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Unintended Consequences of September 11
by Cindy Spring

EarthLight Magazine #43, Fall 2001
( click here for )


I am humbled by how much I've been changed by a remote event.  Since September 11th, I've been held captive by fear, sadness, the American flag, and CNN. All of this brought on by the acts of a small group of people who never met me.

In the last EarthLight issue, I asked the question: "How can I be more conscious of the remote consequences of my daily choices?" (See some of the responses on page 25). Suddenly I find myself experiencing the remote consequences of a few peoples' choice to commit suicide by driving jets into buildings full of people. My heart churns with grief, anger, fear, uncharacteristic patriotism, compassion, and insecurities of all kinds.

I calm myself with the logic that there's no one right way to feel about the tragedy, the terrorists, or what we should do about it all. Since I'm fortunate not to be dealing with the pain of direct loss, I'm left with the opportunity to ask myself: What new values and deeper understandings are open to me right now that might enable me to live my life more consciously?

One of the results of this stunning blow to our collective psyche is the surfacing of my ability to better observe my authentic reactions. I can feel the dissonance between what I have held to be "politically correct" and "spiritually correct" and what my raw feelings are. I saw an editorial lambasting the "Understanding Crowd," that is, those who try to understand the root causes of terrorists' hatred. The writer concluded that the only reason to "understand" is to "facilitate the job of crushing them." I could have easily dismissed her as a person who carries the same venom she seeks to "crush." But I didn't. I took her comments personally, and to heart.

In her vitriolic way, she raised the issue of my naiveté, born of living a seemingly secure life. I don't worry about a car bomb at the shopping center or a loved one stepping on a land mine. I did indeed love the "understanding" statements made by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh and Rabbi Michael Lerner, both of whom called for compassion and a look at the bigger picture. Neither one of them is a stranger to death by design. Am I missing something? Am I denying the existence of evil and my appropriate responses to it?

Another authenticity check: Although I've never spoken ill of the American flag, I'm not someone you'd call a flag-waver. How do I feel now when I see the Stars and Stripes all over town, pinned on people's jackets, attached to company logos? True answer: I feel my heart break. The flag suddenly seems like the AIDS ribbon, symbolizing the senseless deaths of thousands of good individuals. It's comforting to see it everywhere.

Another example: President Bush. I've been working hard to thwart his environmental policies ever since he was elected. I've been angered by his unilateral withdrawals from multinational agreements and conferences. How do I feel now? True answer: 1) Sad that we have a president with such meager leadership qualities; 2) Committed to be part of the national handholding that exhibits the mutual strength we all need in this time of heightened vulnerability. That includes the hand of George W. Bush. This symbolic support doesn't equate with agreement with his proposals or policies. But it feels supportive nevertheless. How strange to find myself rooting for him to do the right thing, praying for him to hold us together. Inconceivable for me a month ago.

It's just so ironic. The hijackers never intended to create an opening for more love to enter the world, for an outpouring of compassion, for the family of nations to draw closer together. Yet along with the tremendous suffering and destruction they wrought, they've also brought reactions opposite to the hatred they carried. And they've forced me to examine my ingrained political attitudes, as well as question the depth of my spiritual roots. I feel broken open, and a more authentic self is oozing out. When I feel whole again, I will undoubtedly act with all the honesty and passion I can muster. In the meantime, I can break out of old, familiar symbolic and ideological boxes to breathe the air of unconstricted consciousness for a moment. Before it all closes up again.

Jungian psychologist James Hollis claims that chaos can ultimately be worthwhile: "Through risk and suffering we may at last come upon those values which bring resonant assent from deep within. Then we have created a life worthy of the soul."

Cindy Spring is an environmental activist and coauthor of Wisdom Circles, a Guide to Self-Discovery and Community Building in Small Groups. She can be reached at spring5@mindspring.com or (510) 655-6658. To find out about EarthLight Community Circles forming nation-wide, click here  .

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