychology, I have some ideas that my culture has embedded so deeply within me that I simply assume them to be true. One is that ‘I’, that is, my thinking mind, am separate from the material world that surrounds me.
Another is that my mind is in my head, that my very consciousness is some kind of trick of the neural circuits of my brain, and that it will therefore be extinguished at the point of death. Given these assumptions, what purpose is there to life other than to have fun and accumulate wealth to provide security and pass on to one’s children?
Yet all these assumptions are wrong.
First, there is no material world as we see it. No one, despite hundreds of years of looking, even with such extraordinary instruments as the US$13 billion Hadron Collider, which is capable of crashing particles more than a trillion times smaller than the eye can see, has succeeded in finding actual matter.
Also, for the mind to exist in the brain, the brain must store memory, yet no one has found that either. The hunt is on, though. There are theories that memories are stored in the space in between brain cells and a £1 million award has recently been given to British neuroscientists in recognition of their work in understanding memory.3 But no ‘hard disc drive’ has been discovered, no pattern of activity across the neural network established that we could say is an actual memory. There’s no explanation for why we remember that girl or guy who turned our eye.
We assume that we ‘see’ the world in our brain, but no one has shown this to be true either. No one has shown an inverted image projected on the inner screen of the mind.
Furthermore, many people have ‘seen’ when they have been completely unconscious, or even braindead. Many have left their body and seen it lying there.
Following on from this, there is no actual evidence that consciousness is extinguished at death. We are born with it, but we don’t know where it comes from, nor how it expands and unfolds.
So-called science, philosophy and medicine just avoid these questions because their models are completely inadequate to answer them. However, many people, religious and otherwise, have had a direct experience of a force, a power, an intelligence far greater than, and including, their own consciousness. Some call this God.
For those who have experienced this, ‘it’ is undeniable. For those who haven’t, well, some hope for it, others don’t. Yet there is an emerging science of consciousness and of how to access the transcendent, the ‘spiritual’ realm of existence that connects everything and makes sense of the mystery of life. Many are unaware of this new research, because it has become almost taboo to talk about these things, not ‘PC’. I call it LGBTM – ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and mystical’. Yet we have an innate yearning for learning about our true nature.
In the meantime, some find solace in so-called science, believing that intellectual pursuits and technological developments, founded on the myth of objectivity, can solve all society’s ills given enough time and money. Of course, we are rapidly running out of both. And few of us realize just how broken and subverted most science is, distorted by ulterior motives of profit. Key psychological and medical studies, which drive clinical practice, have proven unreproducible. The ‘gold standard’ of randomized controlled studies is little more than the Emperor’s new clothes, yet governments, pressured by commercial interests, base policies on this elaborate storytelling. Science as we know it is all too often an extension of marketing – funded by those who can see a way of making money out of a new discovery or technology.
Modern medicine is a prime example. It has generated a trillion-dollar drug industry, yet it cannot stem the tide of cancer, diabetes, obesity or Alzheimer’s, to name a few of the modern man-made diseases.
Those blinded by the illusion of medical science believe we will find the cure for these diseases with new drugs. Meanwhile, our societies are crippled by the cost of medicine, which consumes a quarter of our taxes, yet few ask why we are so unhealthy despite an overabundance of food.
Some find solace in religion. Yet this too is in decline. Islam has been hijacked. Christianity is crumbling. Their philosophies are weak in the face of atheistic scientism (AS), the new religion in the West, a product of materialistic rationalism. Yet modern philosophers also fail to truly connect with who we are and why we are here. Instead they weave illusory webs that ricochet with implausible and complex theories that no one understands or even less experiences.
Some look to the East, to India and Tibet, yet both are rapidly being taken over by industrialization, their ancient cultures homogenized in homage to the West. China, the home of communism, is now a hotbed of materialism. Modern drugs and hospitals are fast replacing traditional medicine. Taoism is on the wane. Japan, the home of Zen, now has deeply embedded social issues, not least of which is the rapid decline in sexual desire, couples and children.
Few know that our Western culture, which originated in the Greek cultural revolution, is the source of much of the deepest wisdom of the East. The philosophies, psychologies and theologies of the Neoplatonic schools, once they had been kicked out by the dominant Roman Christian power base, put down roots in the Sufism of Islam and crossed into Kashmir, re-emerging in India as Shaivism and in Tibet as the highest Dzogchen teachings. The Greeks themselves were influenced by the Egyptians, Zoroastrians and, before them, Sumerians. However, the wisdom of the Greek philosophers was perverted in the so-called Age of Reason and the good bits buried.
Fortunately, the higher wisdom of these ancient ‘gnostic’ schools has not been lost, just forgotten. And it includes how to access a vast and connected inner world that shatters the illusion of our separateness.
We are, as a fact, much more connected than our culture leads us to believe, and more powerful and capable of making this world a better place – but not without a serious ‘system upgrade’, a radical reframing based on true science and experience, not belief. Only this, I propose, can create ethical, political and social systems that can work.
So, what is connection all about? I propose that connection is what happens when ‘I’ and an ‘other’ become one. It is an arc of consciousness. We, as a separate entity, get lost in a moment of connection. We get lost in art, music, sport, nature, the taste of chocolate or the act of sex. When that connection concerns an object, or even an idea, we recognize it as ‘beauty’. When it involves a sentient being, we call it ‘love’.
I once heard love defined as ‘the greatest level of connectedness’. It can extend out from an individual, or a family, to humanity, animals, the world, everything. This ‘big’ love is what spirituality and religion are meant to be about.
Whatever the level of connection, we all seek it. We all love. We are all positively moved by some things and disturbed by others. And we have all lost something that connects us to each other, to the Earth, to our body and to our true self.
How can we reconnect? How can we be happy, healthy, brimming with joy and loving life? How can we learn to work together, play together, make this world a better paradise?
In my opinion, first we have to ‘unthink’ a few things to make space for something better to unfold. As Einstein said, ‘The problems we have created cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.’ It is not new facts, new discoveries, new technologies that we need, it is new vision. As Marcel Proust said, ‘The real act of discovery is not to find new lands, but to see with new eyes.’