How are you connected to the ancient people of Egypt, the lost people of the Mayan culture, the many Native American tribes of past and present, and the aboriginal people of Australia? You are, in fact. We share, not only DNA as the human species, but we are united in a more intangible way. This later connection is manifested in our nightly dreams, the images that pour forth and enrapture us and the symbols present within those dreams.
Connecting to this inner space can lead to a more meaningful life. Harnessing the power of myth can make our lives more powerful, as an experience–the experience of being alive.
Some believe that dreams are simply our brains’ way of casting out garbage, processing our days. However, many more believe that dreams communicate messages from our subconscious and some modern studies find that in our dreams, we process great amounts of information, much like a super computer does. Dreams have a way of articulating our belief system and communicating truths that our conscious mind cannot perceive.
Our perception of life is, in part, dictated by our social imprinting (how the very many people in your life have taught you to live, what you should be doing, how you should behave and what you should value). However, our subconscious, that mysterious realm that lies beneath our conscious awareness, knows how we really feel about circumstances and how our bodies are responding to conflicts and what our true desires are. We need only understand how to interpret the symbols of our dreams to understand them, which is a highly subjective and personal process.
What are myths? According to Joseph Campbell, myths are public dreams and dreams are private myths. They put us in accord with a few important dilemmas:
- The brutality of life: Life is brutal. We, the living, take others’ life in order to perpetuate our own. Whether you are buying the neatly wrapped package of meat in your grocery store isle, which is devoid of any fur or feathers, or whether you are consuming plant matter at your dinner table, you are taking life. Humans throughout history have wrestled with this notion, a wrestling that can lead to a deep feeling of guilt and remorse. It can be difficult to live with the image of life dimming and extinguishing from another living creature. Myth helps us deal or cope with this reality.
- Myth gives us a mental construct to conceptualize that which is nameless and formless: Life is a mystery, which, chances are, we know very little about. None of us knows why we are here or what life is, to be exact. We can have theories, but no person knows, definitively. Our senses are so very limiting. For instance: a bat has sonar capability. A shark can smell a single drop of blood in a million gallons of water and a dog can be taught to smell cancer. We humans have none of these capabilities. Thus, we know there are different ways of perceiving reality. Myth gives us a mental construct, whereby we can believe and puts us into awareness and connection to that which transcends all human understanding.
- Myths help us gain a sense of meaning within our lives: Who does not want to live a meaningful life? It is a terribly disheartening feeling to believe that life is devoid of all meaning, that it is meaning-less and point-less. Myth helps us to identify meaning within our lives, to infuse our lives with meaning so that they become meaning-full.
- Myths give us a sense of cultural identity and help us make our way through life’s varied transitions: Our bodies are in a constant state of change. We are the most underdeveloped of mammals at birth and have the longest period of mental and physical development of all other mammals. The human body is not fully mature until the mid twenties and many today do not reach a mental maturity (and independence) until they are in their early to mid thirties (by which time many other mammals would have completed their life cycles and have died). Myths help us understand and navigate the difficult transitions of life, which involves processes of change that ultimately leads to the inevitable, which is a decay of the body and mind finally leading to death.
What does it mean to “live mythically”? Carl Jung, the renowned psychoanalyst, theorized that there is an underlying consciousness that connects all people, which he referred to as the collective unconscious. He theorized that our minds are, more or less hardwired with certain images, symbols and processes. One example that beautifully illustrates this is the Hero Journey, which is found in every culture of the world and nearly every movie you watch and story you read. It is this hero journey that connects us to tribes of past and present and which ties us all together under the umbrella of the “human condition”. Learn more about what a hero is HERE.
To live mythically, one can choose to utilize the hero journey, to harness the power of our dreams, which can lead to a deep sense of personal awareness and knowledge (which is ultimately power). Myths give us a sense of time and place and coping mechanisms. After all, gravity is a bitch. Myth gives us meaning and help us to conceptualize ourselves within the strange phenomena that is human existence.
Understanding how to access and utilize myth, to recognize symbols and how to ultimately, have the courage and self awareness to pursue, follow and unfold our dreams and lives has a trans-formative effect in artists. Choosing to live mythically can give artists a great sense of personal and collective power, an energy and mental fortitude that can enable them to not only pursue their dreams, but to do so with a dedicated sense of purpose and choice. This process gives them the tools to have the mental fortitude and will to overcome obstacle after obstacle, to change negative circumstances into positive ones and to develop a life that is life-affirming and, hopefully, filled with a sense of self-knowledge and self knowledge is, of course, the most powerful of tools one can have.