The Mythological Life


We’re living life in two ways at once and it is of absolutely crucial importance not to lose sight of either! One if these ways is  – we might say – when we live life on a down-to-earth pragmatic basis and only concern ourselves with issues that have undeniable ‘concrete’ significance to us. Pragmatic issues have a way of driving out all ‘non-pragmatic’ ones and when this happens we fall into seeing the concrete way of life as being the only way. Everything else gets dismissed as being ridiculous and fanciful – we don’t have time for people who talk about things in any other way, we very quickly lose patience with them…

 

‘Concrete mode’ is very easy to understand – it’s the default mode, the mode that everything very easily settles down into. It’s the mode in which we do everything ‘on purpose‘, as part of some prosaic logical plan.The other mode is what we might call ‘mythological mode’ and this isn’t so easy to understand – if the concrete mode is where we relate to everything in this down-to-earth, no-nonsense way as the down-to-earth practical everyday person we are, then the mythological mode is where everything unaccountably takes on some ‘bigger’ type of significance. Life in the mythological mode is more than just obtaining this concrete goal and then that concrete goal, and going from A to B and then B to C in the prescribed logical fashion and ticking all the boxes in an orderly fashion, it has some strange and essentially ‘impersonal’ meaning. It’s ‘impersonal’ in the sense that it’s not just on this tiny scale where we are living our mundane personal life where we are endlessly preoccupied with all these petty meaningless details – it is significant in a way that goes entirely beyond this mundane sphere. Our affairs are no longer ‘purely personal’ but meaningful in some epic sense, a sense that goes far, far beyond the trivial things that society says we are to concern ourselves with. This ‘non-trivial’ or ‘mythological’ aspect of life is the aspect that the everyday concrete mind dismisses out of hand.

 

As we have said, because of the overwhelming ‘pressure of the practical’ it is almost a foregone conclusion that we are going to ‘lose sight of the mythological’ – in our culture losing sight of the mythological is actually part of becoming an adult! If you don’t then you’re not considered to be an adult – you’ve got ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’, you refuse to grow up and be sensible about things. When we lose sight of the mythological this isn’t a step towards maturity however – it’s a step towards inner death, which isn’t quite the same thing. When we live purely on the concrete-personal level then we diminish ourselves tremendously. Life is so very much more than we take it to be. We ourselves are so very much more than we take ourselves to be. We are so much more than our family and friends take us to be, which is why families and friendship groups very often inhibit any possibility of inner growth. We are so much more than society takes us to be and this is why society – despite being a necessary support to us on one level (the concrete level!) is a psychological threat to us on another, crucially important level. What’s the point in being kept alive and entertained and well-fed if our ‘inner life’ is totally suppressed and denied?

 

When we live purely on the concrete level we’re ‘living beneath ourselves’ and the consequences of this are tremendous. As Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas:

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

 

We cannot live beneath ourselves, and fail to bring forth what is with is us (because our rational society implicitly tells us every step of the way that there is nothing remarkable within us, nothing that needs to be brought out) with impunity – the consequence of this is our neurotic suffering, which gradually eats us alive, one way or another. It is no mere accident that the rates of depression and anxiety have been steadily increasing for the last one hundred years – we often like to say that there is a genetic component to mental disorders but how do we imagine that after millions of years of evolution our DNA is suddenly developing faults? Antidepressants are hardly going to prove a remedy for the fact that our modern way of living life is entirely shallow and neglectful of any non-trivial meaning! What Jung calls (not in his exact words) ‘an epidemic of soul-sickness the like of which we have never known’ is scarcely going to be cured by the judicious prescription of psychiatric drugs to dull our existential anguish!

 

On the other hand, if we lose sight of our ‘feet’ and get swallowed up by the mythological world, this has very great consequence too. If we lose our connection with our actual practical, pragmatic life and find ourselves adrift in what Jung calls ‘the realm of the unconscious’ then we may never come back to ourselves. This is a dangerous journey and we cannot treat it as if it were not; Joseph Campbell refers to this as ‘the hero’s journey’ for a reason – the reason being that it tests us to the limit. Since when did heroes have an easy time of it? The terrible dangers that we read about in myths and legends all have their psychological meaning and this comes down to our ‘sense of ourselves’ being overpowered by the tremendous forces that exist in the mythological realm. We cannot simply launch ourselves into this world, as we are, and naively expect it to somehow work out for us on this basis. The mythological realm is powerfully intoxicating to the everyday mind – either we get intoxicated with hubris or we get intoxicated with fear, and either way spells disaster.

 

Somehow, we have to live life both ways at the same time – we have to ‘walk the tightrope’, so to speak. As we have said, on either side lies disaster – if we fall to one side we get swallowed up by the banality of everyday life and disappear without a trace, and if we fall the other way we get swallowed up by the mythological realm and also disappear without a trace. By far the biggest danger – for most of us – is that we will be browbeaten and intimidated by the concrete world and prevailed upon to renounce the world within us that – on some level – we know to be true. We are bullied into abject submission by sheer peer-pressure – fifty million people (or however many it is) can’t be wrong, after all! But actually X million people can be ‘wrong’ and – from a psychological point of view – always will be. Only the individual can be ‘the carrier of virtue’, says Jung – the state (or the collective) never can be. Virtue can never reside in the collective or the social group because no one in the group is truly being themselves – the mass mind has no conscience, no sense of responsibility and there is no way that it can be compelled to be conscientious or responsible by legislation. To be subsumed with ‘group-mind’ is to lose yourself – if we have lost ourselves then we’re simply not there and if we’re not there then how can we possibly ever ‘take responsibility’?

 

The process of social adaptation is the process of losing the mythological aspect of life because the mythological aspect of life can never be consciously experienced (or acknowledged) on the level of mass consciousness. It can be experienced unconsciously, as Jung of course says, but this is another matter entirely! We are not consciously participating in life in this case, but merely resigning ourselves to the fate of being puppeted by external forces which we have zero awareness of. We are ‘mere mechanical units’ and the reason we think we are doing things is not the real reason. Instead of a genuine inner life, we internalize some crude external script (the ready-made narrative that our society provides for us) and we imagine that this tawdry second-hand generic artefact is our inner life. We imagine that when we read from this script then that is ‘free will’…

 

The mythological mode of living life cannot be taken from a script or template and it cannot be the same for ten million people – somehow, we have to discover it ourselves and in order to discover it for ourselves we have to see the reality that lies beyond the concrete, matter-of-fact one. This can only happen when we find the courage to stop believing automatically in everything the super-pragmatic rational mind tells – rationality is what represses us, in other words, and at the same time that it represses us it will not let us know that it does, but rather (like a bad parent!) it always persuades us that it is acting in our best interests! If we do allow ourselves to be thus persuaded then this is the same thing as ‘losing touch with the mythological dimension of life’ and when we lose touch with the mythological dimension of life then we are consigned to an existence of ‘merely surviving’, and existence in which the only option left to us is to entertain ourselves as best we can until we die. The rational mind – if we let it reign over us – will always reduce us to this level; the rational mind is a device for carrying out pragmatic or concrete tasks and so if we let it ‘take over’ and ‘run everything for us’ then it will turn our lives into no more than ‘a concrete or pragmatic task’. What else can it do?

 

Rationality, by its very nature, always denies anything that it cannot – in principle, at least – understand and it is crucially important to see this. Rational thought – as is often said – is a very powerful servant but an appalling bad master. It’s a bad master because when it takes control it permanently (and invisibly) limits us to a very narrow little world – the narrow little world that it itself creates for us. In this world the only purposes are logical purposes, rational purposes, concrete purposes and no one can live their life on such an arid basis. Or rather we can, but when we do we end up suffering from the all-pervading sense of meaningless and alienation from life that Jung calls ‘soul-sickness’. Soul-sickness is the inevitable result of being confined to that narrow and juice-less world that the rational mind creates for us. It is the inevitable result of living life without the mythological dimension, which is the one thing the RT cannot provide us with. It can provide us with rules and regulations aplenty, but not a mythological dimension…

 

To the logical mind any talk of ‘mythological dimensions’ is simply nonsense, as we have already said.  Myths are not real, it says. Myths are just myths! The logical mind will inform us over and over again that only cold hard facts are real, that only the concrete everyday world is real. Its argument is very persuasive – and ultimately crushingly persuasive – but at the same time what it lead us to believe in is entirely false. There’s something silly about us if we believe it. ‘Facts and figures’ are not real at all – they are mind-created abstractions. The concrete world that we are compelled from an early age to believe in is similarly a fiction – it’s a world that is made up purely of our own descriptions and our descriptions are our own. They have nothing to do with the world as it is in itself. The world as it is in itself is an inscrutable mystery and it can never be penetrated by us. It can never be rationalized and explained and if we fall into the trap of doing this then we end up prisoners in a dead world. We end up as inmates serving a life sentence in the ‘prison of the rational mind’. We can’t rationalize or explain the world as it is in itself, but we can live it, which is the complete antithesis of existing exclusively in ‘concrete mode’, through the profoundly dubious auspices of the thinking mind…

 

 

Art: Ann Marie Zilberman

 

 

 

 

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