A Love Letter from the End of the World
After 9/11, Armageddon rhetoric ramped up in Western politics and I wondered, “What gives this “end of the world” idea such tenacity?” I started exploring in an artsy, scholarly, metaphorical way; I trusted the Book of Revelation to be a bona fide sacred text and went looking for some mystical counterpart to the violent religious fundamentalist perspective of global catastrophe that signals salvation for the believers and the beginning of eternal mega suffering for the damned, and the secular version in which the ongoing war of us/them is played out with a fervent lemming-like compulsion towards human annihilation and planetwide ecological destruction.
I sought, and found, life-supporting perspectives that point to something that could be called sacred Apocalypse. I followed the trail of Jungian archetypes and symbolism, and early 20th century writers, including D.H. Lawrence, who delved into the Book of Revelation as a manual of seven levels of mystical death/ rebirth initiation.
From time to time, I thought the project was obsolete, but no, I had only scratched the surface and our apocalyptic times had only just begun. It’s hard to stay calm and clear when the stakes are so high, the urgency so great, the chaos so vast. When I first dug into the Book of Revelations, I didn’t know what to make of it, but one bit of symbolism that was crystal clear: polarization and increasing extreme us/them thinking is a major symptom. Hold binaries lightly.
The word Apocalypse means unveiling: the word suggests that some truth / reality is obscured in the psyche, the unveiling of which would “end the world” as we know it and evolve us through the current perils facing humanity. This theme of obscuration / revelation plays out in both individual and collective life. The literalist, what I call symbolically illiterate, narratives around the Book of Revelation, crafted over time, are firmly embedded within a delusional and dangerous us/them, damned/saved, violent worldview.
Given that we are currently in a situation where vast inequalities are ever more obviously on display, it’s a critical balancing act to neither get locked into psychospiritually violent binaries that deny our interconnectedness, nor escape into some kind of personal avoidance strategy.
Sacred texts, including the Book of Revelation, suggest the possibility that there is something embedded within the endangered human mythogenetic code of archetypal, mythopoetic, symbolic structures that knows how to die to human conceptual prisons – what the Buddhist tradition calls the three poisons of ignorance /delusion, aggression/ hatred, and craving / greed, what the Christian tradition calls sin or ‘missing the mark’ – a way for Western consciousness to leave behind linear and fundamentalist/ literalist, hyperindividualist narratives and walk the cyclical path from Apocalypse to Genesis — a primal rhythm, mirrored to us by nature, of release / emergence, a possibility that our current predicament could kindle enough urgency to dropkick human consciousness across the threshold into an ethical, sustainable, sacred way of life on this planet. Traditions share an idea that humans are asleep to their true nature. We all have Buddha (awake) nature, Christ (anointed) nature. May humanity come out the other side of this with some hard-earned wisdom.
We need a multi-faceted approach to our current predicament, including technology and politics, but if we don’t evolve past violent, greedy, warmongering, power hungry, destructive habits within human consciousness, what I call the self/other war, then humanity may survive, but it will not thrive.
There are several names given to our times: End Times, Great Unraveling, Great Turning. I like to call it the Great Gamble,given the high stakes. Rumi allegedly wrote: “Gamble everything for love, if you are a true human being.”
What might it look like to live as a true human being who gambles everything for the love that manifests as sacred reciprocity? Perhaps that is what humans are designed for and the manifestations of the self/other war — isolation, greed, violence, exploitation in all its forms — are symptoms of an auto-immune disease of the collective human body.
The image that returned again and again was of myself sitting in the debris of an alchemist lab, furiously scribbling notes. Alchemical labs are famous for blowing up when the fire gets out of control. And since I first wrote that sentence, when my studies on apocalypse were still in their artsy phase, the literal fires have gone out of control and many of us who haven’t suffered directly have breathed in the smoke of those tragedies. It’s kind of like that on a psychospiritual level as well – Some humans directly suffer, and some breathe it in, however unconsciously, or as Martin Luther King, Jr. famously put it, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
And since the time I wrote that, another black man, another fellow human, another mother’s son, said “I can’t breathe” as his life was taken, a virus attacked human respiratory systems on a global scale, and humans maybe still don’t quite understand that the air that gives us life, the Holy Breath, cannot be privatized — the element of air is a living symbol of our interconnectedness.
For a time, I was certain of the love side of the apocalypse, but we currently live in such a state of uncertainty and delusion, I won’t take it for granted that we can go there, but I can’t imagine any other frontier worth going for… or even the existence of any other sustainable frontier.