“What are you doing Earth in heaven? Tell me, what are you doing silent Earth?”
Human beings are in search of a new story. Although we are more connected to each other than ever before through advances in technology, we are a species that has become disconnected from the natural cycles and rhythms that underpin everything that we do and that we are. Climate change, species extinction, and religious wars are symptoms of a larger problem directly related to a modern human psychology that is struggling to outgrow a narrative of separateness. We believe that we are separate from nature, and also separate from our fellow human beings. This crisis of narrative is due to the fact that we do not have a story that is adequate for the consciousness of our rapidly changing world, one that accommodates human experience in the 21st century, and most importantly, one that sees the health of the natural world as vital and inseparable from our own.
When speaking of narrative, what we are really talking about is mythology. Built into the human psyche is the need for narrative, for a story to help put one in accord with the world in which one lives. Our myths are the organizing principles that help us to navigate our way through life. They run in the background of our unconscious mind, becoming the basis for judgments, motives, and actions. Joseph Campbell, the scholar and mythologist, defined mythology as “other people’s religion”. Conversely, his definition for religion was “misunderstood mythology”.
To operate in a life affirming way, myths need to serve 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.” When functioning properly, myths provide the roadmap to integrate us within our society, move us through the stages of life, put us in a life affirming accord with nature, and ultimately open us to the great mystery. Until the natural world has been related to the myth, our feelings do not know how to deal with them. A myth, then, serves as the metaphorical, psychological bridge to experience.
If we look closely, we see that there are as many different mythologies as there are unique geographic areas and cultures. In our modern cosmopolitan world, however, humanity has left its enclaves, its bounded horizons. The stories that once served and united people into geographically bound “in-groups” no longer function in a life affirming way. For myths to work on a large-scale there must be an analogous experience, otherwise there is dissociation. Consequently, we find that the myths and stories that were based on the experience of the distant past, which were intended for a certain people in a certain place at a certain time, no longer effectively open and direct the energy of our lives.
The only in-group we have now is the Earth itself. In 1968, the first astronauts to the moon sent back images of a blue and green dot in the midst of blackness. In that sublime moment when for the first time human eyes, literally the eyes of the earth, looked back on itself, we could view the earth in its entirety. We were looking back at ourselves- one people on one interconnected planet without borders floating in the vastness of space. Our moon experience is a catalyst for something that we already know deep in our psyches – we are not separate from each other, and we are not separate from nature. Now we must individually and collectively assimilate this knowledge into a new story that will help us to right the ship, to integrate our experience of a single, interdependent planet into a story that we can use as a psychological roadmap to the future.
Joseph Campbell used to say that “you cannot know what the new myth will be just as you can’t know what will come to you in your dreams. Myths come out of the deep unconscious.” In the past, the shamans, poets and artists who could see the transcendent through their experiences helped cultures to find a life-affirming story, which was presented to the mind symbolically. This is still the case today, although in this time of rapid globalization and technological advancement, we are in a free-fall to the future. Without a vital, living mythology for our global community, our personal experiences must serve as the foundation for our own personal mythologies.
Myth and narrative are the most essential organizing power that we have, and this is true now more than ever. We are faced with ecological and social crisis on a global scale. Our time, this time of transition, which lacks a well-defined mythology, is forcing us to look deep within ourselves. Our challenge is to connect with our experiences in a way that inspires awe and wonder and to live from that place. We have a living, vital symbol to draw from – a view of the Earth, a single planet set against the backdrop of infinite space. It is the only place in the cosmos that we know harbors life, and it is our home. We come out of the Earth, and we depend on it for everything.
We are in a creative age, an age that is full of potential and possibility. For now, it is up to each of us individually to search for a story that opens us to this vision of the world. We can share these stories and dreams with the ones we love, and create new stories based not on our differences, but on this vision of an interconnected society working towards the health of the planet and each other’s well being.