A snowy, sleety, rain-splattered sort of day more like late March than February. The birds, awaiting their turn at the feeder, call to one another between trees. There are fewer squirrels at the feeder as we finally resorted to purchasing some painfully hot pepper oil which Jennie added to the birdseed. The result has a much diminished squirrel present, at last for now.
We spent quite a few hours during the past two weeks watching the Olympics. As we switched between US and Canadian networks we noticed the countries ordered events differently, creating strangely divergent chronologies and story lines. I can remember when all of the networks shared a single feed and presented all events sequentially, and frequently in their entirety.
This set me to thinking about the ways media shape our lived experiences and impact our lives and intimate relationships. They even intrude on therapy and healing ceremonies!
I can remember life before commercial TV, a period dominated by radio and print media, and a much slower news cycle. I have sweet memories of late afternoons sitting by an enormous radio in the English countryside, listening to children’s programming, chatting with friends about our school day, and enjoying substantial, much appreciated, teas.
At school, where I was the only American in the three room building that housed all thirteen grades, the radio was a crucial part of teaching. Each day we joined countless rural school children as amiable voices taught us about classical music, history, and the natural world. My favorite days were the ones during which we listened to an educational program, then headed out into the countryside to explore and apply!
I also remember that on the day I was hospitalized for polio my parents brought a small radio into my room, on which I listed to The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, and felt some relief from the terror and loneliness. By that time I was old enough to appreciate radio’s daily serials and often looked forward to listening, even as I was too young to understand their nuanced complexity.
In the days, weeks, and months of recovery that followed I often turned to the radio for solace, preferring the aurally enhanced world of my imagination to the fully constructed universe of TV. Somewhere during that time I discovered broadcast sports, the soothing companionship of familiar broadcasters, and a shared, if distant, experience of communitas.
By the Sixties TV had come to dominate the airwaves, alongside the omnipresent transistor radio with its all important access to music. TV brought us the world, including the Vietnam War, almost immediately and in “living color.” Frequently events unfolded before the camera, unpredictable and emotionally potent.
Sometime in the nineties the internet came into my life. I was an educator and an early adopter, accessing the internet through our state library system before there were any commercial carriers. Those were the days of academic interest groups and diverse chat rooms, mostly relatively tame. Much like ham radio, one could easily send a couple of rich hours chatting with people across the country, and sometimes, the world, and the experience was mostly headline and false news free.
Now, of course, the media is omnipresent and we are, collectively, awash in loneliness. It is difficult to untangle something approaching truth from the dense web of propaganda, and the mediascape is saturated with vitriol and rancor. Sometimes the outside world, let alone nature, can seem enormously distant, even unreal, a problem that appears to grow more daunting as media becomes “hyper real”.
While I do not believe they can cure loneliness, their best both psychotherapy and shamanic healing provide some sanctuary from the tumult. Ideally, therapy offers a quiet, contained, protected space in which to delve into one’s personal inner world, and interact with a caring other. Shamanic healing invites us to open our senses and connect to nature and the immediacy of the spirits. By providing what Winnicott termed “a holding environment,” both chip away at loneliness, thereby helping us become rooted in a profound sense of community, one that is visceral and interactive, and reminding us we are alive in a world of connection and beauty.