We all want to find our life’s work. The questions is, how do you do it?
There doesn’t seem to be a roadmap or one-size-fits-all guide, and yet maybe we can look to the lives of great thinkers to get an idea of how they found their way.
At age 32, Joseph Campbell retired to Woodstock for four years to read the classics. He spent long periods reading, all the while mining the world’s stories for connections that became available to the world later through his extensive writing.
Carl Jung also embarked on an extended, inner journey he called his “confrontation with the unconscious.” He used the time to sort out his main theories and develop one of the most influential works in the history of psychology: The Red Book.
What I’m leading up to is this.
It seems individuals who fulfill their life’s task have certain characteristics in common. One of them appears to involve breaking away from the crowd, turning inward and carving your own path. That’s what personal and practical mythology are all about.
Personal mythology is an exploration of the mythic stories that help us understand our beliefs and our history. The story-lines and characters help us confront major issues we can relate to on a deep, universal level. The stories help us evolve, shift and grow.
Here are a few thoughts about myths, legends, symbols and dreams.
Legends. An example of a legend is the tale of Atlantis. Legends emphasize a story more than the significance of a story. Legends help us grow by giving us stories rich with moral or philosophical meaning we might apply to our lives.
Symbols. Symbols are objects or images that an individual unconsciously uses to represent something else. “We have no symbolic life,” Jung once said, “and we are all badly in need of a symbolic life!” Dreams.
Dreams are symbolic expressions of the unconscious. They can help us process new, important emotionally-charged information about our lives. They help us understand new experiences and cope with trauma or loss.
Myths provide role models. Ever wonder why superhero movies are so popular? Children pattern themselves after heroes and connect with many archetypal characters like Superman and Wonderwoman. As adults we can find strength in stories about deities and mythical figures, and their heroic journeys as well.
Myths explain the incomprehensible. What is our fate after death? What are the reasons for a crisis, a drought or a miracle? The Greeks turned to myths when they faced the mysteries of life and so do we. Myths satisfy our need to understand the natural world.
Myths stabilize society. Myths help us stay connected to society, to our ancestors and to each other. Myths and rituals anchor us and provide a transcendent means for maintaining our self-image.
The Open Center recently the world’s first Holistic Psychology certificate to help individuals who want to go on this type of exploration, and dreams and myths are just the beginning. Seekers will get the chance to learn about eight different content areas taught by respected thought leaders from the California Institute of Integral Studies.
Imagine a world where every individual had the opportunity to explore his or her own personal, mythical story. I often wonder what society would be like if we were all encouraged to follow our inner guide and fully develop our unique gifts.
Joseph Campbell once said, “the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” How can we support each other in fully becoming who we are?
Share a thought or tell us something about your journey in the comments.