SANTA MONICA, California – My body floats into a WaveTable, a vibrating bed with a soft, mineral water surface, igniting instant nostalgia for the childhood days of wildly swinging my feet from my nana’s gurgling waterbed. But – with headphones over my ears, LED lights above my face, and aided by two giant transducers built into the bottom of the bed – the moment seamlessly fades into the here and now. I drift into a waking dream of color and kaleidoscope, of sweet scents and a soundtrack of soft seas and Mother Earth. Then, for about thirty minutes, my mind melts and calms into a kind of rare nothingness, slipping into a lucid pool of the elastic present.
“You can see for many veterans with PTSD, who never get a break from their mind, what a relief it is to get that small reprieve,” notes Jonathan Chia, co-founder of the Reality Management Center (RMC) in downtown Santa Monica, California – as I float back to me earthly state, feet firmly on the ground.
It’s a minimalist, dim place adorned with high-tech screens, sound systems and streams of purple light. The RMC is described as a state-of-the-art sensory wellness center and psychedelic lab, connecting ancient healing philosophies and modern science to provide something of a “neuro reset” for those looking for fast, cost-effective and safe healing modalities that mimic the multitude of advantages that come with medical psychedelic use.
“When it comes to suicide, (people) often don’t do it right away. It is not like you go to war and come back that month and (do it). It is prolonged exposure to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress,” Jonathan explains. “You have nightmares, you can’t sleep, or you have social anxiety. What we do here with science is take you to whatever brainwave you want, and the repairs can happen much more exponentially.”
Jonathan further explains to me that every element of every session is designed to bring the body into a harmonic state, stimulating the nervous system’s natural healing mechanisms termed “Sensory Resonance.” The process scientifically synchronizes one’s senses through light, sound, and vibration to induce deep states of relaxation and inspiration, while simultaneously providing a neurological reset.
For the 39-year-old Ohio native with seemingly boundless energy and a deep zest for every moment of life, the Reality Management Center is deeply personal.
Jonathan struggled with addiction in his early adult life, exposed to substance abuse from an early age. Then, at 24, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and embarked on a chilling 15-month deployment ahead of the brutal “Iraq surge.
“We got dropped into Baghdad pretty quickly and lost sixteen of our guys over 15 months,” Jonathan recalls, detailing haunting memories of watching those near and dear blown to bits on the battlefield. “We got pretty fucked up over there.”
Yet, in some ways, returning home was just the beginning of an even bigger internal war. Jonathan remembers the “up” moments as an MMA fighter recruited into the All-Army team. But there were plenty of “down” times too, which eventually entailed getting busted in a urine test for cannabis use. After 45 days of punishment and then having to fight for an honorable discharge, the disabled combat veteran was drawn to the strange dream of Southern California.
He dabbled in culinary school for a brief minute, before taking a sound engineering course taught by some of the state’s top DJs. Back then, Jonathan had no idea how these skills would come to unprecedented use in the sensory healing experience. Still, at that time, the demons nagged. This sent Jonathan and his veteran friends on a quest to disrupt (or, in his words, “fuck the system”) outside of the overarching pharmaceutical space.
“We said we are gonna go to Mexico. We are gonna go to Costa Rica, and we will try to fucking heal ourselves, because everyone we know is dead. We didn’t care what people were thinking about us,” Jonathan tells me.
Fast forward more than a decade, and the combat veteran, the artist and entrepreneur, has amalgamated everything he loved and learned to share with others as part of the RMC framework to repel the searing rates of veteran suicide and depression, in conjunction with his co-founder, renowned vibrational medicine expert Don Estes.
The Reality Management Center opened its laboratory doors just steps from the iconic beachfront early last year. Each month, the facility treats dozens of veterans, first responders, their families, and those seeking a one-of-a-kind remedial experience. Many of Jonathan’s passions are directed toward his brethren in the military and aiding them to overcome the moral injury and suffering caused by past wars and traumas.
PTSD and other similar neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease have been shown to specifically affect the presence of gray matter in the brain, the part which is responsible for processing information, Reality Center literature informs me. Gray matter includes brain regions involved in muscle control and sensory perception, such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision-making, and self-control (“Gray matter”).
“The loss of this gray matter inhibits the ability to make certain types of brain waves and impacts decision-making, mood and many other aspects of day-to-day life which can lead to Veteran suicide,” Jonathan underscores, highlighting that the FDA recently “gave breakthrough status to a technology which treats neurological conditions like this with specific brainwave frequencies delivered through pulsing light and sound, which improves function in those areas of the brain and reverse symptoms.
Yet pivotal to the treatment’s success is the process of “engaging multiple senses at once.” Further, the research surmises that another brain area “frequently implicated in PTSD studies belongs to the limbic system, known to be involved in processing both positive and negative emotions. Clients exposed to psychologically traumatic events cannot often process traumatic memories.”
The Reality Center technology thus enables the user to embark on a tailored journey of guided meditation and intention setting, aiding the reclamation of one’s often shattered nervous system and easing the need for harmful coping mechanisms.
Spurred by Jonathan’s DJ/sound engineering background, RMC is also delving into the emerging use of vocal analysis to alleviate the woes, analyzing vibrations, sound waves and kinematics to visualize one’s voice and create a delicate tune of one’s chosen mantra.
“Both seeing and hearing the patterns of your voice activates the brain in a new way, synchronizing the senses and amplifying the energy of your mantra in each moment,” Jonathan says with infectious enthusiasm.
In essence, he continues, it is all about redefining one’s reality without the need for drawn-out and often uncomfortable talk therapy sessions, of making technology that “facilitates positive change for humanity” accessible to a broad spectrum of the population. Despite the post-pandemic shift to the virtual world, Jonathan is keen to open more brick-and-mortar RMCs across the country. However, the art of training facilitators requires significant time and deep dedication, and is just beginning.
“It is like the learning curve of being a DJ. I can teach you how to hit the buttons, but to make the crowd jump up and down – that takes years,” he acknowledges.
And a critical component of the RMC puzzle is making it accessible to everyone in the community. As Jonathan points out, many charities offer specialized alternative medicine programs and travel to specific Special Operations units, whereas he remains determined the opportunity is open to all, regardless of branch, rank or experiences downrange.
“Families can go on this journey, even the kids. They have just as much stress, anxiety and PTSD as their father or mother,” Jonathan notes. “Plant medicine is great every once in a while for spiritual awakening and a reset when you need it. But it’s just not sustainable in this day and age as much as the marketing machine says it is. So everybody is jumping into that industry, but we are the digital or meta-version of plant medicine.”
Moreover, Jonathan also emphasizes that it is not just about dispelling the trauma and past affliction that lives in the mind. After that clearing process, it is about the infusion of inspiration – of setting concrete goals that open the path for one not just to be but to flourish.
“I keep telling everybody veterans will give humanity their second gift of life,” he adds. “The main difference between us and everybody else is that we are taking healing to the next level. Plant medicine has been used for thousands of years to heal, and we (using this) then create experiences and technologies for veterans, for everybody. We have created the fastest way to regulate somebody’s nervous system without taking substances.”
And as artificial intelligence and technology continue to grow and advance, Jonathan emphasizes, so will the RMC experience – and not stop until every service member has conquered the most challenging fight.