The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting of innocent, beautiful children and their heroic adult protectors has touched something really deep within the sacred heart of humanity; it feels as if a tipping point has been reached.
I live in Portland, Oregon, where days before the Newtown massacre there was a shooting in the local mall in which two people were killed. My first reaction upon hearing about the shooting of so many defenseless women and children was a combination of horror while at the same time I found myself not surprised, as I had the thought, "This is what happens in the midst of a collective psychosis." Our society, as well as our species, is suffering from a psychic epidemic of titanic proportions. This collective madness pervades the global body politic in such a way that it is hard to recognize because our madness is so obvious and has become so normalized that we don't even notice it anymore, a blindness which itself is an expression of how advanced our madness has become. What happened in Newtown, in what has been called "the safest town in America," is a symptom and expression of an underlying web of pathology that pervades not only our society, but the world at large.
It is as if our civilization is having a collective nervous breakdown, in which the underlying dysfunctional structures that are holding together (while at the same time obscuring) the deeper collective madness are de-constructing, dis-integrating, and coming apart at the seams. It is as if "darker powers" are materializing and becoming visible in our daily world, emerging through the cracks in the façade, as if our species is making a shamanic descent en masse into the underworld. And in the archetypal descent of the shaman, it is never simply death, but it is always death/rebirth, for something new is born in the process.
After realizing the enormity of the horror that was being enacted within the walls of that elementary school, I began feeling as if I were in the middle of a bad dream. The day of the school shooting, ironically, was the very day the local Portland mall opened for business after its shooting; it was as if I were having a recurring nightmare. I find myself wondering — what if this really were a dream? What would all of this mean? What if an individual client came into my office and shared their previous night's dream, and it was what had happened in Newtown? What would this dream be showing us about the state of this person's psyche?
When we view our life as a shared, collective dream, each character in the dream is an aspect of the dreamer, which in this case is all of us. When we treat what is happening in our life "as if" it is a dream and interpret it as such, it can help us get new insights into the deeper, underlying dynamics at work within our psyche. Seen as if it's a dream, its many-faceted and multi-leveled meaning is individually custom-tailored for each one of us, which is to say that there is no monolithic meaning which applies to all; there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to dream interpretation. On the contrary, we each have to find the part of ourselves that these events reflect within ourselves.
When I am suggesting to view our situation as a dream, I am not in any way trying to minimize or avoid the mind-numbing horror of what has taken place, for people being killed is as real as real can be. By pointing at the dreamlike quality of what has happened, I am inviting us to view our situation symbolically, for symbols are the language of dreams. When a deeper symbolic pattern becomes visible and recurs with increasing frequency, something unknown is emerging, trying to get our attention and become conscious. If we don't recognize what is being revealed, however, just as in a recurring dream, the message gets amplified and reoccurs with ever-increasing intensity so as to get our attention.
The elementary school shooting is an acute local outbreak of a nonlocal, systemic illness that pervades the entire global body politic as well as the underlying field of consciousness. The Sandy Hook horror is pointing to and an expression of a psycho-spiritual sickness deep within the soul of humanity that is informing events in our world so as to materialize itself into, as and through our three dimensional world. The Native Americans have named this collective sickness "wetiko," which we can conceive of as the spirit of evil that can take over a person or a group of people and compel them to act out unspeakable and unimaginable acts of horror, cruelty and destruction.
The person so possessed is in such an extremely dissociated state that he is literally enacting in the outside world the very self-destruction of a psyche turned against itself in total self-hatred. Through his murderous actions in the outside world, the perpetrator of such heinous acts is revealing to us how thoroughly the evil of wetiko can ravage the inner landscape of the human soul. Just as any piece of a hologram contains the information of the entire hologram, and any fragment of a dream potentially contains a symbolically coded message casting light on our whole process, a particular event such as the Connecticut school shooting, when seen symbolically, has encoded within it the revelation of a deeper archetypal process that is playing out in the collective unconscious of humanity, which is to say, deep inside each one of us.
In Newtown, Connecticut, evil burst onto the scene and announced itself in a way that is impossible to ignore. The innocent part of ourselves was murdered in cold blood in that Sandy Hook school. To quote the governor of Connecticut, "Evil visited this community today." When evil manifests itself in full-bodied form in a dream, it is an expression that this archetypal energy is potentially available for assimilation into consciousness in a way that it had not been as long as it was hidden and operating covertly in the shadows. Everything depends upon how consciousness responds to the emergence of evil. The evil of wetiko operates through the unconscious blind-spots of humanity, and it is highly contagious — as if it is a systemic, nonlocal disease that exists in potential throughout the entire field of consciousness and propagates itself through our unconscious reactions to it. It is therefore helpful to self-reflect upon what gets triggered within us (see "the lion's gaze") when evil becomes visible in the field. These monstrous, inhuman acts literally demand that we come to terms with and illumine the source of evil, both as it manifests in the world and particularly within ourselves.
We can all potentially fall prey to evil; who among us has not unwittingly acted out our unconscious in a way that has been hurtful to either ourselves or others? There is a knee-jerk reaction to concretize the shooter as a "monster," which unconsciously acts as a relief, for we then "know" where evil is located, mistakenly thinking it is not found in ourselves as well (see "shadow projection") . Seeing evil out there, separate from and having nothing to do with ourselves, however — whether seen in the person of the shooter, or in the world at large — is the very perspective through which we are unwittingly colluding with and feeding the very evil we are reacting against. The emergence of evil literally demands we look within and recognize our own darkness (please see "the shadow"). For how can we possibly deal with evil as it appears in the world if we are not aware of the darkness operating within ourselves?
If we hold the perspective of solidifying the gunman as "being evil," we make the mistake of conflating and identifying a specific person with an archetypal energy that, although it may have temporarily possessed him, doesn't belong to him. It is important to make the distinction: the murderer is not evil, per se, but rather a very sick human being who has allowed himself to become an "instrument," not merely for personal evil, but for archetypal evil to take him over and temporarily use him to act itself out through him into our world. Possessed by evil, we can rightfully say that he was incarnating — and revealing — this formless, archetypal dynamic in human form.
Archetypal evil can be conceived of as being a non-physical, higher-dimensional energy — what the Bible calls "powers and principalities" — that bleeds through into our three dimensional world, using human beings as its agents of incarnation. When an archetypal, collective pathology is not recognized as such, it will enlist an individual to be its mouthpiece, as if the particular individual so possessed becomes the portal through which the deeper, formless archetypal process is making itself known in form. Unless we recognize the deeper process that is being revealed, the habitual tendency is to then see the malignancy residing within the specific person, instead of recognizing that the person is a localized emanation of a nonlocal condition that pervades the collective unconscious itself.
The great doctor of the soul C. G. Jung noticed that whenever evil manifested in an individual person's process, however, something good always came from it that would not have emerged without the appearance of evil; might the same be true not just individually, but collectively as well? This is to say that the emergence of a dark shadow is also an expression that a bright light is nearby, for shadows are themselves manifestations of light. Paradoxically, shadows are simultaneously an expression of the absence of light as well as its presence.
It is as if encoded in the dark side of God, what scholar Rudolf Otto calls the mysterium horrendum, is a revelation that can potentially help us to wake up. Significantly, at the same time that archetypal evil repeatedly acts itself out in the world through drafting people to be its "reps," it is revealing itself for all who have eyes to see. We typically think of illumination as seeing the light, but seeing the darkness is a form of illumination as well. All we have to do to see is open our eyes and look. We need to recognize what is being revealed, or we will be caught in an ever-escalating nightmare, as though we are a species fated to compulsively repeat its trauma, creating our own hell realm right here on planet earth.
Seeing what is being revealed requires the slightest shift in our perception, a change that changes everything. Besides focusing exclusively on the specific details of a particular event, we can begin to notice the deeper, more fundamental and underlying pattern that connects and animates similar events, as if all of these scenarios are inter-nested iterations of the same deeper fractal that is emerging into the world as it makes itself known to our consciousness. Seeing from this perspective introduces us to the nonlocal field that underlies, in-forms and gives shape to our world. "The field," as Einstein once put it, "is the only reality." Recognizing the underlying field — of which we are all expressions, as well as contained in and connected by — cuts through any sense of separation between ourselves and the whole universe. From the point of view of the field, everything is seamlessly connected with everything else in such a way that there is no separation anywhere.
Recognizing the field gives us an expansion of consciousness in which we recognize our kinship, interdependence and interconnectedness with each other and all living, sentient beings, including the shooter. We are each reflections of one another, dream characters in each other's dream; the energetic expression of this realization is compassion. When we recognize that at the most fundamental level we don't exist "apart from" one another, but rather, are "a part of" each other, it is as if evil itself has introduced us to the living reality that we are not separate from anyone or anything; evil has brought us together. Evil has then become the inspiration and stimulator for lucidity and compassion. It is as if encoded in evil, however horrible its manifestation, is a personal invitation, addressed to all of us, to wake up.
When seen as a dream, the beautiful, innocent and precious children who were murdered, and the courageous adults who died trying to save them, can all be thought of as angelic beings, messengers who sacrificed themselves so as to potentially wake us up, as if this was their role to play in the cosmic drama of life. May their memory not live in vain, but be a true memorializing and inspiration for all the rest of us. We truly honor those who were so brutally taken away by receiving the gift they are offering us. Let us recognize what is being revealed through them. I imagine they would want nothing less.
Image by Andrew Malone, courtesy of Creative Commons license.