Thursday, November 12, 2015

Fragmentation and Dislocation, Addiction, and Entheogens

November 12, 2015.  As I write these characters signifying the idea of 'today' on the page, I remember a few years ago, in November 2012, wondering if some quantum shift was going to go down before the end of the year.  Then, the moment just passed... like Y2K... and it appears that it's just more of the same, 'business as usual.'  I have not seen the promised metamorphosis of human consciousness.  If anything, I feel more depressed as the years go by and I get older, watching all the same (and sometimes even worse) stupid human tricks and wondering why?  What is this life for, anyway?  Will we - collectively - EVER wake up?  I have a hard time even going out shopping for things I need, as my heart's desire to be compassionate and non-judgmental towards every BEING vies with my observation and absolute loathing of humanity's collective faults.  I find myself saying things like "I love people - individual ones - but hate humans," and more often than not I stay home from public events, more of a hermit than I ever thought possible.  And yet there is STILL a spark in me, for example when I am in line at the grocery store waiting to check out, that inspires me to want to lift up the energy, to connect, to reach out.  Which I do.  Despite everything.  Confirming, for me,  that the world is not completely devoid of hope.  Even if it feels that way sometimes.

Interesting way to start this all up again!  Just wanting to be real, I guess, and speak to my current moment.  I started writing this blog last week (November 5th), thinking I was ready to be back in blogging mode, but instead I got caught up reading about fragmentation and dislocation, a subject worthy of attention here, as exploring the roots of addiction and 'how we got here' as a society is part of the larger conversation of what to do about the enormous problems besetting humanity and the array of solutions offered by the spiritually-motivated use of entheogens.

According to Bruce K. Alexander, author of The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit, the fragmentation of existing societies has been escalating for the last five centuries.  The basic definition of this term is hard to determine, as it has seemingly become a 'catch-all' word to describe many different aspects of the ills of modern society.  What I can glean from sifting through many diverse definitions is that fragmentation means dividing into smaller and smaller parts, a move away and apart from the concepts of unity and cohesiveness.  A fragmented society will not identify as a collective and will not share values, beliefs, social norms, etc, although each particular fragment will share these with intensity (ie white supremacists, religious sects, political parties, etc). The ultimate fragmentation is to strip all other groupings away till we just have individuals and everyone is 'doing their own thing' for their own betterment.  This is pretty much glorified by the 'me first' attitude of our culture, by the concept of 'rugged individualism' and even the 'American Dream,' and pointedly exemplified by corporations (run by individuals) who continue to destroy our Earth home for short-term financial gain at the expense of, well, everyone and everything else. 

This fragmentation of society has extreme costs to the individual, creating psychological devastation such as alienation, disconnection, and dislocation. The first two terms seem self-explanatory.  Mr. Alexander goes on to write the following abut the third term: "Dislocation refers to the experience of a void that can be described on many levels. On a social level it is the absence of enduring and sustaining connections between individuals and their families and/or local societies, nations, traditions, and natural environments. In existential terms, it is the absence of vital feelings of belonging, identity, meaning, and purpose. In spiritual terms it can be called poverty of the spirit, lack of spiritual strength, homelessness of the soul, or feeling forgotten by God." (1)

"Alexander sees this as an age of '...unprecedented, worldwide collapse of psychosocial integration.”' (2)  "However, prolonged, severe dislocation has a high price, because it eventually undermines the normal societal bases of belonging, identity, meaning, and purpose, leaving a unbearably empty and powerless experience of the world." (3)

I resonate with this.  I feel the lack of meaningful traditions, the lack of connection to 'place,' the lack of belonging to and sharing a deep connection with my extended family and community; I also feel outside of and at odds with this society, antagonistic to what I see our culture stands for.  In fact I feel our culture stands for 'no culture,' as evidenced by the gentrification of every region of America into Wal-Mart- and McDonald-Land.  Cheap, poorly made goods, with little to no aesthetic value; or cheap, poorly made 'food', with little to no nutritional value: this is how I view these hallmarks of American culture.  

In addition, I connect to the feeling of lack of meaning, especially when looking at life from my children's point of view.  They are young adults, recently out of the home - and what are they supposed to do now?  Go to college and get themselves $80,000 in debt?  Somehow find a way to pay rent and other bills while working a minimum wage job?  Not motivated by making money, they have also apparently inherited my lack of motivation to be identified by a career.  So what is the meaning of an 'undefined' life?  Does one have to have a career to find life meaningful?  What does my life even mean?  I have had a lot of labels over the years: homemaker, teacher, choir director, singer, performer, house-cleaner, office assistant - and not one of them defines me, really.  Is that what makes our lives meaningful, the labels we use to describe ourselves?

Obviously I don't think so, or I would have worked on having at least a more consistent one!  

I think it all has to do with a person's sense of purpose.  Partly it is the programming we receive from parents, family and community: the values we are taught and whether or not we ascribe to them.  In my case, I 'bought' the necessity of getting a college degree, even to the point of getting my Master's in Education - only to have the Federal laws change, making my teaching degree invalid (but not, unfortunately, invalidating my debt).  My children, despite being brought up to value education, are not making the same choices.  But honestly, their lack of choice is also a choice, and I have concerns about their futures (how mom-ish, I know - but true).

In my recent work with other youth, my children's' peers, I have been increasingly aware of a sense of lack of purpose.  These young people just don't seem to know what to do with their lives, apart from the present moment.  They know they need money to live but resent having to go do some meaningless job for low pay (don't blame them there).  From my point of view, they seem to exist for one reason only: to entertain themselves.  Feeling no connection to any tradition, alienated from this society as a whole (which to them is complete bullshit), and oftentimes not connected to their parents or family, or to any extended family, the youth turn to each other, making their social group their family, just to feel they belong somewhere.  It works, to some extent, to help them get by.  But in my opinion, and experience, the presence of - and prevalence of - addiction in the youth I know, and youth in general, speaks to the lack of purpose, connection and meaning they are experiencing.  

As mentioned before, the frequency of addiction in our modern world is increasing exponentially.  According to one statistic,"...the addiction treatment industry in the US alone has been estimated to have a $35 billion market, and to be “poised for accelerated growth” [Munro, 2015, quoted in (1)].  (I will admit to being shocked at that statistic.  Really,  wow.)  Now comes along a researcher like Bruce Alexander who feels that addictions are not just some chemical imbalance or genetic pre-disposition, but the result of a person's grasping to fill the gaping psychological void of dislocation.  "Addiction can provide dislocated people with some much needed relief and compensation for their bleak existence, at least for the short term." (3) This would be considered an 'adaptive function' of an addiction, in psych-speak.

"The adaptive function of addiction is often hidden. Many addicted people deny that they live in a state of dislocation, because they feel ashamed of their inability to find a secure social life, a sense of who they are, some values they can believe in, a place they can call their own, or a reason to get up in the morning, even though they live in a fragmented society that makes filling these needs problematic for everybody. They may deny their dislocation because it feels like an unbearable personal failure and they may be only dimly aware of the adaptive function of their addiction. (1) 

So, how does all of this relate to using entheogens in a spiritual context?  Well, first of all, and most obviously, entheogens have been shown to generate the Divine within - otherwise engendering what is known as Unitive Experiences: the experience of everything being ONE and all of it being LOVE.  "Unitive Experience historically was seen as the experience of becoming one with the Divine.  It is an experience which usually leads to a sense of clarity, inner quiet, and a new sense of being which transcends our usual experience of being a separate self." (4)

A person experiencing this state would feel immediate relief from feelings of alienation, disconnection and dislocation.   If in fact these feelings play into addictions, then the relief of such feelings should help reduce addiction.  This is, in fact, supported by research, and by my own experience.

To take it to the personal, for me, the feeling of being connected to everything inspired in me a renewed sense of purpose, and a re-commitment to living my own life, something that was not 100% before then.  Sometimes I used to wonder why I was alive, and why I should even stay here (ie stay alive).  Since I started praying with the medicine, I have been able to quit smoking tobacco, a habit of over twenty nine years, almost six years ago, and I also was able to finally quit drinking alcohol two and a half years ago.  I still have some addictions, compulsions, and other weird trips - but those two were the worst - and I view my experiences with the medicine as vitally important in supporting me to evolve past these addictions.  

If dislocation is the experience of the absence of belonging, identity, meaning, and purpose, and it is possible to safely and with intention have an experience of belonging, an expanded sense of connection to something greater than your small self, resulting in a renewed sense of meaning and purpose, wouldn't that be, like, the best thing, ever?  Too bad it is (for now) against the law!  THAT is just one more reason why I am writing this book! 

OK well it has been most of the day already.  Amazing how the time goes by!  I am excited about the next steps for this book project.  Please stay tuned for more, and share if you feel inspired!

(1) Alexander, Bruce K. "Healing Addiction Through Community: A Much Longer Road Than it Seems."
(2) Skinner, Wayne.  "Homeless Souls: Addiction as Adaptation to Psychosocial Dislocation. Crosscurrents: The Journal of Addiction and Mental Health, 2010, Volume 14, Number 2. 
(3) Alexander, Bruce K. "Addiction, Environmental Crisis, and Global Capitalism.",-environmental-crisis,-and-global-capitalism

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