The following is an updated version of a piece of writing I did following the tragedy of 9/11. Ongoing and recent world events have prompted me to resurrect it and add my current reflections. I offer it as a call to consciously awaken to our role in healing our wounded world.
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
- Carl Jung
Like many people I found the events of September 11, 2001 horrifying and spent several days afterward in a state of shock. In some way I also found this experience to be a wake-up call, calling me to greater alertness about world events. And it challenged my personal perceptions about God – about a benign and loving universe – about consciousness creating its own destiny.
I believe that we ultimately create the experiences we most need to have in order for our souls to grow and expand. 9/11 caused my world to slip a little. Suddenly in the middle of my comfortable middle-class dabbling in the meaning of life, came something insurmountable - something that could not be ignored and could not be explained away by affirmations, or new-age platitudes. Did thousands of souls conspire to create this particular destiny?
In the intervening years since 9/11, shock after shock has reverberated through our world. Mass shootings in schoolyards, bombings on the civilian streets of Europe, the mowing down of revelers at public celebrations, an unprecedented refugee crisis, a public dialogue of hatred, and the brewing of a race war leading up to the American elections.
I long ago abandoned a traditional view of world politics, and it has been part of my journey to continually disengage myself from media dramas and the typical polarization of viewpoints common in our world. But these events, the enormity of the tragedies, the scope of the effect they have cannot be ignored or dismissed, and again, like many others, in the days and weeks that follow these events I look for meaning, an explanation, some understanding. And because it is my path to do so, I struggle with the higher meaning – the bigger purpose.
In 2001, I was struck by the words of US president George Bush in his address to Congress, and though I find this an unlikely source for enlightenment, his were the words that comforted me at that time and provided me a glimmer of understanding. He said, “This is a war between freedom and fear.” He was speaking of the freedoms we enjoy living in a pluralistic democracy versus the fear engendered by radical acts of terrorism, but the line spoke to me in a personal way. It provoked what is often called an “aha” moment. “Aha!” I thought, “Yes. This is the ultimate struggle.” This tension between freedom and fear has been my lifelong companion and is, I think, representative of a common human struggle.
The struggle between the freedom of my spirit and soul and my fear of death, the struggle between the freedom to be my authentic self and the fear of being isolated or unloved, the war between risking the freedom to create the life I truly desire and the fear of being outcast by society or judged by others. The tension I experience when my writers voice wants to freely sing out and the fear I have that my words may hurt others or be misunderstood.
Our world conflicts juxtapose in an unavoidable way the opposites of freedom and fear, life and death, safety and danger, or - if you will, good and evil. And these opposites are sides of the same coin. We do not get great love without great fear. We do not get life without death.
We live our lives day-to-day – going to work, communicating with our families, pursuing our interests and hobbies, coping with our minor neuroses - and these lives are important. But we also have a deeper life, the life of our souls – the place where mythology replaces reason and symbols take on heightened meanings.
Shakespeare said “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” September 11 was the largest world drama played out in my time on the planet. Since then, the drama has continued to unfold.
As a human being I am compelled to respond to these events on all levels of my being.
At the deepest level, it is a call to be awakened. To be alert. To become aware once again of the deeper struggle. To do away with illusion. This goes beyond our notions of right and wrong. There is not a side to be taken, because we are all the sides. We cannot find peace - the light - unless we are willing to take responsibility for the darkness.
On the largest of possible stages, these events provide a panoply of the human condition and a dramatic illustration of our deepest mythology.
So, freedom or fear?
I suspect we will always have to live with both. The challenge will be the parts we consciously choose to play, and our ability to wholeheartedly embrace all aspects - the light and the dark - of the human condition while we do so.
May we hear the shadows, and listen with compassionate hearts.