Oil Spill as Archetypal Myth

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In the sleeping worlds, our dreams are filled with rich symbols that give us clues as to what is on the cusp of our waking, emotional consciousness. Our emotional world follows the events of our daily lives, and we disentangle and unfurl our feelings of these events in our nightly processes.

An interesting and insightful tool to try some time is to turn your waking life inside out, examining it as an archetypal dream. Consider this: What if every character, every event and daily habitual occurrence in your waking reality was viewed through the lens of a symbolic dream? The synchronicities, the events, the challenges, and the triumphs suddenly become meaningful. And we are given the opportunity to use these symbols as a launching pad to look deeper within, overcome what is blocking us emotionally, moving onto more productive, emotionally balanced, lives.

I have a client who suddenly found meaning in the fact that her toilet broke for the fifth time, flooding the basement again. She had the profound insight that this event was symbolic of how she wasn’t processing her crap, allowing herself to get backed up and clogged emotionally. She realized she couldn’t suppress it any longer and this archetypal story was used as a fertile ground for processing her emotional trauma.

Whether or not these events are magically drawn to us because of our emotional processes or not isn’t really relevant in the end. What does matter, at least to us, is the meaning we give these events. Shit happens–no pun intended. So how do you take what is and give meaning to it, internalize your sense of control, become the hero or heroine of your story, and create something productive out of it?

Of course, there is a natural cycle of grief (Elizabeth Kubler Ross) that involves stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Feeling victimized is an essential part of this process. But then, after the grief is processed, we move onto resolution.

If we do not have the ability or knowledge to give challenges meaning–or choose not to–our only other alternative is to languish in victimization. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that choosing to play the victim role only prolongs suffering and gets us nowhere.

I am a Jungian depth psychotherapist, as well as a visual artist, and I tend to view the world in this way–as an archetypal myth. Everything that happens to us both individually and collectively can be seen in a deeper sense as symbolic mythology. What if we took that individual waking-reality-as-dream to a collective level? What if we saw cultural triumphs, wars, and ecological disasters as symbolic of the state of humankind’s psychological and emotional state? Are we currently in the place of epidemic cultural psychoses in the West? I think so.

Currently, I see our collective psyche captivated–no, possessed–by the Archetype of the Apocalypse.

A very essential point I want to make here is to remind ourselves what mythologist Joseph Campbell repeated over and over, “Do not mistake poetry for prose.” Don’t take the myth literally. Don’t look at a story as fact–remember to keep in mind it is a story–a myth. It is from our cultural narratives that our collective reality is built. Almost like a wire frame under a sculpture–the stories we tell ourselves, individually and collectively, give us meaning and identity. Story is primary.

Whether you are a Born Again Christian or a New Age Mayan Astrologist, taking the Archetype of the Apocalypse as factual projects the shadow, creates a scapegoat. You have a convenient excuse to throw your hands up in the air with an air of nihilistic angst and sigh, “Well, it doesn’t matter WHAT we do at this point, it’s fate!”

I call bullshit.

Let’s emotionally engage, retract our cultural projections and take collective responsibility for the world we’ve all created together.

We can choose–and therefore shift–whatever archetype moves through us. Choosing to become the hero or heroine rather than the victims in our individual lives, we can choose to become the cultural heroes and heroines rather than the victims of the world’s mythical narrative.

I see the tragedy of the Oil Spill as an archetypal symbol of our collective shadow. Like the backed-up toilet I mentioned earlier, our suppression and denial of our addiction to oil–our emotional denial–cannot be ignored any longer. Our collective psyches have produced a symbol so big, so in our faces, that we cannot shove it down and suppress it any longer.

Our Mother Earth, Gaia, She who has given us literally everything is critically wounded, gushing blood from her depths. In alchemy, Solutio is the water element. And water, the ocean, archetypically represents the unconscious–what is not seen–what resides in the shadows below the radar of the conscious mind. In this moment, toxic oil is pouring out from these depths. It is, as the alchemists called it, the Prima Materia–the toxic gunk that must be healed and transformed into something useful and benign. We must go through the stages of grief–having critically wounded our Mother–take ownership and give meaning to the trauma.

We are intrinsically tied to the earth. As I said, the Earth gives us everything. There is no cutting the cord on this one. There is no alternative.

I know there’s the Manifest Destiny Archetype in which the story lulls and soothes us into believing that technology can save us. The story goes something like this: “Once we trash this place, scientists can set up some Bio-Dome on the moon for all the smart, rich, pretty people to escape to. Problem solved!”

Once again, I call bullshit.

Why is taking responsibility for our abuse of Mother Earth so difficult for us to grasp and base our future decisions on? Why are we choosing this mythology of nihilism that ultimately ends in tragedy, a collective suicide, embracing the Apocalyptic Myth? Why do we choose to repress and deny this shadow, rather than claim it and take action to change our story? Why are we killing ourselves at the expense of in-the-moment convenience? Has it just not hit close enough to home yet?

The Native Americans called the White People “Little Brother”, due to our immaturity. I imagine they liken us to rebellious teenagers–acting like we don’t need our elders, having everything figured out already. I think of teens who act like they don’t need their folks to guide them, to clothe or feed them, until that flow from the ‘rents stops–then there’s that come-to-Jesus moment of gratitude and humility.

It’s funny how we put fences and little square boxes of buildings all over Mother Earth, a childlike way of saying we own, tame and claim Her. We believe we can force Her to submit to our will.

If we choose to change the story and internalize the locus of control, give meaning to our collective trauma, the Oil Spill could give us the opportunity to recognize Mother Earth’s awesome power over us; how we have been immature and naive in thinking we could ever deny and escape that reality. We might finally awaken in gratitude for having been given this incredibly lush, beautiful world–a Garden of Eden in which we are cared for, fed, loved and given beauty and other wonderful souls to play with.

Is this the call to make the choice–in this post-hierarchical, technology-driven paradigm–to honor our Mother? What would happen if we consciously chose to create a different Cultural Mythology? Will we create an Archetypal Story that rewards cooperation with the Earth, or with her extraction and abuse? What does that look like? All of us are the bridge-makers for that dream. We are moving as global citizens into a new paradigm of cooperation, symbiosis with nature, and gentleness. This is how we’ll survive.

Part of our Cultural Archetypal Story also involves good endings–based on Fairy Tales, Disney and Manifest Destiny. The good guys win. Maybe this is part of the archetype we can choose to hold onto; what will save us in the end. It is our beliefs that triumph. And we believe the good guys will win.

It’s time to dream the future. It’s time to collectively own our shadow, the abuse we have incurred upon our Mother–own it, grieve it, and make amends. This new archetype, The Archetype of Healing the Wounded Mother sits so much better with me. How about you?

Namaste–it means the highest light in me sees and loves the highest light in you. Blessings. We have some co-creation to do!


Image: "BP Gulf Coast Oil Spill" by josephwenkoff, courtesy of Creative Commons license.

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