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The integrative mythdream is an archetypal meditation that has grown out of my depth psychology studies and my personal contemplative practice. It allows us to encounter the archetypes through their personification in mythology. It involves the experiencing of a mythic story through active imagination, and engaging the bodily felt-senses associated with the places and characters of the myth.

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The human spirit is dynamic. She is the root of our consciousness, and she finds herself in a dynamic field of ever changing impressions and concepts. She is what calls us into action; any action – however small. She is purposive with the ultimate goal of fullness of being, and it is precisely her dynamic nature and the dynamic field of experience that allows her to reach for this goal. Known by ancient and medieval philosophers[1], this is something that our contemporary society seems to have forgotten; instead of a dynamic life force striving for wholeness, the spirit is all too often seen as a static thing, and that if only we protect it properly by doing or not doing certain things, we will be rewarded with heaven. Fortunately, there seems to be a growing recognition of the dynamic and immanent nature of spirit, and a growing willingness to engage with her as she guides us and brings us along on the journey to fullness of being.

The engagement of the human spirit within the contemporary western lifestyle can be a challenging and discouraging task. The dynamics and energy of the human spirit are all too often drowned out by the frantic ego striving to keep up with the dizzying pace of technological advances, scientific discoveries, societal demands, and economic and political realities. All too often the true stirrings of the spirit are confused as psychopathology[2] in one form or other, and more likely than not contradict the dogmatic teachings of contemporary religious traditions.

The human spirit is dynamic though, and is very active in developing from potentiality into actuality. If this process is stunted or prohibited, as often is the case in our modern world, it can have adverse effects on the well-being of the individual[3], and ultimately on that of society. The widespread instances of depression, neurosis, schizophrenia, or general dissatisfaction and fatigue bear witness to this fact. It is in the nature of the human spirit to develop and grow, and she will make herself noticed[4]. Rather than psycho-pathologizing these stirrings of the spirit, they need to be recognized as what they are and engaged, embraced, and allowed to unfold.

We are the heirs of a wealth of wisdom on just how to do this. This wisdom takes many forms – mythology, mystical or indigenous forms of religiosity, and many branches of psychology. The goal of the integrative mythdream practice is to consolidate this wisdom into a practice that will enable the practitioner to tap into the wisdom not only of mythology or psychology, but also the inherent wisdom of the body-mind that each of us has. The integration of the knowing of the mind and the knowing of the body can play a significant role in our spiritual and psychological development[5]. As a form of archetypal meditation, the practice of the mythdream aims to facilitate this integration through the spiritual engagement of the archetypes in mythology.

The archetypes are commonly described as being pre-existent forms of potentiality within the collective unconscious of the human race[6]. They are often seen as having given rise to the Gods and Goddesses of antiquity, and are recognized by many not only as forms as such, but actual beings within the collective unconscious. Many archetypes can be identified in mythology, dreams, religion, and other expressions[7] around the world with remarkably consistent traits, which has led some to recognize them as forming the ancestral memory of the human race, present in the psyche from birth. Whether they are merely formal concepts or actual beings, the energies of the archetypes are present and active in the human psyche. By working with the archetypes in the mythdream practice, this energy can be acknowledged and integrated as an essential part of our spiritual and psychological well-being.

Building on the foundations of the depth psychologies of C.G. Jung and Eugene Gendlin, mythology, and contemplative practices found in many religions, the mythdream allows the body-mind to become aware of itself through feelings associated with the archetypes found in mythology, and to better understand how these feelings are speaking to the phase of our spiritual development. Though built on the foundations of diverse traditions, the practice of the mythdream does not require any vast knowledge of these, but an openness and willingness to listen to the promptings of the spirit and the feelings one has. Successfully engaged, this practice can help nurture and maintain the further actualization of the human spirit and contribute greatly to the well-being of the practitioner.

The mythdream is a practice which allows us to encounter the archetypes through their personification in mythology. It involves the experiencing of a mythic story, and the felt-senses associated with the places and characters of the myth. There is no pre-set myth that must be read; the mythdream is available to any tradition. Stories from any set of mythology, (i.e., Greek, Roman, Celtic, or any other), or stories from the scripture of your religious affiliation can be experienced through this practice. Additionally, many examples of the world’s literature, or even film, can be used.

Reading a myth and thinking about what this or that symbolic or pseudo-historical event might mean is not the intent of this practice. Instead, we are seeking to separate the veil between us and the existing wisdom of myth, and the wisdom generating mechanism of our own body-mind. One of the main obstacles that we encounter in this is ourselves. Our ego is constantly in action, constantly trying to arrange and organize and control our lives so that we might find safety somewhere in the confusion of being. The following practice is designed to allow us to “get out of the way” and to deeply experience the archetypes, myths, and the wisdom of our race, without the interference of our ego and daily rush.

This form of archetypal meditation is a two-step process – the mythdream, and integration. The practice then, is as follows:

I. The Mythdream

  1. Read the story that you desire to work with, following the plot of the action as you would if reading any other story. Many myths are relatively short, but some are fairly long and you might want to split the longer ones into two or more sessions, selecting individual scenes for the mythdream sessions
  2. After you have finished reading, take a few moments of still breathing, reviewing what you have just read and reliving the story and the scenery
  3. Now, read the story or selected passage again, but read it much slower and allow the images of the scenery to become clearer and deeper. Try to enter the story as if it were a dream that you can go into at will. Become part of the story and experience it as though you were actually there
  4. After you have finished this deeper reading, take a comfortable position (sitting or lying down) and take several moments of still breathing to empty your thoughts – there is no way to stop thinking, so don’t berate yourself about that. Just allow the thoughts to come and go; detach and “watch” them, don’t chase them down. If you find yourself following a thought, bring your awareness to your breath and let the thought go on its way, and return to the emptying
  5. When you feel still, bring your awareness to your body, beginning for a few moments on your feet, then your legs, then gradually moving up until your awareness is on your entire body
  6. Then, with your eyes closed, allow the scenery of the myth or story you just experienced to solidify in your mind’s eye. Look around and notice everything that you can notice, not only the main “props” of the story, but also the things that are not described in the narrative – facial expressions and postures of the characters, the texture of the boat, the horizon. The goal is to deeply experience the myth, so use all of your senses, hear the song of the birds, smell the scent of the sea, feel the rocking of the boat in the waves, and see the colors of the sky, the land, the apples, or anything else that catches your awareness
  7. If you wish, you can re-enact the actual plot of the story from the perspective of one of the characters, but this is not required. You also can just go where you are led, letting the waves of the mythdream take you wherever they might take you. The main object is to experience, so if you do try to relive the actual plot of the story, don’t spend time trying to remember or force what happens next or who says what. Just experience what comes in the mythdream
  8. During the exercise, a certain element of the mythdream will capture your attention more than anything else – spend time with it. Experience its presence, perhaps enter into it and experience the dream from its perspective. Pay attention to the overall felt-sense (bodily sensations, emotions) which arises from this encounter
  9. It is very important to not think about what any of the objects of the mythdream, or their symbolism, mean. Don’t try to discover any message, or do any analysis. The purpose of this part of the practice is to experience the mythdream and to do so divorced of any agendas or designs of the ego. Feel what you feel and notice what you notice without analyzing it
  10. If your mind wanders away from the dream, gently and slowly return to the place where you left. It might help to choose a word or phrase from the story beforehand and use it as a method to return to the dream, silently repeating the word or phrase when you notice your mind has wandered
  11. Spend at least 10-15 minutes in the story/dream. If this seems too long at first, it can be shorter, but that should be the goal. If you feel you have fully experienced the dream sooner, expand the plot – set out on your own and experience whatever you find
  12. After you feel the session is over, remain still (physically and mentally) with eyes closed, allowing yourself to gradually return to normal awareness. Once you have returned, journal the experience of the mythdream, recording the strongest felt-sense and associated characters, settings, events, or any other parts of the story which you feel important. This need not be limited to narrative – perhaps a poem will emerge, or just a scrambled collection of key words. Also, keep in mind that journaling need not be limited to words – you might feel urged to create an image such as a mandala or other sacred art. The important thing is to follow whichever urge your active imagination provides

II. Analysis and Integration of the Mythdream

When the mythdream is over, you should take a few minutes and settle back into normal awareness. Drink a cup of tea or juice; take a short break. You will know when you are ready to analyze and integrate the session. This should start with an acknowledgement of the predominant felt-sense – what did it feel like? Was it a more physical or emotional sensation? Would you characterize it as positive or negative? Pleasurable or painful? Both can be encountered; don’t shy away from unpleasant feelings as it is often the case that these hold particular significance for us. As the felt-sense is usually a conglomerate of many feelings, don’t try to break it down with reason, but look at it as a distinctive whole. Try to assign a name to it which completely describes it – apprehension, joy, fear, expectation. Recognize and accept the felt-sense for what it is. As these feelings are actually collections of feelings, normal adjectives might not seem to adequately describe the felt-sense, and a bigger word might be needed. For example, fear might be better described as petrification; joy as bliss.

Next, determine which character, setting, or event in the mythdream evoked this felt-sense, and then associate this aspect of the story to an archetype – was it the shadow, the hero, the wise old man, or another? Find out what this archetype is all about. How does it play a role in your individuation process?

These are the symbols within your hero’s journey – the integration of the mythdream can now be focused on your everyday life. What aspect of your life carries a similar felt-sense as that evoked by the archetype in the story? How might the symbolism of the archetype be present in your life? How can you engage it in a healthy way? What transformation is possible or necessary?

Once the felt-sense is acknowledged and understood, and placed into context within your life, the next step will open up from there – the symbol and the felt-sense will light up the way[8].

 

Notes

[1] For example, Thomas Aquinas, building on ancient Greek philosophy, wrote extensively on the nature of the human spirit. See Aquinas, Thomas, and Timothy S. McDermott. Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation. Allen, TX: Christian Classics, 1989. Print.

[2] This is a phenomenon described by many, such as Grof, Perry, or Hillman. See

Grof, Christina, and Stanislav Grof. The Stormy Search for the Self: A Guide to Personal Growth through Transformational Crisis. New York: Putnam’s, 1990. Print.

Hillman, James. Re-visioning Psychology. New York: HarperPerennial, 1992. Print.

Perry, John Weir. Trials of the Visionary Mind: Spiritual Emergency and the Renewal Process. Albany: State University of New York, 1999. Print.

[3] See Jung, C. G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Trans. R. F. C. Hull. [Princeton, N.J.]: Princeton UP, 1980. Print. p. 288

[4] Ibid. p. 69

[5] See Gendlin, Eugene. Focusing. New York: Bantam, 1981. Print.

[6] See Jung, C. G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Trans. R. F. C. Hull. [Princeton, N.J.]: Princeton UP, 1980. Print.

[7] Ibid. pp. 63-66

[8] The overall analysis and integration of the mythdream is very similar to that described by Gendlin in his process of Experiential Dream Interpretation. The difference to the mythdream practice is that it is actively engaging the felt-sense in existing images of mythology, whereas Gendlin’s dream interpretation is more passive, and dependent on images arising from dreams, which is not always dependable. Gendlin warns against actively provoking images, and the mythdream heeds this warning by answering to the felt-sense arising from the existing archetypal images in myth, and not attempting to provoke the images or felt-sense with the ego. For more information on Gendlin’s dream interpretation, see Gendlin, Eugene T. Focusing-oriented Psychotherapy: A Manual of the Experiential Method. New York: Guilford, 1996. Print. pp. 199-211

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