Flexing Our Mythos Muscles


You may have noticed that 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.

We can change this state of affairs by taking our imagination seriously and using it to bring balance and fulfillment to our lives. Imaginative explorations of meaningful symbols and images that pop up spontaneously in our dreams and waking fantasies can show us who we are beneath the surface:  what we love, what we despise, what we really want to do with our lives.  Carrying on inner dialogues between conflicting parts of ourselves can provide valuable new insights. Noticing the emotions that rise up during our inner play reveals unsuspected parts of ourselves that may need attention or healing. And we can bring every insight we gain into the outer world where we can act on them.

We don’t have to spend our lives alone and clueless.  All the help we need is inside us, and we can find it by consciously and deliberately exploring the neglected side of our minds. Isn’t it time we started flexing our mythos muscles?

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

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0 Responses

  1. Ah, so we really ARE “out of our minds”…or at least half of it!! Thanks for the wonderful historic background. This was fascinating and I agree with the conclusion. Thanks, Jeanie

  2. Hi Beth,
    Thank you. I’m so glad you enjoyed it.
    Yes, I think most of us really are half out of it as long as we insist that logical, abstract, objective, unemotional, historial ways of perceiving life are the only ones that count. It’s like saying that the written scriptures of a particular religion are more important than the underlying universal truths to which they point! Talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees…….

  3. jeanie,
    in his ground-breaking book “Original Tao” Dr. Harold Roth provides an inspiring translation of the taoist text that precedes all other known ones, including the famous Tao Te Ching.
    one of the most surprising verses goes something like this:
    “Within the mind, there is another mind.
    This other mind: it precedes words.”
    the effort towards self-realization, i believe, is essentially a sustained battle against language. the linear sequential temporal thinking forced upon us by language is antithetical to the “all-at-onceness” of the spatial awareness (read sensitivity) of the pre-language-using self. a self, of course, that does not disappear once we learn language. like the stars at midday, the pre-language self is always present, even if it is outshone by the language-using mind.
    training ourselves to take the “step back” (as Heidegger said) into that mind within the mind frees us transcend the language we’ve been taught so that we can authentically reenter Saying…..
    your blogs are fantastic!

  4. Thank you, William. I feel the same way about your blogs.
    Thank you also for the reference to Dr. Roth’s book; I wasn’t aware of it.
    I find it sadly ironic that so much of Western and Middle Eastern organized religion uses “the word” to kill the very new life for which it so desperately yearns. Paradoxically, part of the solution must necessarily come from healing new words that can temper our obsession with language and expand our awareness of the value of our pre-language-using perceptions. Hermann Hesse addressed this theme brilliantly in Narcissus and Goldmund, one of my new favorite books.

  5. Here I am looking at this item 2 years later, and it reminded me that I received this “Glimpse of the Day” just last night from a Buddhist listserve (Buddhists are always struggling with the nature of “Mind”):
    No words can describe it
    No example can point to it
    Samsara does not make it worse
    Nirvana does not make it better
    It has never been born
    It has never ceased
    It has never been liberated
    It has never been deluded
    It has never existed
    It has never been nonexistent
    It has no limits at all
    It does not fall into any kind of category.

    1. Thanks, Skip. I certainly can’t add anything to that!
      And thanks also for exploring my archives. This is one of my favorite subjects. I’m glad you found something of interest here.
      Amen and Namaste!

  6. Thanks so much for re-blogging this, Jeanie! LOVE this! 🙂 In relation to observation of synchronicity, just this morning I was listening to an audio interview of Kamini Desai where she was speaking about Ida and Pingala, which can easily be recognized in right-brain, left-brain, respectively. Further, I’ve had Shlain’s book on my shelf for over a year now and I keep thinking I need to get to it, especially since I just finished David Abram’s “The Spell of the Sensuous”. (And now I need to look up the books referenced in the above comments.) When you said: “We can change this state of affairs by taking our imagination seriously and using it to bring balance and fulfillment to our lives,” I was like “OMG!” because I had written this morning (here just a portion) that, “If it is true that we dream the world into matter, then my dreams are part of a new beginning led and held by the ancients of bygone eras who whisper, their words spiraling in the cartilaginous labyrinth of inner ethereal ear, an oceanic conch shell so long out of its unity that silence and solitude are the filaments I need to form the framework in which to listen … and create.” I love your writing — you have such a gift in being able to describe in a comprehensive way these concepts that can sometimes be confusing. Blessings!

    1. Hi Darla! I love your enthusiasm. Thanks so much! Yes, I have also noted the right-brain/left-brain connection with Ida and Pingala. There are so many ways of expressing the same connections between fundamental psychological and philosophical ideas and physical reality. Thanks for sending your quote. I love your writing too —i t’s so poetic!! And imaginative. And subjective, emotional, etc., etc. 🙂 The mytho-poetic voice seems to have seized both of us in different ways, but for similar reasons. I love having it to help me express my truths. Blessings to you too!

  7. Bravo, Jeanie! As you know, I am a champion of the mythos part of our brain, believing it so important for all the reasons you mention above. Of course, I know the value of logos, but I think of it more as a rudder, if you will, to the larger ‘ship’ (metaphor is my first language…haha) of the imaginative, emotive, and creative part of mind. As usual, l love reading your blog posts that show the balance between both parts of your amazing brain. Hugs, Jenna

    1. Thank you, Jenna for your sweet words. Yes, I know you to be one of the biggest champions of all! Your stories of your many amazing synchronicities always inspire me! I frankly see mythos as the larger ‘ship’ as well, but know that my confidence and skill in using it has come from many years of consistent practice with the rudder! And of course, neither can get very far without the other! Blessings, Jeanie

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