In September 1939, on the eve of a terrible war, WH Auden wrote that when the world is full of despair, we must love one another or die. These words came back to me on a gray and rainy December of 2016. Colleagues from Stillpoint Spaces met on video to discuss the implications of the results of the US elections. As an international community of analysts, psychologists, therapists, and counselors, we wanted to understand how the elections were affecting our clients/patients and, of course, ourselves. I was prepared to analyze the political, sociological and psychological effects of the election results. What I was not prepared for was the depth of grief expressed and viscerally felt during our call. This grief was beyond the constructs of the many isms that have contributed to a shaking of the foundations of our world.
We discussed the decline of socialism, the rise of discontent, consumerism run amok, the alienation of labor, the poison of envy, the decline of the middle class, the disenfranchisement of the young, and on and on, the litany at the wailing wall of a global phenomenon. For make no mistake, this is not about the US only. One by one, we spoke about the littleness in countries that used to be expansive, the collapsing of the far right and the far left into one another that left out the voices of the center. Brexit, Scandinavia, Bulgaria, Italy, Austria. Egypt. Refugees. The closing of ranks around social, cultural and ancient identities to keep out the ‘other’.
As we spoke, I felt the waves of grief rise and subside. I couldn’t get a hold of the reason, as though if we named the one thing, we could understand it, and in so doing, change it. And finally, for me, the grief I had been feeling crystallized in Edward Edinger’s assertion that we need a new myth, the myth of consciousness rooted in withness, in radical relatedness to others and to Psyche. He says: “the breakdown of a central myth is like the shattering of a vessel containing a precious essence; the fluid is spilled away…Meaning is lost. In its place, primitive and atavistic contents are reactivated, as Yeats said: the things fall apart, the center cannot hold (p. 9-10).
The center did not hold for all those on the edges of despair, those whose cries were not heard, who were left behind, whose dreams and hopes were eclipsed. This is true for both sides of the idealogical divide. We cannot other the other nor can we give in to despair. Like Jung said, we have to hold the tension between the opposites until something new appears. And that is hard to do when faced with the loss of foundational dreams.
As we spoke, I began to feel hope. Because in naming the myths that no longer held true, the American Dream, the vision of a progressive and upwardly mobile consciousness, we were naming a truth that could no longer be denied. What was revealed was the split between conscious and unconscious forces. Yes, the old container was shattered, the illusions gone, we are indeed living in a new world. It is a world not to our liking, but a new world nonetheless and no one was denying its reality nor denying the hard work of what we are being called to continue to do. To become more aware. To increase consciousness. To be related, deeply and radically to one another. To refuse to other someone. To return love. This is not an easy hope. It does, however, remind me that against all odds, something new may emerge from the harsh ground, the unwarm sky. I felt that in our conversation, raw, honest, real, seen, held and yes, I will say it, loved. And I understood better why we need these conversations. We become, as Auden implores at the end of his poem, ironic points of light, that despite the darkness and the despair, show an affirming flame.
Silvia Behrend is a Stillpoint Counselor working from Olympia, United States.