It seems that we in the United States are on the path to self-destruction. To be or not to be (again!) is the question which is emerging. It is our emergency. Yes, this is what hell looks like. The choice between Heaven and Hell is not somewhere else, after we die. It’s here, now, and we are all in this together, rich and poor alike.
This analysis of the problem of gun violence in the CNN graphic above will produce a type of dark thought paralysis for most people, which reduces the probability of a resolution of the problem, which itself comes from the dark and violent mindset of the shooters, the gun rights advocates and their opponents, most of whom are telling themselves a bleak and despairing story about the world in which they live, a story that invokes syndromes of fight, flight or freeze.
In all this darkness I wish to light a candle that invokes the syndrome of flow.
I am not being sarcastic when I say that in the USA we are making very, very advanced progress in the exploration of the shadows of self-destruction. Willy-nilly, non-stop, both our government and our citizens are acting out evil upon evil of every kind we can possibly imagine. We are progressing towards a revelation of the mechanism by which we wallow in this pit of darkness, this long history of man’s inhumanity to man.
We seem to be powerless to bring this drama to a close. We may legitimately wonder how this could possibly ever have a beneficial outcome for us or the rest of the world that is watching in horror. As unbelievable as it may seem to be, if we are able to detach ourselves from the analysis of this moment in the drama and compare the tension to other frustrating challenges of loss, trauma and breakdown, we can be reassured that all is not lost. There is a synthesis, a summary, an overview.
We have been avoiding the experience of the pain of the darkest part of the tragedy, which is our failure to be loyal to the better parts of ourselves. We are challenged now to imagine and understand the experience of passing through that pain into a life without that it.
We are being driven to entertain an alternative reality by the pressure of our species’ mistakes. This appalling drama is where the real juice of life — questions of life and death — exist. We are looking directly into the reality of death of ourselves and our society, and by allowing ourselves to feel the pain of our failure we will learn how to transform ourselves into a resilient, stable species. Experiencing the possibility that we could fail is the whole point of this drama because there is an equal possibility that we could also not fail. We escape the tension, we flow onwards, when we change our perspective from the certainty of failure to the possibility of success.
Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls said, “It’s the awareness, the full experience . . . of how you are stuck, that makes you recover.” Many, if not most, people believe we are not stuck, that we can, through political, economic, military or technological prowess, save our species. However, that is a culturally-reinforced bias through which we perceive reality as something “out there” and subject to manipulation, unrelated to who we are. It may seem paradoxical, but as long as we tell ourselves we have the power to willfully manipulate our surroundings, we are bound to fail because we deny the permanent presence of our shadow, the evil within ourselves that will sabotage all our efforts to improve our situation.
A full experience of who we are includes our shadow sides, the weak and vulnerable parts of ourselves that refuse to claim what is ethical and virtuous and therefore perpetuate the continuation of all that we would call evil. Once we can absorb that fact, we may very well feel stuck!
To become “unstuck” we need to follow the advice of Joseph Campbell, who said:
“It is by going down into the abyss
that we recover the treasures of life.
Where you stumble,
there lies your treasure.
The very cave you are afraid to enter
turns out to be the source of
what you are looking for.”
Campbell is talking about the dark and somewhat ugly cave of self-exploration. He is saying when our narcissistic ego wakes up to our inner mechanisms of evil, it will naturally undergo an experience of Kali, a sacred (sacrificial) death in order to become unified and reborn as practical ego that knows how to communicate, collaborate and innovate with humility, love and curiosity.
In the process of this inventory and rebirth of ourselves, we arrive at an understanding and forgiveness of what is evil.
Even though we typically divide the people and events of the world into what we think is good and what is evil, the word “evil” often assumes a unredeemable, permanent state of opposition to, and exclusion from, what is good. That superficial reaction to evil will avail us nothing. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of ever greater evil.
However, if we reframe evil to mean “mistaken” or “misinformed,” we open the possibility for evil behavior to be a manifestation of people just like ourselves with good intentions gone astray. When we see our own trajectory of learning through experiences of what does not work, we begin to understand that other people are also on the very same path, simply in a different position.
This kind of open-minded flexibility is the resilience needed to save the planet and ourselves. Mistakes are the primary method by which human beings learn and evolve. Holding tightly to an ideal of no mistakes will ensure that we will make ever larger mistakes. A detachment from perfectionism and self-recrimination empowers us to build a sense of connection and belonging, humility and compassion for ourselves and others, a sense of what it feels like to be tenderly in love with Love.
When we are “on the bus” of humanity’s evolution we see ourselves in an inter-twined history of multiple generations of trial and error as well as success. We are currently enmeshed in a very big mistake, and it’s not our only one. There’s more — many more — and our current experiment would not even be possible without our having learned from our prior mistakes. Our common story is one of learning how to survive.
Connecting ourselves as one of the dots in an entire system of cultural complexities leads us to accepting ourselves just as we are, completely contained in a full spectrum of light and dark. We have a choice about what we wish to learn and where we place ourselves on that spectrum. We can assume personal responsibility for stepping out of the entire system of violence — breaking out of its cycles — not by fighting against it or fleeing from it, but by seeing, understanding, embracing and letting go of the violence within us that would utterly destroy the violence in others, the mechanisms of hatred that keeps us locked into despair, the baggage of our ego that blocks our journey.
My experience with that journey has taught me that without the baggage of despair, I am free to discover or invent attractive pathways for those most heavily burdened by the culture of violence to escape from it. Not only is this possible, it also requires me to maintain a constant connection to a community of like-minded peacebuilders and a surrender of my narcissism to the common good.
That surrender to the larger community is often very difficult until an existential crisis tips our willingness to risk a commitment to a sudden change for which we have had almost no preparation. What is accelerating the evolution of our species now is the exponential increase in the numbers of people willing to take that risk due to life-threatening emergencies. If our commitment is only to expressions of protest that reject other people as mistakes, as evil, we will be participating in a paradigm of winners and losers. If we protest only their behavior as misguided but accept them as people like ourselves that are capable of learning new behavior, we create a collaborative partnership in which we all become challenged to design not only our survival together, but also a way to thrive and grow together.
When we accept ourselves as not perfect but good enough, we inadvertently (or paradoxically) become more connected to a deeper and more beautiful purpose and meaning. We escape the culture of upward striving and the delusion of hierarchies. We relax into the rich world of intuitive perception and heart-directed action that produces a kind of serenity and joy. This is the necessary and inevitable next step in the evolution of our species. In spite of what the death count of wars and school shootings may look like, we are deeply locked into a process of learning.
Resistance is futile.
You will be absorbed by Love.
You get to choose when.
How about now?