I recently finished reading, American Soul: A Cultural Narrative. It was not easy to read but offered an important and unique way of looking at large scale traumatic events. The author, Ronald Schenk, states in the intro, “American soul is a book based on psychology, and as the psyche is in an indefinable concept in itself, it reflects and is reflected by by many different disciplines and aspects of cultural life. The book borrows from political science, literature, economics, theology, and sociology–while claiming expertise in none.”
American Soul delves into American rhetoric surrounding historical and current conditions and events to unearth an underlying cultural narrative or myth rooted in America’s particular Judeo-Christian tradition. Exploring the birth and evolution of the nation, foreign policy, political tropes, and the challenges of Katrina, 9/11, Enron, and the financial meltdown, a cultural image emerges which runs counter to popularly accepted notions of the nation’s core identity.
I found it eye opening to read about American history through the lens of myth. No matter how you feel about the political issues, the book is sure to activate your creative powers. One big take away for me, from reading American Soul, is the concept of using my intuitive connection to myth and identity in active imagination (AI) to reveal collective issues of national or global concern.
Why develop the AI technique? The information discovered in this process is potentially very valuable on a personal and social level. Being consciously aware of fears and unseen unconscious activities, before they mysteriously manifest and cause bigger problems, is the goal. (Somewhat like avoiding the hidden dangers of an iceberg to a ship) Maintaining a dialog between the ego and unconscious results in a healthier integrated being – or that’s the pitch for most schools of meditation etc. (and my personal experience) It also expands creative potential by practicing dialog the source of creativity in ones unconscious – nice for artists and other creative professions.
Steps for using Myth, Active Imagination, and Amplification to understand Political issues
Step1, the image:
I selected an image from the Gilgamesh myth to start my active imagination session.
Step2, active imagination:
I sat, as if for meditation, and began to day dream…
I picture a sad Gilgamesh, returned from misadventure, outside Uruk. I ask for a tour of the city. He opens a door in the wall. I want to stay in the sun with the plants. He opens the door again. Finally I follow down spiral steps. Each step is bigger until I’m crawling over the edge, and drop into a dirt cave. I hear Gilgamesh humming in the dark. I complain that I want a tour of the city. We are transported to a wall and I see in detail how Gilgamesh is attractive and regal. Suddenly playful Gilgamesh brings up the sun, with a wave of his hand, and then brings up the moon with the next gesture. Flapping like an ADD kid he changes the night to day and the day to night quickly until I slow it down. I watch the colors change. I’m now at burning man, it’s twilight, and the giant Gilgamesh towers isolated over the city. He takes off toward the beach with his friend Ankidu. I watch them play in the surf like children, slightly confused and irritated by their repetitive splashing about.
I write down the daydream and look for themes to understand it’s meaning.
Step 3, amplification:
Analysis and research. I choose to focus on the theme of light and dark in my active imagination and it reminded me of a sun dial. Gilgamesh was like the God of time chaining the night to day and day to night. Burning man is also a circular city based on the clock with the giant man in the center.
I did a google search for ‘god of time’ and ‘father of time’ and found the myth of Cronus. In learning more about the Greek myth I found additional connections, imprisonment in a cave, importance of the sea, and giants. I found a nice rap battle on youtube the summarizes the story:
Step 4, personal and social relevance:
What do I do about it? Personally I might question weather there is a revolution brewing in my subconscious and if my ego is resisting the death required for a my healthy transformation in the development of my own psyche. From my own subconscious the solution might be to find ways to empower my inner child’s desire to play. If I don’t find ways to play, my subconscious might flare up at inappropriate moments and cause undesired consequences. For example, I might make a inappropriate joke or be unable to focus on serious matters.
How does it connect to social issues? Intuitively I am concerned about casualties of war, as one regime of leaders replaces the next, and how throughout time the refugees are seen as a necessary part of a nations development. It is estimated that the number of refugees in Egypt is between 152,000 and three million due to political wars in the region (source). Would reimagining ancient myths, like Cronus, allow us to find new solutions to ancient patterns. It seems possible that promoting techniques of self awareness that facilitate a dialog between the historically opposing ego and unconscious could have an impact:
… the hope is predicated on a deeply moral transformation from within. Effecting such an evolution toward enlightened and morally anchored democratic citizenship appears to be the overarching meta-goal of the organizations, above and beyond their daily agendas… “The new civic mentality was defined, first and foremost, as self-respect and personal responsibility.”SOURCE)(