Nicolae Tanase: Dr. Hanson, what is the meaning of life?
Jesse Hanson: The meaning of life can be summed up in one simple word: connection.
There is one specific memory that remains imprinted deeply into my brain and onto my heart. I was at the wonderful age of 19 when I first visited India. In a little city just outside of the city of Varanasi I remember seeing a little boy about seven or eight years old. He was squatting down over the earth near a large pile of what I thought was dirt. He was making “cow patties”. What I thought was dirt was actually manure. He repeatedly made hamburger size patties out of the manure and placed them in a pile to the side of his body. I learned from my tour guide that he was doing this to create insulation for the inside of his house. The reason this memory is still so etched into my brain and heart is because of the smile and the joy that this little boy wore on his face when he was doing a task that most Westerners would cringe upon.
This little boy, whose name I will never know, was such a great teacher to me that day for he reminded me that joy is possible in even the shittiest of situations.
There is toxicity in the collective consciousness of our developed Western culture. The misconception, largely presented by media and marketing, that teaches us the more we have, the happier we will be; that the more we can consume and the more money we have with which to consume, that we will then be happy. This broken teaching tells us that a certain monetary or material amount will equal happiness.
In my many years as a psychotherapist and coach I have worked with many millionaires who have so much material belongings and yet so little happiness or joy in their life. They prioritize material acquisition and consumption over human connection. The majority of my clients were not millionaires, however, they too were very caught up in the pursuit of happiness through obtaining material wealth. The thing that cultural teachings do not tell us is that money cannot buy connection.
That little boy in India did not have enough money to buy proper insulation from Home Depot, yet he wore the biggest smile on his face because he felt connected to the world around him, to the manure that he handled, to his family and community that love him. He showed me the true meaning of life.
We are here for connection. Whether you resource ancient spiritual or religious scripts, or modern-day neuroscience; all of these teaching lead us to the notion of connection. When you look at how our nervous system works and when our brains light up the most, it is in times of feeling connected to other people, to nature, and to the greater matrix of the universe.
I have worked with thousands of people suffering from addictions of all sorts. Regardless of the amount of money that they have or the job titles that they hold, there is always the same common denominator running beneath and driving the patterns of addiction. This common denominator is the feeling of disconnection; a feeling of being alone or abandoned, and of not knowing where or how they fit in to the bigger picture of this world. Equally important, all of those who have healed and are healing from their addictions, the major turning point has come when they begin to understand and embody connection; when they begin to prioritize developing healthy loving and nurturing relationships with other people and with themselves; when they discover the ability to have connection with nature and with the greater world around them, the deep inner pains that have been driving their addictions begin to dissolve and with that so do their addictive patterns.
This is less of a theory that I have thought of or figured out in my own mind. This is a theory it has been shown to me by thousands of my clients through their own transformation processes. I am grateful for this type of experiential learning and being shown, rather than over-thinking and figuring out. Fortunately, my studies in neuroscience validate this theory. We now know the experience of feeling connection is very healthy for the brain and nervous system. We now know that the orbitofrontal cortex (part of the cerebral cortex) “lights up” when we experience connection. When this part of the brain is active, it is nearly impossible for the amygdala to take over and put us in a fight-flight-freeze response (the origins of disconnection).
The more our higher brain functions are online, the more we can see/find connection everywhere. The more we feel/experience connection, the more meaningful life becomes. The more meaningful our life is to us, the less we will try to destroy it or ourselves. May we all dedicate ourselves to discovering more and more ways in which connection can be experienced.
~Jesse Hanson, M.A., PhD, RP specializes in neuroscience, somatic (body-centered) psychology and holistic healing. Trained in EMDR and other forms of somatic therapies, Dr. Hanson helps clients release held trauma and negative emotions from the body and inspires them to create themselves anew. After more than ten years in the holistic health field and many years of working with a multi-faceted treatment team approach at Passages Malibu, Dr. Hanson brings his experience to the Helix Healthcare Group as clinical director of integrative approach to treating addiction, trauma, and mental health issues. Jesse Hanson also leads clinical research studies at Helix Healthcare Group that investigate holistic and natural ways of reducing stress and anxiety. He recently completed research with the Chicago School of Professional Psychology on the impact of music therapy on mood.
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