When I was a kid, my two-year old brother contracted a bad case of eczema. My father, a fanatical renegade Mormon, believed that my brother’s affliction was a test of his faith in God, like biblical Job. My dad believed that God told him to reject medical treatment and heal my brother himself. Healing consisted of rubbing lamb’s fat and iodine all over my brother’s tiny body, putting him in white booties and mittens, tying him to the crib spread eagle so he could not scratch himself and then listen to him scream in agony for hours on end.
I helplessly watched my brother being tortured, in God’s name. My mother, who believed her husband was the spiritual authority, stood by silently. Later when he was finally released from his bonds, my brother’s eyes blazed like black coal. He never recovered. He was traumatized for life, imprinted with a violence no child should have to endure.
My brother wasn’t the only one who suffered trauma. I can never forget hearing my brother’s screams, the way I had to bury my anger, stifle my voice, deny my terror and choke back my grief. The way I withdrew in shame and guilt, how I believed I was a coward and powerless in the face of an authority who always justified his actions as coming from the Bible and the word of God.
Years later I learned that the legacy of trauma can be deeply carried long into the future by those who witness the trauma of others. When trauma is collective, when an entire nation shares in the horror of the trauma, when there is no one to soothe and comfort us, to make sense of things, the effects upon our psyches can be dramatic and even fracturing. When our communities and institutions pressure us in the name of political expediency to repress our awareness that something truly terrible is happening, when instead we are encouraged to disbelieve what we see and to find scapegoats for our problems, the result is often to explosively act out our unconscious buildup of shame, guilt, rage, terror and grief, like erupting magma from a volcano. Carl Jung calls this explosion a mass psychosis.
I want to know how we imagine our personal and collective psyches not fracturing into a mass psychosis? How are we going to survive the shame of knowing that we are being manipulated into robbing the poor to give to the rich, into sacrificing health care, social security, clean air, water, food and women’s rights all to enrich politicians, defense contractors and weapons dealers, to bankroll more senseless slaughter, all under the false flags of “self defense,” “democracy,” “victimhood,” “fighting terrorism” and “God’s name.”
I am aghast at how denial of our own collective disempowerment and frustration is opening wide the door for the return a tyrant like Donald Trump, who like Hitler before him, has openly promised to bring with him the destruction of the constitution, revenge on his enemies, massive “cleansing” of society’s scum, criminalization of dissent, the imposing of a white evangelical theocracy and the unleashing of yet one more version of the Final Solution.
The cynical gas lighting of our leadership to justify delivering multi-billion dollar weapons of mass destruction to a corrupt and criminal regime knowing full well they will be used to punish, displace, destroy and empty the land of every man woman and child in Palestine is intolerable.
At the same time our leaders reassure us of their “concern” about adhering to the rules of the Geneva Convention, “suggest” toning the violence down a notch, “consider” a humanitarian pause, “urge” a curbing to settler violence, “worry” about the stability of the middle east, “acknowledge” casualties but who then go on to isolate us from the entire planet by vetoing every meaningful world-sponsored resolution for a UN sponsored ceasefire.
As a nation the US has lost all moral credibility and authority. Thousands throughout the world march in the streets. Even the Pope is outraged. Is there really any nobility in crushing desperate people and the mass execution of more than 20,000 men, women and children?
Collective Dark Night of the Soul
The entire planet is descending rapidly now into a collective dark night of the soul. We have entered a shamanic underworld where the old stories, the old Judaic Christian myths that helped define our purpose and our place in the universe have died.
This death is a changing of the gods, a mass spiritual crisis, one with an intent or a trajectory, an intelligent and coherent emerging but not yet realized vision of an entirely new form of consciousness that will bring us out of our collective nightmare and back into the light.
A few months ago I was at a gathering in Santa Fe of Jews for Peace. We were singing the Mourner’s Kaddish for all Jews and Palestinians who had died during the early days of the conflict. A man standing near me asked, “Do you think our participation in this ceremony matters?”
“It matters to me,” I replied.
I do not write these words to convince others. I write these words because I cannot tolerate letting myself grow cold. I cannot afford to lose my capacity for compassion. I write to push back against the new Borg, those mechanical/biological robot beings who say resistance is futile and that we have no voice, no agency.
Above all I write because I search for a way to express the un-expressible, to find a holy song and a vision that I know in the cosmic intelligence is love. I write because I deeply sense that the power of crisis is transformative and that the way to the light is through the dark. I write because there is always a gift in the wound. I write because I believe what I see, that we are at the end of the old world but also at the beginning of a new one, waiting to cross the threshold of liminality into the dawning and rekindling of man’s purpose upon this earth.
As Joseph Campbell wrote, “The old gods are dead or dying and people everywhere are searching, asking: What is the new mythology to be, the mythology of this unified earth as one harmonious being?”