What is the myth?
It is often the case that at midlife and beyond life calls us to look again at who we are, what we have done, what we believe in. This is prime time for discovering what is the story we have been living; as Jung put it —
I asked myself, “What is the the myth you are living?” and found that I did not know. So…I took it upon myself to get to know “my” myth, an I regarded this as the task of tasks…I simply had to know what unconscious or preconscious myth was forming me.”
Human beings are narrative makers. We remember ourselves and our lives in stories — stories we tell our friends, family, strangers, ourselves. When a new patient comes to me, I say “tell me about yourself” and await the story of this person’s life and how it has brought her to me. And if we work together for some time, that story will change so that the story she tells at the end will be recognizable as hers but different in some ways from the tale told at the beginning.
“The universe is made of stories – not atoms” — Muriel Rukeyser
So, we swim in a sea of stories — our own and those of the ones around us. And we shape our lives around the story we tell ourself is ours, the story that we live. Think of a person you no doubt know whose life could be summed up in the song title, “I would do anything for love” — can you begin to see the story he or she is living? And how might that person be able to change the course of the story, write a new chapter if only she knew it was what she is living?
“The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it….” Jules Renard
Exploring personal myth is one way to discover the story.
In the last 20 years or so, a number of books have been written on the subject of personal myth. Of the lot of them, 2 stand out for me as better than the rest:
James Pennebaker: Writing to Heal — Pennebaker, a social psychologist, has done considerable work examining the healing potential of writing.
Sam Keen & Anne Valley Fox: Your Mythic Journey — this book encourages the reader, through writing and reflection using question drawn from the work of Joseph Campbell, to uncover our story and explore its meaning.
I am never entirely happy with self-help books. In order to appeal to a large audience, in my view, they lose bite in favor of what is palatable and likely to engage masses of readers, rather the same way that the food from Taco Bell is suggestive of Mexican food but lacks the complexity and range of real Mexican food. So think of these books as a way to do personal myth, lite. Digging into one’s life, looking at Shadow as well as Persona, takes time. Plus all of us are at best reluctant to look into the corners and under the rocks where our darker or less acceptable aspects lurk. That said, these books offer a palatable way to begin to look at personal myth and may whet appetite for looking deeper.