Eleven years ago this month people around the world witnessed a tragedy that etched indelible images onto collective consciousness. The most iconic are the fiery explosions as the airplanes hit the Twin Towers and the skyscrapers crumbling amidst billowing clouds of black smoke.
A famous adage from sages of antiquity is “As above, so below.” A corollary saying is “As without, so within.” These ideas arose from the intuition that the universe is one whole, living entity in which every pair of opposites is inextricably connected. Thus, whatever happens in the “spiritual heights” of Heaven is likewise replicated on the physical Earth. Likewise, images and events in the physical world relate to and reflect the contents of our minds.
While this might seem to imply a magical thinking cause-and-effect relationship in which, for example, we do something bad and God punishes us, or a child believes that his wanting something bad to happen to his brother is what made it happen, this is not the case. Rather, as recent discoveries in quantum physics have shown, it simply means that because of the connectedness between everything that is, inner mental and outer physical changes automatically occur together.
This is the explanation for what Carl Jung called “synchronicities,” or meaningful coincidences: when a symbol or event in the physical world parallels an inner state of being. For example, you dream about a person you haven’t seen in years and bump into him the next day. When things like this happen we grow in wisdom by recognizing their significance and asking, “What does this person mean to me? Why have we reconnected today?” Or at the global level, “What does this tragedy mean for humanity?” From this perspective, we can learn from the events of 9-11.
Look at the symbolism. A skyscraper is a hierarchical structure. In the towers of banks, hotels, condominiums and corporations, the most prestigious level is the top. Thus, like the Egyptian pyramids, the Biblical Tower of Babylon or the towers that wealthy citizens of San Gimignano, Italy built during the Middle Ages, skyscrapers represent the way our minds are structured. So far the ego has a history of creating impossibly high ideals and working obsessively to show the world that we have successfully attained the heights: of knowledge, understanding and perfection (scientific, psychological and spiritual). Of order and virtue. Of power and success. Unfortunately, our testaments to our heroic upward striving are usually accomplished at great expense to our psycho-spiritual depths as well as to the people at the bottom of the hierarchy.
So what does this terrorist attack on U.S. soil and the leveling of its two highest towers say about humanity’s collective mindset? That our dualistic thinking is doing us in. That our one-sided obsession with the hierarchical dominator model of striving, competing and proving ourselves at the expense of otherness—a model which has dominated civilized man’s thinking for about 5,000 years and triggered history’s countless wars—is no longer viable. That the seemingly impervious structures of our most beloved institutions are crumbling. And that the human psyche has evolved to the point where if we want to avoid more of the same, we must learn how to integrate otherness and heal the divides that separate us from ourselves and each other.
It is my hope that one day history will look back on 9-11 and know that its victims did not die in vain. That the images of their ashes that were broadcast around the world that day introduced a new vision into the collective psyche in which of all of us are one united and interconnected whole. “As without, so within.”
Have events since 9-11 borne out my hope of wider acceptance of this vision? I’ll write about that next time.