You know, as therapists, we have our job cut out for us. I think, we are all aware these days that as a culture, our mythic understanding has failed. The mythic understanding of our place in nature and the world of others has fallen apart. We have become a secular culture without a vision of becoming much of anything, beyond ourselves and the focus group that defines us.
But myth is what holds us together as a visionary action that takes us beyond our individual, often petty concerns. Myth reaches into the mystery of our humanity. Myth relates us to the powers that underlie nature and all that we consider unknown. The mythic mind can live with awe. The mythic mind can endure shipwreck and death. The mythic mind can find meaning and a place in cosmic disorder. The mystic mind does not depend on sharp edges to life in order to see its way and its purposes. The mystic mind is a part of the river and at home in the evolutionary cosmic body.
In recent centuries, we have grown a powerful defense against our split from the Mother, from the family that Nature brings forth relentlessly and with such tireless and innocent intent. In the last few hundred years, we have successfully created an alienated inner self, isolated from all our family members. And this alienated inner self we call existential. We are proud of it. We consider it heroic, and assume that our complex inner, isolated self represents the enviable and worthy outcome of a self-aware life; that our complex inner self is proof of our superior development rather than an extended, insensitive adolescence in a defense against a broader comprehension. To comprehend in this profound sense and to be self-aware are quite different.
My favorite book is the Odyssey, finally written down around 1300bc. Odysseus has no more inner self than my dog or cat. He complains, he gets angry; he can be proud and silent. He is respectful of the Gods and Goddesses, and Zeus says that he is almost like one of them. Trapped on an Island with a stunning goddess, Calypso, who wants him to be her husband and become immortal, he prefers to live out his days with a human death sentence, and after 20 years away at war, to return to the rocky shore of Ithaca, to his son Telemachus and to his aging wife Penelope. Here is a man who talks to Athena and Hermes, and yet who prefers all the accidents and dangers of life, choosing a life we might wish to escape. Here is a heroic man whose affiliation is to the action of the mythic in a violent world. Myth draws the self immediately into a larger context to purposes greater than the individual concern. Here is the model I am talking about; of someone who wholeheartedly determines to live out a narrative that does not separate individual intention from the natural world and as a consequence, does not split the inner from outer self experience. Without the mythic consciousness, we must dramatize our alienation from within the confines of a bulky, puffed up, troubled, inner self as if such emotional isolation was heroic, necessary and inevitable.
I was on my way to becoming a Jungian Analyst when I got waylaid by some brilliant psychoanalyst teachers in order to study the nature and formation of this modern sense of a self. I teach this stuff; all that Klein and Winnicott and Bion researched and explained.
I distinguish between the Ego and the Self. The Ego is that wary instinctual part that we share with all mammals that learns to avoid traps; but the Self locates us among others as a social construct, an identification we attach to through our mother’s persistent affectionate attention; if we are so fortunate. Both Ego and Self, essential as they are, fall short of relating us to the wider scope of nature. Nature without our mythic sensibility becomes a mere stage prop for one act plays just about us.
Fortunately, emotion refines itself expressively through narrative, through somatic attitude, and through the mythic experience that extends our attachment to include concern for the welfare of nature and the human enterprise. Mythic awareness relates us to the sense of good and evil, of heroism and cowardice, self sacrifice, of decency and greed, reward and punishment. The mystery around us is too big for us to own by ourselves. If we are open to it, the mythic awareness can “live us” or carry us like a wave in ways outside our control, outside of self analysis.
All healing has its roots not only in science but what we experience as irrational, independent, inexplicable, what is at once profoundly natural and supernatural, inevitable and miraculous. Our perception of what is true takes place in our deep evolutionary modes of thought and only later surface into rational statements.
A thousand years ago, there was an old man, or an old woman healing a broken arm, driving off a fever, without the science we promote; with songs and stories, and with herbs we have not yet discovered, down the rivers of the Amazon.
The further I have committed myself to the therapeutic practice, the more I know that our deepest work depends upon an attunement to something independent of our knowledge and even our gifts. From that point of view, no matter how developed the skills, I remain fundamentally useless and a beginner in the face of suffering, and that stance of being present allows us to be drawn into the gatherings of nature that are intent on reorganizing in a better way. It is our attention to the very nature of what we don’t know that has so often brought the resolution of psychic and physical illness through the medium of mythic sensibility.