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Beginning to Face Our Shadow

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After seven articles that discuss our deeper spiritual mission and paint a primarily positive picture of America, today I start facing our shadow side. Everything I wrote in those articles I believe to be true. We do have an important mission to create a new kind of society; it's in our founding DNA and evident throughout our history. The other half of the truth, though, is that we are jeopardizing that destiny with our arrogance, blindness, corruption, and sense of entitlement. We have the potential for great nobility, but we more often resemble petulant princes than wise kings.

In looking at our shadow side, it's important to bear in mind that it often contains the very same qualities that lead to greatness, but in undeveloped, immature, and self-centered forms. That doesn't make these qualities intrinsically bad, just less conscious. However, given the level of power we wield in the world, these places of developmental arrest - where we've become psychologically frozen in an immature state - do have harmful effects on the rest of the world and ultimately, ourselves. Truthtelling that is both rigorous and compassionate helps our shadow qualities as a country evolve into their higher expression and thus alleviate some of the suffering we are now causing.

America has the capacity to be an exemplar for the world. And we also have the potential to stagger into decline as a power-drunk empire, another in a long lineage of countries that simply did not have the maturity to wield power with wisdom. Which trajectory we take depends a great deal on how we deal with our shadow side.

Right now, we resemble a society of adolescents, more concerned with building our own status, comfort, and power than leaving a legacy of planetary service. We binge on the riches of the world as the biggest consumers on the planet while the global environment deteriorates. We throw our weight around on the world stage, strutting our "self-interest" like Banana Republic dictators. We undermine the most significant global accords if they put even slight constraints on our already-bloated economy. We profess to be a generous country and yet we give a smaller percentage of our GNP to overseas development than any other major power. Our main "tithe" of service to the whole is through our military, often with dubious and mixed motives that align more with empire-building than taking the moral high ground. We act, in most ways, like the monarchs of old, exercising our supposedly divine right to rule, exploit, and indulge ourselves.

We are, in short, inflated. We are overly impressed with our virtues and unapologetic about our vices. The Ugly American reputation overseas is rooted in a sense of entitlement that others should learn our language and play by our rules - even in their own land. We intuit the greatness of our mission but overestimate the degree to which we've manifested it.

So the question becomes, why are we stuck in this way? Are we simply too young as a country to behave with greater maturity? Or is there something deeper going on, something that can be remedied?

A basic principle in psychology is that when we have an experience that we don't want to fully feel, part of us becomes frozen. We hold our breath, contract away from the pain/sorrow/abuse, and stuff the negative memories into our unconscious. The rest of our being moves forward and adapts, but a part of us remains stuck in a time warp until we ultimately complete that experience. Often this takes the form of repetition compulsion: the abused little girl finds herself in one abusive relationship after another, the abandoned little boy is eventually left by his wife, etc. The deeper motive in this repetition is a sort of psychic dredging; we recreate the original experience enough in present time to bring the old patterns to the surface. If we are able to deal with this consciously, we can often heal the root wounds. If not, we usually face another round of repetition.

Let's bring this back around to America. I believe a country's psychology parallels an individual's. We have an enduring memory - a collective field of awareness that is passed down culturally. The American "psyche" shapes us as individuals through entertainment, education, and collective belief systems. It is mirrored in the kind of leaders we choose and the collective decision-making we engage.

Looking at America's adolescent arrogance with this lens shifts us away from simply judging it to trying to understand and alleviate its root cause. Where have we become stuck as a country? What experiences have we not wanted to fully feel? What is incomplete in our history that needs to be remedied?

These questions lead us into parts of our national history where we have not been truthful with ourselves and where we have not been willing to take full responsibility for the consequences of our actions. America has some heavy-duty history that has not been fully metabolized, which perpetuates the dark shadows of the present. Merely switching parties in power is less important than healing the deeper roots of the corruption, arrogance, and distortion. Then our politics becomes a more natural expression of our spiritual essence.

Next week, I'll start exploring some of the unmetabolized history that I believe is leaving us in a repetitive cycle of less-than-great behavior. I see this as part of the real work that we need to undertake as a country to become more healthy and whole, as well as deliver on the extraordinary spiritual potential activated in our founding vision.

Footnote correction: Last week, I used the concept of spiritual feudalism which I should have rightfully attributed to Saniel Bonder from his unpublished manuscript 21st Century Common Sense. You can review his innovative work on a new vision of spiritual awakening at www.sanielandlinda.com and www.wakingdown.org.

Sacred America Series #8
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Stephen Dinan is the author of Radical Spirit and the founder of the Radical Spirit community, as well as the Director of Membership and Marketing for the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in human (more...)

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