Having been in the therapeutic field since 2013, I have found myself working with clients on mental health and wellness in a number of settings, with my earliest training being at a residential center in Costa Rica. This site is a Vancouver-based company which hosts retreats for individuals from all over the world (mainly North America and Europe), where they can participate in an intensive mindfulness-based healing program. People from all walks of life would come in—from middle-aged, high-functioning business-types who were feeling lost and/or burnout, as well as adolescents and young adults suffering from issues including addiction, eating disorders, and other heightened symptoms of distress.
While each person had their own unique challenges, based on their personal history and accumulated experiences, three (3) common factors seemed to emerge which were causing these individuals hardship, turmoil, and grief: an absence, or rupture, in their: 1) meaning, 2) purpose, and 3) connection.
Connect-IN: Main Philosophy
One cannot have meaning in one’s life without first having a purpose, or a raison d’etre, that gives life to one’s existence—essentially, a life worth living. However, in order to recognize and successfully go about obtaining these things, one needs to first be in connection with themselves.
This last point is critical, as it is my belief that, for the vast majority of people in North America and other first-world countries, we have become out-of-touch with our bodies and instinctual selves as a result of our globalized economies and patriarchal values. When we hear the word ‘Connection’ nowadays we assume it is referring to our wifi strength as opposed to a feeling of attunement towards ourselves and others.
Connection is humanity’s most primal basic need, as our very survival has depended on it since conception. Without the capacity to walk or talk as infants, we relied on our primary caregivers to attend to our needs, whose success was based on their ability to distinguish and respond to our physiological and behavioral signals. As we grow up, we internalize these responses and learn how to self-regulate so that we can effectively meet our needs in a healthy way.
But what happens when we are told, either explicitly or indirectly, to ignore our own primal signals?
Closely tied-in to our instinctual selves is our emotional system, which helps convey the physiological messages to the organism, through feelings and sensations, that promote survival—to either engage or retract; to be able to discern what is pleasant or unpleasant, safe or dangerous. Without access to this invaluable internal information we would be lost and destitute, sentenced to a hollow existence of confusion, frustration and fear.
Yet this, to varying degrees, is exactly how we are being conditioned to operate in a society that promotes rationality and denigrates emotions as a liability towards achieving success and happiness. Our heath-care system is still mainly governed by a Cartesian model of mind/body split, where physical and psychological signs of distress quickly get ‘purified’ through heavy-duty drugs that simply numb the symptoms rather than adequately address the causation. In a real-sense, we start playing whack-a-mole with our bodies, hoping that eventually the disruptive, impertinent object of our dis-ease will cease to spring-up and misbehave.
If we were to take one candid look at the current state of affairs concerning the general population’s overall health and mental wellness, how well do you think this disconnected/dissociated way of going about living is working?...and more importantly, how has this personally impacted you?
These are the questions that keep us up at night yet we try to hide under our pillow for another day.
These are the questions which keep trying to express themselves in our bodies, yet we respond by washing them down with pills and booze, overeating, overworking, excessive video-gaming, social media, and exercise.
We do this with the benevolent intention of protecting us, but in the end it only further distances us from ourselves as we fervently avoid the obscure but ever-present 'threat' being housed within.
In order to break free from this downward spiral we must befriend the uncomfortable and expand our notions of what is acceptable. It is through this process of reconnection that we may discover what is truly possible for us in creating a meaningful life with purpose.
(MA, RCC, RTC)
* I am passionate about this work, and see writing as contributing to part of a larger conversation. Which is why I welcome any comments or questions you may have. Did this article connect with you? Why or why not? No response, when given with the intention of furthering understanding, is invalid.