Continuing from Myth & Dream: Wisdom from our Oldest Stories (Part 1)
The Myth of the Hero & the Discovery of the Self
“The unconscious sends all sorts of vapors, odd beings, terrors, and deluding images up into the mind – whether in dream, broad daylight, or insanity; for the human kingdom, beneath the floor of the comparatively neat little dwelling that we call our consciousness, goes into unsuspected Aladdin caves. There not only jewels but also dangerous jinn abide: the inconvenient or resisted psychological powers that we have not thought or dared to integrate into our lives.” These are the wise words of Joseph Campbel.
These images are terrifying because they threaten the security of our supposedly neat and controlled lives. Neat on the surface as they may be, below in the dark corners of our unconscious, demon-lava boils in the center of monstrous volcanoes that may inevitably erupt with catastrophic consequences. If, however, you face your demons and look them in the eyes, you will find that they hold with them keys to the discovery of the self.
Though they will destroy the world you have built and you with it; after comes a wonderful reconstruction, a renewal of life, a rebirth of a bolder, cleaner, and more spacious life.
Become a Mythological Hero
If you uncover a truth about yourself, then you become your own hero. If you uncover a truth about your culture, then you become a cultural hero. Stories will be written about you. And you will remain forever remembered by your culture as the hero who helped them realize a truth greater than themselves.
Mythology tells us that you can become a cultural hero not by aiming to become a culture hero, but rather, by being your own hero first. Multiple times. “First cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye”. Only by diving deep into your own unconscious and battling your demons can you uncover a truth about yourself. This appears to be an iterative and continuous process. A modern software engineering analogy would be to put oneself in a continuous debug mode. When you uncover your own bugs and apply the corrections, your software (your consciousness) can function as it was meant to function.
In other words, you uncover truths about your true nature, aspects of your personality that were never realized; the gold seeds of childhood. Put psychologically, you align your consciousness with your unconscious. In doing so you experience a marvelous expansion of power; a vivid renewal of life. And if you go so deep, beyond yourself, you can find the bugs or demons in the collective consciousness of your culture. You then give your entire culture a marvelous expansion of power; a vivid renewal of life. You become a hero mythologized. For generations, people will be led by your example.
Only by decoding your own consciousness first, can you then code other consciousnesses.
What Myths Say about Refusing the Call to Adventure
For some, walking through the door of self discovery is an unwelcome disruption to life; for others it is life. Those that find it a disruption are those that refuse the call to adventure for they know very well that they must first face the demons that make their stand at the door. That is to say, as mythology tells us, we are terrified of what lurks beneath the neat dwelling of our consciousness. In psychological terms, we are terrified to face those repressed thoughts, unfelt emotions, and unrealized desires that have been deeply shoved into the depth of our unconscious. We prefer to shield ourselves and we retreat into the seemingly comforting confines of our ego; like Red Riding Hood running into the arms of the Big Bad Wolf. But in time, the shield becomes our cage and we become not the hero of our own journey, but the victim to be saved.
Those that welcome the call to adventure, however, will soon uncover that if they look their demons in the eyes, they’ll discover that the demons hold the keys required to open the door to the discovery of the self.
Mythology on How to Find the Keys to Self Discovery
Serpents appear often in the stories of our ancestors. In many stories, they are the herald that announces the call to adventure. The symbol of a serpent is used to signify that the call to adventure is one that stirs up dangerous and frightening forces from within. The nursery story equivalent is often a frog.
The myths tell us that the only way to overcome the frightening forces within is to voluntarily approach them on your own volition. You cannot be forced or coerced. Not surprisingly, psychology tells us the same is required for anyone to overcome a phobia. Patients that are terrified from riding in elevators for example, are helped by first standing 20 meters away from the elevator. Then the patient is asked to step 1 or 2 meters towards the elevator, wait until they are no longer afraid to take another few steps. The process repeats and until the patient is able to step inside the elevator and press a button. After which the patient then goes home and realizes that they suddenly have the courage to confront a major external problem in their life.
Not surprisingly, biology corresponds as our central nervous system responds very differently when we approach a problem voluntarily vs by pressure. One releases chemicals that positively regulate, such as dopamine, and the other releases stress hormones such as cortisol, causing significant damage to our bodies.
Only after voluntarily approaching your internal demons can you then find the keys required to open the door to your own hero’s adventure.
Mythology on Love
The eyes are the scouts for the heart. When the eyes connect, the hearts connect. Love begins when you’re looking at each other, but grows when you’re looking in the same direction. Mythology tells us that love is one of the many thresholds of transformation.
For those that look skeptically upon mythology or spirituality: have you ever fallen in love? If you have, then the spiritual has entered your life. There’s a reason why we say “falling in love” rather than “rising into love”. Because it just happens to you. And when it does, your whole world transforms. You’re pitched into the mythical realm, a dream state. For those that have never fallen in love, well, you’ve surely refused the call to adventure and you shall live in a seasonless world “where you shall laugh, but not all your laughter, and weep, but not all your tears.”
Whether you have fallen in love or not, our cultures look at falling as something terrible; something capricious. It’s dangerous to fall no matter the circumstances, for you might get hurt. You want to be in control. Such are cultural statements that have for thousands of years been trying to control nature.
Mythology tells us that there cannot be creation without the fall; the risk of falling is the condition to life. That you cannot live unless you take a step. And the moment you take a step you do so on an act of faith because you don’t know that the floor’s not going to give below your feet. To mythology, all of life is an act of faith. The moment you step on an airplane, what an act of faith. The moment you reach an agreement with another human, what an act of faith. Faith is the most powerful thing because it’s all about surrender to the unknown. And what is love if not surrender to another person? Sounds mad doesn’t it? That’s when you come to the strange conclusion that in the madness lies the sanity.
I say fall in love. All the time. Yes, it might hurt. And then stand up and get ready to fall again. For every time you fall, you fall closer to love.
You Cannot Mature without A Myth
In most of the world today we are obsessed with staying young. We are fixated on the unexercised images of childhood and of our youth, frustratingly clinging onto them as aging unfolds before us and time inevitably dismembers us. We’re disinclined to become adults; at best we’re unprepared. Such is in direct opposition to nature and an exact reversal of the function of myth; for the myths were created to help us cross the difficult thresholds of transformation and prepare us for what’s to come. Why else do we have rites of passage? Why else do we hold puberty ceremonies, weddings, and funerals? It is known, however, that rituals far outlive their myths.
Ironically, rituals are actually an enactment of a myth. Thus, when a ritual is performed without acceptance of its myth, it significantly loses its value and meaning. This leaves people merely going through the motions of a ritual rather than undergoing the necessary psychological transformation it was meant to provide – a death of an old personality and rebirth of a new one. Hence, in the world today, there is a bizarre obsession with staying young and a billion dollar industry to take advantage of it. Most are clinging to their mother’s breast, unwilling to let go and face the world as mature adults let alone accept the inevitable transition into death. To the detriment of countless women, most men are merely young boys searching for their mothers. To the detriment of many men, botox was invented.
Find your myth, however mechanical it may be. May it help you cross the various thresholds in your life and may it transform you, so that you may cling not to the past, but extract meaning out of it in your present, so that you may be guided as you navigate the unknowable future.
Mythology within Our Dreams
What happens when we sleep? Well, we know today that over 90% of our conscious thoughts emerge from our unconscious, the part of our mind that we are unaware of; like bubbles emerging from a deep dark well. When the bubbles rise to the surface of our conscious mind, they burst and we experience a new thought. In other words, we have the illusion that we are in control of our thoughts. In reality, we are like the walking dead, life is our sleep. Thus, I would like to propose that when we close our eyes and sleep we actually wake up – from our deeper dream. And when we open our eyes again and emerge from our sleep, we emerge in a haze, confused with selective memories, traces of the dream adventure.
What’s fascinating is that analyzing one’s unconscious dreams can illuminate so much about what drives one’s conscious state – the unfelt emotions, repressed desire and unexercised fantasies which manifest themselves in the form of symbols and images. Yesterday, mythology and the medicine man were the interpreter of dreams. Today, psychoanalysis and the therapist are the modern scientists of reading dreams. Therapists understand the grammar of reading the images and symbols that appear in our dream state – the mythological realm. “Heaven, hell, the mythological age, Olympus and all the other habitations of the gods are interpreted by psychoanalysis as symbols of the unconscious.”
So what then propels the thought bubbles that emerge from the dark well of the unconscious? To find out, one must be ready to face emotions and desires that manifest themselves as “demons” or “dragons”. One must be prepared to “enter the belly of the whale” and to “experience a death and rebirth” of their conscious self – all of which sound terrifying. This is why, in mythology, a dive into one’s own unconscious is called the hero’s adventure. It is the necessary path to repairing a divided mind; to aligning one’s unconscious and consciousness. It’s the necessary path to waking up. Otherwise, you will remain among the walking dead. Life will be your sleep and death will be your awakening.
Myths Helps Us Cross Thresholds of Transformation
Whether we like it or not, throughout our lives we are required to cross numerous thresholds of transformation, each of which is highly disruptive to the neat dwellings we call our conscious minds and personalities. Whether it be puberty, a first romantic relationship, a marriage, a career transition, a traumatic event, the birth of a child, an inevitable confrontation or the death of a loved one, once the threshold is crossed we are left reeling and confused, unable to transform, as many of us were not prepared to cross the threshold to begin with. Our ill-prepared personalities are left clinging onto our former-selves, mourning the loss of our innocence and in denial that we must, afterall, accept the new reality thrust before us. With each defeat we feel less inclined to cross another threshold, and thus we begin to simply feel less. The attempt to shield us from transformation conversely and ironically transforms us, not into new humans, but into volcanic mountains of stone. And inside the encrusted shell of our stone-ego a whirlwind of volcanic forces stirr in the depths of our unconscious minds. Whether or not the volcano will erupt is not the question, but rather, when?
The prime function of mythology was to shepherd humans through the difficult thresholds of transformation. The challenge we face today is that the popular interpretations of prevalent myths have outlived their usefulness. Like the victim who attempts to cling onto a dying symbol of his or her old self, so do we attempt to cling onto dying interpretations of mythic symbols and stories. The price paid for the combination of the loss of myth and individualism spreading its wings throughout the world, is that we must be prepared to learn how to fly alone. The first step, however, and the most difficult, is to realize that the flight path is not to a distant land, but rather, to the deep centers within ourselves.
Science & Mythology
What is your myth? To many of us today, this is a very odd question as “myth” effectively means “untrue”. If I was to phrase the question in another way, perhaps “when you close your eyes and think of the world, what images and symbols come to mind?”, I think the question would be more digestible. You see, mythology is merely a way of describing not what reality is, but what reality is like. Myth symbolizes reality by using metaphors in the form of symbols, images, and stories. There’s an idea that this is the only way our ultimate reality can be described for no matter how much we advance in science and describe reality, the unknown will always grow in geometric proportion to the known. That our ultimate reality is unknowable and indescribable and thus, we need the artists and poets to tell us what it’s “like” or what it’s “not like”.
You may think to yourself, why is that even necessary when science can tell us not what reality is “like” but rather what it “is”? We know the world is made up of matter. I would say that you’re making a grave mistake, equal to that of the fundamentally religious, for you are both mistaking symbols for reality. Science, which has given us incredible clarity and immense technological power, is actually a way of symbolizing reality. Science measures and describes events, past and present. Science’s symbols are numbers and measurements such as inches and clocks. Science places a symbolic grid on the world, like lines of longitude and latitude, in order to describe it.
In fact, the word “matter” comes from the Sanskrit word “to measure”. Thus, when one confuses scientific symbols for reality and another confuses mythic or religious symbols for reality, then two ways of symbolizing reality become contradictory. Rather, as the famous saying goes “do not confuse the moon with a finger pointing towards the moon”. That is, do not confuse reality with the symbol pointing in the direction of it. What is reality? Well, maybe we can answer such a question in the same way that St. Augustine answered the question “what is time?”: “I know, but when you ask me I don’t”.
The Key to Understanding Mythology
To study the oldest stories told by our ancestors is to study the evolution of the human psyche. And like we have physically evolved with structures that wisely adapted to the world, so too have our psyches with wise stories and mythical figures. Myth is a picture language of traditional wisdom. Mythology “links the unconscious to the field of practical action, not irrationally, in the manner of a neurotic projection, but in such a fashion as to permit a mature and sobering, practical comprehension of the fact-world.”
The symbols of mythology awaken the mind past itself; awaken the conscious mind of its unconscious foundation, like the eyes looking into themselves. What is discovered is that the unconscious realm = the metaphysical realm. The deeper you descend into your unconscious the closer you come in contact with philosophical “first principles”, including abstract concepts such as being, existence, identity, time, and space – truths if you will, about the unknown, also referred to as the “universal power” or “source of life” or what modern humans call “energy”.
The myth of the Fall from Eden is a deeply profound metaphor for the idea that humans became unconscious of the “unknown” at the same exact moment they became conscious of the known (the world we sense). In other words, the price paid for human consciousness and self-awareness was the loss of awareness of the unknown “universal power”. Or poetically put “a fall from paradise”. What we see with our eyes when we look at the world is not the “universal power” but the forms reflected from that power. As the Hindu’s myths say, Brahma (god) did not create the world, he made humans aware of it.
The hero is the one who, while still alive, represents the claims of the unknown which is more or less unconscious to most humans. “The adventure of the hero represents the moment in his life when he achieved illumination – the nuclear moment when, while still alive, he found and opened the road to the light beyond the dark wall of our living death.” Such illumination is only achieved, however, after the hero faces and overcomes his dragon; he dissolves his ego and awakens his soul. To quote one of our wisdom traditions “do you think you shall enter the Garden of Bliss without such trials as came to those who passed away before you?”
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