Good health, and the well being we seek are inseparable from our life approach. Though we may eat properly, sleep deeply, and exercise daily, if our minds are not centered in an authentic, unique approach towards living, health and wellbeing may elude us.
To achieve health and well being, we must first find a union between our inner selves and our outer approach. This feat was once accomplished through some sort of centering philosophy or overriding cultural story that would place a person in accord with his/her society and environment. Whether we call this religion or mythology is not important. What is important is the ability of this centering principle to place our inner lives in a positive and supportive relationship with the physical, phenomenal world. In all cultures this has been achieved through the use of some sort of myth, which relies upon metaphor to achieve its purpose.
Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist and scholar, defined mythology as “An organization of images metaphoric of experience, action, and fulfillment of the human spirit in the field of a given culture at a given time… Myth makes a connection between our waking consciousness and the mystery of the universe. It gives us a map or picture of the universe and allows us to see ourselves in relationship to it.” Essentially, myths are clues to unite the forces within us.
To the untrained, myths may seem to be untrue stories, or “lies” that have no place in a rational, modern society. In truth, myths are lies when taken at face value, or when used to depict some factual, or historic event. When we look at myths in this context, we are missing the point, or as Joseph Campbell would say, we are reading them as “prose instead of poetry” and mistaking the “denotation for the connotation.” Instead, we must learn to see myths as metaphors whose purpose is to create an understanding deep within ourselves — to help us to understand and move through life with grace and ease, and to put us in accord with the great mystery.
Joseph Campbell taught that due to our rapidly changing society, one that is increasingly globalized, cosmopolitan, and technologized, the myths that once kept us living in accord with our environment and our inner selves no longer have the same power and effect. He called our age “the terminal moraine of mythology,” and believed what is required now is for each of us to develop our own “personal mythology.” These personal mythologies must come out of an individualized understanding of the world and our place in it rather than one imposed on us from others or from society at large. They must encompass our deepest dreams, longings, and desires, and give structure to how we approach all situations.
Long ago, a bit of advice was given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation: “As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.”
As we each go our unique “way of life,” we can use our personal myths as the road maps necessary to navigate periods of strife and for the inspiration to jump over our personal chasms. Accordingly, a good way to access our personal mythology is to look at the things we would depend on in times of crisis. What are the ideas and beliefs that would help you through the depths of loss and suffering? Conversely, what are the things that would give you the courage to re-group, and continue on your unique journey?
In our modern cosmopolitan world, personal mythologies not only come from our own experiences, but also draw from all of the world’s great traditions. When we are able to look comparatively at these traditions — these mythologies — to find the similarities, we can use them to better understand our place in the world and to find a unique approach to take in the here and now.
For example, Chinese medicine is grounded in the philosophy and mythology of Taoism, which is based in the deep observation of nature. In the Tao Te Ching, the fundamental literature of Taoism, Lao Tse often uses the element of water as a metaphor of proper action and therefore as an approach for achieving well being. In the sixty-sixth verse of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tse metaphorically draws upon water to teach about humility, pride, and contentment:
Rivers and seas
Can rule the hundred valleys.
Because they are good at lying low
They are the lords of the valleys.
Therefore those who would be above
Must speak as if they are below.
Those who would lead
Must speak as if they are from behind.
In this way the Sage dwells above
And the people are not burdened.
Dwells in Front
And they are not hindered.
Therefore the whole world
Is delighted and unwearied.
Since the Sage does not contend
No one can contend with the Sage.
It is not important what your personal mythology is, as long as it provides you with a unique compass that facilitates a harmonious relationship between your inner self and your outer approach. This is the journey that will allow you to live like the Sage — healthy, humble, fully alive, and attuned to the world around you.
Tyler Lapkin L.Ac. is an acupuncturist in Tahoe City and Truckee. He also works at the Gene Upshaw Tahoe Memorial Cancer Center. Contact him at 530-414-0394 or visit www.Tahoecityacupuncture.com.