Morphing Stories

The pursuit of greed at the cost of destroyed ecosystems is not worth it. This is the simple truth global society has had to face since at least the 1970s when Limits to Growth was published. The ecological news captured the imagination of the world in that decade that saw the first Earth Day, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the rise of the environmental non-profits. Last week we looked at David Bowie’s song Five Years to get a sense of the emotional reaction that went along with the “terrible news.”

It is important to acknowledge the emotional factors inseparably linked to the ecological data. Since the 70s the trickle of terrible news has become a torrent. It has played a role in the social developments we have seen since that is hard to underestimate; we have been running away, terrified. The United States recoiled from Jimmy Carter’s sweater message from the Oval Office that it had an oil problem straight into Ronald Regan’s Great America. We then fascinated ourselves with the virtual reality of our high tech, frittering away precious years of opportunity, only to come around full circle and be talking in this election about making America great again.

Now, of course, it is late in the day. Another bit of evidence that this is true, to add to the mountain of it already gathered, came out last week from the United Nations. The State of Food and Agriculture 2016 Report studied the probable food crisis heading our way due to climate change and the need to reform our agricultural sector. Same reforms we knew we needed half a century ago.

The psychological price we pay for denying the ecological facts is a war on our children; taking their land is also taking their hearts. This is something that the Native American’s understood but was lost. Another bit of evidence that this is true, to add to the mountain of it already gathered, is Amanda Ripley’s How America Outlawed Adolescence report in November’s Atlantic. Remember the 16 year old girl thrown from her desk by the school police officer on the video that went viral? Amanda investigated. She found that 22 states have now passed laws that make predictable adolescent behavior illegal.

Running away we have run into a wall. Ecology is the black death of our times, tearing away our hope for the future and replacing it with a dark shroud. It is also like the Lisbon earthquake in that it has made us question our worth, our god, the power of evil and the power of good. These are religious questions.

Socially, it sometimes seems to me, there are two faces to religion. One face is the positive one in which the stories and symbolism nurture what is best in us and aid us in our difficult journey to maturity. Religion increases our compassion for one another. Western religious tradition, particularly in its Evangelical form, has earned a reputation for being there when a personal conversion experience takes place. More than a century ago William James wrote about these powerful, life changing psychological-spiritual encounters with conscience in The Varieties of Religious Experience. Group hysteria aside, the sacred has helped many, many people through very troubling times and brought true peace of mind and healing to some who were suffering in the deepest, darkest nights of the human soul. The angry atheists, in my opinion, do not give this aspect of religious life sufficient weight when they rightly condemn its dark side.

On the other hand, it is remarkable to me that the Evangelical population of the United States has thrown in with Donald Trump this election. They reason because the Supreme Court appointments are up for grabs and because he takes the pro-life stance, they have to vote for him. It is hard to imagine a less Christ-like character than the one portrayed throughout the many years The Apprentice was on the air. In my opinion this is a sign of seriously confused religious impulses.

This dark side is the second face religion shows a society. Then it is little more than a dangerous patriarchy, that thinks it owns women and children, writ large. The gods become little more than the final, ultimate stick by which to bully people. It is not called the bully pulpit for nothing. Threats of hell are the ultimate threats. What else could strike fear into the heart more than the idea that you will suffer physical and emotional torture for eternity? The very concept of hell is the most cruel invention the cognitive mind has ever conceived. As such it is the best barometer of someone’s compassion; who do they assign to hell? Hell is used to persuade people that the preacher’s bill of goods must be purchased, that the preacher’s intellectual philosophy must be adopted, that the preacher’s set of social and ethical opinions must be accepted as the final truth. Or else.

People acting from a place of fear do not make the best judgments.

Hell is also the image that captures the horror and pain of our suffering. Suffering seems to go on forever, that is one of its characteristics. The Buddhists have hells too. Each is described in graphic detail, providing plenty of images by which the emotions encountered along the contemplative path might be given flesh. Each and every life in these Buddhists hells is said to go on for eons, or multiples of. This is one of those mythic areas that seem so odd to Western sensibilities that are used to the island-earth universe only 4,000 years old. The point of the Eastern teachings, I think, is the same one about impermanence that is always the Buddhist observation. Each of those hell realm lives do come to an end; there is no eternal damnation. I think that defuses the stick the unscrupulous are using in their bully pulpits.

We are making a hell on earth. It is right in front of our eyes but we cannot see it because our fear shrouds our perceptions. It is not fear that is the problem, that is a survival signal. It is that we fear the wrong things. We fear images of the mythological imagination divorced from their intellectual and emotional moorings. Re-rooted the images can train fear and strengthen reason, but that requires the courage to walk into the hell our imaginations have conjured up. Don’t fear to face the gods acting like scarecrows. We gain this courage by trusting that whatever reality lies behind our hellish images, it is a reality we cannot ever be truly separated from. We fear ghosts. We do not fear poisoning our ground water. We are very confused.

Churches mark the coming and going of the stages of life. This is their role in our society. This remains true even today when most people are married and buried. Traditionally churches kept the village records of just such things. Why? Because this is where the reality of human lives takes place and this is the referent for all those sacred stories. The church graveyard teaches the human animal as much as the church altar. The stories are not there to point us to some far away place over the rainbow where things are more real and true than they are right here and now. No, the meaning of the stories is what counts. The meaning is carved into our flesh.

This being the case, when a culture’s stories fail them, when they are no longer able to capture the truth of the lives being lived, people are without guidance. A search for meaning becomes desperate as a sickness of soul spreads. As this process progresses the society’s stabilizing features weaken until a collapse of business as usual takes place. One could say that the search for a new story is taking place but, at least for me, that minimizes the experience. The way we experience this is by dissecting the previous story intellectually. It is exactly what we are doing right here. The fact that I find it easy to do this type of analysis of the Christian tradition’s cultural effects is itself a sign that the story is no longer speaking effectively to the needs of our time.

You have a chance to work directly with these stories that are morphing into something new in our times. It is not helpful to simply allow them to absorb your individuality; dehumanization through cult membership is not the goal. It is not helpful to simply ignore them as impractical concerns in a world of hard nosed business; they hold necessary ingredients of your individuality if it is to resist dehumanization through persuaders pushing fear buttons. To join the work of dreaming these stories forward you will need to engage them in whatever fashion you can in order for them to speak meaningfully in your own life.

Engaging the search for the very best understanding of ourselves in a time of ecological crisis cannot ignore what we have learned about the role of reason and mythology in the workings of the human soul. This is a time of science. Neuroscience, cognitive science and psychology are profoundly relevant to the crisis we find ourselves in. The apocalyptic symbols are constellated in the collective mind just now because what we are involved in while wrestling with our ecological crisis is also a spiritual crisis.

A spiritual crisis is one in which the inversion of our mythological tales overcomes their upright meanings, as it were. Put plainly – we are sorely tempted to write ourselves into the role of the villain. We are sorely tempted to blame our rabid exploitation of fossil fuel’s highly concentrated energy source on our moral nature having an irredeemable flaw, instead of accepting it as an inevitable outcome for an animal as clever and curious as ourselves. Yeast overshoot given the chance. Humans do to. The question is to what degree will we be able to incorporate this new knowledge about ourselves? Will it make us wiser or will it destroy us? The moral position is a non-starter: judge and jury has passed sentence as soon as the premises are accepted. A natural position grounded in ecology holds out the hope that we might retain our compassion under pressure.

The Black

“Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us, earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying

I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies
I saw boys, toys, electric irons and TV’s
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought I’d need so many people.

A girl my age went off her head, hit some tiny children
If the black hadn’t pulled her off, I think she would have killed them
A soldier with a broken arm, fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac
A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest, and a queer threw up at the sight of that.

I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour, drinking milk shakes cold and long
Smiling and waving and looking so fine, don’t think you knew you were in this son.
And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor
And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there
Your face, your race, the way that you talk
I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk.

We got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we got

We’ve got five years, what a surprise
Five years, stuck on my eyes
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we got”
David Bowie, Five Years

 

We have been talking about being gentle with ourselves because, I submit, as a culture we have been suffering from the trauma of what the Limits to Growth study taught us about the future of industrialized civilization. Part of our reaction culturally, I submit, involves increasing child abuses. Abuse can be physical, sexual or psychological. We have decided, as a culture, it is ok to have more than 20% of our children living in poverty, at a time CEOs make 300% more than there employees. Physical abuse, check. Previous posts have already covered how pervasive sexual abuse is. Sexual abuse, check. What about psychological abuse, or what is also known as spiritual or emotional abuse? That is what we are going to talk about today.

It is not a small thing that this was the first presidential debate, watched by children all over the nation as homework, that was not family friendly. Nor is it a coincidence that this event coincides with the first woman to run for the highest office in the land. Somehow, that seems to make it ok.

I wrote awhile ago that, “we seem to get a kick out of terrifying our children, as if we could take our revenge for everything that has disappointed us about life under Babylonian Capitalism by taking it out of their hides.” Last week I was told about another example of exactly what I had in mind. As Halloween approaches another deeply archetypal eruption tears into the social landscape with crazy clowns putting in an appearance. Here is another way to attack the child’s mind and fill it with fear and terror. Blood in school hallways has become fair game for… for what?

Why are so many adults being driven to attack children, or look the other way?

In this post I want to share an archetypal reading of the David Bowie song Five Years. I offer these ideas as a model, knowing they are in-part personal associations yet trusting there might also be some helpful insights into what is happening to us socially. Like any model of how archetypal themes might be playing out in a society this one is sketchy at best. Still, by my lights it is worthwhile. I think much of Bowie’s gift was in taking the position of the abused and outcast, seeing their worth and giving emotional expression to the truth of their lives.

I want to read the song Five Years as an oracle. Oracles do not predict the future, that is a modern conception. Oracles read the way the wind is blowing at the time they are consulted, wrap that intuitive perception in enigmas and poetry, and do so to bestow wisdom so people might recognize things more clearly and act more skillfully. It is an important question to contemplate, who will you trust as an oracle?

It was in 1968 the Club of Rome asked for a study of the world problematique using system science and computation. The resulting study was completed about the time this David Bowie song was written in 1971. These things were in the air. The opening verse states clearly “earth is really dying.” In interviews with both the Rolling Stones and William Burroughs Bowie explained this was because the earth “will end because of a lack of natural resources.”

From the interview with Rolling Stone just mentioned (italics added):
“It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources.  Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock n roll band and the kids no longer want rock n roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s advisors tells him to collect news and sing it, cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news.”

What the artist was able to see, I propose, is how this type of news was changing people. He identified the archetypes that would accompany us on our journey bearing this “terrible news.” In the interview he mentions how ” all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything.” I look around at the dissolution of the barriers between adult and child material in our society and think these couple of sentences from the early 1970s capture the state of things rather well.

For what it is worth I believe this vision into the resource restrained future stayed with Bowie the rest of his days. Blackstar takes up the theme, in my opinion. In his penultimate work, appearing after a 10 year hiatus from public music making, it animates Where Are We Now? (“just Walking the Dead”). The video he released with it artistically captures faces frozen with anxious eyes watching as time passes by. The video is full of shots of Berlin in the 1970s. Why does the woman just join him in the video only to watch along side him as he sings? Why the woman with the tail in Blackstar? What Bowie saw was how the male and female are each playing different roles under the pressures of living with what we know.

Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us, earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying

The market square is of course how we wove the spell that grew us from the sustainable human scale to the unsustainable Homo Colossus. It is pushy in here as the pie shrinks. I get an image of young mothers pushing strollers with their children in them. How can they be happy for their children again? With a heartbreaking sigh they look on the reality, such a small amount of time left to cry in. What his hauntingly beautiful lyrics proceed to express for us is the emotional impact the news of limits to our growth has on people. It hurts. It is true. There is no escape, what are we to do?

I heard telephones, opera house, favorite melodies
I saw boys, toys, electric irons and TV’s
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought I’d need so many people.

When this vision gets ‘stuck in your eyes’ everything you see in the normal world of struggling humans is touched. Everything we have worked so hard to achieve suddenly looks to be so very impermanent. We scan the built environment and the culture so intimately bound up with our identities, like the identity of Bowie once a boy fascinated with a toy from father, mother’s electric iron and the wonder of TV. The consumer cornucopia is our embedded mind, our brain made over like a warehouse. These common, everyday things carry powerful emotional connotations in the unconscious. As he thinks about the loss of all these things taken for granted since his childhood he suddenly realizes what this “terrible news” will also mean for all the people in the world. Billions and billions of us.

His attention turns to people: a world full of laughing, crying, struggling human beings with warm bodies in an endless variety. Some, like himself, destined to give form to the dreams of the many and others destined to be the many. The contemplative who has worked with compassion understands the truth, “I never thought I’d need so many people.” We are the same. Equal.

A girl my age went off her head, hit some tiny children
If the black hadn’t pulled her off, I think she would have killed them
A soldier with a broken arm, fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac
A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest, and a queer threw up at the sight of that.

A whole lot of people were going off their heads as the 60s dreams of the Age of Aquarius were shattered in the dark 70s. I read in these next two lines an accurate description of what archetypal psychology knows as the dark mother. Those mothers pushing their baby strollers through the market square sighing sometimes snap. How could it be that this most wonderful and beautiful baby of mine is the source of so much darkness and pain in our over-populated world? Going off her head the unconscious rage at the unfairness of it all was given free reign. What happens next is just as Jungian thought would expect; sometimes the only way to beat a monster is to invoke a bigger monster. A compensating darkness rose to protect the survival of the battered child. This was touched on when we discussed how the shadow can be a person’s protector. The theme is being given sliver screen treatment this holiday season in the movie A Monster Calls. Missing dads, dark moms and monsters make up the heady concoction in Babylon Capitalism’s bitter cup.

Next evocatively, have we not all broken our arms saluting the military-industrial complex one too many times, while staring with mono-vision at the automobile as the summit of industrial wealth? When Law and Order are put in service of the True Believers it makes society’s outcasts sick with fear and disgust. The sad news invokes not only the dark mother. The dark father puts in an appearance as well as patriarchy’s physical violence is put at the service of its spiritual violence, causing physical sickness among the broken and abused they leave in their wake. The lawman puts in an appearance in another song, Is There Life on Mars? “Take a look at the lawman, beating up the wrong guy.” That is in the news of late as well.

I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour, drinking milk shakes cold and long
Smiling and waving and looking so fine, don’t think you knew you were in this son.
And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor
And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there
Your face, your race, the way that you talk
I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk.

I am using a reading that ends with “in this son” instead of “in this song.” That way the reference to Ma follows naturally. It also leaves us facing the emotions of a son abandoned by his father, as so many boys are in our age of fatherless homes. The generation we inherited this mess from seem to just be going along just fine, happy as fat cats; “ the older people have lost all touch with reality.” In the cold rain he thinks back on the time of childhood and nostalgically wants to go back there. What is back there that causes this outpouring of compassion in the next lines?

Our love for our children is stronger than our fear. Even now. Our children bear our face, our race, the way that we talk. They speak directly to our hearts. Overshoot is not left as an unfelt abstraction. The child is recognized as precious, even by all the darkened mothers and fathers. Evolutionary blood, sweat and tears have made my child just who and what he or she is. The deepest parental wish is that one’s child will be able to balance their physical, emotional and mental lives so that they can live a good life and that the world will provide the stability and support a good life requires. All this, and more, is in that quintessential parental gesture; offering a steadying hand for our child’s grasping finger as they take their first trembling steps. “I want you to walk.”

Let us pray this spirit of help and nurturing will become more evident in our culture.

We got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we got

We’ve got five years, what a surprise
Five years, stuck on my eyes
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we got

The people of the industrial world were surprised by the terrible news. It pains the brain but once you know, you cannot forget. It gets stuck in your eyes.

We Know

Our time is overwhelmingly one of ecological disaster. Not one informed person on this planet has any doubt that the human ecological footprint has become huge. Some think its still not large enough to be causing as many serious problems as I do, but even these skeptics agree that the scale of our modern industrialized technology’s impact on natural resources is enormous. We are not all eating Tilapia instead of Cod for no reason. Our public conversations about our ecological predicament, however, are wholly lacking in a rational response to the circumstances. We lack the courage to face the facts; our story failed us; we have not the nerve needed to steel ourselves for embracing the truth. We are fighting maturing by denying the deep disappointment in our growing disillusionment with technological progress as a road to a better world.

The environmental movements have been coming from the position that people are not well enough informed about the ecological facts. They design marketing messages to persuade people to live with some semblance of proper concern for the health of the planet. I have come to suspect that this approach fails to recognize the social situation for what it really is. People are not lacking in ecological knowledge. People do know we are in an ecological crisis, they know it viscerally. We are not failing to talk about it, let alone act rationally in response to it, because we are ignorant. It is because we are numb with shock. The news is so bleak and so huge and so unchangeable that it has been necessary to repress it in order to carry on with the day to day chores that sustain our survival, such as it is.

We are doing the best we can.

We have known the true state of things since sometime in the 1970s. The strains on our societies since then have been enormous, yet so far international relations and market driven Main Street have not broken down. There is reason to believe that may not remain the case much longer. It is hard to see any way business as usual can continue in anything like its present form for another generation or two. It is unlikely to make it another decade or two if we are interpreting our ecological data correctly. Our institutions proved to be too frozen in their ways to adapt to the new reality. The authority of those institutions drew upon the shared mythology of the societies in which they functioned. All throughout the world this psychological symbiosis is breaking down.

Until we speak with straight words about the reality of our ecological overshoot our societies will remain prey to pied pipers. Some will claim the elite are to blame and if only we could get them to pay their taxes all will be well. Some will blame everything that is no longer working well on foreigners, immigrants and ethnicities in the tried and true march towards the sacrifice of the scapegoat. Many will be enthralled by the dark simplicity of apocalyptic fundamentalism and, certain the time of their god is near, perpetrate all manner of atrocities. Colorful cults will rise up here and there promising all kinds of cosmic trips into the inner worlds as an escape from the dismal, shabby, crowded and violent environments we have made for ourselves.

It goes without saying that none of these predictable responses will be designed to have the slightest impact on the real causes of our problems. But they will. Every one of the social madnesses just described will also have an substantial impact on the environment and its populations. Through it all the reality will remain the ecological facts: overshoot due to reliance on the phantom acreage fossil fuels provided. Societies that begin to include straight talk about our constrained position may also find themselves better prepared to make choices that have a good chance of actually helping their people deal with the changing circumstances. So much for societies, what about as individuals? What does accepting the ecological critique offer us? Individuals who use this simple analysis might be able to resist the pied pipers and even convince some of their neighbors not to sign up with the latest Coo-Coo de jour.

Eventually some disaster of failed infrastructure or diplomacy will be large enough to tip the majority of the population of one overdeveloped country after another into a configuration more in keeping with the resources that are actually available within its own borders. Resources, it should be noted, sorely abused by the reckless and frankly brainless way in which they have been exploited for the last few hundred years.

Accepting the truth is hard. It does however bring with it more than a few blessings. It provides clarity. We have to relearn to be gentle. We need to walk on the earth more lightly. We will do so when we walk among one another with less fear.

Our greed is born from the emotional and physical security modern life has removed from the human experience. For our long evolutionary history our species thrived, one might even say delighted, in our extended family arrangements. We were assured that there would be someone there who cared about us, to watch over us when we were sick, and to bury us when we died. Those same people had watched us grow up, marry and work as the years of our lives went by. The extended family was not the only feature of our long evolutionary history modern societies have unmoored themselves from. Living on the scale of villages and tribes, the extended family had a relationship with the place in which it lived we moderns no longer comprehend. The land and its flesh supported one another directly. The relations and community offered a context in which the provisioning of life’s necessities and the celebration of its stages was a shared phenomenon. Modern societies have all too often replaced this human touch, which nurtured us and gave our lives meaning, with faceless bureaucracies where an individual is little more than a number. And now our numbers threaten to destroy us.

Our greed is also born from the cognitive and spiritual security modern life has removed from the human experience. Naked spirit is exposed to the infinite universe of our space age cosmology. (TV and movies arose to aid us in clothing the nakedness of our spirit with images, the language of the soul, in such myth making as Star Wars.) In our rockets our Icarus dreams mock us even as they fall back to earth like fallen angels. None-the-less the technological peak of achievement they represent is something we should take great pride in. The Hubble telescope and what it has taught us alone is an accomplished fact with truly cosmic implications – we have gazed upon the heavens. Even so, we should not allow nostalgia for what was not meant to be, this space age vision of endless technological progress in space, “the final frontier,” to sicken us of the future we do have. The question before us now is not whether or not our children will be able to survive shooting from star to star but whether or not they will be able to survive right here on earth.

Can we live knowing what we know? Let’s take a mind healing metaphor. We are somewhat like a patient in analysis who has recognized the truth of formerly repressed material. From now on their view will include the new realization, often one that is very painful. We say the process has irreversibly expanded their consciousness. Mankind has long been facing Epicurus’ Atoms and Void view of its place in the big scheme of things. At times this wholly naturalistic view has been more repressed than at others, equivalent to the individual patient’s varying degrees of consciousness. I think most educated people would agree the sciences have advanced a picture of our place in the grand scheme of things that has now become impossible to dismiss out of hand. We have currently been forced to hold a number of astonishingly unexpected revelations in our collective consciousness. It is an open question whether or not we will be able to maintain this degree of awareness or not.

Consider a few. Quantum mechanics has taken pictures of the atoms, settling once and for all the debate that has rang out around Epicurus observations for millennia. We live in the world remade by chemistry, the molecular manipulations we have crafted atop the quantum nature of nature. Evolutionary theory uses the chemist’s molecular world’s ability to create a molecule capable of reproducing itself with variations to explain the diversity of life throughout the biosphere. The animal making all these theories finds itself situated on one branch of this enormous history in which 99% of all species that have ever lived are now extinct. Even so the variations of adaptations throughout the biosphere, the living 1% that is here right now, simply strains credulity. This 1% is time’s cutting edge where all that has gone before is currently being expressed. We locate ourselves within a biological vastness. Ever curious, we also turned to the stars and found it was a turtles all the way down; a molecular universe every direction we pointed our instruments. Astronomers also took a hint from the chemists. The Periodic Chart had established that there are only about one hundred elements, only a limited number of basic building blocks available to build a universe with. Reading the chemical signature of stars confirmed it, even as it opened our eyes to a host of phenomena stranger than wildest speculations of our imaginations – quasars, black holes, and galaxies other than our own. With the Hubble Space Telescope the universe became infinitely larger once again, unfolding a vision of billions and billions of galaxies surrounding us in every direction. It is against all this, and more, that our species now finds itself confronting the results of our ecological ignorance.

This is what I mean by our spirit is naked before the cold light of the stars. There is no escaping the revelations of ourselves as yeast’s close cousin. And like the therapeutic revelation, knowing has brought pain. Yet we have also awakened to our place. Can we take our seat? Will we find a way to incorporate what we know with how we see ourselves and conduct our affairs? The old ways of explaining the human experience are buckling under the weight of these new revelations. The seals have been opened on the final scroll, as it were. The god or nature of Einstein, Spinoza’s god, just might be the voice of reason bursting forth from the pearly gates of our cosmic story.

To live through all this feels so traumatic, little is assured and much is likely to be lost. We are understandably still in a bit of shock. It will take time to learn to live with what we know. It helps, I think, to look at the whole thing from the perspective of thousands of years to respect the gravity of what we are discussing. How might this nugget of demonstrable understanding of our place in the universe, as revealed by our technological sciences, evolve within our ever adapting traditions? It is a particularly interesting question now that the industrial foundation of those technological sciences is coming undone.

We should be gentle with ourselves. To carry the precious gift of human consciousness within this vast and grand universe ,while living on the planet of the apes, is not easy. It is not easy at all. It is, however, inexpressibly…

Learning From the Shadow

No person or cabal set up the Santa Clause and Easter bunny compliments to our holidays we looked at in the previous posts. I, for one, am rather impressed with the way these things are used to increase the consciousness of youth. Granted, if I were to design a teaching solution to address our innate gullibility it would have been more honest and forthright. It would not have needed to use parental hypocrisy to get the lesson across. It would also likely fail to implant the teaching at the right depth in the childhood psyche.

That which forms the features of our social interdependence is not ours to consciously direct. There is some sort of deeper intelligence involved in the way symbols and institutions accomplish their work. The same thing can be observed in individuals. This is what Carl Jung referred to as the capital ‘S’ Self. He postulated an aspect of the whole person that was more attuned to the reality of the world and how consciousness evolves than what we are able to grasp with our ego alone. He tried to document this non-linear growth pattern he found again and again as he worked with patients, observing their dreams and the therapeutic art work they developed. Something bigger than what the patients consciously understood seemed to guide the psyche towards ever greater awareness. That something communicated in the language of symbolism and repeated themes found in mythological tales.

In non-psychological language the Self is what is referred to as god, nature, dharma or the Tao. It is the underlying reality we can evade and lose sight of in our cognitive delusions but can never actually extract ourselves from. Carl Jung was interested in healing people with serious psychological illnesses. His concept of the Self was a means of remaining scientific while dealing with what had traditionally been considered religious issues. He had no choice. What he found was that those patients that achieved a lasting healing inevitably followed a process that made peace with their culture’s religious heritage. This should not come as a surprise. The religious arena is where many of our ancestors distilled the meaning of their lives and from which they drew the strength to carry on. Within the interpersonal mythological stories of our sacred traditions the Self is revealed and concealed. Making some sense of our past is a necessary ingredient on the path of the individual coming to terms with their social and physiological inheritance. This, anyway, is the hypothesis guiding depth psychology.

The previous posts about how holiday archetypes address human gullibility were made to point out a couple of things. One is that the types of things the ego might think it needs to mature are often mistaken. Individuals always follow what seems right in our eyes yet there are inevitably times we find we have been mistaken, that we were wrong to believe what we believed. This is what we study in archetypal or depth psychology: how the ego matures, or not, by its confrontation with that which is greater than itself.

For example, one of the more unexpected findings concerns how the darker aspects of our persons, our complexes, are often the very things that are protecting our individuality. They protect it not with great skill, but with great determination. A teenager taking up smoking could consciously be joining the “cool” crowd but unconsciously by that very act also be learning they are no longer powerless to fight back against the toxic side of their development story. However ill advised from a health perspective, the overall effect could be the positive one of learning how to comfort oneself when the people in the teenager’s world are unable to. The new habit will bring with it all kinds of its own problems but it also might make the difference between them flying off the handle or not, making it to work or school on a downer Monday morning or not, avoiding suicide or not. This is captured in the saying that the shadow archetype is 90% gold, 10% evil. It is working for our survival as individuals and does so often as the trickster. Only by plumbing the twisted highways and byways of one’s own heart is a person able to empathize with another human being. Familiarity with crushing pain opens one’s eyes to the reality of other human beings with the same hope for happiness living right alongside the existential wounds. If a person really understands what is entailed in the process of individuation, they have a foundation on which to build real compassion for oneself and others. Real kindness.

Knowing how easy it is for us to be fooled, and to fool ourselves, leaves us with a choice. We can rage against this feature of our conscious experience, hating the fact that what we are so convinced is true when we are young rarely, if ever, remains so convincing. Or we can recognize that the previous beliefs we held dogmatically are without merit and learn to appreciate the role of evidence in the formation of our opinions. Then wisdom might grow as the years go by.

I have been at pains to point out how susceptible we are to delusion. There are times we are quite sure we know what is real beyond any doubt. We hold a handful of beliefs dogmatically. The problem is that what we are so sure about when we are 6 is not the same as what we are so sure about when we are 20, or 40, or 80 years old. The truth of the psychological life is that following the path of maturity and refusing to remain with childish thinking all our lives entails changing our minds about things. (By the way, this is why common tradition warns people against taking blood oaths when committing to any dogmatic systems. They terrorize those taking them when the time comes to change one’s mind about things.)

As a society we are being confronted with the same challenge. Until now the ideas that have inspired and guided our social relations have taken for granted that a future of increasing technology, powered by fossil fueled heavy-industry, was the best and only way in which increasing numbers of the suffering masses of humanity could be given lives of dignity. With each passing year the evidence that this is not the case accumulates. Here and there individuals like ourselves are turning a critical eye on these myths of progress. We find they are without merit, that the evidence does not support the belief. We have changed our minds about what the good life entails, how we might be of assistance to our fellows and where the way forward is to be found. The question is whether or not such a change of thinking is going to be allowed into the collective conversation.

It just might. Have you heard the phrase concocted by the spin masters for demonizing climate science that is gaining popularity of late? Climate science, and ecological concerns generally, have been misrepresented and mangled as ‘The War on Coal.’ That sound byte sized thought-stopper has all the earmarks of dark devilry I look for to indicate the coming to consciousness of that which had been previously repressed and left to fester in the unconscious. Coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, is the king of carbon pollution and war is exactly what is involved. Many times when dealing with the devilish it pays to turn things around. What is Coal’s War? The one in which we kill our children and their children for the sake of our short term profits.

The fires of Moloch are alive and well in our time. Who knows? Seeing this war so clearly, almost anyway, just might lead us to that Abraham moment where even though our gods are asking for the sacrifice of our child, we stop the knife mid-air and say “no.”