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Dark Night of the Soul

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Jim Opionin By Jim Powers
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Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been waging an unprovoked war in Ukraine, announced Sunday that he had put his nuclear deterrence forces into high alert. He has offered several justifications for his war of aggression, all of which are lies. It seems clear that he miscalculated the courage of the Ukraine people, and the pushback from countries around the world to his actions. Authoritarian strongmen like Putin do not like to look bad when their errors become obvious. We are in an extremely dangerous moment in history.

We spend our lives assembling our experiences into an image of who we are and what we believe in. Over time we become fully invested in that “self.” Everything we think and do is guided by self-image, and we imagine this “self” to persist, to be a constant. But such thinking is an illusion. I am not the same person I was when I was five, or 10, or 20, or 50 years ago. I don’t look the same, I don’t think the same, I don’t hold the same values.

 We often use that illusion of persistence as solid ground to explain away things that happen in our life that are inconsistent with our character or beliefs. But for many of us, something eventually happens that we can no longer explain away. Something that blows up the meaning our life had before. The mirror we had been staring at for decades cracks, and the whole framework of our lives seems meaningless.

This experience is often labeled the Dark Night of The Soul. Just about any tragic experience can trigger it, as can a sudden and dramatic change in our understanding of reality. It’s an experience people who seek enlightenment through meditation often experience when they manage to silence the constant droning of the noises in their heads and realize that “they” seem to be only a constant stream of noise arising from their unconscious mind. It is scary, and some don’t find their way back. You can also see it in some who suffer from major depression.

What does this have to do with Vladimir Putin? Well, he has taken a few opportunities to remind the world over the last couple of weeks of his nuclear arsenal. And as an authoritarian leader who finds himself more and more cornered by the reaction of the world to his aggression, he is very dangerous. His ambition seems to be to leave as his legacy the taking back all the old Soviet Union countries, regardless of the outcome. 

In a conventional war there are no second-place winners. In a nuclear war, there are no winners at all. The cold war mantra was MAD – Mutually assured destruction.

We have developed a complacency in this country, a belief that the U.S. has some special dispensation from God that makes us special and makes us safe. This is a dangerous delusion.

And many people in this country seem to have decided that a leader in the image of Vladimir Putin, an authoritarian strongman that takes nothin’ off nobody, is what the U.S. needs. That, too, is a dangerous delusion. Putin is not a good guy; he is a brutal dictator that cares nothing about his people and wages war to enrich he and his cronies.

These indirect threats from the Russian dictator to use nuclear weapons should be a dark night of the soul experience for those who have become complacent about how dangerous this moment is. Only an evil person would even contemplate the use of such weapons, knowing the millions, perhaps billions of people who would suffer and die as a result.

It is time for all of us to understand that the political brinkmanship that our country is mired in must stop. 

We won the cold war against the USSR for two reasons…we involved them in an arms race that eventually bankrupted them, and we were united as a people in our unflagging commitment to democracy, to our belief that democracy was worth defending and advancing in the world. Sadly, that isn’t the case anymore. It’s time to wake up.

“We live in a house of mirrors 
and think we are looking out the windows.”   ~ Fritz Perls

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