A guest post by Chancellor and Founding President of Pacifica Graduate Institute, Stephen Aizenstat, Ph.D.
Today we grieve. Our hearts open and we send support and love to those family members and friends who lost loved ones in the shooting in Las Vegas, and, too, to those in places of natural as well as human made strife. Yes. It is a time of mourning.
The turmoil in the world’s soul is visceral. We are experiencing the collective trauma 24/7. No longer can we encounter our angst like a bad dream frightening us in the night, only to disappear in the morning when our eyes open to the avalanche of texts, Instagram posts, tweets, and emails alive on our phone, seducing our attention even before we get out of bed. No. The nightmare is real, here to stay, a living actuality . . . and demanding our response. Yes. We find ourselves in a time of great peril, as the world, as we know it, faces the imminent threats of ecological devastation, the sixth extinction, and technological takeover, which Elon Musk names as “the most serious threat to the survival of the human race.”
Our bodies are on “red alert.” Combined with the omnipresent actualities of social injustice and impending war, our psyches suffer, and our life force depletes, both visibly and invisibly.
We must respond.
Perhaps, because I have just recently become a grandfather for the first time . . . imagining that my grandson would inherit a world devoid of the magnificence of nature and the vitality of imagination, pushes me to come awake, to open my eyes and rediscover/recover my optimism.
Just two days ago I was walking along the beach here in Santa Barbara and I “gifted” a stranger with a beautiful shell that I had discovered from the bottom of the ocean, or should I say it discovered me? He noticed that I was also holding a piece of beach trash, a weathered plastic bag, left adrift in the sea, that I was taking to the recycling bin. He looked into my eyes, and said simply without pretense, “thank-you, brother, for being part of the solution.” I felt something move through me, a powerful life force, an awakening. Dare I say that I experienced a kind of planetary love; a remembrance of what, for the most part, has been lost, numbed, and drained from me over these past months. In that moment, through that gesture, I felt a resurgence of “communitas,” the fulfillment that comes when we collectively tend to the beauty, to the soul in and of the world. Ah, what a rewarding moment.
Over these past days I find myself picking up more beach trash and opening my heart more deeply, gifting more of my Self to others (including sea shells!). Simple gestures such as saying “hello”, as well as taking a moment to notice the kindness that is alive in each person, opens me to the generative impulse reemerging from the humility of my humanity.
The nightmare is real, but so too, embedded in each intolerable situation, there exists the seeds of beauty and care. Time for me to “wake-up” from the belief that “this nightmare too will pass” and, thus, remain silent. Time for me to remember my inheritance, reestablish my care for others, and restore my optimism for the world. And, indeed, it is time for me to imagine all of us living together with compassion in our hearts. It happened for me, most unexpectedly, in a moment on the sand at the beach, with a stranger saying simply, “thank-you brother, for being part of the solution.”
For me, Pacifica Graduate Institute, birthed from the response to the Vietnam War, the great Oil Spill in the Santa Barbara Channel, the Civil Rights movement, and teenagers and young adults dealing with addiction has always been a place where, in community, we support one another in keeping our eyes open and our actions mindful.
Stephen Aizenstat, Ph.D., is the Chancellor and Founding President of Pacifica Graduate Institute. He is a professor of depth psychology with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, licensed marriage and family therapist, and a credentialed public schools teacher and counselor. Dr. Aizenstat has provided organizational consulting to companies and agencies and teaches extensively worldwide. Dr. Aizenstat has explored the potential of dreams through depth psychology and his own research for more than 35 years. His Dream Tending methodologies extend traditional dream work to the vision of an animated world where the living images in dream are experienced as embodied and originating in the psyche of Nature as well as that of persons. His work opens creativity and the generative process. His book, Dream Tending, describes multiple new applications of dreamwork in relation to health and healing, nightmares, the World’s Dream, relationships, and the creative process. His other recent publications include: Imagination & Medicine: The Future of Healing in an Age of Neuroscience (co-editor with Robert Bosnak); “Dream Tending and Tending the World,” in Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind; “Soul-Centered Education: An Interview with Stephen Aizenstat” (with Nancy Treadway Galindo) in Reimagining Education; Essays on Reviving the Soul of Learning; The Soul Does Not Specialize: Revaluing the Humanities and the Polyvalent Imagination, with Dennis Patrick Slattery and Jennifer Leigh Selig: “Depth Entrepreneurship: Creating an Organization out of Dream Space”, in The Transforming Leader: New Approaches to Leadership for the Twenty-First Century; and “Fragility of the World’s Dream”, in Eranos Yearbook 2009-2010-2011 Love on a Fragile Thread.