Amidst the speed of changes occurring in both nature and culture it takes very little to tear the skin of civilization and reveal massive and festering emotional wounds full of fear, rage, resentment and vengeance. We are not just in the midst of an unusual election or a surprising political period. We are not simply in the middle of the hottest summer on record. We are in an extended period of the radical churning of the world in which all the toxicities and poisons that are usually held back appear on the stage of life at the same time.
There is growing “collective trauma” as news of tragic shootings, terrorist atrocities and cultural unrest come from all sides and in a rapid succession that allows little time to process, much less integrate the effects of trauma. Amidst all the radical changes and deepening tragedies, anxiety becomes a free-floating collective state. This collective anxiety causes increasing marginalization of those who are most unstable as well as overreactions and divisive rhetoric from those seeking to rise to power upon the waves of chaos and uncertainty.
As archaic fears and hatreds rise to the surface, typical societal containers rattle and crack, becoming less able to contain the flood of extreme ideas, raw energies and dark emotions that surge through the world. Facing intractable problems and lacking internal stability, cultural institutions can fail to contain the unconscious energies arising from the depths and become instead vehicles for acting out the growing insecurities and increasing fears of people.
Seen in the context of an existential crisis, this is not simply a bitter political season; rather this is an extraordinary time that demands that people respond in ways that enhance life, reduce the extremes of hatred and fear and reject the politics of personal grandiosity and cultural division. For, there is an increasing danger of would be leaders as well as emotional followers being devoured by the huge energies that rise from the depths being churned by the tides of global changes.
The flood of reports depicting horrific terrorism and wide scale tragedies along with environmental disasters cannot be contained by the individual psyche, nor can they be simply dismissed. Feeling helpless in the face of huge and intractable forces, more people become anxious and angry and obsessed with an ideology or a person that promises them salvation in one form or another. Assisted by technologies of isolation and encouraged by the politics of identity and division, people suffer increasing states of dissociation as well as extremes of emotion and fanaticism.
This is the time in which “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” This is the abyss in which the spread of polarization, increasing bitterness and nihilism trigger reactionary attitudes that give rise to greater intolerance and the reckless demonizing of others. It is far easier to turn whoever seems “other” to us into scapegoats than to admit that the issues we face have grown great and that real answers and genuine solutions are hard to find.
While the rational mind reels from the irrational blows coming from cultural and natural disasters, a more psychological sense is required if some sense of stability would be found and total despair be avoided. Since the issues are so great and the problems so wide scale, the answers cannot come from typical political, social or religious attitudes or institutions. While it is important to support the democratic process and freedom of choice; it is not “party unity” that is needed, not just national unity that is required.
The intensifying anxiety and mania can be termed a spiritual crisis in which we must find true meaning within all our suffering and collective struggle; not simply find a way to reinforce what we already know or think we know and believe. When faced with great obstacles and tragic loss the human soul either grows greater and seeks unity, or becomes smaller and ferments divisions.
There are moments in an individual life, in the life of a country, and in the life of religions that become existential crises that challenge us to find that which is most deeply human and unifying in life. For, it is the totality of a person, of a country or a group that must awaken and the deepest ideals of humanity that must be recalled and be served. We are not simply in a political battle or a clash of civilizations; rather we are in a struggle for the heart of humanity and for the soul of the world.
The counterbalance to collective forms of terror and tragic acts of inhumanity must be found first of all in the awakening of the individual soul to the underlying wholeness and inherent meaning of life. We must find a greater sense of self or become more isolated, divided and subject to increasing anxieties and feelings of helplessness. In the great drama of life the awakened human soul becomes the extra quantity and uniquely living quality needed to help tip the balance of the world away from destruction and towards ongoing creation.
While eruptions in nature and tragedies in culture tend to produce nightmare scenarios and apocalyptic visions, something deep in the soul of humanity also responds to a great crisis. Great disasters and impossible tasks often provoke hidden resources and reveal hints of the underlying wholeness and unity of life; but only if we are willing to suffer the conflict until a new level of understanding dawns. Inside all conflicted and stuck situations there is a creative vulnerability that can lead to a release of unexpected imagination and genuine ideas of renewal.
Secretly, we are all connected, all affected by the flood of changes and all caught in the churning of the world. Given the size, scope, and complexity of the problems that currently threaten the world, there can be no single idea, specific political movement, or patented belief system that can save us. All kinds of ingenious solutions are needed; all types of inspiration, invention, and originality are now required. Rather than insisting on a single idea or belief, rather than dedicating to a certain ideology, it might be wiser to learn how to awaken and engage the unique genius waiting to be found in each person regardless of ethnicity, gender orientation or social class.
An old idea suggests that adversity reveals human genius; while comfort conceals it. At a time when human society faces adversity in all areas of culture as well as most aspects of nature, we may be closer to revelations of human spirit and resiliency. We may be more able to redeem human genius as an inherent aspect of soulfulness that connects us both to great nature and to the true nature of our own lives.
Rather than the need to heroically save the whole world the real work of humanity at this time may be to awaken the unique spark and inner resiliency of genius seeded within each person born. The transformation of the individual soul becomes the transformation of the living world. For, the world too is in danger and in need of as much care and genius as we each can offer to it.