And the vulnerability extends beyond our bodies. Even our computers are subject to attack by a foreign agent we label as a "virus." Neither are we mentally immune to a viral attack. In fact, it may well be that psychic infections are actually more commonplace than physical ones. This will become the central focus of my blog. But for the moment, let me begin with the matter at hand, our fear-driven, media-focused obsession with the Coronavirus that threatens all of us.
As of this writing, the graph of persons infected with the Coronavirus continues to rise here at home. We are in a mess: anxious about the disease itself that may take our life and that of others as well; anxious that the markets will slide lower and lower as we watch our savings disappear; anxious that leadership on the national political level was not prepared and remains an uncertainty; anxious that we might not have enough food, supplies, resources, and/or access to the normal medical, dental,, legal, psychological, spiritual, and social support we may need; and also anxious that a way of life we took for granted has been taken from us, exposing the fragile platform upon which modernity has been erected, where we create a bubble of safety, security, and a general existence of well-being that we thought we could manipulate to last our lifetime.
Of course, things might turn out to be not as bad as our anxieties lead us to believe. Under the leadership of some of our governors and local officials, as well as the CDC, and other health officials, we may stymie the onslaught of the virus and master the resources to take care of the persons who fall in the path of this potential disaster. Also, if we are blessed, it may be that our doctors, nurses, and all care-providers will be able to hold the line before they collapse and become victims themselves not only of the virus but the overbearing exhaustion they are called upon to endure.
So, yes, things may not turn out to be as disastrous as they could be. But, in any case, a larger question waves its hands to get our attention. When, and if, we can look away from the disease itself, we might consider not only the failed leadership that left us vulnerable to this pandemic, but the lifestyle that also contributed to the catastrophic "surprise" that has ripped away the deceptions that entertained us and hid the darker side of human existence: the impermanence of all things, and the sufferings of aging, disease, death, and meaninglessness.
Which brings us to ask these questions. Where do we focus our attention during the "good times?" How do we avoid chasing after the distractions that divert our attention from the dark side of human existence? How do we balance the joy of human existence without falling prey to the fallacy of human omnipotence? How do we find a center that unites our impermanence and finitude with our human potential to create and destroy?
Hold to that thought of having a "center." Just what does that mean? From my vantage point as a pastoral counselor and psychoanalyst trained in Jungian psychology, I am thinking of two functions in the human personality where we might experience a center.
The first is the deep Center of the collective unconscious which makes possible our experience of the God-image. This is the summon bonum, the Highest Good, or as the theologian Paul Tillich would call it, the very Ground of Being, not bound by time, space, or even human personality. This "Center" is the emanating Power of Being out of which existence unfolds and within which the experience of the Holy or Sacred may be realized. Obviously, even to talk about such a phenomenon calls upon a mythopoeic language that borrows from the poet more than from the scientist in her laboratory.
And so I have to leave there this description of the deep Center, realizing it longs for a concrete specificity that poetry and religious language cannot fully provide. There are musings, however; there are intimations, as Wordsworth would say, of immortality in which we hold a deep knowing of our soul, "our life's star that had somewhere else its setting and comes from afar."
But in addition to that deep Center in the foundational depth of the psyche's collective unconscious, there is also a center within the personality's executive function, the ego. Within that center, which bubbles along the psychological membrane of consciousness, a person holds awareness of memories, lessons learned, mistakes made, loves lost and won, friendships formed and lost, personal identities that have floated along through life's stages -- as a child, a young person, an adult, an elder who may look back with satisfaction and gratitude or unhappiness and a tragic sense of having never fulfilled one's short and precious life. Clearly, with the self-conscious reflections of the ego, there is an executive within the command module that operates with its own internal guidance system.
So now we come to a most important question: How is that internal guidance system I am calling the center of the ego, how is it oriented? What are its values? What is its moral code and from what source? Is it healthy and sane? Or is it defective? Could it be that a personality could be misguided, misdirected, misinformed, missing its moral function, a most important function that guides the individual on making life's difficult decisions, understanding difficult and dangers missions with an intent to serve the greatest good in a way that is honorable and furthers the humane aspiration to make possible the health, safety, sanity, and general well-being of everyone, but especially the poor and dispossessed who cannot help themselves.
Is it possible that one could be deficient in moral judgement and psychological health? Is it possible that one could be so oriented toward self-aggrandizement that the group, the nation, the people become ensnared in his polished charm, yearning for greatness above all. Is it possible one could lose one's soul in the all-obsessing grab for power, wealth, fame, and adulation? Is it possible that one could feel entitled to become the ruler of all because of a self-deception of greatness? Are these things possible? Yes. Each and all of them are possible.
They are not only possible; they have become our fate. For we have been infected with the most dreaded virus of all, and that is the psychic infection of an obsession for money and all the titillating toys it can buy. It is the virus that will destroy not just our bodies but our souls. It is a psychic infection to be feared much, much more than the Coronavirus, because this psychic infection attacks not just the cells of our bodies but the deepest aspirations of the human soul.
Wrapped in the garb of business success, huckstered in the ballyhoo of "I have become great and so can you," floated in public "snake-oil medicine shows" on TV, and supported by would-be followers who are afraid to acknowledge the lies of the charmer, the infection spreads.