Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Personal Myth: Considerations (I)

Originally posted on July 11, 2013

This has come up as a theme in our culture and evokes various thoughts. In the olden days there was no such thing as “myth,” much less personal myth. In our tribe, we all learned the stories about how it really was, and came to  believe that was so. Then there were unbelievers, but we killed them or drove them away. Then there were too many and we were too civilized to do that.

Starting in the 17th century and increasing after that, heresy blended into majority belief and the concept of other beliefs became, well, a category. This also was aided by visits with peoples with other beliefs who weren’t bent on fighting us—i.e. “infidels” or some such term—but rather people who believed very different things. They believed myths. We believed what was true. The word bifurcated from being quaint when applied to them, equivalent to superstition, ideas to be either scorned or patronizingly classified—“myth.” “Our” own beliefs were convictions, the way it really was—or so it seemed. (This is called “ethnocentrism.”)

In the mid-20th century it became more apparent that our own culture, our own people, were riddled with elements of myth. Ourselves, too. The work of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung helped this new mode of thinking. The word bled over to include stories that were meaningful, and beliefs that some people could name—but still implying they were not true.

Later the word “myth” was upgraded to refer to images, poetry, modes of expressing what could never be fully expressed in ordinary language, much less adequately tested objectively. On the whole, though, it referred to the non-rational elements or stories that go with people’s thoughts, even people in our own culture, even, for that matter, us.

From this emerged the notion that everyone has not only sets of beliefs, but overlapping and blurring into these sets, stories, images, colors, modes of dress, legends, etc. The word has profoundly expanded and my own thinking is that it may project into the future and the present as well as draw on the past. (I’ll mention some personal myths of my own further on.)

The world has become far more complex, and many try to approach this problem of what to make of the world in terms of dry abstractions. It’s their apparent belief that words can capture sufficient amounts of whatever it is that these formulations adequately describe what’s really going on. Ha, I say: Ha. Ha, ha.

I’m quite clear that we’ve had three hundred years of philosophy that has wrestled with traditionalism, illusion, mind, science, a phenomenally expanding range of phenomena, and in so doing, has in the last fifty years “hit the wall,” reached the limits of what can be known and thought out by reason and the senses. Yet there remains pretty obvious, everyday phenomena that are quite impenetrable to left-brain intellectual knowledge: The mind, love, cute, fellowship, beauty, and so forth. Pretty basic stuff.

Not that we don’t nibble at these, using psychology, sociology, neuroscience, etc., and we make headway; but still what little headway we make, while it might or might not yield some good insights, falls far, far short of a good explanation.

I would dare suggest that mere prose can cover only part of the problem. Too much is feeling for which words cannot suffice. Example: true love. Many others.

The Emergence of Meaning

I think this overlaps with myth as a concept. What stories, images, heroes, gods, forces help us to infuse our daily life with a sense that it’s all meaningful rather than meaningless? We are instinctively bound to generate some sense that these events are meaningful, even if it’s a meta-meaning system that supports a kind of existential angst, translated as a myth: We are alone and on our own in the universe, nothing means anything, so we are left to make the best of it. For some this justifies selfishness, for others altruism—seeking what’s best for an imagined collectivity—our nation, people, the world of humans, the biosphere.

Of course many people stick by that old stand-by of a king-like god who gives orders that are available in the Bible. They seem to believe that if we could only study the Bible and really understand it; or that God’s son will fully take care of our lack of understanding if we put our trust in Him—but not Krishna or Allah, Yahweh (Jehova) or any other name—they’re “false” gods.” There are, of course, innumerable themes that are not covered by the ancient scriptures or clergy, but modern clergy have some access to inspiration and interpretation that makes selected members “right,” the others being slightly to gravely “wrong.” That’s a meta-myth, too.

But for me, myth derives from stories that we find meaningful, and meaning is in turn conferred not only rationally, but also from a host of non-rational and irrational sources. What I’m getting at is that meaning and philosophy and myth are all deeply and plentifully conditioned by the thousand tendencies operating in the deep mind, also known as the unconscious mind. This is a territory akin to germs and galaxies, in that we’ve only begun to know these dimensions of humanity and the cosmos are there, and have hardly begun to grasp their implications.

I’ve found as I contemplate life and the world that many elements for me require imagery, maybe body senses, too. And I think that perhaps others also have several or even many sources of meaning.
For example, in my relationship with my most-beloved wife, Allee, that my being "the wind beneath her wings" is a mythic image that is quite meaningful for me. I get to be a major supporting player in her healing and individuation.

Another myth for me  relates a bit of Alfred Adler’s concept that a sense of community, “Gemeinschafts-gefuehl”—a feeling for “that old gang of mine”—connected with my own community involvements—also feels meaningful. Being a member of the gang in chorus or square dancing, folk dancing, or ballroom dancing club, adds to the sense of life fully being lived. It’s not easy to articulate this sense of fellowship above and beyond the fun of the activity itself.

There are a goodly number of these roots, connections, in the past, present, and future—all could be articulated by myths. These images and words in turn call up the feelings and associations and reinforce the experience. It’s like the myth that someone is reading these words besides myself and to some tiny degree that spreads my influence in the world, however lightly. Even if you don’t agree, it still is experienced by me as a participation in the ongoing multi-dimensional dialectical process that marks the evolutionary advance of human consciousness.

I philosophize a bunch, on my blog and website, and promote aspects of my professional interest at conferences and in books. That’s also part of my philosophy and fits with a personal myth I made up that Goddess (which is a name for the quite unknowable “Everything”) has a billion sequins on her gown, and one of those is our cosmos, and within that I add the tiniest drop of something positive, so I’m helping her dance, awaken, become more. That works for me. I am thrilled to be a part of this.

Playing with that myth, I secretly look down (? but not really) on others not so fortunate as to be organic, or human, or conscious about consciousness. (And also I recognize they do other stuff I can’t appreciate fully, so don’t get arrogant.) But the point is that within this myth is a deep gratitude for being privileged with the ability to be aware of this great dance, even if only partly so. It’s an intellectual and aesthetic kick. That’s my myth for now. Maybe next year it’ll be changed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *