Beginning with the so-called Enlightenment, Western culture has imagined that "reason" is our most divine faculty and awarded high status to the mind, its imagined source. The gut is degraded because it's instinctual. The heart can't be trusted because it's fickle. No wonder many of us spend so much time in our heads. We often act as if we can reason our way to some purity, some objective clarity, but it's not possible to be human and be totally devoid of either instinct or emotion. Remember Spock? There's a reason why that notion is science fiction.
The gut and the heart have their own logic and their own perspective and we need them all to understand what is important. I think this little story speaks to the different value systems between the metaphorical head, heart, and gut in terms we can relate to today. How many fish do we need?
A rich industrialist once came upon a fisherman lying lazily beside his boat, smoking a pipe. He was horrified. "Why aren't you out fishing?" he asked the fisherman. The fisherman smiled and squinted and looked up at the industrialist. "Because I've caught enough fish for the day," he said. "But why don't you catch more?" asked the industrialist."Well what would I do with them?" the fisherman replied.
"Why you could earn more money," said the industrialist, "and buy a motor for your boat and go into deeper waters and catch more fish. Then you could make the money to buy large, nylon nets so that you could catch even more fish and make even more money. Soon you would have enough money to own two boats, maybe even a fleet of boats. Then you would be a rich man like me."
"Then what?" asked the fisherman. "Well, then you could enjoy life," replied the rich industrialist. The fisherman leaned back against his boat. "What do you think that I'm doing right now?" he said.
“A spirituality that is only private and self-absorbed, one devoid of an authentic political and social consciousness, does little to halt the suicidal juggernaut of history. On the other hand, an activism that is not purified by profound spiritual and psychological self-awareness and rooted in divine truth, wisdom, and compassion will only perpetuate the problem it is trying to solve, however righteous its intentions. When, however, the deepest and most grounded spiritual vision is married to a practical and pragmatic drive to transform all existing political, economic and social institutions, a holy force - the power of wisdom and love in action - is born. This force I define as Sacred Activism.” ― Andrew Harvey, The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism
On September 17th people gathered in Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District to launch Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movement. I think it's fair to say that no one knew what would happen or how the movement would grow, and predictions regarding outcomes and the ultimate value of the protest seem equally uncertain. (According to Occupy Wall Street the movement has spread to over 100 cities in the United States and actions in over 1,500 cities globally). But something powerful has emerged, some vital energies are stirring. On the common level of public debate people talk about unjust economic policies, political corruption, corporate greed, and bankrupt social contracts. But what is the mythological context or mythology expressed in the action and ideas of Occupy Wall Street, I wonder? Are the three hideous brothers going to be called from Tartarus to aid in the creation of a new world order? (see past posts on the Greek Titanomachia for the story).
I don't know. But the words that we use provide clues. Their origins and layered meanings resonate and round out conscious and unconscious daily uses. We often say more than we intend. The conversation happens on more than one level.
A central slogan of the Occupy movement is "Human need, not corporate greed." Pay attention to the needs of real people, not legal pseudo-persons. "Corporation" is an interesting word. A primary meaning of "corporation," from the Latin corporare "to embody," was once paunch, pot belly, bulging abdomen. This is still an active definition but in the mid 15th century the term corporation came to mean a group of persons united in one body for some purpose. A body is a material physical structure but it's also a group or collection of related things. The body politic, for example, is a nation. A corporation is a body.
We can further investigate the metaphorical anatomy of the corporation to encompass the word "capitalism," from "capital," from the Latin capitalis, "of the head." We also find caput--"head"--or maybe that should be kaput? Seriously, the word "capital" reflects the historical Western preference for the head, for the presumed logic of the intellect over other forms of knowing and understanding. In our capital driven society, this head is a primary value, the essential material and goal of many enterprises.The concept is also associated with life itself, and mortality. Think capital crimes or capital sin. But where is the heart? I think this is the question many are asking.
A synonym for head is "chief." But the head was not always the privileged leader. In Old English the definition of heart (heorte) included mind, will, and intellect in addition to soul, desire, and the physical organ. This is the origin of the phrase "to know by heart." In French coeur (heart) is related to the words "accord" and "record;" to be in harmony or of one heart, and to remember or "call to mind." The heart is the metaphoric seat of memory upon which wisdom depends and it is also an organ of thought.
In 1925, C.G. Jung visited the United States and went to Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. There he had a conversation with chief Ochiwiay Biano that he describes in Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Ochiwiay told Jung that the Taos Indians didn't understand the continual, desperate, restless seeking of white people and thought white folks must be mad. When Jung asked him why he thought whites were mad, Ochiwiay said it was because they think with their heads. "We think from here," said the chief, and touched his heart.
What is the proper relationship between heart, mind, and belly/gut and how do we know what matters? (matter from L. materia "substance from which something is made," and mater "origin, source, mother.") This is a question for all of us in our personal and public lives. We need a synthesis of all three.
“Mindfulness must be engaged. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what is the use of seeing?" Thich Nhat Hanh
Edited by James Curcio, The Immanence of Myth is a wide-ranging collection of essays by folks passionate about the importance of mythology, and the need to be conscious of our myths and mythmaking. I'm proud to be included in this effort and applaud Curcio for his vision, conviction, and hard work. Not like every other book on myth. Now available at amazon.com
Friday September 16th 7-9PM Room 101 Copper Mt Community College
“Battle of the Titans: The Ancient Greek Myth of the Titanomachia”
The ancient myth of the Titanomachia conveys Greek ideas about world creation and transformation that raise interesting questions in these turbulent times. We’ll also talk about key players in the Greek pantheon and the worldview they reflect.
The Joseph Campbell Foundation regularly features a range of interesting thinkers and mythmakers on their MythNow Blog. The current post is by Willi Paul, creator of openmythsource.com and planetshifter.com. Paul is a former sustainability consultant who is working to combine alchemy, permaculture, and mythology to redeine the sacred and further the formation of a more sustainable society.
Here's an excerpt-- check out the rest of Willi Paul's post and the MythNow blog at JCF, MythNow Blog.
Mother, Sun, and the Compost Pile: Integrating Permaculture with the New Alchemy, New Mythologies, and the Sacred
Students have told me they are fearful for the environment, the oceans are sick, but that there could be some sort of shift ahead. A sustainable path? I hope so, but I have a lot fears that the gasoline is going to dry up soon and we will be hungry. We are headed to a chaotic mess. If we can find a spiritual way to bring forth permaculture and change some of our values, we could save ourselves, but we need to do this consciously.
Many in my circle view the current smoldering meanderings from the old myths as in dire need of a refreshed power center - free from the burden of the withering storylines in old plots, online game slaughters, and our twittering kindergardens. My quick scan of mythic sites includes the home page of the Institute for Cultural Change (formerly the Foundation for Mythological Studies), which does mention sustainability, as well as MYTHOS for Creatives, working a global culture-based view. And, of course, Joseph Campbell Foundation is still blessed with the Hero's Journey and Initiation from Mr. Campbell. But myth needs a new spiritual search engine to go with the Internet. This new story base and vision map is permaculture and the new alchemy and sense of the sacred that comes with it.
Myth needs a new spiritual search engine to go with the Internet. My work focuses on constructing a new mythological paradigm that incorporates symbols, emerging from alchemy, myths and the sacred in the permaculture movement.
What is Permaculture? Some basic principles:
- Observe and Interact - Catch and Store Energy - Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services - Produce No Waste - Design from Patterns - Integrate Rather than Segregate - Use Small and Slow Solutions - Use and Value Diversity - Creatively Use and Respond to Change
Here are potential sacred permaculture symbols (see graphic below) that are built upon our love and respect for Nature, our communion as we work together in the soil, and the mystery of the seasons, stars and birth:
What do you see? Feel? Nature in her various manifestations and integration are here. Could these symbols be seen as Sun-driven, each combining to build the larger tree of life? Both the ancient symbols and these offerings call for an integration of science and spirit.
“Our dominant mythologies are fueling the destruction of the world and the human race. We need new cultural narratives and that means creative, heartfelt participation from a wide range of people alive in this cultural moment.” -- Catherine Svehla
Check out the rest of my recent interview about myth and contemporary life at planetshifter. Planetshifter magazine, created by Willi Paul, is dedicated to creativity, innovation, and sustainability, or the alchemical permaculture of a new mythos. He's interviewed many interesting thinkers in the general field of myth, consciousness, and sustainability-- you can find links to these on the website-- and I enjoyed our conversation.
"From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That's how we win the future... We do big things." President Obama, January 25, 2011
A tiny piece of heroic rhetoric in the American tradition that contains the questions we started grappling with in the last post ("What makes a hero?"). Are "ordinary people who dare to dream" heros? Under what circumstances and in service to what ideal?
I've always loved this quote from Muriel Rukeyser because it draws attention to a commonly neglected fact of human existence. Our stories carry our ideas about the world, and these ideas (which can be as hard to see as an atom if we live them out unconsciously), shape our reality. Human beings live in a storied cosmos, organized and understood through analogy, narrative, and metaphor.
Mythologies contain our really big ideas, our theories about the unknown and perhaps unknowable: how the universe was created, why we're here, where to find meaning, whether or not there will be an end. Those sorts of things. Our mythologies create, condition, and reflect our consciousness.When we read them correctly, as metaphors, they yield endless insights and multiple "truths."
In this blog we talk about both, big myths and smaller stories, in order to better understand ourselves, our culture, and the world.