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Terror and Pain: Cultures and Shadows


Hello readers,

The other day I was listening to NPR (National Public Radio), and a reporter commented on the irony of the fact that the recent measles outbreak in southern California began at Disney World, a place from which all shadows and darkness have been banned.  The sunny and optimistic outlook seemingly characteristic of American culture and the legacy of the Enlightenment which began in France seemed to forcefully remove from our cultures a positive outlet for our shadow.   Robert Bly, American poet, writes beautifully about the human shadow in the aptly titled book “A Little Book About the Human Shadow”. Our souls are a natural balance of light and darkness, and a human heart and mind is a constantly shifting sky in its moods and expressions.  Society and culture shape our individual and collective behaviors by conditioning us to think and act in certain ways.  Those thoughts, behaviors, and feelings deemed unacceptable depending on our religious beliefs, gender, age, etc. are swept into the area of shadow and remain largely unconscious.

Within our subconscious minds lie tremendous energy and imagination, both dark and light.  And so, I believe, we should be careful what we label terror.  What makes us afraid is certainly worthy of our interest and our attention.  And those we label terrorists are enlightening us as to what makes us afraid. We should take note and listen to our hearts and feelings.  For we are all responsible for the cultures in which we live as well as for our personal choices.  May it simply be said that we cannot know our own hearts in totality.  The more any culture seeks to control or shape those who live within its confines, which all cultures inevitably do, the more we all will be forced to suppress certain parts of our beings.

Because of our ability to learn through projection, it was a natural disaster that the light skinned humans of the world began to equate their appearance with consciousness itself, and that those with darker skins were forced into the shamed position of being lesser containers of all that the conscious culture rejects – many aspects of sexuality, sensuality, artful expression – in fact, many of the aspects of life which so-called “rational” man considers to be “inferior”.  The fact is that all of these aspects of being belong to all humans, and these energetic facts work to claim their rightful place in our waking lives.

Could it be that suppressed pain, suppressed desire to express the sacred in daily life…to have it recognized – is leading to an excess of violence in many arenas of daily life in America and abroad? Why should certain peoples or religions bear the brunt of our inability to live consciously with certain aspects of self and culture?  Basically, we have all but eliminated the living rituals and richness of expression through culture of sexuality, the sacred, poverty, art, and imagination.  If we wish to experience a more vibrant relationship with our selves and not fall victims to terror, then we have to look deeply into the dark wells of our own souls and our own cultures. In precolonial Africa, for example, a wide array of aspects of human nature were taken into account. Each human life was brought into culture and made human through the specific culture into which each individual was born. Ritual framed every stage of life and made it meaningful.

Much of the meaning has been drained from contemporary rituals surrounding birth, puberty, marriage, death. It seems like a show of wealth and power seems important and ever-present, and that those who cannot afford to pay for these displays of material wealth are excluded from the group. Living on the fringes, in the darkness of shadow, the poor in America are a swiftly growing group.  Will America be overtaken by its own shadow by its own apparent inability to create meaning for each human life through its culture?  These are important questions for all humans. We all seek to live meaningful lives in which our individual uniqueness and talents are expressed, and in which our collective connection to our state as humans is underscored.

Killing terrorists will not eliminate terrorism. Hating terrorists and cruelty will not eliminate fear. We can’t control fearful people or tell them how to live, how to love.  All we can do is live and teach by our own example. All we can do is embrace our own selves and our own hearts and souls fully, with a full measure of ambiguity, shadow, luminosity, sexuality, imagination.  Living with and in uncertainty is being human.  We cannot control our own nature, life itself, or other people.  The world is full of wounded people. The world is full of people conditioned by cultures which project fear and hatred onto portions of the population who are, against their own best-interests and desires, forced to carry the shadow for everyone else.  This is painful and unfair. I write to help open my own eyes, to increase my own ability to love and embrace myself.  I hate to see people suffer, and I see so many people, including – and maybe especially – my own family being hateful and dumping their own fear, anger, and pain on others. In my specific case, I became the scapegoat of my own family. I was the chosen one to bear all of the pain that the other family members either could not or refused to own.

This experience taught me, very slowly, to love and respect myself, and that I am responsible only for my own pain – not theirs.  But it also taught me how pain and shadow can become terrifying when those who are in pain make others, by bullying and shaming, to carry it for them.  In many ways, this pattern carries the history of humanity. The history of peoples conquering and enslaving one another, and of genocides. We need to wake up. We need to each want to carry our own pain and fear.  Then, and only then, will we be free.

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