Technology is evolving at an unprecedented rate, and each day new advances within the digital space expand the potential for human knowledge and development. However, despite all of the technological advances we are making, it seems that with this same speed of connection, there is simultaneously a disconnection, as we are struggling with maintaining our emotional wellness more than ever before.
Over the last 15 years, from Facebook, to iPhones, to Genome editing, to robotics, we have experienced a momentum in development and discovery never seen before in history. Yet, in spite of all of this “evolution”, and according to the latest estimates from the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015. And, more than 260 million people are living with anxiety disorders – and many live with both.
How can we be so far advanced in our technology and have access to endless amounts of knowledge but at the same time, are struggling to understand our innermost feelings? Why has it become so difficult to maintain a sense of peace and happiness? Why do so many people report feelings of loneliness and disconnection when social media allows us to constantly be in touch?
As science has proven that our day to day existence – including our physical and mental health – is absolutely impacted by the way we feel, the importance of our emotional wellness, and our ability to manage it, is more and more obvious. This lack of ‘emotional intelligence’ can have devastating consequences to our overall experience of life.
Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer coined the term ’emotional intelligence’ in 1990 describing it as “a form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action”.
Emotional intelligence is a popular point of discussion in the corporate world. If you’ve ever taken a personality quiz when interviewing for a job, you would be very familiar with how many employers use tests like the Myers-Briggs or the DiSC to determine not only how a new employee will fit within the culture, but how best they can be managed to ensure maximum productivity and output.
But how much can these tests really tell us when it comes to the feelings we experience, and the emotions we have to live with each day. Plus, if someone is suffering from depression, how much does their DiSC score really matter? Turns out that it does. According to an article in Canada’s Globe and Mail, people with low emotional intelligence are twice as likely to experience anxiety, depression, substance abuse and even thoughts of suicide.
Since the 1800’s when HP Blavatsky released The Secret Doctrine, and into the 1920’s, when Paramahansa Yogananda brought meditation and the yogic to the states, Americans have been looking to ancient spiritual practices to improve their understanding of themselves and the world around them. According to a Pew Research study from 2017, 27% of adults in the United States say they think of themselves as spiritual but not religious, up 8 percentage points in five years. And many of these people are traveling outside of their country of birth to experience an awakening that they cannot find at home.
This awakening is more important than most of us realize; many people look for an awakening in response to a lack of fulfillment, a feeling of disconnection, and an experience of hopelessness – all hallmarks of depression. Depression has been linked to a 67% increased risk of death from heart disease and 50% increased risk of death from cancer. Depression, and other mental health disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity each year. But why aren’t people just taking antidepressants and calling it a day?
According to a recent article in the New York Times, antidepressants are only modestly effective when it comes to dealing with depression; they show strong positive result in the first two months of treatment but may not be effective for anything that falls short of a major depressive episode. And what this means is that those wanting to improve their well-being must look for other ways to improve their suffering. And this is where treatment for depression, emotional intelligence, and spiritual enlightenment meet.
According to Stephen Ilardi, the Author of “The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression Without Drugs”, depression is a ‘disease of civilization’. Thanks to lifestyle factors, including smoking, alcohol, and a lack of exercise, depression is epidemic in the industrialized, modern world while largely non-existent among modern day aboriginal groups.
We were never designed for the sedentary, indoor, sleep-deprived, socially-isolated, fast-food-laden, frenetic pace of modern life.
– Stephen Ilardi, PhD
So, what did our ancestors do to change the neurochemistry in their brains to prevent depression and anxiety? In ancient and indigenous cultures, plant medicine was practiced to help those struggling to remember their sense of oneness. When we think of plant medicine, many people automatically think of Ayahuasca, and while studies show that Ayahuasca has a positive effect on depression, grief, and anxiety – the world of plant medicine extends far beyond this particular medium. It’s not necessary to travel to the jungles of Peru and go through a deeply challenging shamanic-style journey. There are also other naturally occurring medicines that are easily and readily available, and can support emotional healing and wellness – and have an extraordinary effect on emotional intelligence.
In the South Pacific, kava (Latin name Piper Methysticum) has been used for thousands of years as a ritual and celebratory beverage. When they arrived in the 1700’s, Christian missionaries worked tirelessly to stop the use of kava, likening it’s mind and heart-expanding properties to the abuse of alcohol. But they couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Kava was and is used by indigenous peoples to reach a higher state of consciousness – and it was this effect that most likely drew the criticism of the Christian missionaries. Kava played – and still plays – a significant role in social gatherings in the South Pacific. It is consumed at events such as weddings, funerals, naming, and healing ceremonies with the express purpose of bringing people together. Once a group of people drink kava, it is accepted that they are one.
Unlike alcohol, kava is non-addictive, non-inflammatory, and does not affect blood sugar levels. And, contrary to the experience of indigenous peoples who have used kava for centuries, there are modern-day claims that kava is harmful to the liver – but this has not been proven and is thought to be a myth perpetuated by the pharmaceutical industry.
One of the original studies on kava’s effect on the liver, done by Merck, conveniently overlooked that that the study’s participants were also consuming alcohol and prescription drugs that are metabolized by the liver, possibly – and actually – causing the damage. There was also evidence that the kava extracts used in the study had been made with leaves, stems, and bark peelings of the plant. These contain toxic alkaloids and would never have been used in traditional kava preparations because it was known they could result in poisoning.
In fact, a Duke University study – and it’s not the only one – shows that kava is an effective therapy for anxiety while causing little or no side effects. Both Ohio State University and the South Dakota State University College of Pharmacy conducted animal studies and found that not only was kava non-toxic to the liver, but may even protect the liver. And, those who use kava don’t experience an effect on blood pressure, heart rate or sexual function – one of the major issues with the SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) routinely prescribed for depression and anxiety.
A recent article in Rolling Stone reveals that kava bars are growing in popularity all over North America. Although kava is being ‘sold’ as an alternative to alcohol, it’s effects go much deeper than relaxation after work or getting a ‘buzz’.
Beyond a feeling of relaxation, kava users report experiencing enhanced visual acuity, seeing brighter colors, and more ease in conversation. Anecdotally, kava has a reputation of being able to open blocked ‘chakras’, supporting the healing of emotional wounding. Unlike prescription drugs that manipulate neurotransmitters, dulling out undesirable feelings (and can have devastating effects on said neurotransmitters with long-term use), kava’s kavalactones create a mild state of euphoria, relax the body, and act as a mild sedative without causing drowsiness. And, because kava isn’t technically a hallucinogen, the euphoric state doesn’t cause a feeling of separation from reality. This creates an ideal situation in which to see aspects of our lives – and the people around us – through a softer lens. Compassion and empathy for ourselves and others is fundamental to our ongoing development and evolution. Through compassion and empathy, we can increase our awareness, our openness, and our connection – and our emotional intelligence can’t help but be positively impacted.
Kava can be consumed in a tea or as a supplement – taking it in capsule form may be more desirable for those who wish to avoid its ‘earthy’ flavor. Your kava should be organic and pesticide free and must contain only the root. A company called Limitless Life makes the kava-based, emotional support supplement AVA, using only sustainably grown, organic kava. AVA’s plant-based formula naturally supports emotional wellness allowing you to safely, conveniently, and effectively experience all the benefits of plant medicine. AVA causes no harmful side effects, damage to neurotransmitters, or tolerance build up. And it can be combined with a movement practice, including yoga, to enhance physical and mental benefits.
The path to greater emotional intelligence and healing is a life-long journey. There are problems that can’t – and won’t – be solved by technology. But if we are willing to unplug so we can hear the wisdom of our ancestors, we can find nuggets of wisdom that will bring us back to the wellness inherent in all of us. If we are willing to slow down, be still, and listen, all that we need to live rich, fulfilling lives, is available to us from mother earth.