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When Facing Reality Is Not 'Negative Thinking'

By       Message Carolyn Baker     Permalink
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There is no coming to consciousness without pain.

~Carl Jung~

Recently a friend told me that she had been talking up my book Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization's Collapse and suggesting to friends who are aware of collapse that they read it. On several occasions the response was, "Well, I don't want to engage in ‘negative thinking'. I'd rather keep a positive attitude and stay hopeful in the face of what's going in on the world." When I heard this, I smiled inside because this perspective in particular prompted me to write the book. One of my intentions in doing so was to help heal the false assumption that looking honestly at the end of the world as we have known it is synonymous with wallowing in negativity.

First, let me begin by assuring the reader that I do not recommend staring down collapse 24-7. Initially, admitting the reality of collapse is frightening and disheartening. People at first tend to become overwhelmed with fear or hopelessness or both. At that point, we can do one of two things: We can back off and process the facts in bits and pieces, interspersing doing so with living our everyday lives, doing things we enjoy with people we love, and savoring everything in life that nourishes us. Or, we can immediately engage one or more defense mechanisms in order to assuage our fear and cognitive dissonance. The defense mechanism most frequently employed is denial, and unfortunately, some forms of spirituality are particularly useful in fostering denial because inherent in them is the assumption that accepting the demise of industrial civilization will drag one down into permanent depression, anger, hopelessness, or despair. While it is true that when first acknowledging collapse, one might experience such feelings, this does not guarantee that one must choose to take up residence in dark feelings, redecorate, change one's address, and permanently reside there.

I wrote Sacred Demise from the perspective of exactly the opposite experience. Did I feel negative feelings when first learning about collapse and its implications? Of course. Do I still have moments when negative feelings return and cloud what was an-otherwise normal day? Absolutely. But for me, acknowledging and preparing for collapse has been a sea-change in every aspect of my life which includes a full palette of emotional and spiritual colors and hues. It has indeed made me more fully human and alive.

Rather than dragging me down into depression and despair, my acceptance of what is, has liberated me both emotionally and spiritually. As I have released false hopes of "fixing" civilization cosmetically or creating a mass consciousness change that might engender mass movements, I have gained much more energy for my work and for preparation for the daunting days ahead. In other words, I have gained a visceral understanding of "crisis as opportunity"-a cliché which I bandied about earlier in my life could not fully appreciate until I allowed myself to deeply understand collapse and its ramifications.

Last month, Oregon Peak Oil researcher and blogger, Jan Lundberg, put out a call to his readers to respond on three questions regarding collapse:

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  • What we are acting toward? What main outcome might we be looking forward to?
  • What do we relish leaving behind, as collapse begins or as it will be intensified?
  • What do we not want to leave behind unresolved; or, what needs to be done before it's too late to accomplish it?

This week, Culture Change published the results of the survey which I strongly encourage everyone to read. Here are a few responses:

•·        I look forward to the world breaking up "into small colonies of the saved" (Robert Bly).  I look forward to a simpler, less neurotic life for me and my children.  I would like to think that my children, while their chances of survival may be lower, their chances of happiness will be higher. 

•·        The central change I would like to see is abandonment of the addictive, frenzied, exploitative American way of life in favor of a tribal, cooperative, relaxed way of life that puts responsibility toward other species and the Earth, as well as other human beings, first.

•·        An authentic life that is centered around people and not things. Revival of things spiritual and not material.

•·        Learning how to live with each other and within the larger community of our bioregions and ecosystems in a way that is intimate, honest, humble, and humanly and ecologically sustainable.  That includes restoring viable community life, economic and ecological relationships and systems - living systems.

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While none of us knows exactly how the collapse of civilization will unfold and while it is a process--sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant whose beginning, middle, and end are and will be difficult to discern, the responses to Lundberg's questions are encouraging. First, they let me know that I'm not alone and that there are many more individuals than I could have imagined who are looking at collapse with the same optimism-and fear-that I feel when I contemplate it. Moreover, what I hear in these responses is not "negativity" but a deep longing for the possibility of living lives in harmony with all of the earth community and thereby experiencing the fullness of our humanity.

In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, Sigmund Freud cultivated a very dark perception of humanity as he assessed the baser instincts largely repressed in the human unconscious. His pupil who became the famous Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, acknowledged the dark side of humanity which drove Freud to utter despair but unlike Freud, Jung came to believe that the dark side was a necessary ally in transforming human consciousness. He spent decades studying myriad spiritual teachers, mythologies, and archetypes of the unconscious, and championed the sacred in nature and in the human psyche; however, Jung insisted that, "We must beware of thinking of good and evil as absolute opposites. The criterion of ethical action can no longer consist in the simple view that good has the force of a categorical imperative, while so-called evil can resolutely be shunned. Recognition of the reality of evil necessarily relativizes the good, and the evil likewise, converting both into halves of a paradoxical whole." 

In other words, according to Jung, what we call "good" and "evil" need each other and in our binary thinking are opposite poles which in reality comprise the whole of the human experience; one needs the other for completion, and particularly for the transformation of consciousness. This is why Jung adamantly declared that "Mental illness is the avoidance of suffering." He was not referring to meaningless anguish but suffering which we endeavor to make sense of so that our genuine human purpose may be revealed to us.

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www.carolynbaker.net
Carolyn Baker.Ph.D., is the author of Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization's Collapse (2009 IUniverse) and manages her website Speaking Truth to Power at www.carolynbaker.net. She is also the author of U.S. History (more...)
 

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