Monday, July 23, 2012

Senseless Shootings and the Soul

My family and I live a few miles from the Century Aurora Theater, where the recent shooting occurred. It touches close to home. And of course, no matter where you live, it brings up feelings of helplessness and anger. I've hear in response to the shooting cries of better gun control, thoughts of arming theater guards, and attacks upon art (movies, video games, television, whatever) slipping toward pleas of censorship, but what really underlies such tragedies isn't found in any of these symptoms of a greater cultural illness.

One of our tasks as humans, as souls, is to dis-identify with our egos. This task can only be done after the ego is fully and healthily formed, a place that most people in a patho-adolescent culture (to use Bill Plotkin's insightful language) never reach. Most people are still trying to figure out who they are and what they are doing here,aka developing a healthy ego. Once that point is reached, the developmental task becomes about transcending the ego. One way this is done (the only way?) is to face one's death, to know that one day the body will die and the ego along with it. Many people reach this point and know that their soul will go on. At this point of dis-identification with ego, one can also see the dialectic of soul and body (and ego, identity, or personality) as being fully intertwined and simultaneously separate parts of the self, sort of like parts of an egg or an onion.

Culturally we aren't really ready for this task, as we haven't yet developed healthy ego selves. But it is such an important passage, facing one's own death and the transformational power of the darkness, that we look to art to bring us into this space of death and darkness. Thus the popularity and draw of dark, brooding, scary movies. Thus our sentimentalized obsession with death rituals (as opposed to having them be a healthy and natural part of life and culture). Thus the deliciously erotic archetype of the vampire.

Problem is, some of these attempts to face Death go too far, seeking to traumatize movie goers without - and here is the key - providing a safe space in which to do so. In traditional cultures when a person goes through his or her death of the youthful ego there is always an elder or group of elders there to support and protect. Not to save a person from his or her depths, as perhaps some superheroes might do, but to hold the sacred space in which a person falls apart. The growing youth (or adult, as chronological age is less important here than personal evolution) walks through the valley of death, but he or she can feel the containment of an elder who has walked there before and gone through the transformation, who knows who he or she truly is on many levels and can stand strong as the initiate goes through metamorphosis. 

When the ego isn't ready and the trauma too great, instead of growth and initiation, a person falls apart. They go psychotic. They seek to relieve the ensuing pressure by killing themselves or killing others.

The only way senseless acts of shooting like the recent one in Aurora or Columbine or anywhere else will stop is if our entire culture embraces healthy ego and soul development. Boys need hero's journeys (see Raising Boys). We all need a deeper connection with nature, who guides us (see Bill Plotkin's site). We need to honor our elders who know their own souls. We need sacred ways to face Death. Then, and only then, will the craziness stop.

No comments: