Listening to yet another advertisement about the effectiveness of anti-anxiety pills, I hear the inherent worldview within our culture: You are fundamentally alone. Any suffering you’re experiencing is abnormal, the fault of a biological dysfunction within your body. While there certainly can be a biological basis for anxiety, never do I hear suggested that anxiety, depression, bouts of despair and lethargy might be normal, even healthy responses to a culture that has become superficial, overstimulating, dehumanizing.
In his book Lost Connections, journalist Johann Hari writes “Every one of the social and psychological causes of depression and anxiety they have discovered has something in common. They are all forms of disconnection. They are all ways in which we have been cut off from something we innately need but seem to have lost along the way.” The result of living within a culture of lost connections is unprecedented rates of despair, mental illness, and suicide. So it’s no surprise that Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently released a government advisory declaring loneliness a public health epidemic—“as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” Add the trauma of climate change disasters, economic injustice, political chaos, lack of affordable housing, etc. and the emotional heaviness so many of us feel these days makes sense.
So what do we do?
A friend of mine who leads a search and rescue operation once told me that when lost in the wilderness children have higher survival rates than adults. Why? Because children stop and wait to be found. Children trust. Adults, on the other hand, anxiously try to save themselves (often walking in circles), burning energy reserves while becoming more difficult to locate. We are in a time when our families, our neighbors, the earth, our souls, need us to stop, be still, and recover trust. Only then can we face the present suffering. Only then can we come to our senses and discover a deeper reservoir of faith, connection, and hope.
Go back into the ancient cultures and communities from which we all emerged, and we find the ties that bind—meaningful work, extended families, intimacy with mother nature, rituals and practices that foster community. We find practical, accessible, communal medicines that cultivate trust and wellbeing: song, story, silence, ritual, prayer, feasting, service to the greater good. These and other folk practices soothe individual anxieties and isolation by enfolding people within a larger reality, a greater whole, a felt experience of the interconnectedness of life.
Since 2010, The Hearth has provided healing spaces where story, compassionate listening, and service to the greater good is practiced as soul medicine. But as we suffer increasing disconnection and despair (particularly since the pandemic), we’ve felt called to focus our efforts on community builders—those organizations and individuals who act as glue within local communities.
Our Care for Community Builder programs provide rest, renewal, and restoration to those who work on the frontlines. In collaboration with other healing agencies, we offer creative spaces where people can recover hope. We do this by engaging several “folk medicines”—silence, story, song, play, movement, solitude in nature, and other connecting practices. This fall we will offer a number of online and in-person workshops (many of the them free) on the practice of story as well as intensive trainings in community-based storytelling.
In all our work we are seeking to draw forth the accessible, healing, connecting power of love. Love for the earth. Love for others. Love for ourselves. Love for the sacredness of life. Of course, we aren’t the only ones to recognize that this critical time requires a deeper commitment to love—Surgeon General Murthy now regularly ends his public presentations with a “love meditation.” (You can experience this meditation here.)