Be­long­ing – mythic dreams that put us in touch with the uni­verse and keep us there

mythic dreams that put us in touch with the uni­verse and keep us there

Living Now - - Contents - By Ge­of­frey Berry

Ge­off out­lines Joseph Camp­bell’s model of the hero’s jour­ney and sug­gests it could be ex­tended to in­clude ecol­ogy as a true myth of the times.

Ge­off out­lines Joseph Camp­bell’s model of the hero’s

jour­ney and sug­gests it could be ex­tended to in­clude

ecol­ogy as a true myth of the times.

JOSEPH CAMP­BELL CALLED myth ‘ the literature of spirit’ be­cause these spell­bind­ing sto­ries link us to sa­cred realms of deep mean­ing. For Camp­bell, myths have a mag­i­cal qual­ity with one great aim: to put us in touch with the uni­verse and keep us there. But how do we work with these kinds of sto­ries to­day, when for most peo­ple a myth sim­ply means some­thing that is not true? We could start right here at home, with our own per­sonal dreams and vi­sions of a bet­ter life. Like his spir­i­tual men­tor Carl Jung, Camp­bell noted that myths are sim­i­lar to dreams, as both con­tain im­agery that arises from the un­known, a realm of mys­tery that some­times seems be­wil­der­ing or even con­fus­ing. In our dreams, hy­brid an­i­mal/peo­ple act like gods, just as they did for an­cient Egyp­tians; deities ap­pear like plan­ets in the night, to dis­pense favour or tor­ture, as they did for the Greeks and Ro­mans; ghostly, witch-like fig­ures dis­pense prophecy, as if we were Shake­spear­ian ac­tors; while an­ces­tors and na­ture spir­its speak to us in shamanic lan­guages, whether we live in mod­ern or in tra­di­tional in­dige­nous so­ci­eties.

Through his decades of teach­ing and lis­ten­ing to his stu­dents, Camp­bell noted that these ar­che­typal forces, time­less pat­terns and pow­er­ful im­ages con­tin­ued to op­er­ate at deeper lev­els of our minds, for in­stance when we are asleep, or ex­pe­ri­enc­ing al­tered states of con­scious­ness through med­i­ta­tion or cre­ative vi­su­al­i­sa­tion. Con­tem­po­rary neu­ro­science has proven this to be cor­rect, show­ing that the brain can ‘link up’ dif­fer­ent ar­eas un­der dif­fer­ent con­di­tions, some­times lead­ing us to higher lev­els of aware­ness and func­tion­ing.

The con­sis­tent ex­pe­ri­ence of med­i­ta­tion, for ex­am­ple, can ac­tu­ally train the brain to re­lax into that kind of alert but calm state. This is so well known nowa­days that there is a phrase for it, which you may have heard: ‘Fire it un­til you wire it!’ The new science of neu­ro­plas­ticity like­wise shows that we can re­place trau­matic or trou­bling pat­terns with cre­ative re­sponses by en­gag­ing new ar­eas of the brain in com­pen­satory pat­terns.

This is where the great sto­ries known as myths come in, be­cause they were tra­di­tion­ally told around the camp­fire, where the tribe would gather to hear from master sto­ry­tellers in an at­mos­phere con­ducive to a very re­cep­tive kind of con­scious­ness. This kind of at­ten­tion is also found in con­ven­tional re­li­gious set­tings; a re­cep­tiv­ity to the sa­cred realm, where all that lives is im­bued with the most mean­ing­ful and val­ued qual­i­ties of life and love. Where much re­li­gious myth is gen­er­ally con­cerned with re­unit­ing peo­ple with their idea of de­ity, and shamanic myth of­ten guides acts of heal­ing or sor­cery, we live in a world with a dif­fer­ent core aim in mind. For mod­ern myth is more con­cerned with progress and the evo­lu­tion of tech­nol­ogy. Where does that leave us, in terms of that great aim of feel­ing at home in the uni­verse?

Camp­bell him­self be­gan to won­der late in his ca­reer if there was a new myth emerg­ing, which would con­tain a gen­uinely mod­ern form of spir­i­tu­al­ity and could draw all mod­ern in­di­vid­u­als to­gether, across bound­aries of race, cul­ture and pol­i­tics. He thought that it would be about the planet as a whole and it may be that we see this new myth in the idea of Gaia, a liv­ing earth, as pro­posed by sci­en­tist James Love­lock. This eco­log­i­cal idea is also a shared in­tu­ition amongst many who fol­low the idea that a great Mother Earth (or even cos­mic na­ture) sus­tains all of us. And now to­day, the new age

Joseph Camp­bell be­came fa­mous for his tele­vi­sion se­ries The Power of Myth and books in­clud­ing The Hero with a Thou­sand Faces, claim­ing that myths told time­less truths in an end­less va­ri­ety of voices, each unique to the in­di­vid­ual. Carl Jung sim­i­larly claimed that ar­che­typal im­ages arise spon­ta­neously in each of us – new ver­sions of an­cient pat­terns.

of so­cial media sup­plies an amaz­ing set of tools for re­al­is­ing this pos­si­bil­ity, help­ing us to re­spond per­son­ally and col­lec­tively to big pic­ture is­sues such as en­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion, over­pop­u­la­tion, so­cial in­equal­ity and wide­spread in­jus­tice.

Even if this new myth helps us to build new forms of com­mu­nity to­gether, I won­der if it also needs to pro­vide some­thing more, if it is to help guide us through the times to come. Things seem to be get­ting bet­ter and worse at the same time: the in­creas­ing alien­ation and con­flicts of the 20th cen­tury con­tinue and are made even worse by the on­go­ing break­down of tra­di­tional com­mu­ni­ties, yet there is also a shift to­wards a sense of our fun­da­men­tal unity as a race and our shared de­pen­dence on a healthy planet.

It could be that the core qual­ity need­ing to be ad­dressed by the new myth is a sense of be­long­ing, be­cause if we don’t feel like we re­ally be­long here on this planet earth, we’ll never re­ally be­gin to treat it as a sa­cred home.

When we feel we truly be­long – at home in our bod­ies, at peace with our neigh­bours and oth­ers, at one with our en­vi­ron­ment – then we treat oth­ers (and our­selves) with love, gen­eros­ity and for­give­ness. This could also help al­le­vi­ate some of the ‘ first world prob­lems’ of over­con­sump­tion, be­cause a sense of be­long­ing pro­vides us with an in­nate self-es­teem that re­sists be­ing drawn into that end­less cy­cle of ‘stuff’ – get­ting it, keep­ing it, be­ing amused by it and then mov­ing on. Some peo­ple be­lieve that the game of con­sump­tion even re­lies upon feel­ings of alien­ation and dis­em­pow­er­ment, be­cause we are more likely to re­spond to advertising that prom­ises to make us feel bet­ter if we al­ready sense that some­thing is miss­ing in our lives.

The alien­ation of mod­ern life from the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment may also leave us sus­cep­ti­ble to the psy­cho­log­i­cal machi­na­tions of main­stream advertising. Most of us live in cities, which are ba­si­cally the same grid repli­cated the world over, leav­ing us less in touch with the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment than we were when we evolved in jun­gles, deserts, moun­tains and forests. Pow­er­ful myths of progress and tech­nol­ogy have of­ten con­vinced us that we were al­ways head­ing some­where bet­ter: some­times there would be mis­takes, up­sets, glitches in the sys­tem, but even­tu­ally we would make it to the promised land of utopian splen­dour that was al­ways just across the hori­zon. Many of us no longer have faith in the ma­chin­ery of progress and have found a more sat­is­fy­ing story of be­long­ing to a new kind of com­mu­nity, which cares for the planet with love in­stead of merely us­ing it as a re­source.

To­day, we un­der­stand bet­ter that ev­ery so­cial move­ment has a mythic el­e­ment to it; a way of pro­vid­ing a co­her­ent im­age of unity and mean­ing, or some sa­cred qual­ity, which we wish to de­fend. We have a choice as to what this qual­ity is and un­der­stand­ing that there is a com­mon or ‘ dom­i­nant’ myth to mod­ern so­ci­ety, as well as many cre­ative re­sponses, gives us free­dom to start ex­plor­ing just where we fit and how we can change for the bet­ter. If the main­stream media keep re­mind­ing us that we could al­ways be en­joy­ing the ben­e­fits of mod­ern con­sump­tion – I call this ‘ the eter­nal feast’ we are

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