Part 2 of a three part series. For Part 1 click here
As we all, hopefully, Humpty Dumpty requires a few Band-Aids, some duct tape, a significant makeover, a psychological evaluation, and maybe a lobotomy. Patterns and routines that need to change quickly melt away, while others demonstrate the defiance of a teenager, slamming the door in your face as you hear the phrase “F&%k you” muttered under their breath. Defiance aside, in this current phase of what-in-the-hell-is-happening, parents and kids are seeing each other anew (this could be both a positive or negative), everyone is seeing themselves from a different view (same valiance here), economic fears are varied and very real, hospitals are full, corners and other unexplored areas of our homes are cleaner than they have ever been as we neurotically manage stress and boredom, many jobs are lost or hanging by a thread, and any other pattern and norm that you can imagine are all shifting. This is both a time for high anxiety, fear, and loss, and also a time for great creativity, innovation, and contemplation. Holding this paradox may be one of the more valuable psychological moves that we can make as we (meaning the world) move through the coming months and years. Toto has undoubtedly pulled back the curtain, and therefore we are beginning to see an unprecedented evaluation of our world leaders, our relationships, our parenting, our work-life, our routines, and the meaning of life. Sure, no small order, but as I wrote in part 1 of this essay – trauma can serve to crack us open and reveal much about who we are and what matters to us. Let the mining continue. Does fear, control, disconnection, and selfishness rule, or can we open our hearts and minds to the anxiety that emerges within the face of the possibility that life is changing right before our eyes? Can we transform, shift, and reorient, in a way that creates our culture anew? We need it.
While commerce and consumerism need their seat at the table, we also need room for a few other able-bodied voices. Not convinced? Check out a few of the more recent episodes of The Sacred Speaks. In one of the latest episodes, Dr. Stuart Kauffman and I discuss the current crisis facing the entire human population. We explore the consequences of the exponential growth of our modern economy, the implications on consumerism and consumption, and the choices “asked” of humanity and our modern global culture. Dr. Kauffman is a medical doctor, scientist, and professor of systems and chaos theory who presents several theoretical options to cure COVID currently underway including phage display, monoclonal antibodies, and the repurposing of other known drugs, combinatorial models for creative solutions to disease. We are all in this together is the most appropriate slogan today, and Dr. Kauffman’s analysis of the civilizational, global, and existential issues that we currently face is both harrowing and heartening. In the most recent episode, science writer John Horgan and I explore optimism and doubt in a time of uncertainty. Change is upon us.
Let’s stick with change for a moment. Change just might be the most certain and primary truth of living. It is quite absurd to imagine that what we take to be truth will always remain as such, yet, as creatures of habit, we cling to what we believe to be true even though we all know that many of the fundamental assumptions we cling to will inevitably, wait for it … change. Let’s make this a little more tangible. Take matter for example, such as the chair on which you sit, the phone or computer in your hands, or the … you get the point. Matter is not what you think it is. Science magazine posited three questions that science still wrestles today.
1. What is consciousness?
2. What is matter?
3. How does matter animate, therefore creating consciousness?
Many of our leading thinkers have tried to take these questions on, and I mean the smartest of the smartest, and still the debate continues. And even if we try to remember that movement, fluidity, interconnectivity, and change are constant, we often fall into what Edward Edinger calls the concretistic fallacy, an elegant title for our current discussion. Poke around and investigate how many innovative thinkers suffered the burden of challenging the worldview of the powerful. One phenomenon that we see current day is the innovation that follows in the aftermath of the death of a leading thinker or scientist. It seems that those in power, despite the integrity of their beliefs and theories, maintain their position until their death wherein those positioned outside of the spotlight then get a turn for their time to shine. And the pattern continues. “There is a season, turn, turn, turn…” Sing along if you know it.
Back to consciousness and matter. In a nutshell, the forms that we see all around us (yes, all of them) and the way that matter behaves on the macro scale is not the same as on the micro-scale. Think about the implications this has for the universe (way beyond my pay grade), but this is true – look it up. Said by one quantum physicist, “If you think you understand quantum physics, you don’t.” The implications for the cosmos are many, but let’s take this down a few thousand light-years and let our curious minds contemplate the implications for patterns of change such as these. To me, patterns such as this call into question our understanding of reality. Let that set in for a second. Yes, reality. Defined by oxford as, “the true situation and the problems that exist in life, in contrast to how you would like life to be” or “a thing that is experienced or seen, in contrast to what people might imagine” (www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com). Yes, that reality. What we think we know informs our beliefs, which then informs our behavior, which obviously all matters so very much! Each of us has a model for how the world works, and each of our models differ ever so slightly. Conflict is often a consequence of the collision between these differences. With this in mind proceed with a reminder from Nietzsche who once wrote, “It has gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy up till now has consisted of – namely, the confession of its originator, and a species of involuntary and unconscious autobiography; moreover that the moral (or immoral) purpose in every philosophy has constituted the true vital germ out of which the entire plant has always grown” (Beyond Good and Evil).
With this disclaimer established, each of us has one aspect of our reality that is private and personal, and then we also share aspects of our reality with others. For the sake of this article, let us use the classic/quantum aspects of physics and map that onto our psychological world, in that we have a measurable and shared reality in the outer world, and also a personal and private internal world i.e., our imagination. This is where the mythic and symbolic worldview comes in for a little playtime. Which brings me full circle to Jung’s comment about the gods and the solar plexus (see part 1). The gods descending from Olympus and landing in the solar plexus is a way of highlighting how materialistic our worldview has become. Simply stated, materialism implies that if it can’t be measured, seen, touched, or held, then it does not matter. William Blake called this the ratio. Bill, down the street, says, “If it ain’t matter, then it don’t matter.” This is also why many people today tie their net worth to their self-worth. What quantum physics tells us is that there is more to nature than what meets the eye. Thus, implying that each of our worldviews needs to hold the world with a gentler and more fluid container. The Matrix, an amazing film with significant philosophical and religious implications, explores this motif when Morpheus informs Neo that humans are now reduced to batteries: producers, fueling, and supplying the machines.
The Matrix might be just an entertaining, cool story, or it could provide us a glimpse into important truths about how we are currently living. I think it supports us in both ways. The mythic worldview opens us up to patterns and truths that flow through every period of human existence. Myth stories the mysterious patterns and forces that continue to have a say in our lives. I guess we just discovered the one exception to the rule that change is always constant. After all, in the Greek myths, the gods were immortal, the one primary differentiator between humans and the gods – the gods live forever.
Today, we no longer swim in the waters of the mythic, but the material. We seek, and by “we” I mean the culture and spirit of this time, that which is measurable to understand and cope. Take the current pandemic, for example: where we see the virus, the ancients imagined the gods were angry. My fantasy about this whole drama is that when the gods are angry, the only appropriate thing to do is to change the way that one is living their life. This is an attitude of reverence. We, on the other hand, tend to double down on approaches to life that got us into the pickle in the first place. I do not mean that we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but that if we take a minute and slow down. Let’s reevaluate how we are living, and not just apply more pressure to “get things back to normal.” And before you jump to any conclusions about what I mean, let me tell you, of course, we need to address the economic, biological, and sociological issues that are all very real. I’m simply suggesting that how we tend to go about that are incomplete. I am not implying that we just stop doing what we are doing – that train has left the station – but that we complement it with aspects of the psychological, philosophical, and metaphysical attitudes that exited the building following the explosion of empiricism. Haven’t you ever made a change in your life only to realize that a little voice inside of you had been urging you towards that change for some time? Your own personal Jiminy Cricket. Well, Jiminy is screaming in our ears right now. The attitude we take to this will determine our next step. Watch those in power. Watch your anxieties.
The problem with our current world view is that while we may find a vaccine or cure (and I hope that happens sooner rather than later), a way to manage our joblessness or our 401K, without analyzing the factors that contributed to this mess in the first place, we simply return to business as usual. And like a barnacle, we cling to the familiar life raft, unaware of the other ways in which not only the world (universal), but our world (particular) can and needs to change. If we cling and maintain a completely material and reductive worldview, we will miss out on mining the depths of our imagination, and in so doing miss our opportunity to discover what is happening in those deep private and personal recesses of our inner world, thereby missing a large part of our dual citizenship. Now, this does not necessarily mean that we should all build an alter to Zeus or Yahweh or Kali (although that last one is starting to make more sense) but what it does mean is that while we desperately need to tend to our shared reality (praise all of the nurses, physicians, hospital workers, and everyone else who is keeping our world running right now despite the panic), we also need some mythic understanding, some way of relating to the movements of our mind. Of course, we need physicians and scientists working around the clock to discover a vaccine. Still, myth and material are not mutually exclusive worldviews, although it does feel like we are operating as if they are. Healing from the virus is needed, and healing is also needed in our lopsided worldview. As humans, we become one-sided and amputate the one in service to uphold the other. I hope that this period provides us the opportunity to reconnect with the lost parts of our worldview. To recollect and reconnect with a deeper meaning of our lives as individuals and as citizens of the world.