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MythBlast | The No in Inspired Learning

BY Leigh Melander February 20, 2018

A few days ago, I came across this sentence from Joseph Campbell in his essay “Symbol Without Meaning” in The Flight of the Wild Gander.

“The highest concern of all the mythologies, ceremonials, ethical systems, and social organizations of the agriculturally based societies has ever been that of suppressing the manifestations of individualism; and this has been generally achieved by compelling or persuading people to identify themselves not with their own interests, intuitions, or modes of experience, but with archetypes of behavior and systems of sentiment developed and maintained in the public domain. (2018, 130)”

I had an instinctive, instant, articulate ‘nuh huh’ response as I read this.

While I agree that systems and organizations are about the collective, of course, for me, mythology’s greatest power lies in what I see as an invitation to understand ourselves against the backdrop of the cultures and constructs around us.

Yes, the stories that we tell, as I regularly repeat at the beginning of a radio show on myth and culture I host, are the stories that also tell us. We are made by the stories we tell, as much as we make them. But in the moment that we understand them as narratives outside of ourselves, something changes: we can begin to see where they have overtaken us, and why, and begin to parse out where our own individuality stands against the archetype.

This month, the Joseph Campbell Foundation is celebrating inspired teaching. I think that myths are, themselves, inspired teachers. And I think that the most inspired teaching invites challenge. While it can be seductive to relax into the perceived wisdom of a great teacher, truly inspired teaching demands inspired learners, who aren’t content to soak in the assumptions of the teacher, but instead work to break open whether that teaching resonates for us, and find the spaces in our own intuition, our own experiences, and our own thought that stand apart from culture’s expectations.

The word inspire emerges from the Pre-Indo European “to breathe.” Ultimately, inspired teaching and learning breathes life into the questions that we ask, rather than the answers, and into our own very individual understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

Today, you can find a brand new paperback edition of The Flight of the Wild Gander from our partners at New World Library. May it inspire a “nuh huh” moment for you, and breathe life into your own inspired learning.

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