Shining Light on Newtown, CT and Our Collective Unconsciousness

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.”  

-John 1:5

The fact that we are all children of light can now be scientifically proven.  We are made of waves and particles of light, bundles of frozen light, even the light of stardust.  The very same particles that once inhabited the body of Jesus and the Buddha, also inhabit our own.  And yet this knowledge seems ethereally unearthing as we yearn to land our feet on more concrete times, when we could clearly differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys, the sons of light and the sons of darkness.

Postmodernity has certainly challenged the way we think the world works.  It is frightening to think that I cannot clearly define my enemy.  For who am I without my adversary to make me stronger?  And how do we fight the demons of the mentally ill?  I don’t understand how people can do such awful things.

“It’s a chemical imbalance,” the psychiatrist says.  And I know that drugs can help.  But stories can too.  And self knowledge.  And community.  And collective wisdom.

How does a person grow up and execute a god-like fantasy of being all powerful enough to kill anyone they please?

“They’re crazy.”

“They are the bad guys.”

“We need more guns to fight these devils.”

And yet Carl Jung’s thought runs through my mind:  what happens in the culture is reflected in the depths of the human psyche, in the collective unconscious.  ‘The collective unconscious contains the whole spiritual heritage of mankind’s evolution, born anew in the brain structure of every individual.’ (CW 8, §342)

Our brains resemble old museums that contain many of the archetypal markings of our evolutionary past. … Our brains are full of ancestral memories and processes that guide our actions and dreams but rarely emerge unadulterated by cortico-cultural influences during our everyday activities. (Panksepp, Affective Neuroscience, p. 75)

“I’m nothing like my brother,  Adam!”  Ryan Lanza pushed himself far away from the piercing collective judgement that fell upon him when police misidentified the killer.  We all pushed ourselves away.  We are nothing like him either.  Are we?

In Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ best selling book, Women Who Run with the Wolves, she describes a character deep within the human psyche that we must track in order to avoid becoming his next murder victim.  This character is told of in many myths and fairy tales, in Fitcher’s Bird, in Bluebeard, in the Bible–King Herod and Pharaoh and many other ancient rulers are also archetypes of this deadly man.  Certainly many of us thought of Rachel’s lament over the Holy Innocents when we heard of the horrors in Newtown, CT.  The frightening character that runs through all these stories is the powerful male who cannot stop slaughtering the helpless and the innocent.  (Who we all are, without our own guns to protect us.)

This is an ancient story.  This is a human story.  It is a part of our ancestral makeup.  What bit of wisdom are these old stories trying to pass on to us?  How can we defeat this enemy in our time?

Estes writes of his destructive nature: “He is filled with hatred and desires to kill the lights of the psyche.  In the malignant formation there is trapped one who once wished for surpassing light and fell from Grace because of it.  We can understand why thereafter the exiled one maintains a heartless pursuit of the light of others.  We can imagine that it hopes that if it could gather enough soul(s) to itself, it could make a blaze of light that would finally rescind its darkness and repair its loneliness.”

Her description sounds like our task is to defeat Lucifer himself. Lucifer, meaning ‘morning star’, or ‘the light of Venus’ or light bearer.  When I was a child my mother told me that Lucifer got kicked out of heaven for wanting to be like God.  He didn’t want to worship God or be God’s messenger.  He wanted all the light for himself.  He wanted to be God, not bear God.  He acted against his own nature.  He wanted to be the light, not bear the light.  This story is also our story.

Growing up is painful work.  We learn that the world does not revolve around us.  That we are not the one light of the world, but in fact there are many other beautiful and brighter lights around us that are just as precious and valuable as we are.  We learn that the god we once thought we were (even as a teenager) is actually a mere mortal, capable of dying just like everyone else.

Freud wondered how the child lets go of the omnipotent illusion–the Pleasure Principal–and adjusted to the Reality principal.  And maybe this is where these shadowy figures become stalled in human development.   How difficult is it to face our own illusions of grandeur in the most powerful country in the world?  (It’s not even an illusion!) In my own life, how do I maintain the illusion of being all powerful? (In writing a blog?)

Jung’s solution is different than Freud’s who believed the reality we awoke to was dim and filled with countless neuroses.  Augustine would have been proud that his doctrine of original sin was translated into scientific language.  But Jung discovered a light in the darkness: his delusional patients weren’t just talking crazy, but actually recounting ancient myths and stories.  The key to their healing was finding the thread in the labyrinth, the life line that led them out of the darkness into a reality that maintained a connection to the inner world of imagination, of God, of Spirit.

I think many of us are still searching for that connection.  Many of us are living unconscious myths.  The myth that might makes right is a powerful one.  And people are grasping for power in a world that is seemingly filled with more scarcity than abundance.  Reality can be harsh, but we are made to incarnate light, to create and imagine a better reality.  To remain connected to our true light filled nature.  To live in community.

Does our culture lack a sense of wonder?  Do most of us feel we’re right and everyone else is an idiot?  (Sometimes.)  Do most of us desire power over the more vulnerable challenge to love one another?  How many of us enjoy feeling vulnerable anyways? Let’s admit it, we admire our strength and we fear the delicate side of our nature which is why the NRA commands we all be armed. This way we can defend ourselves from the other half of the human psyche, from that part that is vulnerable enough to be penetrated by another person’s perspective, to having another way of life incarnate our bodies and potentially transform us.  We want nothing to do with that kind of vulnerability.

And yet we claim God is on our side.  We give names to God like Almighty Father. All Powerful.  Victorious One.  Great and Mighty One.  Christians must remember what Jesus says, if you want to become great, become like the least of these.  (Matthew 20:26-28).  Unless we become like little (vulnerable) children, we will never get into the kingdom of God (Matthew 18:3).

Let us all look at our hands for any trace of blood.  As a culture we have been denying a part of our human nature.  We secretively want to kill the weaknesses in ourselves.  We work 80+ hours a week, push ourselves to the very limits, we starve ourselves to be thin, we stay busy, busy, busy so we don’t have to face the nagging insecurities within, the ones we project on to others whom we loath and tease for not being as tough as we are.

How can we truly care for those who are weak, poor and  mentally ill if we have not learned how to have compassion on our own vulnerabilities?  If we have not yet discovered that our greatest weakness might in fact turn out to be our greatest strength?

Let us walk to the river of repentance together.  We are created to bear light, not guns.  We have a whole lot of animus energy in our culture.  And it is way out of balance.  Would Jesus carry a gun?  (Please answer no or I will call you an idiot.)

I will not send my children to a school where teachers are armed.  Because human history has taught us this:  humanity is not filled with good guys and bad guys.  People have good and bad days.  Sometimes we break down and the light is lost from our eyes.  Sometimes no one has treated us like the miracles of creation that we are.  Sometimes no one has held up a mirror so we can see the light within.  We are missing the connection to the Sacred Feminine.  It is Her bright light of compassion and wisdom that can help us care for ourselves and one another.  Her energy that can teach us how the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot not overcome it.

So as we approach this season of Epiphany, when we recall a great star in the sky, may we remember that its brightness shines in each one of us and may we take the light we have been given to bear in this time and bathe in its beauty, carry it into the unconscious terrain so that strangers who are traveling by night a great distance away may find the humble places where love is born among us now.  If anything can help us, love can.  More love and more light.



Filed under american society, analysis, culture, jung, psychology, spirituality, therapy

3 responses to “Shining Light on Newtown, CT and Our Collective Unconsciousness

  1. Bob. MullanyBmullany

    I like the broad. Scope of.your essay.. You touch on science of the big bang. Through the titans of psychiatry faith in light over darkness
    Deep and wide without cliche

  2. thanks bob! i can always count on my biggest fan for a review and feedback 🙂

  3. Julie Zdenek

    I think you are FULL of brilliant light. It emanates from within you.

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