Friday, July 23, 2010

Robert A Johnson

Excerpts from WE

On Myths

My lords, if you would hear a high tale of love and of death, here is that of Tristan and Queen Iseult; how to their full joy, but to their sorrow also, they loved each other, and how at last, they died of that love together upon one day; she by him and he by her.

Thus begins the marvelous story of Tristan and Iseult. It was with these words that the traveling poets and minstrels of the Middle Ages would call together the lords and ladies, the knights and commonfolk, to hear a wondrous story of adventure and love. They would gather be-fore the wood fire in the great hall of a castle or manor and relive together the "high tale" of the knight Tristan and his fatal love for Queen Iseult.

This story is one of the great myths of all time; it has the dignity and power of Gilgamesh, Beowulf, or the Icelandic sagas. Such myths have an uncanny power to thrill us, uplift us, pull us out of the pettiness of our ego-lives, and transport us to a realm of magic,, noble deeds, and unearthly passion. But a myth does more than that: If we learn to listen, it also gives us specific psychological information and teaches the deep truths of the psyche.

Years ago a grammar school teacher asked her class, "What is a myth?" A young boy, the son of a couple whom I know well, raised his hand and replied, "A myth is something that is true on the inside, but not true on the outside." The teacher did not understand, but often children have more psychological wisdom than adults. A myth is true: It is not true in the outer, physical sense, but it is an accurate expression of a psychological situation, of the inner, condition of the psyche.

Myths are like dreams. Dreams are the messengers of the unconscious mind. Through them the unconscious communicates its contents and its concerns to the conscious mind.

By learning the symbolic language of dreams, a person learns to see what is going on within at an unconscious level and even discovers what needs to be done about it. Jung demonstrated that myths also are symbolic expressions of the unconscious. But, though a dream expresses the dynamics within an individual, a myth expresses the dynamics within the collective mind of a society, culture, or race.

A myth is the collective "dream" of an entire people at a certain point in their history. It is as though the entire population dreamed together, and that "dream," the myth, burst forth through its poetry, songs, and stories. But a myth not only lives in literature and imagination, it immediately finds its way into the behavior and attitudes of the culture-into the practical daily lives of the people.

The myth of Tristan and Iseult is a profound expression of the Western psyche. It tells us a lot about "what makes us tick." It is a vivid, panoramic view of the psychological forces at work in the unconscious of Western people for the last thousand years of our history. Above all, this myth gives us a painfully accurate picture of romantic love--why it came into our culture, what it is, and why it isn't working very well.

Our myth shows us that romantic love is a necessary ingredient in the evolution of the Western psyche. We will achieve wholeness and will move on to the next step in our evolution of consciousness only when we learn to live consciously with romantic love--that is, with the vast psychological forces that it represents. In the evolution of consciousness, our greatest problem is always our richest opportunity.

Zen teaches that inner growth always involves an experience of "a red-hot coal stuck in the throat. In our development we always come to a problem, an obstacle, that goes so deep that we "can't swallow it and can't cough it up." This exactly fits our Western experience of romantic love: We can't live with it, and we can’t live without it--we can't swallow it, and can't cough it up! This "hot coal" in our throats alerts us that a tremendous evolutional potential is trying to manifest itself.

After many years of living in the rich world of the psyche and learning its laws, Carl Jung saw a vast evolutional Power at work in the psychic universe. He saw that the human psyche strives always toward wholeness, strives to complete itself and become more conscious. The unconscious mind seeks to move its contents up to the level of consciousness, where they can be actualized and assimilated into a more complete conscious personality. Each person's psyche has an inborn evolutional urge to grow, to integrate the contents of the unconscious, to bring together all the missing parts of the total individual into a complete, whole, and conscious self.

Jung teaches us that the unconscious is the source: the primal matter from which our conscious minds and ego personalities have evolved. All the values, ideas, feelings, capacities, and attitudes that we have developed into functioning parts of our conscious personalities originated in the raw, primal material of the unconscious.

To get a clear image of this, we may picture a coral island that gradually rises out of the sea. The ocean slowly creates this island out of its own matter and pushes it finally above the water into the sunlight. After centuries, topsoil and plant life develop, animals and people appear, and the little island becomes a tiny center of human life and consciousness. Like the vast ocean, the collective unconscious gives birth to a tiny island; it is the conscious psyche, the ego, the "I" – the part of me that is aware of itself.

This little ego-mind, surrounded by the vastness of the unconscious, has a high and noble task, a special destiny to live out. Its role in this evolution is to integrate more and more of the unconscious until the conscious mind truly reflects the wholeness of the self.

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