We have all been stunned by the US shooting sprees over the last several years, with seven major shooting incidents in 2012 alone. Anguished and bewildered, people are asking, “Why?” What are the underlying pressures and trends in our culture that are contributing to such examples of deranged and alienated behavior?  We all know that the economic downturn with its job losses, housing foreclosures, and higher poverty rates have tipped the social stress scale over into critical levels of distress. But there are even deeper and more profound forces at work.

Just as individuals fall apart to become reassembled on a more aware, complex and integrated level, society, too, can fragment and disintegrate before meeting the challenge of reconstituting in a new and more conscious way. Much of the social chaos and aberrant behavior seen today is a consequence of a great transformative process in the wider culture; in the initial phases of this process, we are coming apart at the seams. This is demonstrated in the mass shootings, domestic acts of terrorism, murder-suicides, and other abnormal and drastic acts of violence.

Today, extreme cultural conditions are pushing people into extreme reactions.  But the environmental, social, economic, and political upheavals seen today are part of a Great Transition, a cycle of all-encompassing change which can ultimately bring wider spiritual clarity and connection after a rough period of radical turmoil and stormy seas. We are at a point when the adage, “Change or die,” is not an exaggeration.

Change takes a certain form that operates along a continuum.  When things go too far in one direction—such as the American sexual obsession with Internet porn, texting, and “hooking up”–there is an underlying build-up in the unconscious that eventually breaks through to its opposite value—in this case, spirituality–that is simply the other end of the same continuum. When anything is devalued in conscious life, there rises an equal compensation in the unconscious. This model, for example, holds that rapacious greed and selfish misuse of wealth must eventually shift from a culture of “me” to a concern with “we.” This concept of energy-transmutation applies to the individual psyche as well as to the formation of the Great Cycles that play out on the world stage.  Today, we are, as foretold in a number of world mythological predictions, at that “turning point,” when things convert into their opposite counterparts.  But to make this a positive and life-affirming process demands an active collaboration on our part.

Even though our lives are falling apart on both individual and societal levels, indicating a demand to approach things in a new way, some people can and do refuse to change. They try to escape via increasingly frantic social activity, self-medication with alcohol or prescription and recreational drugs, or through distractions such as excessive shopping or overuse of electronic media and devices. Still others do their best to completely ignore the changing realities going on around them (such as environmental and financial shifts) and try to maintain the illusion of business as usual. The ultimate failure to make a necessary change is when individuals decide to check out through suicide. Sometimes people do not know what change needs to be made or how to carry it out, and killing themselves seems to be the only solution.  When persons kill others as well as themselves, it may be that in some cases, they are expressing such an extreme degree of self-hatred and alienation that they see others only as ego projections that also require extermination. The problem with any of these responses to a demand for change is that the real work of inner transformation is aborted.  Change comes about through releasing an old way of being, a tired and dysfunctional way of doing things, and allowing an influx of new spiritual energies and more inclusive perspectives.

We need to take responsibility for making positive changes in our culture.  Since culture is made up of an aggregate of individuals, these changes need to be made one person at a time. Recently, someone I know reported a perfect “recipe” for the fermentation of the types of mass shootings we are reading about almost weekly. He described spending time with a family in which the parents—disenfranchised and paranoid–supported select anti-government conspiracies.  These parents did not send their children to public schools to learn to socialize with others; in fact, the entire family tended to stay behind closed doors with curtains drawn tightly shut. They spent a lot of their time making plans to escape to sparsely populated areas where it was “safe”.  My friend was especially alarmed to witness the kids playing first-person shooter video games, a genre of videos that focuses on weapon-based combat in which the player experiences the action through the eyes of the shooter.  In fact, the father was playing these games with them!  The topper was when the father brought out an actual gun to show my friend; the gun was loaded, the father had not had any weapons training, and he obliviously waved the gun around until my friend stepped in and cautioned the father to point the gun’s barrel toward the floor and, in fact, to put the gun away (as his own daughter was at risk). The youngest child in this family was already exhibiting poor relationship skills and odd behaviors.

It’s a dangerous combination to reinforce anti-social behaviors while encouraging gun play on videos and to have a real gun within reach.  This combination of factors can dangerously blur the line between fantasy and reality. Children learn that when people disagree with them, “they” are the enemy and blowing them away is an option.

As a species, we grow through crisis.  Through today’s various upheavals and difficulties, persons are being triggered into profound processes of psycho-spiritual transformation that, if successfully navigated, will bring about revitalized life patterns and new ideas of wellbeing and prosperity.  To do this, people need to be willing to live necessary change.

What changes can we make in our own lives?  What values are we instilling in our children?  What attitudes are we conveying to those who are influenced by what we say and do?  Because personal change comes before (and leads to) social change, it’s important to explore psychotherapy, meditation or contemplation, dream work, and spiritual questing, all of which stress personal experience, or knowledge instead of faith. Try to stay in middle of the extremes that confront us from the political front, and that are being espoused in the news media and by some religious leaders. Live more simply:  things are not the same as they were. We live best and most effectively by first tending to what Michael Jackson called the “man in the mirror.”