Can we Finally Heal our Collective Trauma?
‘A painted bird of paradise in a cage’
Why are so many things going on in the world right now that are detrimental to our own well-being? It appears self-evident that there is something fundamentally wrong with how the world is – in so many ways and upon so many levels. We are a species with noble character, with a great spirit, and with a sacred soul. In our hearts most people wish only for the betterment of all others – for equity, compassion and communion. And yet what we see going on in the world is nothing less than complete madness. We have to say it exactly as it is – we are experiencing a collective trauma on a global scale.
In my recent work I proposed the possibility that some kind of mental and/or unconscious infection or contagion has produced a form of irrationality – or ‘madness’ – that has now become so normalized within us that we hardly recognize its presence.[i] Further, this ‘presence’ has embedded itself into various forms of social conditioning (or perhaps even produces this conditioning) in order to veil its existence. This normalized madness then usurps genuine thinking patterns, with the result that when everyone shares the collective psychosis then the madness of the world appears to be a ‘normal feature’ of human civilization. And those people who are ‘awake’ to the irrationality and madness are considered the ‘crazy ones.’ Here is an illuminating tale:
There was once a wise and powerful king who ruled in a remote city of a far kingdom. And the king was feared for both his might and his love of wisdom. At the heart of the city was a well whose water was cool and crystalline, and all the inhabitants drank from this well, even the king and his courtiers, because there was no other well in the city. One night, while everyone was asleep, a witch entered the city and poured seven drops of a strange liquid into the well, and said:
‘From now on, anyone who drinks this water will go crazy.’
The next morning all the inhabitants drank the water from the well, except the king and his lord chamberlain, and very soon everyone went mad, as the witch had foretold. During that day, all people went through the narrow streets and public places whispering to each other:
‘The king is mad. Our king and his lord chamberlain have lost their reason. Naturally, we cannot be ruled by a mad king. We must dethrone him!’
That night, the king ordered a golden cup of water from the well to be brought to him. And when they brought the cup the king and his lord chamberlain drank heavily from it. Soon after that there was great rejoicing in that distant city of a far kingdom because the king and his lord chamberlain had regained their reason.
The King and his love of wisdom (Genuine Mind) was corrupted by the poisonous drops of the witch’s liquid (infection/contagion) that resulted in the mass epidemic of craziness (irrationality/madness). This corrupted mind, we can say, has now become the dominant narrative that influences social behavior. This disease of irrationality is a contagion that infects individual and group minds as well as infuses the whole array of our social systems.
The collective ‘cultural mind’ is continually being shaped by dominant social-cultural narratives that normalize our mental and emotional behavioral patterns. These norms are then transferred into cultural myths that serve to transmit and reinforce these mass-minded belief systems. We end up validating our own corrupted thinking through unconscious affirmations. Once this seed of psychosis is planted then it aims to propagate and strengthen itself in order to legitimate its own ‘logical’ existence. Like a mental cancer it ingratiates itself into our own neural pathways as an insider rather than an outsider so that we fail to notice its toxic presence. Yet there remains a niggling sense of something being ‘not-quite-right’ deep within any sensible/sensitive person.
This corrupted reality then becomes internalized so that people adapt to a form of the ‘new normality’ and anyone who speaks up or questions this ‘paradigm of normality’ is considered either odd, eccentric or, at worst, a crazy heretic. A more recent category for such people is now to be designated as a ‘conspiracy theorist’ which is a quick brush to dismiss people with ideas or thinking contrary to this ‘norm.’ And those people who appear to accept and encourage such norms are quickly brought ‘into the fold’ and supported by the orthodox, mainstream systems. The majority of those supporting and propagating the disease of irrationality are not in psychiatric care but running most of our social, political, and financial institutions. A great majority of the asymptomatic, unknowing carriers of this mental contagion can also be found in the streets, in shops, and everywhere in society. Positions of great power, especially, represent this irrationality, and often knowingly so, as it supports and strengthens their own continuing structure of power. An irrational mind corrupts, yet an irrational mind in a position of power corrupts totally.
The Irrational Mind
The presence of the irrational mind is like a sickness of the soul, and it manifests as a disturbance in the collective unconscious. Just like any other virus or pathogen, it seeks to spread itself by infecting as many carriers as possible. Those people who carry the irrational mind (whether knowingly or not) act as transmitters and amplifiers for it, strengthening its frequency within the collective consciousness. A collective ‘possession’ can also be referred to as a psychic epidemic, or a disturbance in the field. Such disturbances can have varying affects upon people’s mental health and well-being. Over time, this off-kilter mentality stabilizes into a form of trauma which then is projected externally.
People who suffer from this may carry it as an ‘undefinable’ trauma within them, and it is common to turn to alcoholism, hedonistic pursuits, addictions, and other dependencies as a way of coping, or escaping, from a sense of ennui, apathy, or plain world-weariness. When a person feels traumatized, they are vulnerable to further mental programming and varieties of external influence and persuasion. It can be very subtle too. Our modern societies have been stealthily constructed on ways to exploit this vulnerability to outside influence and persuasion. The monk Thomas Merton said that modern societies suffer from a crisis of sanity:
‘The problems of the nations are the problems of mentally deranged people, but magnified a thousand times because they have the full-straight-faced approbation of a schizoid society, schizoid national structures, schizoid military and business complexes.’[ii]
If modern institutions are infected by a corrupted and irrational system of mental thinking patterns then, as Merton suggests, this instability will be amplified and made worse. Individual traumas are given institutional sanction and support within a culture that has based its social norms upon such irrationalities. The irrational has broken through and implanted itself as the ‘rational standard rule.’ It is perhaps little wonder that people are so susceptible to this mental corruption when it comes to us dressed up in sheep’s clothing. As is always the case, those people most vulnerable are usually those who are conditioned to authority and/or passivity. This trait, unfortunately, is one that is first implanted through compulsory schooling.
Likewise, people who are easily influenced by external opinions, and who are prone to group-thinking, are among the first to give away their mental independence to external sources. The irrational mind preys upon such ‘group-think’ individuals as the ‘mass mind’ of humanity helps in the transmission and proliferation of the psychic trauma. As the famous psychiatrist R.D. Laing once said – ‘The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one’s mind, is the condition of the normal man…normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal men in the last fifty years.’[iii] Conscious awareness is perhaps our greatest antidote to the irrational mind.
If we are to gain a broader perspective here then it is important to view major events, human actions, propaganda, social disturbances, power struggles, and the rest, from the standpoint of the collective trauma of the irrational mind. Modern human thinking patterns have been conditioned around such traits as greed, competition, ambition, materialism, and selfishness. These are all traits that mark a lack of authenticity. The irrational mind seeks to develop greater degrees of inauthenticity and lack of empathy within the individual. The world stage is littered with such personalities.
The peril of the irrational mind is that resistance may also help to spread it. That is, people who start out resisting this corrupted mindset often find themselves adopting it’s values in order to survive. It is the ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ type of thinking. It seems that humanity is collectively struggling to awaken against its very own condition of traumatic sleep.
Under the Irrational Spell
It has often been said – by mystics, sages, and wisdom traditions – that humanity is collectively asleep. The ignorance we have about this condition, and the absence of real knowledge of it, indicates we are asleep. The more we breed this irrational mind within our societies and cultures, the more people will behave and live like automatons. We will live within a tighter range of conditioned stimuli that programs specific opinions and thinking patterns that validate the control of the irrational over us. A person who is more conditioned to obedience is more susceptible to submission and external control. This indeed could be the reason for our systems of authority establishing rigid orders of control and obedience, such as when we travel, pass through airports, are track and traced, etc. It can be likened to a preparation for automated behavior as a requisite for an automated mind. The thinker George Gurdjieff wrote:
‘Contemporary culture requires automatons. And people are undoubtedly losing their acquired habits of independence and turning into automatons, into parts of machines…. Man is becoming a willing slave. He no longer needs chains. He begins to grow fond of his slavery, to be proud of it. And this is the most terrible thing that can happen to a man.’[iv]
By adopting the mentality of the irrational mind, we are participating in our own suppression and furthering the behavior of an automaton. We need to recognize that many of our incumbent social systems are set-up to corroborate and reinforce the consensus mind-set. Our genuine awakening to this trauma cannot come from any ‘mass movement’ but only from those persons who can think and act independently.
The first step we can take is to accept the possibility that the irrational mind contagion exists. The Gnostic text The Gospel of Philip says: ‘So long as the root of wickedness is hidden, it is strong. But when it is recognized, it is dissolved. When it is revealed, it perishes…’ The danger lies in our distraction – in our unknowingness. It is now necessary to see the irrational mind for what it is – recognition and acknowledgement of it is key. If we cannot bring harmony and good sense to the world around us, then we should at least bring it upon ourselves. It is time now to awaken from this cursed slumber and to finally heal our individual and collective trauma.
[i] See Healing the Wounded Mind: The Psychosis of the Modern World and the Search for the Self.
[ii] Cited in Levy, Paul. 2013. Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, p47
[iii] Cited in Levy, Paul. 2013. Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, xvii
[iv] Ouspensky, PD. 1950. In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, p316