Friday, June 23, 2006

Personal Mythology

Personal Mythology explains how we put our experiences into mental and emotional order. Rather than our lives being a set of disjointed events, we tend to form an internal narrative, a storyline, to explain the things that happen. We look for cause and effect in our world. We also tend to have internal scripts, notions of how we’re supposed to act, how others are supposed to respond. The people around us play roles, as do we, and our fates respond accordingly.

A guiding myth tells its recipient, the hero, what sort of person he is and what type of story he is living in. Sometimes the myth is helpful, lending courage and willpower when the hero needs it the most, providing a moral code to live by, and giving him a lofty goal to pursue. Unfortunately, it can also limit the hero from looking at alternative ways to solve his problems, or prevent him from seeing that he has outgrown the book he’s in and needs to move on to a text of a higher grade level.

How do we identify a guiding myth? More specifically, how do we identify the myths that guide our own lives? The human potential movement has provided us with a wealth of personality inventories and archetype catalogs to help us determine the sort of people we are. Jean Shinoda Bolen explains how Greek mythological figures demonstrate different patterns of human mindset and behavior, and how they play out in our lives. Carol Pearson provides a group of human archetypes, the stories they live out, and a way of measuring which archetypes hold the most sway over our natures. There are several temperament sorters, such as the Myers-Briggs system, the ennead system, and Barbara Bowers’ ‘aura colors’.

We can use these methods to identify the qualities of our own nature, but we must go further. The hero has a story; we must identify our own stories by studying the context of our lives. Once we know the plotline our life has been following, we can decide for ourselves how it ends, or if it is time to go ‘off script’ and find a new role.

Works that can help you identify and work with your personal story include: Your Mythic Journey by Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox, The Mythic Path by David Feinstein and Stanley Krippner, and Path of the Everyday Hero: Drawing on the Power of Myth to Meet Life's Most Important Challenges by Lorna Catford and Michael Ray.

The above was part of my Summerfest presentation this year. The exercises we did afterwards were within the context of the themes of the celebration.

Addendum: Another useful text I omitted earlier is Sacred Contracts: Awakening Your Divine Potential by Caroline Myss. The book is a bit schizophrenic - the first part deals with examples of 'sacred contracts' with the Divine drawn from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism, while the second part deals with personal archetypes and their function in your daily life. I suspect Sacred Contracts began as two books and got merged into one for the sake of the booksellers. Huge tomes that sell for $20-30 are all the rage these days.-SEG