Personal Myth: The Healing Power of Finding My Own Story
Life can be very chaotic at times. It can be easy to get lost in the mass of details, and the idea of finding your “personal myth” can seem pretty pretentious.
Yet it’s essential for each of us to connect to a story that runs through our whole lives, and gives a sense of meaning and coherence. Those stories may be very individual, and yet they all have important themes in common. From time immemorial, human beings have always told stories, and there are very good reasons for that. The chief way in which we come to understand who we really are is through knowing our own deep story, or “personal myth”, as Jung called it.
When we go through those demanding events in life referred to as major life transitions, this is particularly true. In those times we may be pressed to really reach for a deeper understanding of our own identity. That almost inevitably leads us back to our own story, and to striving for a deeper and more complete understanding of it.
Going on a Journey: Our Deep Need for Story
In recent years, neuroscience and neurolinguistics have re-taught us something that we really already knew. The wisest of humans have everywhere always known that humans organize the world in terms of story. As Anthony Sandford and Catherine Emmott illustrate in Mind Brain and Narrative, neurolinguists have shown that narrative is fundamental to the way that humans as a species make sense of the world. We are hard wired to see life as a narrative journey. The authors also make very clear just how skilled we are as a species in telling a huge range of different types of stories.
It’s striking how this accords with what we have been taught by the indigenous peoples of the world. For them, storytelling is a rich source of treasure. As the late Richard Wagamese, Anishinaabe (Ojibway) author and one of Canada’s best storytellers put it,
It begins, as all things do, with stories. When our ancestors gathered around tribal fires, stories were told. As a human family we have this tradition in common…. There is a particular magic that exists when the world is reduced to a flame and the sound of a human voice talking. We all respond to that setting like children, rapt with wonder and entranced by the possibility of story.
Richard Wagamese, ONE DRUM
“[R]apt with wonder and entranced by the possibility of story”; and to some degree, each and every entrancing story that we hear is about ourselves. And no story is more powerful or important to us than is our own.
Personal Myth Connects Personal and Archetypal
So, what is the story that we currently tell ourselves about our lives? How does it relate to the broader and more healing story that Jung referred to as “personal myth”? In the course of our lives, we take in many stories about our lives and our identity. Some of them connect us to who we authentically are. Some of them effectively act as distorting mirrors, giving us a twisted image of our own identity. To complicate things, sometimes the stories that are most distorted are told to us by those who are closest to us.
Sorting through the messages and stories that we have been given about our lives to get to the stories that are true and life-giving takes energy and time. It may well require us to cast off a lot of things and stories that others have laid on us, and that we have laid on ourselves. We often do these things without conscious awareness. Getting to our own personal myth often involves accepting parts of our own story that we might find difficult. We might have to face feelings of shame, loneliness, fear, or pain. We might also have to come to terms with both our own ordinariness and our own uniqueness.
But here is a paradox: by coming to terms with our own lives and our ordinariness, we also come into connection with something else. We come into contact with what Jungians call archetypal reality. In our actual day-to-day prosaic living, we share in the great eternal themes and images that we all share, that make us human.
Personal Myth Connects Us to Everything Human
As we find and celebrate our own unique human story, we share in the great story of all humans everywhere, and of the cosmos. Each of our stories are part of a broader human story. We all share and participate in those great shared human themes that Jungians call archetypes. We need that shared connection with everything human, and with the universe as a whole.
Getting in touch with, accepting and being kind to ourselves about our own ordinary lives and the struggles and sufferings of our common humanity is a form of healing that we deeply need in our time. At the same time, we need to appreciate our own uniqueness, and the way it forms part of the quilt or weave of the entire human story.
What is your own unique story? What is the real truth of your life? What is the voice or “language” that the part of you that is in connection with your own real life wants to speak with?
To help tell, understand and live forward your own story, working in a trustworthy, supportive relationship with a Jungian /a-midlife-transition can be tremendously helpful.
Wishing each of you every good thing on your unique personal journey,