It’s been a hell of a year. Or two. Or five.
The pandemic continues to spin out new variations, and we humans continue to squabble, sometimes viciously, over masks/no masks, vaccines/anti-vax. Pretty ludicrous, given that vaccines alone have saved over 2.2 million American lives these past few years.
Vladimir Putin? Well, I can’t even say his name without pursing my lips so that the “P” is pronounced with a mini-missile of spit. Bloated with the power and wealth generated by exploiting humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels, Putin—spit—is committing war crimes against the Ukranian people, murdering innocent civilians and destroying their towns and cities (not to mention their wildlife), and threatening us all with the nuclear option if we more actively intervene.
As for our over-reliance on those fossil fuels, well, only the most ignorant or avoidant of us can deny the threat they pose to all life forms on our precious planet. In any measure of Species Most Likely to Benefit the Biosphere, Homo sapiens is hardly looking like a contender. And while the big economic and political players are the ones who simply must be made to change their greedy ways if we’re to survive, we’re all complicit in living with stuff, plastic and otherwise, that’s unsustainable for a living planet. As humans tend to do when overwhelmed by trauma and loss, we’ve become numb, like the young Jackson Browne in his song “Doctor My Eyes.”
Of course, all this ongoing collective trauma can’t stop the normal requirements of life from nipping at our heels. During the pandemic, we’ve all been hobbling along with mouths to feed, rent to be paid, laundry to be done, gardens to be tended, spam calls to be fended off (no, I do NOT want an extended warranty for my car), leaks to be repaired, hearts that require both exercise and meaningful connection.
On a personal level, if 2021 was my Year of the Knee (see My Post-Traumatic Chicken Disorder), 2022 is proving to be the Year of My Eyes. What with wide angle glaucoma, narrow angle glaucoma, macular degeneration, blepharitis, filaments, and cataracts, I’ve been having a bit of a Moment trying to protect my eyesight. My medicine cabinet now bursts with various prescription eye meds, along with every brand of liquid tears known to humankind.
It feels more than a little odd that these eyes of mine started giving me the business just as I was completing my soon-to-be-released novel The Mysterious Composition of Tears, in which my protagonist Fleur’s journey is inextricably intertwined with mysteriously brilliant Shimmers. (I have to laugh. Wolfgang Pauli, who figures prominently in the book, would hardly bat an eye at the synchronicity of it all.)
My experiences this year have underscored what a blessing sight is, offering the luminous beauty of the natural world, of human artistry, of a beloved’s face. Metaphorically, in the form of consciousness, it can also bring great pain, as when we see the ugliness of a thuggish politician, the dangers of a heating planet, the atrocities of war, precious children sacrificed to our nation’s love affair with guns. Which brings me back to a young Jackson Browne singing, “I got this feeling that it’s later than it seems.”
Everywhere we look, we’re seeing signs that human civilization, and indeed, human survival, are in Big Trouble. Have we allowed technology to overtake our human connectedness? Have we succumbed to so much shadow projection onto whoever we see as “other” that we’ve carved an irreparable chasm in our social fabric? Have we let fossil fuels heat up the atmosphere to the point of no return? In my novel, Fleur’s now-teenaged daughter ruminates over that last question: “Too late? was the constant drumbeat, a collective tinnitus in everyone’s ears. Is it too late? Did we leave it too late?”
Her anguish amplifies an issue that’s necessarily demanding more of our collective attention right now: our young people are suffering, and, according to a recent New York Times article, increasing numbers of our teenagers are undergoing mental health crises, with suicides in this age group on a heartbreaking rise.* There are undoubtedly multiple strands of angst contributing to our kids’ suffering, but the literal uncertainty of a viable future is eating away at their capacity to imagine pleasure, fulfillment, the joy of carving out a sweet spot of a life in an intact world.
Is it too late? Have we left the needs of embodied human well-being and existence too late?
I hear my patients ask such questions session after session. As a Jungian analyst, I’ve witnessed—eyeball to eyeball on Zoom —my analysands trembling in the face of so much dread and danger. Some have gotten as sick as dogs or lost loved ones to Covid. Some, like me, have relatives or ancestral roots in Ukraine. Some, again like me, are filled with dread for the futures of their children and grandchildren.
Those painful threads run through The Mysterious Composition of Tears, as does the love that lies at the core of all our collective concern. It’s become increasingly apparent to anyone capable of reflection that we’re going to sink or swim together.
Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung pointed out prophetically over half a century ago that “we are the great danger.”
Jung was referring in particular to our unconsciousness of our own primitive destructiveness. Alas, the climate emergency has amplified the ways in which we specifically pose a danger. We’ve lost the awareness that we’re all interconnected, that we all matter, and that empathic awareness of that interconnection—with each other and all of life on Earth—is an essential ingredient of creativity, regeneration, and soul.
In Zoom therapy sessions across the globe, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the treatment of the psyche cannot be considered without simultaneous attention to the healing of the human community. And the healing of our ailing world cannot occur without attention to warring instincts and vicious self-attacks inside the individual soul. In these days when sociopathy, greed, toxic envy, sadism, cynicism, and emptiness are in full view across the broad spectrum of social media, it’s easy to see the parallels between our estrangement from our deepest selves and our cavalier numbing at the destruction of our shared Mother Earth.
I’ve been struggling with these questions as I’ve followed Fleur and her crew on this leg of her journey, and I’ve been struggling with them in my own personal life. I recently saw a Facebook post of baby lambs being wheeled along in large bins; the caption read, “Searching for mom while being taken to the slaughterhouse.” I couldn’t bear it because I couldn’t un-see those darling innocents. I was angry with the friend who posted it, but also glad he did, as I knew I would never, ever be tempted to eat lamb again.
That’s been the dilemma of the environmental movement from the very beginning: how to point out cruelty and danger without activating the kind of trauma that evokes numbing. That’s why I’m particularly fond of Paul Hawken’s words in his book Blessed Unrest: “If you look at the science that describes what is happening on earth today and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t have the correct data. If you meet people in this unnamed movement and aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a heart.” (And by the way, if you want to learn more about what Hawken’s up to these days, do check out his Project Regeneration. It’s all about saving our world with creativity, devotion, and imagination.)
We all need to doctor our eyes. To hold that tension between seeing and feeling the heartbreak and danger and actively imagining a new way of being and doing. In my novel, Fleur and her companions commit to that passionately. May I be led by her as I seek to heal my own vision.
*P.S. There’s NO shame in needing help. It’s part of being human. If you don’t feel like you can keep going, please contact a therapist and/or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.
Leah Shelleda June 3, 2022 at 3:01 PM
Dear One, as we round the bases in the game of life how fortunate to have you touch each one, identify all our woes, and declare the need for a new vision of wholeness. May your words be taken in and may Fleur land in my bookshelf soon! Love, Leah.
Sharon: Thank you, Leah! Fleur’s about to release her latest incarnation soon!