The perceiving of the Unity is called love. Jacob Boehme
The events of the past few months – the November election with its alarming aftermath, the violent attack on our Capitol, the inauguration of a new President, and an impeachment of the former one with heightened dangers due to the Senate’s lack of conviction – have intensified the chaotic, frightening, and yet hopeful energies that are swirling all around us. Like so many Americans, as well as those around the world, I am struggling to understand what is happening in our country. But I am left unsatisfied with the usual social and political explanations of our current national condition. As helpful as they are in providing insight into the outer forces that are shaping our beliefs and behavior, I sense that there is more to this at a deeper level; I can feel an inchoate energy, an intimation of something emerging that I cannot grasp. So I find myself being called to look inward now as well as outward – to see with the “eye of the heart” as well as the rational mind the deeper psychological and spiritual forces that are at work, and especially what we are called to do about it. At this critical juncture in the history of our nation – and correspondingly, its impact throughout the world – it is crucial that all of us walk on the path of love and wisdom as we search for the inner guidance that will lead our way forward in service to the World Soul.
My own quest for deeper understanding begins with the forces that are motivating the broad appeal of far-right conspiracy theories. It seems clear to me that very strong archetypal energies are fueling these beliefs and resulting actions. The pervasive belief in an apocalyptic battle between good and evil that is central to the QAnon conspiracy theory’s utopian vision of a Great Awakening are the elements of myth. Archetypal energies that are foundational to the human psyche, occurring in all cultures and religions, are symbolized in myth. This is why there are so many parallels between the conspiracy theories today and those in Nazi Germany. The horrific beliefs and atrocities that were committed during the Nazi regime, which we believed we had stamped out in our “progress,” rise again because the archetypal energies have been simmering beneath the surface all along, like a volcano that vents its destructive energy periodically, until finally erupting in a cataclysmic destruction of life.
The psychologist Carl Jung addressed these issues in his book, Essays on Contemporary Events: The Psychology of Nazism, written shortly after World War II. His psychological description of Hitler and analysis of the psychic factors affecting the German people during the reign of Nazism sound eerily familiar today. We are witnessing the truth in his prophetic statement, “The phenomenon we have witnessed in Germany was nothing less than the first outbreak of epidemic insanity, an eruption of the unconscious into what seemed to be a tolerably well-ordered world… Tyrannical, obsessive, intoxicating ideas and delusions were abroad everywhere, and people began to believe the most absurd things…”
Jung’s wisdom for the German people of his time applies as well to our own: “If things go wrong in the world, this is because something is wrong with the individual… Therefore, if I am sensible, I shall put myself right first. For this I need… a knowledge of the innermost foundations of my being.” Fundamental to this self-knowledge is a recognition of the “shadow,” the aspects of the psyche that are repressed and disowned because they contradict our conscious view of ourselves. For Jung, demagogues like Hitler represent the “collective shadow,” which is a potent source of their appeal. Jung again points to the imperative for the individual to break free of this unconscious power: “In Hitler, every German should have seen his own shadow, his own worst danger. It is everybody’s allotted fate to become conscious of and learn to deal with this shadow.”
It is not surprising that the tremendous upheavals in our world with the rapid changes due to globalization and information technology have constellated these powerful archetypal energies in the collective human psyche. It is illuminating to realize that we are all swimming in the same psychic waters. The mythic “great awakening” of conspiracy theorists is fueled by the intensely numinous archetypal energy that is also expressed – in very different form – in the Christian image of the “new creation” and the contemporary spiritual vision of the “awakening of the global heart.” That these mythic expressions appear to be mirror images of each other is understandable when we realize that archetypal forces are not “good” or “bad” in themselves but can wield positive, healing energies as well as negative, destructive energies, depending on how we interpret and act upon them. Once again it is the critical task for the human ego to recognize the power of the archetypal energies and discriminate between healthy and unhealthy mythic expressions of them.
It seems clear that we will not be able to dispel the destructive energies of the right-wing conspiracy theories solely through the appeal to reason – the emotional energy is too strong and compelling. There seems to be no hope in uniting the two polarized sides, with opposite interpretations of the collective “myth,” by traditional, rational approaches. These are all needed, but are not enough. Something new is needed to move beyond the impasse created by our dualistic minds. The wisdom teacher Cynthia Bourgeault refers to this as a “third force” that may manifest in a polarized situation by “creating a new field of possibility large enough to hold the tension of the opposites and launch them in a new direction.” Even as we are shocked by the violent hatred that has erupted in America that raises the specter of Nazi Germany, she offers this possibility of hope: “One wonders, has so little changed? I think something has changed, and the extent and stability of this change is starting to unfold… Some third force has begun to accumulate in our collective national psyche. And that, I think, is the real fruit that has been slowly accruing in one particular stream during these seventy years: the growing stabilizing force and tempering presence of the contemplative awakening…”
The spiritual awakening of humanity is the emerging third force that many of us are beginning to see on the far horizon. We can see it emerging in the tremendous upsurge of spirituality in recent decades – the upwelling of wisdom throughout the world’s spiritual traditions. This is even clearer during our pandemic quarantines with the huge outpouring of spiritual offerings on the internet. The wisdom of past ages has opened to us and become more easily accessible, ready to help us negotiate our chaotic conditions. It is as though a life boat has been given to us that will carry us across the dangerous waters of the storm we are now enduring, if only we will trust by getting in the boat and setting off from shore.
It is very encouraging to see how many people are making this choice today and beginning, or committing more deeply, to spiritual practice. This will have a tremendous impact on the emergence of third force. Even more encouraging is to see the numbers of people gathering in communities for spiritual practice, which online platforms like Zoom have accelerated with the ability for worldwide participation. One of the unforeseen results of our global crisis is this exponential growth in the web of consciously interconnected human beings, which is critical to manifesting third force in our contemporary world.
Spiritual practices of meditation and contemplative prayer carry us beyond the dualistic mind of ordinary consciousness, which is not capable of perceiving third force. It is only when the eye of the heart – our organ of spiritual perception – is opened that we can see the new arising that is made possible when third force is present. On the day of the Inauguration of President Biden I felt that we were given a glimpse of these possibilities. Pandemic restrictions combined with security surveillance made this Inauguration seem very surreal, like everything else in our lives this past year, but I was struck by how many people were deeply moved by the beauty and meaning of the events of the celebration. The intensity of emotion that we experienced is certainly a sign of the powerful archetypal energies that were constellated by the event. It seemed to me that the profound and pervasive calls for “unity” throughout the day expressed a shift in our national consciousness that seeks to reconcile polarizing factions by integrating them in a higher synthesis. It is a call to respect and engage honest differences as we unite around the high ideals that our nation was founded upon: truth, justice, democracy. Contemplative practice, which develops the capacity to perceive differentiation within a larger unitive ground, lays the foundation for a transformed consciousness that can hold all the diversity in our nation within such an inclusive framework of unity.
The possibilities for a collective “new birth” that have given us hope during these dark and dangerous times (see 7/17/20 blog) is the mythic expression of this transformation in human consciousness. We cannot create this transformation with our egoic rational minds, but can serve as midwives in the process of its emergence. The Mother Goddess giving birth to the divine child of humanity is an example of a constructive and nourishing myth that provides the archetypal energy that we need to midwife the birthing of this new consciousness. Through our conscious participation in this sacred story we may work with her to aid the process of giving birth, which is the mythic expression of the evolutionary unfolding of consciousness. Because the story of our own nation is one expression of this global emerging consciousness, we bear an enormous responsibility to the whole world for how we live this story.
I felt that the Inauguration ceremonies gave us this opportunity to enact the sacred story of our nation by calling us to return to the high principles and enduring values that our democracy was founded upon. This pivotal moment in our nation’s history may be seen as a critical stage in the process of labor that began with the creation of our Constitution. The call to unity today is a further expansion of our country’s original motto, E Pluribus Unum – “out of many, one” – that reflects the needs of our current diverse society. This is also a national mythic expression that carries great archetypal energy that can be harnessed at this time to aid the birth giving that is one manifestation of the larger historical process. This is the energy that we need to midwife the birthing of unity in our nation: holding the tension of the opposites as we stand strong for our highest ideals even as we seek to understand those who differ from us. We may invoke, as in the call to unity by Abraham Lincoln, the “better angels of our nature,” and allow the unitive process to unfold through the collective labor of so many who are committed to this process. The great hope for the future is the continuation of this process that has begun, expressed in this statement by President Biden in his Inaugural address: “Enough of us have come together to carry all of us forward.”
At the same time we know that the dark, chaotic energies are now deeply ingrained in our national psyche. The horrific violence of the attempted insurrection at the Capitol, the dangerous effects of the Senate’s failure to hold Trump accountable, and the continuing strength of conspiracy theories forces us to realize that the new birth that we envisioned with the Inauguration’s call to unity is certainly in question at this time. This labor is filled with pain and suffering: the sense that the collective body has been taken over by forces beyond our conscious control, and the fear of death – as seen in the pandemic’s shocking death rates, the terror of those at the Capitol who endured the mob’s violence, and the growing fears of the death of our democracy.
The future for this new birth is completely unknown. It appears to me that we may now be experiencing a collective breech birth; the birthing process has begun in earnest but the progress of the baby through the birth canal has reached an impasse. In this case it is imperative that we use all the strength and wisdom gained from our spiritual practice if we are to turn the baby around so it may continue to progress to birth. Both skillful outer actions and deep inner work are critical at this time. With the eye of the heart opened we may see where third force is at work and how it is manifesting; then we can skillfully aid the midwifing of this process just as a good midwife who is alert to each stage of the birthing process is responsive to whatever is needed in the moment.
In this way the call to unity must not be seen as an appeal to naive idealism, “kumbaya” as many social commentators have suggested, but instead witnessed through the eye of the heart as the excruciatingly painful and difficult process of giving birth to a new, expanded human consciousness. In realizing this we can consciously consent to the sacrifice that is required of us; our collective, conscious participation in the cultural crisis can then be seen as sacred action that serves the new birth.
This is the time, as John Philip Newell says, to listen deeply to the “heartbeat of God,” to discern what is waiting to be done. In alignment with the Sacred Source of all life, with hearts open to the flow of love and wisdom, we will be ready to see the outer actions that each one of us is called to take as we unite to serve the new life that is struggling to emerge. Through these dark times may we be guided by the light of unity, grounded in love, which leads us forward as we commit ourselves to this difficult and dangerous labor of transformation. In our darkest hours may we remember the wisdom that we received during the Presidential Inauguration from Amanda Gorman as she read her beautiful and profound poem, “The Hill We Climb”:
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
if only we’re brave enough to be it.
Cynthia Avens, Feb. 25, 2021
Brett Forrest, “What is QAnon? What We Know about the Conspiracy-Theory Group,” The Wall Street Journal, 1/12/21.
C. J. Jung, Essays on Contemporary Events: The Psychology of Nazism (Princeton University Press, 1988), pp. 68, 77, 6.
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three (Boston: Shambhala, 2013), pp. 39-40.
Cynthia Bourgeault, “Lord, Have Mercy… Here We Go: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson IX,” Northeast Wisdom post 1/27/21.
John Philip Newell, Listening to the Heartbeat of God (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1997).