Flexing Our Mythos Muscles


The imaginative and symbolic way I perceive dreams and ordinary life is somewhat different from the way we are normally taught to think in school. I assure you this is not just sloppy thinking, but a conscious choice I’ve made to use more of my brain’s potential.
Plato was the first great thinker in Western history to define the two modes of thinking that are the specialties of the two hemispheres of the brain. He called them logos and mimesis. Following the lead of psychologist Gisela Labouvie-Vief I call the latter mythos. It is generally accepted that while there is some overlap, the left hemisphere of the brain is primarily oriented to logos and the right, to mythos.
Mythos thinking is symbolic, metaphoric, instinctive, imaginative, visual, intuitive, emotional, and subjective. Receptive to chaos, mystery, newness, and change, mythos is a compass that points us to the eternal and the universal. Mythos is the mother of original thinking, self-discovery, spiritual growth, and personal meaning. It is the basis for all forms of creative expression and every form of inner work that leads to self-knowledge.
Although Plato loved mimesis/mythos and was himself very imaginative, inner-directed and spiritually oriented, he considered reason to be a more advanced and mature form of knowing. He preferred logos to mythos for two reasons: because of mythos’s appeal to the emotions — which, of course, can be dangerous and uncontrollable when they are not made conscious — and because he thought logos was fostered by written language, which he considered an advancement and refinement over oral language. Following Plato’s example, the writer of the Gospel of John proposed that logos is cosmic reason and the self-revealing thought and will of God.
Plato passed this bias on to Aristotle, Aristotle passed it on to us. Due to the enormous influence of these men on Western philosophical thought, today virtually everyone but writers, artists and mystics vastly underrates the potential of one half of our brains. I find it very bizarre that we still haven’t overcome this prejudice against inherent qualities of our own minds! Certainly there was a time in the history of our species when it was essential to hone our left-hemisphere qualities if we were to continue to evolve beyond our earlier, right-brained orientation, but we’ve had this bias for the past 5,000 years now, and expanding our consciousness has never been more crucial.
Why? Because we’re killing ourselves, each other, and our beloved planet. In his book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, vascular surgeon Leonard Shlain writes about the brain’s role in the evolution of our species. His research suggests that historically there has been a cause-and-effect relationship between an obsessive left-hemisphere orientation and the ascendency of the separate, abstract, male Sky God, the dominator mode of governance, and the repression of women and minorities. If Shlain is correct, the root cause of many of the world’s current problems is the intolerance the left hemisphere of our brains has for right-brained otherness!
In short, we’ve been projecting our fear and hatred of vital parts of ourselves onto others and now we’re suffering the consequences. Isn’t it time we started flexing our mythos muscles?

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0 Responses

  1. Thank you Jeanie. You express so well my own sentiments around the ” His-toriical” domination over the mystic/mythical right brain ‘Her-storical” functioning, at the expense of our most soulful, heartfelt and intuitive gifts of knowing, through our deep experiences and the nurturing values of right relationship which leads to compassion, and connection with a much larger story than ego’s need to be in control of life and the living. Real strength is to live the mytho-poetic journey in the face of “his-torical” neurosis with the courage of a Mother Bear and the grace of the Peaceful Warrior. May that shift in our collective psyche’s come! Gratefully, Julie

    1. I love your comment, “Real Strength is to live the mytho-poetic journey in the face of “his-torical” neurosis with the courage of a Mother Bear and the grace of the Peaceful Warrior.” These are beautiful images I will cling to the next time I come up against the “his-torical” neurosis that characterizes our times. And I do come up against it from time to time! Especially when discussing ideas like this with one-sided thinkers. Thank you for this. Jeanie

  2. Thanks Jean, this article summarized a good deal of my recent experience at a Christian retreat. Folks here support the idea of mythos, but logos activities and lectures were attended in much greater numbers than their “touchy feely” counter parts. The draw for logos is pretty strong even amongst those who honor both. What are your thoughts re: how to overcome this?

    1. What a great question! I know I’ve always preferred left-brained theory and intellectualization to right-brained activities that make me feel vulnerable to uncomfortable feelings and emotions and new experiences, etc. I suspect most intellectuals, academicians, theologians, philosophers, psychologists, etc. have a similar bent. This is just the way we’ve been enculturated; moreover, developing our logos skills is how we’ve found the kind of success the world values.
      People don’t want to overcome their resistances to unfamiliar ways of thinking and being so it takes an awareness of being dissatisfied with the way we’re living (and not living) and enormous courage before we develop the determination to move into unfamiliar and potentially uncomfortable territory. We have to become intentional about wanting to change, and we have to know that entering the unexplored territory of mythos is an excellent way to heal our dysfunction and dissatisfaction with ourselves.
      So my suggestion is that those of us who know the curative power of mythos thinking and being need to be more intentional about teaching it to others. I often include this kind of information in my speeches and deliberately have at least one “mythos”-related activity in my workshops. I accompany these activities with “logos” explanations about why I’m doing it, and often find that if I can explain the value of it, people are more open to it.
      Thank you for writing!

  3. Actually, I think the present state of our his-torical situation is more path-a-logical, and the her-storical is more neurotic in attempting to thwart right brain gifts of erotic connection with the ground of our receptive, instinctual being through falling into the expectation of his dominating pleasures, whether that is an external or internal reality of the psyche. The Jewish Lilith was an erotic, fully empowered woman who refused to be dominated by-one-sided pleasures. Thus, she became the his-torical bitch. She needed men like Jesus to see her value, worth and dignity in order to fully activate her own internal self-validating system that has so suffered for so long, and claim her own wholeness and empowerment in the visible realms of life.
    I see when I let flow my feelings through my words my editor is sleeping….a good thing sometimes! : > )

    1. Thanks for this additional perspective, Julie. And if I had to choose, I’d prefer the sincere feeling over the well-edited writing! 🙂

  4. The religious influence on science is very scary here! And it’s even more challenging in much more of today’s life, the ‘rules’ made for us, etc.

    1. Hi Jean,
      Yes, there is still a strong religious influence on science in some parts of the West, but while the fundamentalist perspective is extremely vocal these days, and does seem to be especially fervent about rules and beliefs they think should apply to all, I believe this is a rapidly diminishing group.
      I believe the average person today uses their logos thinking to accept proven scientific truth and does not feel the need to literalize scriptures because they understand that scriptures use the language of mythos — i.e. metaphorical, symbolic language— to address the soul’s truths.
      Records and scholarly research shows that the old-testament Jewish writers understood this, as did many, if not most early Christians. But even then there were extreme conservative fundamentalist branches and I expect there always will be. I think the need to conform to strict group belief is a function of a certain kind of fear and lack of psychological awareness, and we will probably always have people like that.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment,

  5. i think Plato would be gratified to see the advances in the biologies of the universe at the micro and macrocosmic levels, which would have emboldened him to go with his generally intuitive, fluid core

  6. Dear Jeanie,
    I’ve been unsuccessful in breaking my head on this sort of material for many months now, because it seems like such a mish-mosh of ideas. I’ve read Jung’s Modern Man in Search of a Soul, and Psychology of the Unconscious twice each in the last 6 weeks. Here are a couple of thoughts (coming from my logos no doubt):
    At the base level, Jung says that human beings cannot live happily without “meaning”, and that “meaning” comes uniquely from the psyche of each individual as part of the individuation process.
    And then he says that we must live by our own “myth” in order to have that meaning, but that seems to be where everything seems to go to mush. No one seems to be able to say clearly what our own “myth” would be like, and how it would be created. What confuses me are ideas that come to mind like, “How do I make myself into Apollo and fly my chariot across the sky?” Or, “Where do I get my thunderbolts if I’m Zeus?” Is this what is meant by creating one’s own “myth”? No, I don’t think so, but who am I to say?
    But then Jung says that everything, that is EVERYTHING, comes from fantasy; and this means it comes from the creative side (“mythos” in your discussion above), which has been so sorely repressed over the last couple of millennia. He explains himself quite simply and ominously when he describes the fantasies of Albert Einstein and the production of the Hydrogen Bomb. He points out that before there was a Hydrogen Bomb, someone had to have a fantasy that imagined that it was possible; then they had to imagine what it would look like; and after that and only after that could anyone get down to the “logos” of actually putting a design on paper and working out the mathematics.
    So, is the point that we have crushed art, music, and creativity out of our schools, because someone had a personal myth (fantasy) that said that we could do without the very thing that gave him the vision to crush it out of the system?
    If we, as a species, were to see clearly, as Jung pointed out, that we think in images, and only in images, then would we have the wisdom to see that our future as a species depends on all of us developing our creative image/fantasy and image producing faculties, so that we can find the answers to the many problems we face as human beings, not the least of which is the fact that a few people now have the capability to destroy us as a species entirely? We can all pray that no one ever has that fantasy, but the idea was posited in “Dr. Strangelove”, which I happened to watch in “classics” flying across the Arabian Gulf last Saturday.
    I acknowledge that this is a bit of a rant, but I’m honestly trying to have a fantasy about my life having meaning. I understand that creating my own myth has something to do with that, but how is it done? I know it would be foolish to fantasize that I am Zeus and I can throw thunderbolts. Einstein already locked that one up for modern times, it seems … I welcome your views on how to make this material more meaningful to the uninitiated (which still includes me, I’m afraid).
    Best regards, Skip

  7. In a curious piece if synchronicity, Jung seems to have responded to me this morning. I’ll sum up his response as trying to understand the psyche, psychology itself, and its relationship to mythology is “like pushing clouds.” This idea of a summation came from the following, which appears in Sonu Shamdasani’s C.G.Jung: A Biography in Books, which I happened to find in my local Barnes & Noble on Sunday:
    “In 1940, Jung collaborated with the Hungarian classicist Karl Kerenyi on a volume called, The Divine Child. In his contribution, ‘On the Psychology of the Child Archetype,’ Jung reflected on the relation between mythology and psychology. Calling into question the role of interpretation, he noted, ‘Even the best attempts at explanation are nothing other than more or less successful translations into another metaphorical language. (Indeed, language itself is nothing other than an image!) In the best case one dreams the myth onwards and gives it a modern form.’ Consequently, psychology itself was a modern myth:
    “’Psychology, as one of many life expressions of the soul, operates with representations and concepts which in their turn are derived from archetypal structures and thus correspondingly generate a somewhat abstract form of myth. Psychology therefore translates the archaic speech of myth into a modern mythologem—not yet, of course, recognized as such—which constitutes one element of the myth “science.” This seemingly hopeless undertaking is a living and lived myth, satisfying to persons of a corresponding temperament.’” [CW 9, 1, Section 302]
    Skip speaking now: If we all, reading here, are “persons of a corresponding temperament,” then it seems pretty pessimistic to suggest that only we here would be able to in any way get our minds around the idea of creating a personal myth. Can we not in some way, albeit through logos perhaps, somehow point the way to why personal myths are important and how they are created? At the risk of providing an over simplifying algorithm, I will take a crack at it, which any reader here is invited to criticize and improve. This is meant in the context of Jungian thought, of course:
    1. Goal of Life: Individuation;
    2. Individuation yields: Meaning, which for most can be synonymous with Happiness;
    3. Meaning can only come from using images of the psyche to fantasize what “meaning” might be for this specific individual;
    4.That fantasy is the “myth” of the individual, which will ideally be lived out, either in the temporal plain or the spiritual plain (however that is achieved);
    5. Images (and fantasy) only come from the mythos (creative) side of the mythos/logos scale;
    6. Therefore, the world needs more training in mythos/creativity/imagination/art to help humanity develop fantasy, which is the source of everything else (as Jung opined when discussing the Hydrogen Bomb).
    While I respect Jean’s emphasis on the Feminine Principle, I find the use of the term “feminine” an unnecessary distraction from getting both men and women to pay attention to what is really needed by humanity at this point in time, from an educational perspective. Yes, reemphasis of the Feminine side is an obvious corollary to pointing out the need for educating humanity about mythos/meaning/fantasy/creativity/imagination/art/individuation, but does the emphasis on the term unnecessarily distract the Patriarchy from what is really needed in our educational system? I’m just askin’!

    1. Skip,
      There’s a lot to think about in these two letters and I currently have much less time to myself than usual, so I will not try to respond to all you’ve said. I do have some thoughts on two of the issues you brought up, however.
      Your issue in the first letter is mainly your frustration with not knowing how to create your own myth. My answer to this is to step out of your logos mind and into your heart. In other words, you’ll find your myth by following your truest, deepest feelings and yearnings, your most problematic inner conflicts, your highest values and aspirations (which I know you are already expressing in your art and writing), your desire to be of service to your fellow humans, and your attempts to understand the workings of nature and her order. Make these the inspiration for your fantasies, then step back into your logos mind afterwards and observe the symbols and motifs that spontaneously arose. Let your logos serve your feelings instead of the other way around.
      This is how Jung created The Red Book: he began by expressing his conflicts, values and feelings in active imaginations which he wrote down, allowed spontaneous images and symbols to emerge, and painted those that had the strongest pull on him. From time to time he stepped back to observe what he had done objectively, but he allowed the process to take its own time without trying to force it. It took years, but all this creative inner work eventually led him to a greater understanding of the forces and motifs (i.e. archetypes) that had the strongest hold on him and were most influential in his own life. Finding how other cultures and times had represented these same forces and motifs (for example the many variations of the hero’s journey), brought greater understanding and meaning and this whole process was so deeply satisfying to him at a deep feeling level that he realized his life was about creating his own myth—the myth of modern man’s search for meaning—and that he was actually living this myth.
      Again, I stress that this came about because he paid attention to and struggled to give creative expression to his deepest conflicts, aspirations and feelings first, and then used his logos afterwards to understand what came up. This is in direct contrast to the ego’s method of trying to understand and organize abstract theories and ideas without noticing the underlying feelings that are really driving it to think and act the way it does, for example, to accept some aspects about itself and resist and repress others. I hope this is making some sense to you. It’s the best I can come up with for now.
      The other issue I’d like to respond to is your comment that you find my emphasis on the Feminine Principle and use of the term “feminine” an unnecessary distraction from what’s most important. I disagree. It may be a distraction for those who defend patriarchy because patriarchy is founded on the Masculine Principle to which it accords a higher priority than the Feminine Principle, but it is not an “unnecessary” distraction from what’s most important. What’s most important is that these two drives be honored consciously as complementary energies which, together, are responsible for creation, growth, and the forward development of all life, including our species. I can’t imagine what’s more important than that.
      To me, saying that there’s something more important than trying to raise humanity’s consciousness about the inherent equality and complementarity of the Feminine Principle is tantamount to saying there’s something more important than promoting and preserving life. Haven’t patriarchal systems proven time and again that this is, indeed what they believe when they start up more wars and build machines of destruction and try to enslave and abuse and kill minority groups….and worse, justify this destruction with their spiritual beliefs and ideals? Systems that create and condone these things are, in effect, saying that promoting and preserving their one-sided beliefs and values is worth destroying life for. As Jung said, “The Anima is the Archetype of life itself…”
      I don’t mean this personally at all, Skip; I know how hard you are working to educate yourself and others about the importance of thinking psychologically and living spiritually, and you know how much I admire you and your wonderful work at AIA, but when I toss these thoughts around in my mind, the logical conclusion at which I arrive is that those who find the term “feminine” an unnecessary distraction to more important work are people whose masculine-oriented egos are, whether they know it or not, most resistant to profoundly important and necessary changes to this way of thinking….or should I say not thinking. I believe preserving life should be our first priority, and improvements in our educational system should be directed to serving that priority; not the other way around.
      My best,

  8. Jeanie,
    Wow, I’m grateful for this conversation between you and Skip!
    Synchronicity again (love it) and Very enlightening – all of it – especially these words from you –
    “step out of your logos mind and into your heart. You’ll find your myth by following your truest, deepest feelings and yearnings, your most problematic inner conflicts, your highest values and aspirations…..make these the inspiration for your fantasies, then step back into your logos mind afterwards and observe the symbols and motifs that spontaneously arose. Let your logos serve your feelings instead of the other way around.”
    Thank you Jeanie and Skip for sharing your thoughts and feelings! I learned! I needed this specific wisdom and guidance today. I am going to spend time reflecting deeply on this and following my truest deepest feelings and yearnings….and see what comes…just what I needed to hear and do today. This helped grease my wheels (I’ve been wrestling with feeling stuck!) for a work I want to pursue (writing fiction) and of course it guides me in my life work too 🙂
    Thank you two.
    Gratefully, Sandy

    1. Thank you, Sandy! I’m so glad you found this helpful. It is truly difficult in today’s culture to understand how much our ego’s preference for logos gets in the way of our search for meaning and inspiration. For most of my life I’ve found the idea of getting “out of my head and into my heart” extremely difficult to understand and implement.
      The collective ego’s resistance to deep and uncomfortable feelings is extremely pervasive and powerful because collective wisdom has, for so long, put a premium on “putting on a happy face,” “walking on the sunny side of the street,” and “keeping a stiff upper lip.” It’s painful to me to hear people who are in such pain trying to find help and hope in these outdated and ineffective platitudes which only perpetuate our sense of meaninglessness. Yet I also know that the pain I feel comes from the fact that I sometimes find myself unconsciously adhering to them.
      As Margaret Paul says, “Being nice often means being inauthentic.” This is so true, but oh, how difficult it is to trust that being authentic is more healing in the long run than pretending so as to avoid social censure!!

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