“Collectively we need to be prepared for crises in very near future. There will be huge levels of distress and displacement when we wake up to what we’ve done to the planet. We’ll need to hold our nerve. It won’t be easy but it could be rich and enticing if we can tolerate the fear, the panic, and the not-knowing. It’s all part of the journey, the dark night of the soul. Our individual awakening and our collective awakening are interchangeable in this ongoing global crisis.” – Mick Collins, The Unselfish Spirit
Let’s repeat the last part of the above quote, for effect: “Our individual awakening and our collective awakening are interchangeable in this ongoing global crisis.” Indeed they are, and much patience will be needed if we are to survive it; a patience tantamount to sacred empathy. Everything is connected. You cannot have individual without culture. You cannot have culture without individuals. To a certain extent what we experience individually we all experience collectively. Some of us are simply more aware of it than others.
Here’s the thing: we’re all guilty of the ongoing global crisis, it’s ours to share. That guilt can either cripple us or it can wake us up. The majority of us will do the existential equivalent of curling up into a ball (crippled) and ignoring everything because of the pressures of cognitive dissonance and the easier path of apathy and indifference. But there are a few of us who are able to do the existential equivalent of experiencing our own dark night of the soul (waking up) while choosing the more responsible path of empathy and compassion. This is by far the healthier option, placing us into a unique position –indeed, a kind of spiritual coign of vantage– where we are able to help others to survive their own dark night of the soul.
The more people we help, the less likely the culture will continue to systematically destroy the planet. The more people we help, the more likely we are to survive as a healthy species in communion with the planet. Like Joanna Macy said, “Now we see what we really are. We are the living Earth.” It’s time we acted like it, and helped others to realize it. Here then are four ways we can help each other survive a culture in decline.
1.) Balance the imbalanced
“Our psyche is set up in accord with the structure of the universe, and what happens in the macrocosm likewise happens in the infinitesimal and most subjective reaches of the psyche”
–C. G. Jung
In Reuniting Psyche with Cosmos I wrote about how we are interdependent with the earth, and how cosmos and psyche are one and the same thing as perceived through the opening of the third eye. Surviving a personal dark night of the soul is an opening of the third eye like no other. We are suddenly able to see how everything is interconnected and how, like Alan Watts said, “Nature is always differentiated unity, not unified differences.”
As such, we realize how a delicate balance must be maintained in order to maintain that differentiated unity. It is our responsibility to maintain this balance. We do so through sacred empathy, that is, through divine identification with the interconnectedness of all things. Sacred empathy is discovered when the importance of restoring balance supersedes the importance of maintaining power. It seeks to reconnect people, both to the natural world and to their most authentic selves.
The Newtonian notion of separation has become grossly outdated. It is a pernicious mental paradigm that must be broken if we are to evolve as a healthy species in accord with the planet. The current spiritual awakening, occurring across the globe as more and more people are waking up, has deemed this particular ancient “good” uncouth. The way we bring balance to an otherwise imbalanced world, is by teaching others how to break this mental paradigm and then how to replace it with the more holistic paradigm of healthy interdependence.
This will require a sacred empathy of the first order. After all, how can you breathe if I’m ruining the oxygen you breathe? How can I eat if you’re poisoning my landscape? Empathy does not imply pacifism. Those of us who have survived our own dark night of the soul can help others to do the same by reconnecting them to the natural world. Indeed, by reconnecting the disconnected we restore balance to the sacred community of earth while also teaching others how to see, and how to, like Da Vinci said, “Realize that everything connects to everything else.”
2.) Empower the powerless
“Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” –Voltaire
When the importance of restoring balance supersedes the importance of maintaining power, amazing things can happen. A huge reason for the gross imbalance we’re experiencing on the planet today is because of basic inequality, where the “Have-nots” are crammed and cramped into the lower part of this lopsided pyramid of “success” and the “Haves” ingloriously fatten themselves at the top, at the expense of everyone and everything else.
This creates a power imbalance that is extremely unhealthy for both humans and the planet. At the end of the day, we’re all just insecure humans going through the motions of the current cultural paradigm that’s telling us we need to earn money and spend it in order to survive and be happy. In other words: “work,” buy, consume, repeat. We’ve replaced the sacred rituals of our native forefathers with the profane ritual of money, and we’re definitely the worse for it. Even our amazing technologies are wasted at the expense of the environment. And, lest we forget, the environment is us.
Culture literally gives us a supernatural power more profound than what nature endowed us with. But it is exactly because of this supernatural power that we must be even more careful than any other animal. It is this power, and NOT our animal nature, that has given our environment such an acrimonious fate. I always hear this argument against nature-based living: that primitive ritual is nowhere near as efficacious for the control of nature as our domesticated rituals. To which I always retort: But of course, nature-based living may not be able to control the world, but at least it isn’t in any danger of destroying it.
Our civilization controls the world up to a point –the point at which it seems to be destroying it. Perhaps we should instead address our need to control things. So instead of using our vainglorious culture as a mirror for each other, we should relearn how to use the entire cosmos as a reflection. That reflection is showing us that we need to empower each other; and not only the poor and disenfranchised but the indigenous and marginalized as well. Like Thich Nhat Hanh said, “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”
3) Disempower the powerful
“If I am unable to make the gods above relent, I shall move hell.” –Virgil
In other words: If I cannot bend heaven, then I will stir hell. Lest power corrupt and absolute power corrupt absolutely, we must be able to disempower the powerful, or at least take them down a notch. In order to maintain accountability, we must consistently remind those in power that they have a responsibility for that power. As it stands, those currently in power are not acting responsibly. The plutocratic regime and the so-called elite are hell bent on sucking every last dollar out of the economy, even at the expense of the environment and the lives of other people. This must not be tolerated.
Remember: empathy does not imply pacifism. The battle here is against an abstraction, not people. This type of battle requires a different tactic. The answer is not to win, or give up, or seek revenge, but to create something new –in this case, new ways of communicating and questioning our policies and our misconceptions regarding the power dynamic of the human condition in accord with the power dynamic of the natural world.
Part of helping each other through this mutual dark night of the soul is to realize that those who are oppressing us are actually damaged human beings with an unhealthy view of the world. It’s our duty as survivors of our own dark night to help liberate these damaged humans from their own damaged souls. Through non-violence and loving compassion we can give them the sacred space they need to become fully human. When we give them this opportunity we flip the tables on power. By revealing to them a healthier way, and acting as an example for a healthier way, their overreach of power is reduced to what it really is: a sickness. They are then no longer allowed to be overpowering oppressors because of their guilt.
We have revealed to them their cowardice. We have freed ourselves from their tyranny. Our liberty is our love. We welcome them with open arms, so that they can be healed and learn again what it means to love. We are social creatures, first and foremost. By liberating others we liberate ourselves, and only then is true autonomy possible. The entire notion of “haves and have-nots” must be squashed in order to evolve as a healthy species on a healthy planet. Like Martin Luther King, Jr. brilliantly said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that… Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”