Jungian psychologist Edward Edinger calls an apocalypse “a momentous event … the shattering of the world as it has been, followed by its reconstitution.” Hold onto that word “reconstitution” and whatever hope it gives you. You’ll need it before you’re done.
On the heels of that “momentous event,” we’re served (phase one) with the case against us: all the unpleasant revelations about how our worldview and behavior helped to bring it on. Then we hear the judgment (phase two) that not only did they bring it on, but they can’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again: what we trusted in the past doesn’t apply anymore; old thoughts and beliefs won’t work to get us out of this mess.
Then, while we’re still down and out and powerless, we enter phase three, which futurist and mega-trend spotter Van Wishard describes as “the destruction of existing beliefs and institutions that are no longer functionally an expression of the new truth” of our disrupted lives. According to Prof. Edinger, this destruction phase is experienced as “the individual’s anxiety in the midst of this transformation ordeal.” (Emphasis added.)
No wonder we can’t sleep. Ordeals aren’t supposed to be fun, but this is the mother of them all.
Christopher Vogler’s marvelous book on screenwriting, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, says this about the ordeal stage of a great story:
The simple secret of the Ordeal is this: Heroes must die so that they can be reborn. The dramatic moment that audiences enjoy more than any other is death and rebirth. In some way in every story, heroes face death or something like it: their greatest fears, the failure of an enterprise, the end of a relationship, the death of an old personality. Most of the time, they magically survive this death and are literally or symbolically reborn to reap the consequences of having cheated death. They have passed the main test of being a hero.
The Ordeal in myths signifies the death of the ego. The hero is now fully part of the cosmos, dead to the old, limited vision of things and reborn into a new consciousness.
The good news is, you are the hero of your own story, and odds are excellent that you will join the ranks of countless other heroes and prevail against the seemingly insurmountable challenges your personal apocalypse has brought upon you. The bad news is, you are the hero of your own story, and you, like all those other heroes, will suffer before you reach that happy ending.
What can you do while you’re in this destruction phase? Frankly, not much. Mostly, you watch, and keep breathing. Trust me – I’ve been there – this too shall pass. Why? Because archetypal life events like personal apocalypse really do play out to completion, and there is still one final stage to go, when the plot takes that surprise twist and the hero finally pulls it off.
We’ll talk about reconstitution next time.
To be continued.