Rue Anne Hass, M.A.
The attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon has affected all of us. Nothing will be the same. How can we integrate such profound and frightening change?
A bit of guidance for me came when a friend showed me the Tower card from the Tarot deck. This traditional version showed a tall gray tower, surrounded by black clouds and lightning, its top crashing over in flames. Two figures are falling through the air, upside down, limbs akimbo. It looked exactly like the images I had been seeing continually on television.
In the Tarot, this card signals a breakdown of all the long-established patterns and assumptions that we have taken for granted. It says that a cataclysmic force is making us let go of the limited vision of reality that blocks our understanding and our perception of truth. One Tarot deck describes the Tower like this: “A beautiful city rises in elaborately constructed towers, representing plans and projects, things that are established, ordered and controlled. A violent storm sweeps over the city, striking the tall towers with sudden bolts of lightning…. Old structures are changing, like it or not…. You are being blasted from one reality to the next, and the way is being cleared for transformation. Change is in the air, crackling in the atmosphere like summer lightning.”
Many of the people I worked with following the attacks experienced just such an opening to deep change. One woman was extremely disturbed by the images of people jumping from the WTC buildings. She found herself obsessively glued to the news all that long day. However, she is a mother of two little boys, and they were constantly pulling at her attention. She was horrified to find herself wishing, for the first time, that they had never been born, desperately wanting crawl into a hole and die, away from the terror and panic and destruction.
This woman had grown up with a highly functioning but severely mentally ill mother who was a Holocaust survivor. “My mother ran in panic from real and then imagined bombs, all her life. Being alive was hell for her,” she said. Her mother jumped from a high-rise building to her death five years ago, having, for all of my client’s life, threatened suicide, begged to die.
My client realized that her role in her mother’s life had been to keep her alive, emotionally pulling her back from jumping out of her life — in the same way, she suddenly understood, that her sons were now doing for her.
It was a huge revelation for her. “I thought she was rejecting me, all my life. I thought there was something wrong with me, all my life. I have understood in an hour today what my mother never was able to experience in 20 years of therapy with the best psychiatrists in the country. But this never would have happened if there hadn’t been an event of this magnitude to push me into it. All this death. But I can be alive now.”
Many of us have wondered what we would have done when the loudspeakers reported that “All is well now in this building. You can return to your desks,” as the tower next to us burned. There is such a strong tendency to follow orders, go with the prevailing tide, to assume that the authorities must know what they are doing.
The day after the attacks, I worked on the phone with a young American woman in Belgium. She had just graduated from high school, and wanted to take a half step before jumping into the deep end of going to college. She had gone to live with a Belgian family to repeat the last year of high school there, having no clue that as a shy, sensitive girl, she was actually casting herself into the middle of the ocean on a tiny life raft.
Virtually since her arrival in Belgium she had been panicking, she felt like she was going crazy, she felt lost and alone and alien. She was calling her parents, crying, begging to come home. Her parents, dismayed, were encouraging her to try to stay. And she was getting lots of letters, calls and email from people saying, “You can DO this. I did it. It was the best experience of my life! Be strong!” All this input made her feel even worse: ”I should be able to do this. I’m letting everybody down. I am so immature. I am failing. I am so ashamed.”
We had already had three phone sessions, mostly focused on being able to make good choices for herself, so that she could create an environment that felt good to her and that she could be comfortable in. She said that what she wanted was for people to say they were proud of her, and she admitted to feeling that “other people know what is best for me.”
I wanted her to know that it was possible for her to make these decisions, even the one to come home, without framing herself as a failure. As we talked, I began to work a bit with the story about the people on the stairs, their indecision. To go back, or to stay? How do you know what is right for you? How do you learn to trust yourself? Where in your body does trust live?
We went along in this vein, and then suddenly I said, “ What if immaturity is actually letting other people decide what is best for you? Look what happened to those people on the stairs who went back to their desks. What if maturity is about being able to make the choices that are right for you, no matter what anyone else says? ”
I heard her gasp all the way over there in Belgium, and she said, “I never looked at it like that!” (I have heard a version of this so often. “I didn’t know I could decide for myself. I didn’t even know that I wasn’t doing that.”)
My friend who showed me the Tower card pointed out the pieces of gold that were falling as the tower came down. She said “Whenever this card comes up in a reading, I always tell people that in order for the inner gold to fall to earth and seed itself, you have to “blow your mind.” Your life-limiting beliefs are getting blown apart. Otherwise, the gold is caught inside, and can’t be used.”
The World Trade Center was all about gold.
David Spangler is a modern day mystic, philosopher, teacher, wise-man, also a father and a very grounded loving funny man who lives with his wife and four children in the Seattle area. His most recent book is Blessing: the Art and the Practice just published by Riverhead (Penguin/Putnam). Soon after the attacks he offered from his inner awareness a message that out-frames these events in a beautiful, graceful way.
He begins: “What has taken place is an act of sacrifice and a gift given by the Soul of America to the world at large.”
(Now, these words will resonate with each of us in different ways. The deep meaning of sacrifice is “to make sacred, holy”. Soul of America … in me comes an image of a great and powerful presence of light hovering over, under and through our nation, like wings, a presence that is made up of the best of each of us, that reaches beyond us to the source of life itself. There is a deep silence, and a feeling of belonging, a feeling of warmth and comfort and safety that is different from the safety of my body.)
David’s message says that whenever a death occurs, there is an energy of spirit that is released into life. This energy is neutral, and its use may be shaped. If love is present in the last moments of life, even if the death is violent or the result of hateful acts, the powerful gift of energy remains. We have heard so many stories of the love and courage expressed and demonstrated by people in each of those tragic and terrible situations. The importance of this gift cannot be underestimated.
He talks about the “reservoir” of hate and fear, pain and suffering and anger in our world, that all peoples contribute to and are responsible for, in so many little and large acts on a daily basis everywhere. This is a human problem, not a tribal or national one, and as humans we are held accountable for our acts of violence.
It is as if these negative energies are circling the earth, seeking a place to land, to discharge, like lightning. The Soul of America took on the inner work of receiving the blow of this energy, because it was strong enough to transmute it. In fact, this act has prevented, for the time being, much worse acts. All of those deaths, held in a love and courage that went beyond the fear and pain, have released a deep blessing, an inner gold, a source of blessing for ourselves and others.
David saw that many of the people who died had in an inner way chosen to be a part of this sacrifice. For those who didn’t specifically choose this death, still it was apart of their destiny in ways and for reasons that were personal to them. And he was clear that “all who died were immediately embraced by the love that led the Soul of America to offer itself in this way, and their entry…was graced and blessed by this spirit.”
His message concludes: “… in the opening of the portal so powerfully by the deaths of so many, this gift of life from death, even though initiated by the hatred of a few, became a channel for an outpouring of the love that is at the heart of America. It is, I know, a painful gift, but it is a gift nonetheless.”
It is for us who remain to take that gift and reshape our world with it. It is a precious thing, and it can remake our world. It is a grace for us to embody.
The US Poet Laureate was asked what poems he would recommend that we turn to in these times. He offered “Wild Geese,” by Mary Oliver.
You do not have to be good
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
Are moving across the landscapes,
Over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
Are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
Over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.