Personal Mythology: An Introduction

Based on a Talk and Discussion at The Romsey Wisdom Centre

Tue 9 Nov 2021

There are so many benefits of the Personal Mythology process for the sincere seeker. Distilling the through-line of my Personal Mythology through writing and engaging in the issues, models, theories and approaches around PM helped my life in so many ways:

  • Reduced anxiety, low moods, feelings of purposelessness and lack of direction reduced.
  • Reduced feelings of inferiority.
  • Feel more confident going out and meeting and mixing with people.
  • Relationships improved in terms of all my transactions with people.
  • Assertiveness and confidence improved.
  • More conscious and aware of the principles of Alfred Adler’s Separation of Tasks. I no longer felt so concerned what other people thought about me as I knew it was their issues and not mine. I was better aware of what was in my control and was my responsibility and what belonged to other people.
  • Felt more happy and content in my own decisions around my own life goals rather than fall for what society or other people thought I should have or be.
  • I discovered an inner source of wisdom and life that was life-giving and life-loving, purposeful and meaningful. It became my compass.

How did I come to mythology?

I was in India in 2011, teaching. I discovered a book called the Ramayana – it instantly resonated because of the story of Rama – banished from his kingdom to live in the forest for 14 years by his usurper half-brother and step-mother. On his return he was re-annointed the king. That year was the year I had been overseas for 14 years. I was considering returning to New Zealand or to return to the UK, my birth country. Along with other events the message was to return home after a long time of travelling, living in different countries, discovering my self, facing my demons and returning guided by wisdom and truth. In that time I had been practicing my spiritual disciplines, learning to meditate and explore spirituality and living in other countries and its connection with Rama’s process of returning home and carrying out his duties was giving me a message. When I learned what Personal Mythology many years later I realised this book I read in 2011 was an important part of my Personal Mythology.

So what is mythology?

The world mythology is often associated with story, something made-up or fictional but that is actually very far from the truth. It is an ancient story usually about one person: connected with our ancestors and heroes to make sense of the world and a worldview. It is also about belief. It is someone’s fundamental story for making sense of the world and is usually done in their second half of life when they have lived out their first half and is now making sense of it. It can be compared to a life review, a mid-life review and sometimes referred to as a crisis of purpose and meaning.

I have developed the concept of Personal Mythology to sit in a wider awareness of mythologies:

Cosmic mythology – spiritual, religious, theological, philosophical, metaphysical, greater picture, God, intelligence, plan, Creator, divine purpose and meaning.

Human-Planetary Mythology – the purpose of planet Earth and its long history in preparation for human habitation. Human existence is married to Planet Earth. One might live without the other but one cannot live without the other. Humans can only exist because of what Mother Earth provides and human beings are learning to  understand and respect that more so now. There will come a time when Mother Earth will have the same protections and rights as a human being, even more so.

Human Mythology – our current conflicts and patterns of behaviour go back to earliest communities and human cohabitation – family and clan, village, town, city, nation. We are still hardwired by trauma and survival reactions – fight, flight, freeze, fawn. Our biological instincts are hardwired into this past and are referred to by Freud and developed by Panksepp in terms of the 7 basic emotions – care, seeking, play, lust, fear, panic-grief and rage. These drives/instincts easily take over humankind’s rational, logical and spiritual attitudes and lead humankind into all sorts of conflicts, abuses and cruelty. Humankind also has the ability to seek confirmation for its attainment, purpose and meaning but that is currently not shared between nations at the moment and really understood.

National Mythology can be easily seen in how nation’s individual characteristics are created out of the people, leaders and governments that come to lead the people. Communism or capitalism, socialism or authoritarianism are manifestations of the myths individuals live and these mobilise whole nations to their vision and goals, whether they are for good or for evil. In the nation individuals seek confirmation for their work and efforts, are rewarded and acknowledged. In some countries disenfranchised sections and minorities can become estranged and disrespected causing conflict and ill-feeling.

Family Mythology – individuals in a family have their own characteristics and goals, drawing on their group interests and their individual interests and how the whole group maintains peace between the individuals. In the family we first learn to listen to each other and learn how to surrender to others or control others or democratically engage and live and love one another unconditionally or not. In families children seek confirmation from the parents. When they do positive strengths are produced. When children become rebellious, wayward and testing, differences and conflict arise.

Couples Mythology – two lives come together to join as one to share interests and goals, to help each other attain their own individual goals, to support in mutual love and self-sacrifice at times. Couples are where we learn to be confirmed as good and virtuous by our partner. Sometimes children are the outcome of such partnerships. In some couples the opposite is true and conflict can lead to awful situations for them both and their children and wider society.

And finally Personal Mythology – consciously developed in the 2nd half of life. Personal Mythology works through one’s internal splits between one’s own spiritual and mental nature. When one achieves individuation and has overcome their deepest and mostly ignored hurts and resentments one pours this newly found love and compassion to each other and lives the life of a selfless human being not just helping others but showing others how they can heal themselves in order to heal the human race and planet and finally know Oneness with the Cosmic Creator.

In all these mythologies stories can bring the reality to greater meaning – myths, legends, fairy tales, epics, religion, scripture, TV, movies, political commentary and the media make sense of all our relationships on so many levels. There are bad guys and good guys in mythology – you see it in the cosmic – good and evil, God and Devil, angels and demons. You see it in planetary, human and national mythology – Mother Earth against Humankind, America v China, Britain v France. You see it in family mythology – the Capulets and the Montagues, family rivalry, family businesses fighting for market domination, children overcoming abuse and neglect from the parents, parents overcoming drug addiction and rebellion from their children. You see it in couples – Den and Angie in Eastenders, battles between famous wives and their husbands. Individually you see people overcoming immense challenges to improve their lives and the lives of others requiring self-sacrifice and hard work – Florence Nightingale, Marie Curie, Martin Luther King, Francis of Assisi. Of those who are little known those who overcome addictions, trauma, loss and success in business, overcoming debt and loss, illness, depression, anxiety, job loss, economic, social hardship, war and injustice. These are real people’s lives and mythologies.

Who started Personal Mythology?

Personal Mythology was driven by the work of Joseph Campbell, David Feinstein, Stanley Krippner, Stephen Larsen, Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox between the late 1960s to the early 1990s. After that Personal Mythology has largely gone unnoticed. However, there is a resurging interest in the field largely due to the amount of interest in Carl Jung at the moment and he is receiving a great deal of commentary and inclusion in self-help and self-development resources. I include Carl Jung for this reason: the process of Individuation.

Individuation is the full realisation of the self as completely free from attachment to material objects and experiences and also free of all self-interest/absorption in the physical/mental self. An individuated being only considers the well-being of the Whole and works towards bringing all ‘separated’ beings, groups, nations and matter into the real consciousness of wholeness. It is a deep awareness of wholeness with everything. All conflict and hatred, separation, fear and desire all disintegrate in that awareness. Individuation is the binding force between all human beings that inspire us to work for the common good and focus on the virtue and wisdom within every being regardless of the physical, mental and emotional afflictions that may be visible to the physical eye and conscious mind.

The following Psychological Models / Theories are integrated explicitly in the process of Personal Mythology to help guide the seeker towards a life of wholeness, purpose and meaning. These models help us identify the splits and fractures in our psychology to help us move closer and closer to wholeness, union and the binding love and compassion:

  • Confirmation Model
  • Erickson’s Psycho-Social Life Stages Model
  • Biological Instincts/Drives of Sigmund Freud’s Id
  • Social / Organ Inferiority and Social Adaptation Principles of Alfred Adler – include Separation of Tasks/Spheres of Control
  • Relationships – Equity Theory and Social Exchange Theory
  • Individuation Process of Carl Jung

These theories explicitly identify potential areas and issues for exploration that help you understand your motivations, defence mechanisms, relating functions and spiritual/soul connection.

What do the Personal Myth Online Zoom Sessions and the Wisdom Centre Workshops cover?

  • Your personal timeline of significant events and experiences that make you who you are. Without them you would not be you.
  • Autobiographical, Life Narrative, Personal Mythology writing – journal/memoir or as a story/legend/fairy tale/myth that resembles a fictional style but guided by real life experiences like loss, desire, lost purpose, regained purpose, trauma, challenge, test, helpful teachers and guides on the way, overcoming, winning, reward, achievement.
  • Shield summarising images of loss, tools/weapons, paradise lost and regained, conflict
  • Comparing old and new mythologies – the hard worker, the lost sheep, the thinner I am the happier I will be, the procrastinator, the people-pleaser,
  • Sharing painting, diary, poetry, story, music, TV, film: reviewed and appreciated as well as composed
  • Exploration and discussion – sharing challenges and achievements, comparing each other’s times of epiphany and realisations
  • Sharing the difficulties and good times of childhood, injustice and acceptance
  • Writing your own affirmations and prayers – sharing if appropriate.
  • Meditating together or between sessions for energisation and relaxation, breathing techniques, muscle relaxation
  • Sharing good places locally where you can achieve peace and reflection – spiritual or natural places
  • Engaging in craft work, creativity, writing, reading, reflecting, sharing in group if you feel you want to.
  • These are only tools to know the self

Personal Mythology sits in the greater mythologies of who we are not just as individuals but what we become when we join together with other people and their own Personal Mythologies.

Know Thyself – this is the teaching of Personal Mythology and it ever expands to include, love and bring together in the destiny of ourselves, others and the Great Mystery.

© Martin Handy 2021