MythBlast | Mine and Yours: Wandering into Story
We tell stories about who we are, to understand what makes us different – what makes us alike – what connects us what our families might be and look like – and who our families and tribes are. We tell stories of the place that we live in – and how we connect back to that place – and how we love that place – and how it loves us. Or maybe how we hate that place and it hates us.
But we tell stories of belonging. And ownership. And having a right to something. Having a right to live. Having a right to be. And having a sense of our own identity and our own power.
Sometimes our stories get ugly. We feel that we must tell our stories about who we are – and where we live – and what we own – and how we must live on this, on our land, because this land is our land. And is not your land. And sometimes we drown in the stories about who isn’t like us. Who isn’t worthy of us, of where we live, and who we believe ourselves to be.
This weekend those stories erupted in the United States, in Virginia, in harsh ways. These stories erupt every day around the world; we don’t always hear them, particularly when they feel far away. But this weekend in the US was about this story: if you are not like us, you are not like us. You cannot own this place, this land, this identity. My tribe is different. My tribe is better. And my tribe is based on the color of my skin.
With that in mind, I think about those moments where I’ve gone to places where I don’t ‘belong,’ into places where how stories are told and the flavors, scents, and gestures that populate those stories are unilaterally different than in those my tribe tells (whatever my tribe might be).
I am reminded that when we go beyond where we belong, something rather extraordinary can happen. As we hear the stories of others, their myths, it is somehow easier for us to see them as stories, for they are outside of us. But if we sit with this, we can allow this to remind us that ours ours are just stories as well. And while they can be big and powerful and can catch us, ultimately they still sit, somehow, outside of us too. This truly is not easy!
I’ve been reading Campbell’s Asian Journals, his explorations of India and Japan in 1954 through 1955, and found myself fascinated by how he navigates stories – his own as well as others – as he travels so far afield and has a seminal experience of the ‘other,’ shaping his identity as a mythologist.
It is not always easy for him, either. He is distressed to hear widespread anti-American sentiments and what he sees as wrong stories that were being shared and breathed life into by the people he was meeting in India. At one moment, he begins to wonder if perhaps India wouldn’t have been better explored from a distance, that maybe he got more out of India and its mythologies before he landed there, and that the real stories were less than those he’d learned and imagined.
This is so powerful. It points, I think, to how hard it is not to be entrained (and even chained) by the stories we tell. That Campbell could be so drawn to the mythologies of a place and still get gripped hard enough by his own stories and expectations that he had trouble at times understanding the value of the one he was stepping into exemplifies how hard it can be to step outside the power of the mythologies we live within.
I think that’s why I find these journals so intoxicating: he is so, utterly human in them. And he is surrounded by people as utterly human as he, and that begins to be enough. As he seeks vastness, he finds, more often, the poesis of everyday life. But he then begins to find the mythos in this experience of finding the other, and is changed.
I think we all can be, if we wander into one another’s stories.
You can read Campbell’s journeys into India and Japan in the newly released Asian Journals from our partners at New World Library. Click here get your copy!
Leigh Melander, Ph.D.
Leigh has an eclectic background in the arts and organizational development, working with inviduals and organizations in the US and internationally for over 20 years. She has a doctorate in cultural mythology and psychology and wrote her dissertation on frivolity as an entry into the world of imagination. Her writings on mythology and imagination can be seen in a variety of publications, and she has appeared on the History Channel, as a mythology expert. She also hosts a radio who on an NPR community affiliate: Myth America, an exploration into how myth shapes our sense of identity. Leigh and her husband opened Spillian, an historic lodge and retreat center celebrating imagination in the Catskills, and works with clients on creative projects. She is honored to serve as the Vice President of the Joseph Campbell Foundation Board of Directors.