By Randy Morris
Bad news seems to be everywhere these days, like dark clouds hanging over everything we do. From climate chaos to zoonotic diseases to species destruction to the rise of fascism – the darkness around us is deep. But what if, rather than turn our eyes away from the catastrophes happening around us, we lean into the dark clouds and surrender to what they have to say? Maybe there are surprising virtues hidden in those dark clouds of uncertainty, grief and fear. Perhaps they can clarify ways to stay spiritually whole and mentally healthy in the very midst of collapse. If so, that would be very Good News indeed!
When I search for a model that can bring meaning to the current state of humanity, I find it in the language of initiation and rites of passage. I believe the human species is going through a generations-long rite of passage in which it must die to its most cherished beliefs about itself. Only when we face our darkest fears and open our hearts to witness the magnitude of the suffering, suffering that will surely get worse in the coming years, can we enter the liminal and unknowable vessel of our collective transformation. I can’t see a future beyond this middle passage, this ‘dark night of the species soul’. To predict anything about it would be using an old consciousness to anticipate a new consciousness never seen before. As Einstein so presciently said, “You can’t solve a problem using the same consciousness that created it.”
So in the midst of the uncertainty, sorrow and fear of humanity’s collective rite of passage, its dark night of the species soul, what is The Good News? How can I live a life of purpose and meaning in a deteriorating world without sinking into depression, bitterness, suspicion, and hatred? How can I be a good citizen of these dark times?
I am reminded of a lesson I learned from the psychotherapist Miriam Greenspan, who speaks about the revelatory power of what she calls the ‘dark emotions’. When we are able to be in the presence of these emotions with awareness and receptivity, they become our teachers. Greenspan writes, “The dark emotions bring us information and supply us with energy – the raw material of spiritual empowerment and transformation. When we know how to listen to them, we can ride their energy, like a wave, with awareness as our protection. Emotional energy flows, and a hidden doorway in the heart opens. Something shifts. A transmutation occurs: a movement through the pain to spiritual power. … Finding the power of the sacred, not despite suffering, but in the midst of it: this is the alchemy of the dark emotions.”
In the age of Collapse, it is Good News that the power of the sacred reveals itself in the midst of suffering and pain. Let’s see if we can locate some of the sacred revelations that await us if we abandon hope, embrace courage, and surrender to the wisdom of the dark emotions.
Take the darkness of Uncertainty. For thousands of years, Western culture has pursued truth, leading to the rigors of scientific inquiry and the idea of a ‘well ordered’ life. But now we are living in an age when certainty and order are challenged by gaslighting, misinformation and feckless leaders who spout opinions mired in ‘alternative’ facts. What revelation awaits us in the
dark emotion of uncertainty? In such a time, it is more important than ever that we become ‘students of uncertainty’ and engage in a quest to locate within ourselves a mythopoetic identity – the personal destiny with which we were born and which yearns to express itself — that is both resilient and timeless, that can hold the tension of opposites between fixed opinions and free- floating anxiety, that can find some sense of constancy amidst the flux of experience.
By opening ourselves to uncertainty and letting go of fixed notions, we enter the future improvisationally, not certain of anything, but deeply engaged in the art of creating music out of whatever the future brings our way. It is in such a state that the revelation of your own mytho- poetic identity will most likely announce itself to you. And once you know where you stand, where your ecological niche is in the web of life, you are grounded in the dynamic processes of the cosmos itself, a place of deep belonging and communion. How can that not be Good News in bad times?
What about the darkness of grief and sorrow? What Good News, what revelation, awaits us there? Contrary to America’s death-phobic assumptions, sorrow is an intensely communal emotion, deserving of community rituals of solidarity and release. Community grief rituals create Holy Ground where we can process the tears that deserve to be shed for both our personal losses and the immense sorrows of the world, including the innocent victims of violence, starvation and war. Not only that, sorrow reveals a deeper sense of who we are, reminding us of our place in the wider community of the more-than-human world. To grieve the extinction of a species, the beauty of which took millions of years to create, but which will never again be seen on the face of the earth, is to be in a loving relationship with those beings and with the creative forces of the universe that gave them birth. It is to be reminded of them as our kin, our ancestors, our teachers, our beloveds – not as simply an object among other objects, but as a ‘communion of subjects’ of which we are all a part. Our apprenticeship to sorrow has the revelatory power to awaken us to our own exquisite but perilous relationship to the web of life that gave us birth, and to which we will return. How can this not be Good News in bad times?
And what about this pervasive sense of fear, the foreboding sense of doom that sits like a heavy rock on our chests, hardening our hearts to the wonder and joy that surround us? What is the revelatory power of that dark emotion? The Good News that fear is teaching us is that a new god-image is emerging in the global psyche of humanity as a whole – not as a new religion, but as an awareness that underlies all religions. No one can say for sure what form it will take, but hints are all about us. We can hear the “Sacred Other” speaking to us through dreams, intuitions, intense body states, and other psychic phenomena. That ‘Other’ is the Dream of the Cosmos speaking to us. Our job, as conscious human beings attuned to the Creative Intelligence, is to prepare a receptive place for this guidance to incarnate and to act upon the hints that it is giving. In doing so, we fulfill the cosmic role of human intelligence and play our part in the ongoing evolution of the Earth, assisting Earth to fulfill its cosmic destiny: to become a planet of Love. How can that not be Good News in bad times?
So it appears that being born in dark times like these is not a curse, but an opportunity; not an affliction, but an assignment! Everything that we love and hold dear is heightened in intensity. Gratitude and beauty are immediately accessible in the simplicities of everyday life. Excitement hovers in the midst of the uncertainty. Curiosity abounds, and we are being called by the Creative Intelligence of the Cosmos to live the most meaningful lives ever lived on this planet. When we approach this pregnant time with gratitude and reverence, great things will decide to approach us. Good News, indeed!
Randy Morris, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus at Antioch University Seattle where he taught in the BA Liberal Studies Program for 30 years and was the coordinator of the Psychology and Spiritual Studies concentrations. His search for an eco-spiritual revelation adequate for our dark night of the species soul has led him through experiences as a vision quest guide, dream worker, martial artist, musician, community ritual leader and elder-in-training. Randy’s investment in the future takes the shape of five grandchildren. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.