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" Seek the truth and run from

those who claim to have found it "

after André Gide

Humanity as the Wounded Wounder

April 11th, 2008

Here is a powerful thought for us to mull over. Are we, as human beings, both the cause of the planet’s perilous condition and at the same time initiators at a profound level of collective awareness?

We are destroying the world and it is easy to fall into despair and to say that this is yet another example of the fact that life is meaningless. What could be more meaningless than a planet of such beauty destroyed by plastic bags and burnt oil and coal? And yet wounding is one way in which greater consciousness is born, prompting the neo-Jungian analyst James Hillman to say: “The world, because of its breakdown, is entering a new moment of consciousness: by drawing attention to itself by means of its symptoms, it is becoming aware of itself as a psychic reality.”

At first sight this appears to be simply a monstruous anthropomorphism. The world drawing attention to itself by means of its symptoms (such as ecological breakdown and species extinction)? ! And yet what if there was some deeper meaning in all that is happening? That is the message that comes across in the film What a Way to Go – Life at the End of Empire – A middle class white guy comes to grips with Peak Oil, Climate Change, Mass Extinction, Population Overshoot and the demise of the American Lifestyle and which Chris Robertson of Revision is trying to explore in a workshop he and Nicky Marshall will be giving at The European Federation for Psychosynthesis Psychotherapy conference this summer. They explain: “In an age in which imagination has been degraded and surface glamour and style has usurped its potency, soul is starved through this impoverishment. Yet, within this sterile landscape may lie the seeds of change: if the world is becoming aware of itself through its wounds, then humanity, as the wounded wounder, is the means of that self awareness and healing.”

Fascinating ideas!

I need to go and cut some rhubarb.

14 Responses to “Humanity as the Wounded Wounder”

  1. How are we to know that what ‘we’ are doing to the Earth is not part of a bigger picture that is transformational for the good of all? How are we to know that as ‘something’ is so called dying, it is not making a space for something else we have no idea of?
    And if its all a dream and an illusion anyhow, what is being destroyed…… the dream????? Maybe it has to take what is happening to the Earth for the dream to reveal itself.
    It is said that what is truly Real can never die or be destroyed. So where does that leave all of us?
    I think about this all the time.

  2. Ah, questions, questions, questions…
    Even if you are convinced that nothing ever really is forgotten, even if you know death is just a change and a chance, even then, that doesn’t take away the mourning over a dying friend, or the fear over what might be, ore the pain. Illusion or not Life includes these “negativity”, it comes with the package 🙂

  3. I see what you mean – maybe things have to get worse before they get better… maybe we have to all experience this greed fuelled – fanatic – disrespectful environment to see where the true worth lies – it’s that same age old thing – one has to experience sadness to truly experience joy – the shamanic wound ect… maybe…. maybe that’s what the last two hundred years have been heading to – our awakening as a species that we are destroying ourselves – however I can’t help wishing that we would get the message a bit quicker! So now that the earth and it’s inhabitants have got that shamanic wound… will things get better?…

    Arh rhubarb! (I’ve got to wait another year for mine – it was only planted this year and is still a baby)

    Thanks for this article Philip – it is quite comforting and good to see it all from another angle 🙂

  4. Yeah, nice one Philip, want to see if we can get a community screening in our area.

    I’m sorry, but I disagree with the attitude of the poster who wants to let it all happen because somehow it’s all meant to be. That way lays paralysis and defeatism. Like the lady in the trailer said, “We can’t live without the Earth. We’re killing it.”.

    I want a future for myself and my children that doesn’t include the extinction of the human species, or a life of mere existence on a ravaged earth.

    I read something else that used an analogy of a house where the bathroom sink is overflowing: you can put down towels to soak up the water, caulk up the doors so it can’t get into the rest of the house, open the windows so it can run off somewhere else, get ready to move out of the house when the damage gets too great … or you can simply shut off the tap.

  5. Well yes Paul, but how many taps are there? I think the ideas we’re dealing with here are probably the hardest for us to grasp as humans. However much we as individuals act responsibly the turnaround required seems just too vast for us to achieve collectively. Not that we should not try…of course!

    The issue about the ‘Wounded Wounder’ evokes ideas about the way in which abusers tend to be victims of abuse themselves. The suggestion there would be that we as humans have created societies which are in some ways abusive and which have then resulted in our becoming abusers too – in this case of our environment.

    I feel – as do the makers of that film – that we are coming to a time which on the outside looks simply negative, and yet which conceals the potential for extraordinary transformation. The obvious response to that statement is ‘OK say more!’ But I need to get back to the book I’m working on….

    Here in Lewes we have a ‘Heart & Soul’ group as part of the ‘Transition Town Lewes’ project which is trying to face the reality of what is happenning at a collective level. It is very heartening to know we are not alone in our concerns and in our desire for change…

  6. It seems that when we as individuals cannot process or honestly deal with our own pain or wound(whatever that might be), the energy locked up in that wound inevitably leaks out over others. If we live in a culture that is deeply suspicious of psycholocial self-awareness – which I believe we do – then it easy to understand how destructive at a collective level that spillage could be. We are told it is self-indulgent to examine our own hurt; we are encouraged to fill in the emptiness with transitory compensations: temporary salves to any deep unhappiness we might feel. In this way we avoid dealing with the root of our troubles until something has to give. Well, something is certainly beginning to give, collectively speaking.

    It strikes me that there must be a great self-loathing at the bottom of so much self-destructive behaviour. It has worried me – when speaking with people outside of the Pagan and Environmental movement – just how nihilistic people’s responses have been to our current global predicament – a kind of ‘Dance of the Red Death’ approach. Prehaps we really do need to engage with the collective murk and mire; perhaps that nihilism is a symptom of just how much those societal abuses that you speak of, have become normalised and internalised. To do this would mean each of us looking at our own dark stuff too – this takes courage and a trust that such a risky journey will bring healing. Not all feel able to take that step, sadly. I am not suggesting that if everyone had therapy, the world’s problems would be solved, I am sure it is not that simple (mind you I think it would be a bloody good start!). I just think that sometimes we live life without being aware of what is driving us, living out our complexes at the expense of others, including our planet. It wouldn’t hurt for any of us to be more self-aware; more self-loving and accepting. I think so many of life’s problems stem from not loving ourselves enough and wreaking havoc in that search for love and belonging.

    I have no idea if we will survive this, although I am sure that the earth will. Perhaps we need to accept that this might be the end of our time as a species, that our collective life-energy might be taken back into that great, myserious pot and reformed into something entirely new – life finding a more approriate way to express itself. We struggle so with the concept of our own extinction but we are a part of this ever-changing process of life and it might be that we have to surrender to its greater wisdom.

    For myself, I feel it is so vital to be positive about this, although I am under no illusion that it will involve pain and soul searching, but maybe it is just this kind of soul searching that our species really needs. I am a part of this earth, I love it deeply and I have faith in the extraordinary capacity for human beings to find healing and transformation – it seems an insurmountable challenge, but it has to be worth a go.

  7. Given our mental abilities, our psychological possibilities, our physical needs etc. , given all this, be it given by (the) God(s), Nature, Change or Whatever, given all this , I wonder could human kind have done to her self, and other living creatures and to the Earth something other than we have done?
    I think that just a bit more empathy, a little more love, a pinch of responsibility could have made the difference.
    I guess we are who we are.

  8. I have just started to read through ‘The Spring of Joy’ by Mary Webb. It is such a beautiful and impassioned piece of writing, a real antidote to those gloomy statistics. I would like to share a little bit of it here:

    ‘On some day of late January, when the honey-coloured west is full of soft grey cloud, when one lone minstrel thrush is chanting to the dying light, what is the thrill that shakes us? It is not only that the delicate traceries of silver birches are tenderly dark on the illumined sky, that a star springs out of it like a darting quick-silver, that the music of tone and tint has echoed last April’s song. It is something deeper than these. It is the sudden sense – keen and startling – of oneness with all beauty, seen and unseen. This sense is so misted over that it only comes clearly at such times. When it does come, we are in complete communion with the universal life. The winds are our playfellows; Sirius is our fellow-traveller; we are swept up into the wild heart of the wild. Then we know that we are not merely built up physically out of flower, feather and light, but are one with them in every fibre of our being. Then only do we have our full share in the passion of life that fills all nature; then only do we possess perfect vitality. Then we are caught into the primal beauty of earth, and life flows in upon us like an eagre (Ed note:a tidal wave or bore in an estuary). Life – the unknown quantity, the guarded secret – circles from an infinite ocean through all created things, and turns again to the ocean. This miracle that we eternally question and desire and adore dwells in the comet, in the heart of a bird, and the flying dust of pollen. It glows upon us from the blazing sun and from a little bush of broom, unveiled and yet mysterious, guarded only by its own light – more impenetrable than darkness.

    ‘The power of this life, if men will open their hearts to it, will heal them, will create anew, physically and spiritually. Here is the gospel of the earth, ringing with hope….Let us join in the abundant sacrament – for our bodies the crushed gold of harvest and ripe vine-clusters, for our souls the purple fruit of evening with its innumerable seed of stars.’

    Mary Webb’s belief that an open heart can be healed and renewed by the power of life reminds me how important it is not to let fear close down my hope or sever my sense of connection to that greater mystery – a mystery that we are all a part of. I am sure that in that act of collective opening we might discover a deeper meaning hidden in the frightening challenges that we now face.

  9. I’m posting here a view on the financial future that is quite different to the standard fare offered, in the spirit of offering a range of viewpoints for consideration. One person’s disaster can be seen by another person as an opportunity. Here is what Fraser Clarke of The Parallell Youniversity thinks:
    The Black Death of Financial Collapse
    From “Asia Times” 11/04/08:
    “The financial and economic crisis now upon us is by far the most menacing of the past century – even more so than the Great Depression of the 1930s. It is not just a “subprime” crisis; it is systemic – affecting the entire financial system. It is also global, affecting various countries in various ways but affecting them all. In achieving a certain “globalisation”, we have been uniquely successful in globalising collapse, chaos and misery. It is a globalisation which, in our short-sighted negligence, we never envisaged.”
    Fraser comments:”Speak for yourself. some of us have been predicting it for decades and praying for it since the early ’90s 🙂

    right now we have “collapse, chaos and misery” [PLUS obscenely greedy power-crazed near-aliens, acquisitive wars and global corruption] leading inevitably and acceleratingly to planetary meltdown.

    we, of the alternative community, have long steeled ourselves to live on brown rice and raw veg for 6 months when necessary. the biggest change we shall see is all you fat bastards crashing down beside us onto the street level. welcome, it’s not so bad. there are more parties for one thing 🙂

    on tonight’s news they were saying that the ‘possible recession’ means that the UK’s GDP growth is down to 0.5%. but we and the planet need NEGATIVE GROWTH, we need GDP to DROP by 10% this year, 10% next year and so on down to, say, 25% of what it is now. globally! does anyone seriously think this present system will voluntarily agree on anything remotely like that?!
    Fraser Clarke

  10. The obssession with economic growth and expansion, regardless of true cost, is insane. The unchecked expansion of cells in our bodies is called cancer, a threat to the well-being of the whole person. It is strange that the word ‘growth’ can mean tumour. It works the same way with our economies – that push for constant growth is simply unsustainable for our communities and our planet; it threatens the well-being of the whole.

    I think that crisis always brings with it the possibility of positive change, however, total collaspe worries me. What angers me is that it is often those least responsible and most vulnerable (the poor and disenfrachised around the world) that take the brunt. I feel like I have the luxury to debate this; this unsustainable system gives me that space – it’s an uncomfortable feeling. It is all very well for Fraser Clarke to be cheering on the collaspe, but it will be those already horribly exploited that will suffer the most. You can’t ‘party’ if there is no food in your belly.

  11. Absolutely. Fraser talks about having brown rice – and there’s the problem you refer to in a nutshell (to mix metaphors!) since the current food riots in some of the poorest countries involves the escalating cost of such foodstuffs as rice. Likewise with climate change it seems that those countries that already suffer from droughts, famine et., may be the first to suffer too.

  12. Hi Philip,

    How nice, to see us mentioned again on your blog. Having nibbled at the edges of Druidry and Wicca for years (I had a short association with the Keltria folk here in the US in the early 90s), I’ve known of you and your work for some time. I’ve read The Druid Way more than once. A marvelous book. So I was thrilled to hear that you’d found our movie.

    I just finished reading your piece “In the Eye of the Storm”. Also marvelous. And it resonates with much of our journey these past years, and especially with our current work. Having now relocated to a rural spot in the Northeast US, we’re going to spend the rest of our days looking for the gold in this dark cave into which the dominant culture has gone, finding doors, walking with uncertainty, living life as a spiritual path and hallowing our limitations. How wonderfully you have summed it all up!

    The times will be strange and hard and frightening indeed, and yet I cannot help but think that this is the most incredible time to be alive. To be a part of this great initiation, to be present as the seeds are sown for whatever comes next, to play a part in that, to live a life of meaning and purpose, reconnecting to the living world, to spirit, to ourselves, doing what we came here to do, and being of service to our fellow travelers, to life itself – what more could any of us ask? The realities of energy and climate and ecology are going to hit people very hard and very soon, if I’m reading the tea leaves correctly. They are going to need some help. We’ll be doing what we can in our little corner of the planet.

    As William Stafford wrote in A Message to the Wanderer: “Prisoners, listen; you have relatives outside. And there are thousands of ways to escape.”

    Here’s to that. And here’s to finding the gold.


    Tim Bennett
    Writer/Director What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire

  13. Dear Tim,

    Great to get your comment on my blog. Thank you! And I’m glad you liked ‘In the Eye of the Storm’. They are really notes for a talk I’ve given in various places, and having done this I’m going to rewrite the essay, since I’ve found a better way to present the ideas. Apart from once in Germany when it turned out nobody was worried about the future (?!) audiences have really liked the ideas and found them helpful.

    Stephanie and I, and friends who have watched the film here all find it powerful and moving. What I liked about it was the way in which despite its message it manages to somehow offer hope. I know you say in the film that books and films about the crisis always have a ‘happy chapter’ at the end and you’re not going to do that. Somehow, though, you manage to offer hope in a poetic way (a friend who saw it disagreed and said she was simply devastated by it, but was grateful for that). Perhaps your end appeals to my mystical take on things. So glad you like ‘The Druid Way’ incidentally.

    Thank you for making the film and for your thoughtful comments. Yes – let’s keep looking for the gold. And do tell me if you make another film – I’d like to see it!



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