Zombies R Us

Red Granny pasture

I wonder if all the interest in fractured fairy tales lately is part of our hunger to make sense of our present circumstances. When I was my son’s age (12), I loved stories of princesses and magic, of all-night dancing and heroics and lessons learned. Now, none of those lessons of virtue rewarded seem relevant. Our stories are slipping out of pattern, eluding sunny meanings.

So we get Little Red Riding Hood as the wolf whose grandmother locks her in on the night of the full moon, but she escapes and rips the throat out of her true love. Or Peter Pan as a soulless embodiment of evil. Not to mention all manner of vampires and zombies. The very gates of hell have been thrown open, disgorging monsters that have never seen the light of day.

That’s fitting, seeing as how we’ve been digging and pumping the contents of hell up to the earth’s surface for a couple hundred years now. And it’s finally taking its toll: this Paradise is being overrun by oil spills, CO2, toxic fracking water, plastic, etc. No wonder the morbid fascination with zombies: we are allowing ourselves to become zombies through our association with these substances from hell.

the-walking-dead

Stare into the abyss long enough and you become the abyss. My calling is to join in and participate in this fascination with myths for our era – from a different angle. To turn a light on the good. On what’s working, what we want to aim for, and who we must understand ourselves to be in order to create the future we want.

Lately, I’ve been reminded of the prevailing mindset, which is anxious, separate, polarized, dualistic, and only sees surfaces. (See, for example, the comments that follow this piece on overpopulation and consumption by Charles Eisenstein.) Many people do not merely doubt that life is cruel and meaningless, they are certain.

It is a sobering challenge to be reminded how far we have slid from those princess fairy tales. I’m tempted to lament the hard work ahead to turn things around, but it could be only a slight tweak and everything shifts. Who am I to say otherwise?

particleFeverOne of the great joys of story is the revelation of hidden truths beneath the drama. Nothing is as it appears. Perhaps another consequence of our being so in thrall to science is its injunction against such sloppy mental games as the search for meaning beneath surfaces. The scientific view is locked into physical matter only. Sure, there are things beneath visible surfaces; that’s what microscopes and MRI machines and atom smashers are for.

This hostility towards meaning goes against our nature. We need stories to make sense of who we are in the world, how we fit in, and what we are to do during our time here. Others and I have written elsewhere about this no-man’s-land we’re in between the crumbling old story of separation and the emerging new story of interconnection and belonging. We find ourselves smack in the middle of a “Redemption Plot,” that sort of story that starts with a morose, self-deceived hero and ends with him embracing his true nature and entering a new level of engagement and service in the world. “Casablanca” is one of the most masterful examples of this plot. Before he makes his selfless decision in the end, Rick must face and work through the darkest part of his nature.

BERGMAN BOGART

Maybe we are drawn to zombies exactly because we are monsters on some level. We know we must face that darkness and make our peace with it before we can move on to true self-knowledge and integration. In my earlier dismissal of zombie stories, I was myself falling into the trap of seeing only surfaces and denying hidden meaning. The more interesting – and fruitful – question is: what’s beneath our current fascination with the denizens of the underworld? What are we trying to face within ourselves and what must we face before moving on to claim and create the future we want?

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