Yesterday, as so often before here in Ghana, I witnessed large groups of people singing, dancing, worshipping, playing (really, all of that one piece) for four hours and was told upon leaving that they would continue for at least four more hours. All these activities help people not only alter their body chemistry to feel integrated in their own body/heart/ mind, but connect them to their fellow neighbors in profound and real ways. And then there might be many more such hours during the week. When not dancing and such, many are working together preparing food or weaving cloth or harvesting vegetables or building a structure. Working with their bodies and doing work that is tangible and tasteable and wearable and practical and satisfying on the levels of feeling needed. Most of it is done outside in company with trees and birds and goats and chickens. And always children. Everywhere. All the time.
Now I’m thinking about the enormous number of psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, therapists we have in my country and the epidemic maladies we suffer from. Things like depression, loneliness, alienation, disconnection, anxiety, stress, eating disorders and so on. Any of us suffering from any (or all) of the above mostly feel these as our personal problem. Why are we so depressed when everyone on TV is having a Pepsi moment? And therapy most often treats it personally, assuming that something is wrong with us and suggesting long, long (and expensive) hours, sometimes adding up to years, of talk or prescribing a dizzying array of drugs.
But what if we’re depressed because we spend long days sitting indoors in office cubicles staring at screens? What if we’re lonely because we’ve never in our life danced, sung and played music with our neighbors for 4 hours? Or because we're elders stuck in some old age home with no children ever around? What if we're stressed because our whole culture is driven by the clock and the freeways are jammed and the boss noticed that we didn't work overtime like our fellow worker who will get ahead? Or we're raising children in a culture that offers little or no support, as least short of spending lots of money on a nanny? What if we feel fearful because Fox news and Right Wing radio keeps feeding us the images to keep us fearful and thus, under control? What if we’re angry because our politicians are selling our children’s futures down the polluted river? What if we’re alienated because we don’t feel part of any group that seems to care about us and fully accept and celebrate our unique character? What if we feel disconnected because our work is so abstract and it’s not clear if it’s making anyone (including ourselves) happy? What if we’re eating poorly because our body doesn’t match what the media holds up as the model? In short, what if what appears to be our personal problem is actually a collective, cultural problem? What if all that therapeutic energy were turned toward healing a sick society and we worked to actively create a culture that supports and sustains us?
Driving back from the celebration, I asked Kofi is there were therapists in Ghana and he just laughed. Now there may be and they may be helping people in need, but he understood that the things that afflict us Americans and send us into therapy are simply not common—the things listed above: depression, loneliness, alienation, disconnection—because the culture helps hold people up, helps them feel connected and part of something larger than themselves.
Of course Ghanaians, like all human beings, have issues with their mothers, feel jilted in love, don’t feel wholly accepted by their village for who they feel they are, have conflicts with their neighbors and there might indeed be a place for a good therapist to help them sort out these inevitable human problems. But I suspected that it’s rare to find hordes of people chronically suffering from stress and anxiety in a culture that’s relaxed about work, unusual to find people obsessed about body image in a culture that has a wider view about what’s sexy, handsome, desirable, uncommon to find people who feel lonely amidst the constant community bonding through music, work and socializing, difficult to find people who feel alienated when they spend so much time outdoors in company with nature’s bounties, unnecessary to prescribe drugs when the vibrational medicine of dance, music, song and physical work keep the body balanced and toned and the spirit uplifted.
And there’s more. I haven’t met any children here that I would label ADHD. Not one. They have the natural energy of children and plenty of outlets—like the constant game playing—to express it. As well as the discipline to sit still. Again, we create so many of these so-called diseases by our ignorance about the nature of children and sticking them at desks slogging through the boring adultified curriculum.
Do you see what I’m getting at here? It’s fine to assume some personal responsibility for our own imbalances and seek professional help as appropriate, but I’d venture to guess that a good 80% of the “cure” can be made from living better and from helping co-create a culture that encourages us to live better and supports us in our efforts.
So every morning, Kofi leads us in an Africanized Zumba class called Wake Up to Life! and that vibrational medicine does exactly what it promises. Let’s all live better and then save the therapist for those occasional confusions that come our way. After the dance class.