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Reply To: Incarcerated, But Not Imprisoned,” with Mythologist Dennis Slattery, Ph.D.”


    Dennis and Stephen; I just can’t say enough about the relevance to today’s chaos in modern life that I think this approach helps the individual to navigate within today’s hectic existence. Joseph Campbell said once: “that if you really want to help this world you have to have to show how to live in it”; and I can think of no better way to do this than to help an individual find their own story. Sounds simple; (huh?). Well if you don’t know who you are or where you going then you are lost on the sea of life like a ship without a rudder. And to give someone a sense of their own narrative and that it is they who are the author of their own life is to provide them with the ability to chart their own course through it. If an individual has the awareness that the pen in their hand can help to provide meaning and purpose to a sea of images which before offered no context or direction then they now can begin to make sense of who they are and where they want to go.

    If you have a watch; you must set it for time to have relevance and meaning. If you have a compass you must know where North is to chart your course on your map to go anywhere; otherwise you are just lost in an overwhelming chaos where survival is the law of existence. But with this simple knowledge of narrative and story as your framework the door is now opened to a new way of seeing and interpreting; and your life becomes more than just meaningless struggle because now you have a key that unlocks the door to meaning and purpose. What was once seen as an endless pathway full of pain and sorrow now begins to change into one that offers a really important word: “hope”. And just like Pandora’s Box was the one redeeming quality that offered man a way out of his misery from the pain and afflictions that had been unleashed on an unsuspecting world. This hope brings harmony; a way to make sense out of chaos; and this idea of one’s individual story and personal narrative turns this pathway into possibility and healing and wholeness that was once missing and now brings realization that life can have fulfillment and provide as Jung put it: ” a light in the dark of mere existence”.

    All of the things both you and Stephen mentioned for me play into this simple understanding that so often is not included in so much of religious dogma because “you” are not the one steering the ship you are riding in but the deity with the “thou shalt system” is calling the shots. You are denied entrance into the Garden because you are subservient and must obey it’s laws and commands; so that now you are left adrift in a sea of warring gods; each with their own set of rules for you to obey to enter their particular kingdom of paradise which was yours by right in the first place; and that right to now enter you hold with the pen that is in your hand as you change your own course by which you are steering your ship.

    We are living in a time when all the normal once held ideas about religions and myths are changing; but the one constant that remains is that of the individual. And if an individual is allowed their own narrative and story about how they should live then the chaos has the potential to then become a symphony or grand opera of living even though as Joseph mentioned the reality of  the: “Ouroboros” of life eating life remains as the eternal unchanging constant of the ages. Technology and science as Joseph mentioned are not in conflict with the individual but provide an ever widening context within a constantly evolving storyline that man must learn to navigate if he as a species is to survive. And much of what Joseph mentioned about the understanding of what a myth must do to provide coherence within this context has to evolve along with it. And if you give the rudder to the individual to steer their own vessel by teaching them what a metaphor is; what a symbolic image is; how to read the roadmap of their own life; then by giving them a sense of their own personal story, narrative and context you have pointed the way out of their own misery.

    This personal umbilical cord; this Ariadne Thread represents the way out of their Labyrinth and introduces them to their own Minotaur whom they must wrestle with if their emotions are going to be manageable; instead of a terror that wrecks havoc on an unsuspecting world. And perhaps for the first time one’s screams in the night can become a song that the heart has long yearned to hear and so desperately needs to bring humanity back from the brink of it’s own destruction.

    I realize this response of mine may be a little out of the ordinary; and if it moves too strongly toward the incoherent then I offer my apologies for I had some of this experience when I was locked in a children’s psychiatric hospital ward and then transferred to a children’s home with at risk youth for many years because of my mental health concerns with deep depression. When I was a young teen I found my own path toward my own story but I did not understand what this narrative was until I came across Joseph’s work which helped me to put the pieces together in a comprehendible way. There were all kinds of adventures toward clarity that followed; full of mistakes and ups and downs through stormy tossed seas of emotional turmoil; but gradually through time the pieces started coming together where some coherence began to reveal many of the things I needed to understand. Each person’s life has it’s own context and mine certainly is no different; but for me the catalyst and guiding force was the individual personal myth; and up to that point my life was so very chaotic. So this idea of personal myth is a big deal to me because I have lived with it and understand what significance it can make within one’s life context. I’ve thought about this topic a lot ever since I saw it on Dennis’s blog; and for me personally I cannot think of something more important and relative to the times we are now living; especially considering how Covid has been such an affect agent of change.

    Dennis; this is such important work you are doing and I think it holds great promise for healing and rebuilding so much of the personal sorrow and turmoil in peoples lives right now. Troubled Youth and Seniors are two other areas I think could be explored. In my humble opinion I think we are at the threshold of a new way of thinking about how people see their lives and so I’ll leave an example below that has to do with the context that in my humble opinion is directly connected to what we are talking about.

    Each person has an internal story they are living whether they are aware of it or not. And as we live through these various stages from birth through maturity we each have a storyline that provides meaning and purpose if it is awakened. This I think was one of Joseph’s main themes he was communicating through the idea of mythical living in much of his work such as revealed in the 6 part series with Bill Moyers called: “The Power of Myth” which you mentioned earlier. And if people can become aware of this understanding that they can control at least to some extent what happens to them and that they can become their own agents of change so that the purpose and meaning they seek becomes accessible to them. Also throughout the stages of a person’s life their story changes and there is an acquired wisdom of lived experience that can be accessed and even under the right circumstances passed on. But we also know that instead what often happens at the end of one’s life is that society tosses them aside for the next new generation to takeover with all that lived experience left to deteriorate in nursing homes without any value as though living was exclusive only for the young. This to me seems to be utter madness incarnate!

    Perhaps I am under an illusion but I think it is now within our grasp that given the right circumstances society has the ability to change that notion and perception into a more humane outcome; and as an enlargement on your idea this very sort clip of Michael Rossato-Bennett’s work with “Music and Memory” provides an example. (This idea or concept has now taken root and turned into a nation-wide movement affecting thousands of people across the country and still expanding.) To me it’s all about the idea of story; and although this a different medium; the idea of improving the integrity of the individual internal life story is the same. Perhaps this is not a new idea but to me as you have shown though your painting and multiple approach through art; this speaks to creating the possibilities of developing a personal narrative within multiple disciplines and enlarging them across all levels and age groups of society. Why is this important? Because everyone has a story; and a story can change the world.

    Again as always your work continues to be an inspiration and it is so very appreciated!