Article Rebirth

Dying Into the Creative

How does anyone possibly express in words the state of collective madness that humanity has fallen into at this time in our history? What modern-day humanity is confronted with, to quote the noted author and Trappist monk Thomas Merton, is “a crisis of sanity first of all.” Our species and our civilization are currently in the throes of a collective (nervous) breakdown. If what we, as a species, are doing to ourselves (destroying the biosphere, the very life-support system of the planet, to use one example) isn’t collective madness, then what in the world is?

It is no badge of honor or measure of sanity to adapt to a world gone mad. Instead of trying to adapt to the world’s insanity, a person who is awakening remains open to the world—and open to their wounds—such that a regenerative and curative power arises from within their own dark depths in response – this healing power is the creative spirit. A person who is able to connect with their creativity becomes an anti-psychotic agent in the midst of the prevailing collective psychosis we are passing through.

Creativity is one of the greatest medicines at our disposal during times such as this. Our spirit, the sentient presence that animates us, is by its very nature, creative. A human being is a creative force thirsting for conscious realization. Our creativity isn’t as a mere hobby, a sideline, something that we should just indulge in on our days off. The creative spirit is an essential part of our being, the life-giving oxygen for our soul. Unexpressed creativity, on the other hand, is poison to the human psyche. The malady that our species is collectively suffering from is, in essence, the fact that we are not connecting with, mobilizing, and expressing our creative nature, which turns against us in self-and-other-destruction.

Our underlying institutionalized and incorporated structures that are purportedly serving us but are in actuality keeping us asleep are breaking down. Analogous to what can happen within an individual’s psyche, only collectively writ large on the world stage, we are going through a collective spiritual awakening/shamanic initiation process—a breakdown/breakthrough—and whether this process will “take us down” or “wake us up” depends upon how we dream it.

Our species has gotten drafted into an archetypal death/rebirth experience – in symbolically dying to a part of ourselves that is no longer serving us, another part of us is being reborn. We, as a species, to quote the doctor of the soul C. G. Jung, have been “drawn into the cycle of the death and rebirth of the gods.” In other words, having become part of a deeper mythic, archetypal and alchemical process of transformation, we are going through a cosmic death/rebirth experience of a higher order.

We hear everyday – “We are all in this together.” In the late 1950’s, Jung wrote words that are as relevant today as they were then, “We are in the soup that is going to be cooked for us, whether we claim to have invented it or not…. We are threatened with universal genocide if we cannot work out the way of salvation by a symbolic death.” In other words, we are fated to suffer an unconscious “literal” death if we don’t consciously go through a “symbolic” death.

As we go through a species-wide dark night of the soul—the mythic night sea journey—our illusions about the world we live in—and ourselves as well—are being shattered. Seeing through our illusions is a symbolic death of the self that was wed to—and lived by—illusion. Being disillusioned—having our illusions dispelled—is to become sober and begin to face reality.

Whether consciously or not, since the advent of the coronavirus, we are all in a state of grieving. The world we knew, as well as a false part of ourselves, is dying. The artist, poet and visionary William Blake calls this fraudulent part of us, “a false Body, an incrustation over my Immortal.” Having identified with an imposter of ourselves, we are unknowingly blocking the light of our own (Immortal) radiant nature.

Our sense of who we think we are—imagining we exist as a separate self, alien to and apart from other separate selves as well as the rest of the universe—is an illusion whose expiration date has now been reached. If not recognized as illusory, this illusion can become reified and become a lethal mirage. Either our illusion (of existing as a separate self) expires, or we do.

Speaking about the majority of our species, the great healer and alchemist Paracelsus writes, “what he fancies himself to be has no worth.” This is because the fictitious identity that most of us identify with isn’t real in any sense of the word except for the fact that it is an unreal product of a deranged imagination that we then take for being who we are. It is a forgery, a counterfeit, of no intrinsic value in and of itself. We have become brainwashed into conceiving of ourselves in purely spatio-temporal terms, believing that we exist as a reference point in time and space. Instead of thinking that we, as physical beings, live in a purely physical world—we can die to our ill-usion of ourselves—and can wake up to that we live in a psycho-physical world that, just like a dream, is infused with consciousness.

As always, death strips away our masks that we use to hide ourselves from both the world and ourselves. At the same time, we are—potentially—being born into a novel world and a new, more coherent version of ourselves. We are simultaneously the being who is dying, being born and midwifing the whole process.

The divine process of transformation is typically experienced as punishment, torment, an experience of death and then transfiguration. This divinely-sponsored process is subjectively experienced by the human ego as torture. However, if we don’t personalize the experience, identify with it or get stuck in its nightmarish aspect—a great danger—but allow this deeper process to refine us as it moves through us, it can lead to a transfiguration of our very being.

If we remain unconscious when a living archetypal process is activated within us, this inner process will physically manifest itself externally in the outside world, where, as if by fate, it will get unconsciously dreamed up and acted out in a “literal,” concrete and oftentimes destructive way. Instead of going through an inner symbolic death, for example, we then literally kill each other, as well as, ultimately, ourselves. If we recognize, however, that we are being cast to play a role in a deeper cosmic process, instead of being destined to enact it unconsciously, and hence, destructively, we are able to consciously and creatively “incarnate” this archetypal process as individuation.

It is as if we—as a species—are having a near-death experience. The more immanent the death experience, however, the greater the possibility for transformation.

We, both collectively and individually, are making a shamanic descent into the darkness of the underworld—into the netherworld of the unconscious shadow side of our psyche—where we are demanded to face our own dark side. We are no longer able to postpone this encounter with ourselves – the time is now. As the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Parmenides pointed out, there is no way of getting around first having to make a journey to the depths of the underworld before we are able to discover the living reality and fullness of the eternal now moment.

We are living in dark times. More accurately, we are living in times where the darkness is emerging from hiding in the shadows and is becoming visible. It helps to remember that dark shadows are an expression that light is nearby (for it is light that is casting the shadow); the darker the shadow, the brighter the light. Current political and social events are the manifestation of a deeper process that has been brewing in the cauldron of the collective unconscious of humanity for many years, perhaps even from the beginning of our appearance on this planet. What this means is that the darkness that is emerging in our world is—just like a dream—an externalized reflection of an unknown darkness within ourselves. Something is being revealed to us through this process that it is most important for us to know.

Living in such an uncertain topsy-turvy world gone mad naturally creates extreme stress, anxiety and creative tension. And yet, there is an opportunity of a lifetime that now becomes available to us hidden within this very challenging internal process. Rather than distancing ourselves from what has been triggered within us—social distancing from ourselves—if we are able to bear, carry and suffer the uncomfortable, and sometimes excruciating tension in a conscious way, we can potentially ignite the creative spirit within us to be set aflame by the light of divine inspiration. Describing the creative individual, Jung’s colleague Erich Neumann writes, “Only by suffering, perhaps unconsciously, under the poverty of his culture and his time can he arrive at the freshly opening source which is destined to quench the thirst of his time.”

There are treasures buried within us, concealed within our unconscious. These hidden gems are like precious jewels or diamonds in the rough that are encoded within the fabric of the unconscious psyche. They can be conceived of as existing in a higher dimension relative to our conscious mind, and as such, are typically invisible to our intellect. These sacred treasures, having lain buried and dormant in the collective unconscious of our species from time immemorial, are typically awakened in times of great need. Oftentimes humanity is not saved from a crisis by what we consciously think, but rather, the saving grace comes from something being revealed to us that emerges unexpectedly as a result of the crisis. The hidden treasure, the great revelation that is hidden within our unconscious—also referred mythically as “The Treasure Hard to Attain”— is the creative spirit itself.

In our own individual suffering of the powerful archetypal energies which pervade and make up the collective unconscious, the spirit within us intimately experiences the profound depths of the woundedness of the collectivity and the time in which we live. Spiritual practitioners and true artists are able to find within their own subjective experience, however, a unique and utterly original response to their wound. As if organs of the collective body politic of humanity, sensitive, spiritually attuned and creative people are the alchemical retorts in which the poisons, the antidotes and the psycho-spiritual medicines for the collective are distilled.

Certain individuals gifted with particularly strong intuition sense the moving currents taking place in the collective unconscious and are able to translate these changes into communicable language (whether verbal and/or nonverbal). These original and creative expressions can potentially spread rapidly—going viral—and have such powerful transformative power because parallel changes have been taking place in the unconscious of other people. Contagious in its effects, genuine creative expression emerging at the right moment can “virally” spread via the unconscious of our species in ways that can ignite latent, creative energy lying dormant in the collective unconscious of humanity. This can bring forth and actualize hidden possibilities (both within us and in the world) into the light of conscious awareness, which is a process that has the power to effect real change in the world.

Our species is desperately in need of the guidance and aid of the boundless creative forces latent within the depths of our unconscious to help us find new ways to resolve the myriad interwoven aspects of our multiple world crises. In its collective archetypal dimension the unconscious contains the wisdom and experience of untold ages and could serve as a guide par excellence for us during these troubled times.

Given that our widespread systemic crises are the result of a deficiency in human consciousness, it becomes obvious that it is only through an expansion of consciousness that we will be able to navigate the tight passage before us. Consciousness can evolve and develop, however, only where it preserves and cultivates a living connection with the creative powers of the unconscious.

When tapped into, the creative spirit is a seemingly inexhaustible source of inspiration within us which issues forth a stream of revelations like a spring bubbling upwards from the depths of our unconscious. This living current is our greatest resource; as it helps us to continually re-source (and refresh) ourselves, i.e., connect with our source. Becoming an instrument for the creative spirit to move through us, in Jung’s words, “evokes in us all those beneficent forces that ever and anon have enabled humanity to find a refuge from every peril and to outlive the longest night.”

Change in the world starts with the individual. What the world needs more than anything right now is for any one of us to become familiar with and enter into intimate relationship with our source, with our creative essence, with the ground of our being. This is the greatest offering any of us can make for a world that needs all the help it can get.

About Paul Levy

A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, Paul Levy is a wounded healer in private practice, assisting others who are also awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality. He is the founder of the “Awakening in the Dream Community” in Portland, Oregon. Among his books are The Quantum Revelation: A Radical Synthesis of Science and Spirituality (SelectBooks, May 2018), Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (North Atlantic Books, 2013), and the upcoming Seeing Wetiko: Healing Our Mind Blindness (Inner Tradition, Fall 2021). An artist, he is deeply steeped in the work of C. G. Jung, and has been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for over 35 years. He was the coordinator for the Portland PadmaSambhava Buddhist Center for over twenty years.

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