Shortly after Y2K failed to live up to the hype, James Hillman spoke to a group of people about psychology in the new millennium. He began his talk, in reference to the anticlimax of Y2K, saying, “Can we not snatch some defeat from the jaws of this victory?”
At his memorial service, Richard Tarnas commented on this quote from James’ work suggesting that it got to the heart of what Hillman had to say throughout his career. Tarnas wrote, “In those two little sentences straddling Y2K [James] managed to hit about a half dozen of his favorite targets simultaneously: The inflated heroic ego, modernity, literalist-apocalyptic Christianity, American naive can-do optimism, the techno-scientific-managerial mindset. All this with his trademark view from below, his eye for shadow, the gift of the loss, the down side, the depression, the failure, the errancy – above all, his love of turning upside down the common wisdom, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on behalf of the soul, of life.
Recently on my facebook feed I’ve seen dozens of posts per day about another much anticipated, imax 3d prediction of apocalypse this September. I will admit that when I first read the latest prophecies I got the same familiar but sick fascination and excitement that many people get when reading these. Added to this the turmoil in the global market place this week and you’ve got all the ingredients for a solid month of reset 2012 futuring and thrills.
But what’s at stake for the life of the soul in all of these prophecies? I can’t say I’m above or beyond such prophecies. In fact I write something like a daily prophecy each and every day. So what does prophecy do for the soul? And is it possible this answer is more important than whether or not prophecies are ever actualized or literally made manifest?
I remember back to September 11th, 2001. I was in college and I had a strange dream about windows shattering and the statue of liberty’s face crumbling the night of September 11th, before the towers fell. I had never been so excited in my life when the towers came down. Even though it was horrifying it felt so incredibly real, and the only impulse I could name was the desire to be the first to tell someone or to share the news with someone. I had a fantasy of running around the campus like Paul Revere gathering people into a common space to watch the television…as though humanity was being summoned together and organized for a special mission. As time went by the dreams and the fantasies of that night and day sunk in and these relatively small and distant experiences of my own (half the country away from New York in Minnesota) were some of the first seeds planted toward my interest in prophecy, dreams, myth, and even astrology.
At the time I tried to explain to my friends my excitement but was met with a kind of disturbed suspicion. At one point I said to my roommate, “It’s like we all needed this to happen for as awful as it is. Do you get that?”
Hillman observed something similar in his book Suicide and the Soul, where he observed that the fantasy of suicide, the soul’s longing or desiring of its own annihilation, is a guiding myth that gives substance and depth to our lives. The actualization of suicide isn’t really the point. The point from the perspective of the life of the soul is the fantasy of ending ourselves. It’s about what the fantasy of our own demise gives to the here and now. And Hillman similarly believed that apocalyptic fantasies and prophecies were something like mass suicidal ideations that reflected the desires of humanity for a sense of soulfulness beyond its rationalistic daily affairs.
This is not meant to undermine apocalyptic predictions or the dire nature of our situation on earth right now. In fact, Hillman himself was quite firm in his belief that we were on a sinking ship and that there was little we could do at this late hour. Like many Buddhist practitioners, Hillman had a fateful acceptance of endings, death, and impermanence generally. He believed we should do the best we can with whatever time we have left, fixing, cleaning, and trying to maintain the planetary ship as its sinking.
Thich Nhat Hanh recently spoke to an ecologist suggesting something similar. He said, “Mass extinction has already happened five times and this one is the sixth. According to the Buddhist tradition there is no birth and no death. After extinction things will reappear in other forms, so you have to breathe very deeply in order to acknowledge the fact that we humans may disappear in just 100 years on earth.”
Prophecies give us a sense of the relevance of our death within the midst of life. All forms of futuring, prediction, and prophecy, serve to deepen our experience of change and impermanence. The extent to which we get caught up in whether or not they are literal or objectively “true,” is the extent to which we idolize the heroic, willful, and controlling elements of our psyche. “If it’s true, then we can change this!” Or we might say, “If it’s true then it will create a new beginning!” Or even, “If it’s true then I will have been right all along!”
Apocalypse can be like narcissism blown out to cosmic proportions, and our desire to share, or spread the news, the literal goddamn truth of what’s about to happen for fucks sake!!, reflects our deluded belief that we are alone in death.
Death is actually one of the most fundamental things we share in…our denial of this simple truth is why we tend to literalize our apocalyptic fantasies. And when they fail to live up to the hype, rather than mourn and suffer together our disappointment…rather than examine our sense of defeat when we aren’t blown to bits, we pretend like something heroic must have happened or still could at a future date. Somewhere on level 18 a fleet of angels must have intervened. Or somewhere someone didn’t quite calculate the calendar correctly because of leap years or some minor aberration in counting. What an important opportunity for disappointment we’re missing when we turn our backs on the anti climax.
The radical idea here is that the soul loves disappointments and anti-climaxes. Is it thus possible that this attitude, the open love for disappointment and failure, is the most “green friendly” mind set for our planet right now?
I’ll say it in my own way. When 2012 didn’t happen, I was deeply disappointed. I had been writing for RealitySandwich for many years and taking part in community meetups and psychedelic ceremonies and really pining for global catharsis. Yet the defeat of that time period has been one of the largest gifts for the life of my soul that I have ever received.
The truth for me now is that life IS some kind of elaborate anticlimax. And if we can’t hurt and love our way into this mystery then I think we’ll go on creating paranoid predictions about something that isn’t ever a matter of “if” but only “when” from the get go.
Love seems to begin in disappointment, failure, let down, and the dissolution of our futuring excitements. Suddenly a billion stars come back into view, and our lives again no more than another grain of sand along the beach. Serenity comes gliding in at no cost to anybody.
100 years, 1,000, or 10,000 more on this planet…the soul will continue demanding that life be lived from the perspective of our shared nature in death.
I predict things each day because it gives the narrative of death to my soul…not because I have too much invested in whether any of it comes true or not.
Prayer: this too shall pass…