According to Marshall McLuhan, each new advance in media technology extends our senses further from our physical bodies and our location in a particular time and place. In this way it transforms our experience of being human. The last decade has brought what is perhaps the most profound media revolution in history; we now carry around in our pockets digital devices that enable us to be instantly connected with virtually anyone or anything on the planet. With the portals of consciousness flung open, the world rushes in to flood our psyches, obliterating our accustomed sense of interiority or self. With our nervous systems overloaded by digital input, many of us find ourselves in a chronic state of disembodied dissociation and near-psychotic anxiety. In his 2013 film “Gravity,” Alfonso Cuaron presents a terrifying picture of our contemporary condition: untethered from her spacecraft, Sandra Bullock floats in a black void, nearly annihilated by overwhelming emptiness. The film won Cuaron the Oscar for Best Director and the freedom to choose whatever he wished as a follow-up project. “Roma,” the film the director chose to make next could not have been more different from the nightmare of cosmic uprootedness presented in “Gravity”; indeed, it is an antidote to that condition. In it, the director returns to his childhood home in Mexico City and his family’s indigenous housekeeper, Cleo, who was the beating heart at its center. With her loving devotion to the home and her humble performance of the daily chores, Cleo creates a container for nurturing and sustaining of young life. What is most remarkable about the film - aside from its elegiac beauty -- is its reverence for a woman whom the world at large would dismiss as one of the least important people alive. So it was with Hestia, the least heralded of all the Olympian gods, who despite her near invisibility was the first deity ancient people prayed to in beginning any ritual or major endeavor. Hestia’s sacred fire at Delphi was the spiritual center of the ancient world, and torches lit from it were carried abroad by colonists establishing new settlements. This same sacred flame of Hestia (or Vesta in the Roman world) served as the center of every private household, keeping those who lived within its walls spiritually connected to the heart of life. The goddess Hestia does not just live in ancient history but in the psyches of modern women and men. Indeed James Hillman asserts that she may be regarded as the ruling deity of psychotherapy and analysis. “Hearth in Latin is focus, which can be translated into psychological language as the centering attention that warms to life all that comes within its radius,” he writes. Hestia, is “the soul essence that inhabits anything.” We’ll show film clips from both “Gravity” and “Roma” to explore the condition of the human psyche in the digital age and its potential for restoration via Hestia-like attention and care. Understanding that a sense of de-centered disembodiment is the prevailing psychopathology of our time, I will argue that the task that falls to us as therapists and as individuals is to restore for our clients and for ourselves a sense of interiority, of subjectivity…that there is somebody home.
By Susan C. Roberts, MS, MA, MSW