The following is a continuation of my blog series based on my book The Midnight Hour: A Jungian Perspective on America’s Pivotal Moment. If you are just now picking up on the series, you might start with the Introduction: Welcome to the Challenges of Change.
I hope that it will help you, as writing it has helped me, to find a candle to contribute to your light.
Whether you agree with me or not, I hope my work helps you clarify your own position, both within and to the chaotic times surrounding us. Above all, I hope it helps you create a new vision of the future and a new hope that draws you to commit to it.
Asheville, North Carolina
The Midnight Hour:
A Jungian Perspective on America’s Pivotal Moment
Chapter 3: The Challenge to Change: Destruction and Re-Creation
Exploding in fire and ice marks the end of the world of gods and men according to the old Norse storytellers. They are right. When I awakened the morning after the 2016 presidential election, my world view had been blown to pieces—destroyed by the fires of fury and the ice of despair. Ragnorak, the Twilight of the Gods, the legendary myth of the world ending in fire and ice, presents breathtaking images that portray how I felt on that morning and for many days after. These powerful images illustrate how the principles, beliefs, perceptions, and, yes, the fictions that I had structured my life upon were suddenly annihilated in an inner holocaust brought on by events. I was left frozen and stunned.
The end of the world left little hope for the future in Norse mythology. But the archetypal pattern of life is destruction and creation. In the Norse tradition, creation isn’t so easy either, and it also occurs in ice and fire. The sturdy members of this old tradition abandoned naïve hope and placed their aspirations on heart—being fully engaged in the struggles of life, in living intensely in the midst of blood, sweat, tears, and laughter.
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Melusina has driven me back into the fray of our collective life after the year-long nightmare preceding the election and my subsequent months of being shell-shocked and just wanting to ignore it all.
Later in the morning after the election, I heard the shock and tears in my daughters’ voices. In spite of all that has followed I cannot forget those moments. These conversations still haunt me and make me think deeply about the world I helped to create for them and their children to live in. As my day progressed, I heard many more voices expressing shock and dread, especially the voices of women, but of men too. They shared their surprise and fear with me, anxious to be heard. Many of our illusions about our society were being shattered as ignorance, coarseness, bullying, misogyny, and bigotry swept across the internet and through the media, invading our homes and our souls. Ugly acts of violence, prejudice, gay bashing, and life threats took place in our small town as if this kind of behavior was now sanctioned. Progress toward economic and social fairness, and toward culture, justice, and compassion in our health care system seemed to have been stabbed in front of our faces.
But not everyone reacted this way. Some experienced new hope, feeling like they had made a difference and that their voice had finally been heard. And more of these people than I would have initially imagined were affluent and educated. While I have been reflecting on what this election is trying to tell us, I have come to realize why so many of us have a deep anger toward our government, and the false promises of our politicians. Too many of us feel that our government has had no interest in our well-being for decades. All too often I have heard people say things like, “our government wants to give you nothing and take, take everything away,” or “it wants to take over our lives.”
This election was not my first experience of fire and ice in a society turned upside down by fury, dread, and darkness. As a young southern man, a little over fifty years ago, I was awakened in the midst of another social nightmare that ended my life as I had known it. The ugly response of some people in the South to the civil rights movement left me outraged and traumatized. The fury, the cruelty, and the brutality shown by many of the people I had grown up with was disheartening. These were my neighbors, school friends, fellow church members, and people who had brought dishes of food to our home after my mother’s death when we were young. They were the policemen, mayors, governors, congressmen, and senators whom I had been raised to respect. My world view ended in fire and ice. I have never recovered from that shock and don’t trust the dark undertow in the shadow of our social character.
Nightmares, whether societal or personal, have a purpose. Sometimes they are trying to wake us to the truth of what we are experiencing. Sometimes they are trying to help us absorb the emotional impact of traumas we have lived through. And sometimes they are trying to alert us to the illusions we have been living in and make us aware of the depth of pain and frustration in our lives—feelings that we have been stubbornly denying and trying to remain indifferent toward. These nightmares from the depth of our souls call us to find a new approach to life. How to recognize and accept the social wastelands we’ve created and how to midwife new creation and hope from their darkness are deep concerns for me as I write.
Hope in the Dark
These same nightmares can also be seen as light-bringers, launching us on a new creative journey. Destruction in fire and ice actually calls for a new force of creation that will redeem our situation. Nightmares, whether sleeping or waking, whether personal or societal, are telling us that powerful forces are moving within and around us that we have been denying. If we can struggle into awareness and seek to understand the meaning behind our nightmares and the emotions they arouse, we can begin to see the extraordinary demands for change confronting us and the opportunities behind them. A collective nightmare that is trying to awaken us to our national reality initially seems like the end of the world as we have known it because it is. Of course, the experience is scary and demoralizing. But like personal nightmares, these experiences, these waking dreams, are meant to confront our complacency and indifference and to awaken our hearts and our courage. It is easy to say a candidate appealed to the worst in our social character. It is just as easy to displace our shock by reducing the opposing candidate and his or her followers to a shadow projection of our own expressed in psychobabble.
Blaming candidates, their parties, and their followers may have some validity and will surely fuel our outrage. But this approach can also subtly increase our defeatism, cynicism, amnesia, and feelings of hopelessness. Our opponents love for us to take this last position and to feel like we are powerless, and our actions aren’t worth the trouble because they won’t make any difference. It might be more accurate to suggest that the candidate or party appealed to the rage, fear, alienation, and helplessness that were dammed up in our collective shadow and erupted in the face of our denial.
These eruptions remind us that we must courageously look in the mirror, examine our own shadows, and begin living more vigilantly and realistically. A realistic outlook will remind us that there never is a permanent happy ending to life’s stories, and there never was a so-called golden age of greatness and smooth sailing in our past. It is far better for us to remember that it is our courage, our awareness, and the living and evolving manner in which we face our challenges that are more important than dreaming of wishful happy endings and positive outcomes.
It took me a few decades to learn that life is a flow of creation, destruction, and re-creation. When we are in the destruction phase, we often feel stuck, life seems chaotic, out of control, threatening and even despairing. In reality we are being faced with a turning point. We are being challenged to choose between regressing and re-creating. It took me a bit longer to learn that happiness, joy, and fulfillment are not goals to be achieved. They are the result of being fully engaged in the blood, sweat, tears, fears, love, and laughter of real life. True peace of mind comes from having the will and courage to confront the darkness and uncertainties we are facing and heal the splits within our unconscious shadows, both personal and cultural—the things we have closed our eyes and ears to.
Destruction and Re-Creation
The aftermath of our political chaos opened the door of my psyche to the two-o’clock-in-the-morning questions that wake me up and haunt me until I overcome my inertia, pay attention to them, and struggle to answer them. The questions came. “What in the world is happening to us? How can I understand what’s happening on a more realistic and profound level? What kind of radical changes is destiny calling us to undertake?”
I am well aware that the pursuit of a higher purpose is one of our often unrecognized or denied instinctual needs, and our failure to face and fulfill it lies in the center of every experience of destruction that is calling for re-creation. Shock, rage, despair, failure, and stagnation always open the door to this instinctual spiritual need in the midst of our daily lives. Freedom from fear, like peace of mind, begins with being willing to confront the darkness and search for its source.
The above is Chapter 3 of my book The Midnight Hour: A Jungian Perspective on America’s Current Pivotal Moment.
Book Excerpts and Resources
, 2021, America, being human, Carl Jung, citizenship, Elder Wisdom, fear, hope, living authentically, shadow work
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