Thursday, April 30, 2009

Myth Assigns Meaning to Life

People often use the word myth to imply the opposite of truth. An explanation about something is referred to as a myth meaning that it isn’t true. But if you look at the original meaning of the word, myths can be viewed as timeless stories that cast meaning on our lives (e.g. classical mythology, folklore, the Arthurian legends). These stories explore our fears and desires and provide a commentary on what it’s like to be human. They also give expression to our innate sense that there is a lot more to life than what is on the surface.

Myths don’t deal in facts -- but they do give insight into life and help us to understand our fellow human beings. I am particularly interested in the myth of the hero. Heroism features prominently in the myth stories of all the cultures and creates a direct connection to our own lives.

For me a hero isn’t someone with meta-human powers; rather, it is someone who emerges from a bad place or a bad experience, comes through a physical or mental trial, attempts to understand that experience, and then tries to make a difference. Life turns full circle: trial, redemption, discovery, growth, and trial again.

Our time on earth is finite, made up of only so many summers and winters. Choosing to make a difference in the world often begins on a local level but may in turn lead to a grander stage. Life can offer many rewards, but it’s up to each of us to look for them. Like the knights in search of the grail, we must all go on a personal quest.

Experiencing something at the right time, perhaps aided by fate, can alter one’s life. As we move around this beautiful earth we leave little marks everywhere we go, but it’s also possible to leave an indelible footprint. I want to make a difference with my time. I want to act and not sit by.

I have often wondered why myth stories are so prevalent. They are everywhere because they matter. Myth assigns meaning to life. The stories are about making choices. Heroes don’t have to be perfect, but they do need a redeeming quality.

The figures from mythology, shrouded in the splendor of antiquity, are still talked about today, their stories still told, their deeds still recounted. Why is that? Perhaps, through risk and redemption, like a phoenix rising out of the flames--those same flames that one devoured but then gave birth to new ideas--those old ones knew a thing or two because they have been tested. They are the ones we can learn from. Growth often comes from a background of pain.

Life goes so fast. It is filled with risk, but that is what makes it exciting. Like a speeding train, to really enjoy the journey you must climb aboard and enjoy the thrill of the ride as you cruise past the stations of life. We have all made mistakes, we all have regrets, and some things we cannot change; but we can try to understand them so that we might gain a greater understanding of ourselves.

Consider the Tree of Life, a tree of many branches that illustrates the idea that all life on earth is connected. Picture for a moment its branches and you’ll see a beautiful symmetry, everything woven together, alluding to the symmetry in our own lives.

Connectedness, fate, destiny, chance--call it what you will--are often unseen and unrealized. Nourish the tree and you’ll have healthy branches; healthy branches will give growth as each new spring comes and goes. But don’t forget to nourish the mind and, as British author Rebecca West said, “Life ought to be a struggle of desire toward adventures whose nobility will fertilize the soul.”

When you have doubts choose to look fear in the face; after all, it is just a face. A person’s life’s work is never over if you follow your convictions. Lift your fate above earthly sensations, above negativity. People won’t always remember your words, but they’ll remember how those words made them feel. And they certainly won’t forget your actions.

My own journey is different to your journey, my thoughts different to your thoughts, but the path through the woods leads to the trees of life. For a long time my own path was shrouded in a mental fog. I knew I was on a journey but couldn’t see my way out of the woods. Now, after a long march I stand at the tunnel’s exit, the light streaming in, pulling me toward it.

Can we contribute something that is bigger than ourselves? Only time, that great arbiter and judge, knows the answer to that, but it’s important to keep trying to do what you want to do. Stay on the path, whichever way it twists, whichever way it turns, until you reach your destination. And then, like the heroic figures from long ago, life will have turned full circle.