A Nightmare on Overwhelm Street
The man’s bloodied forearm dangled limply outside the door of his horribly smashed-up car.
I slowed down to get a better look at this accident on the other side of the road. The drivers in front of me had also reduced speed, but the stretch ahead of them was clear. No congestion; no need to brake. And yet, an unstoppable need to gawp at this disturbing scene.
Like a clip from a slasher film, it would rewind and replay on a time loop, and creep me out when I was alone. Usually, in the dark.
Still, here and now, I didn’t feel alone. My fellow motorists and I were connected through compassion. My tribe. But there was more to it.
We rubberneckers had also connected through ghoul. Sick much?
Not so much.
Gene Pool; Ghoul Pool
When you dig through the layers of theories about morbid fascination, I dare say the bottom line is the archetypal point of view.
Archetypes are the earliest universal patterns of all our thoughts, feelings and activities. Ancient myth is home to the archetypes. And our primitive brain is the habitat for ancient myths. Yes. They are imprinted there.
Oh. Dear. God.
That’s scary, especially when you consider the crazy, perverse, macabre stuff that went down in ancient myths. In today’s civilised world, you’d classify it as ‘criminal pathology, moral monstrosity’.*
Out, Damned Spot! Or Maybe Not …
As moralism gained ground, myths were overlaid with stories scrubbed clean of the filth and, in the case of fairy tales, populated with cardboard cut-out characters. A moral of the fairy tale reinforced the sanitising process: Kill that wicked witch!
There are a few problems, though, with such stories that are amongst the first a child hears:
- The she-devil we’re hell-bent on nixing in the interest of self-improvement represents what is considered ‘undesirable’ aspects: negative thoughts and feelings and impulses. But these negatives are all eternal, innate parts of our humanness.
- You can’t eliminate what’s natural. Can’t. At best, you’ll squash it. Or so it seems.
- You don’t only hear, read or tell stories. You live them.
But are you living the (airy-)fairy tale? Who is?
Except on Facebook. Heaps of people are happily-ever-aftering on Facebook.
For me, life had felt more like a Greek tragicomedy, and I needed to know why.
It’s in my nature to ask lots of questions. Curiosity is in everyone’s nature. (Much of our kiddie-speak ends with a question mark, right?) But I’d lost myself when I stopped asking important questions.
‘Does my bum look big in this?’ is not a searching question. The important ones question reality. ‘What makes me care so much that my bum might look big in this?’
Self-inquiry seeks the kind of answers that can’t be found in the processed, straitjacketed fairy-tale’s fabric. Or in an agony aunt’s column.
Questioning can rock the boat; self-inquiry can capsize it and send you plunging into the deeps.
Village of the Dammed Up
These dives used to leave me feeling like I was drowning in a cesspool of black, sludgy emotions. But I learned to stop fighting them. And one day, I remembered to keep questioning my way through:
Where am I? Who am I?
And then …
I got it!
With each fall, I’d landed in the messy archetypal terrain of my psyche where patterning had started. This time, though, I made like the ancients. And yet, I didn’t need to know a single myth or the names of mythical characters.
It came down to personifying. A word—a label—is like a sword. It can cut you. But it’s an ‘it’. A thing. You can’t engage with an ‘it’/thing. Imagine this ‘it’/thing as a swordsman, though, and it’s a different story.
That’s what ancient storytellers did. They gave human form to thoughts, emotions, actions, and conditions. They made them multidimensional characters—divine and profane. In short, they made them relatable.
Personifying things animates them. It thaws painful frozen feelings, bursts dams and dredges up shot-down and shutdown responses to past injustices. It gives momentum to the once-smouldering, mutant resentments, hatreds, jealousies and such.
Why Poke the Bear?
Look at it this way: As a small child, you were curious about and fascinated by your own poop (literally). But then childhood curiosity became overlaid with civility and morality. Too much of these can make for constipated psychic poop, which may be stinking up the unplumbed depths.
That psychic poop is the subtext of the story of your life. Just because you don’t (want to) hear it, doesn’t mean you’re not living it.
But once there’s movement in the bowels of the innermost self, the direction of the story starts to shift. Life starts to shift. And little personal shifts create little ripples through the collective. They need to …
The World Has Gone Mad!
Our modern stories are almost a study in ancient mythologies. Foul stories that used to be occasional, sensational front-page headlines are now becoming evergreen content.
The crap is imploding or exploding. Consider the proliferation of cancer stories, of terrorism stories, of sexual abuse stories. It’s as if the disowned forces are becoming increasingly bent out of shape about having been bent out of shape.
And there is a surge in popularity of the horror genre—films and books.
So, could it be that the urge to look at the horror out there is really a call to look at the horror within?
Something to think about. Or should that be … someone?
*Hillman, James (1992) Re-Visioning Psychology, New York: Harper Perennial (p 150).