Personal growth through art

We can use art, literature and mythology as tools for personal growth as we share the emotions and tribulations of our fictional heroes.

Personal growth through art
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The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization.’

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

‘We thrill in watching a superb performance, whether athletic or artistic, because it allows us to participate in the magic of true mastery, to be uplifted, if only briefly, and perhaps to share in the intention that each of us, in our own way, might touch such moments of grace and harmony in the living of our own lives.’

Jon Kabat-Zinn. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life.


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Peace through acceptance

We can get caught up in hateful ideas promoted by others while life offers much more freedom if we all accept our differences.

Peace through acceptance
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Totem, tribal, racial, and aggressively missionizing cults represent only partial solutions of the psychological problem of subduing hate by love; they only partially initiate. Ego is not annihilated in them; rather, it is enlarged; instead of thinking only of himself, the individual becomes dedicated to the whole of his society. The rest of the world meanwhile (that is to say, by far the greater portion of mankind) is left outside the sphere of his sympathy and protection because outside the sphere of the protection of his god. And there takes place, then, that dramatic divorce of the two principles of love and hate which the pages of history so bountifully illustrate. Instead of clearing his own heart the zealot tries to clear the world. The laws of the City of God are applied only to his in-group (tribe, church, nation, class, or what not) while the fire of a perpetual holy war is hurled (with good conscience, and indeed a sense of pious service) against whatever uncircumcised, barbarian, heathen, “native,” or alien people happens to occupy the position of neighbor.

The world is full of the resultant mutually contending bands: totem-, flag-, and party-worshipers. Even the so-called Christian nations—which are supposed to be following a “World” Redeemer-are better known to history for their colonial barbarity and internecine strife than for any practical display of that unconditioned love, synonymous with the effective conquest of ego, ego’s world, and ego’s tribal god, which was taught by their professed supreme Lord: “I say unto you, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you.’

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

‘Imagine you live in a small country that shares a border with a hostile neighbour. There is long-standing tension between the two countries. The neighbouring country has a different religion and a different political system, and your country sees it as a major threat. There are three possible scenarios for how your country can relate to its neighbour.

The worst-case scenario is war. Your country attacks, and the other one retaliates (or vice-versa). As both countries get pulled into a major war, the people of both nations suffer. (Think of any major war, and the huge costs involved, in terms of life, money and wellbeing.)

Another scenario, better than the first but still far from satisfactory, is a temporary truce. Both countries agree to a cease-fire, but there is no reconciliation. Resentment seethes beneath the surface, and there is the constant underlying threat that war will break out again. (Think of India and Pakistan, with the constant background threat of nuclear war, and the intense hostility between Hindus and Muslims.)

The third possibility is genuine peace. You acknowledge your differences, and allow them just to be. This doesn’t get rid of the other country, nor does it mean that you necessarily like it or even want it there. Nor does it mean that you approve of its politics or religion. But because you’re no longer at war, you can now use your money and resources to build up the infrastructure of your own country, instead of squandering them on the battlefield.

The first scenario, war, is like the struggle to get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings. It’s a battle that can never be won, and it consumes a huge amount of time and energy.

The second scenario, a truce, is definitely better, but it’s still a long way from true acceptance. It’s more like a grudging tolerance; there’s no sense of moving forward to a new future. Although there is no active warfare, the hostility remains, and you are resigned to the ongoing tension. A grudging tolerance of thoughts and feelings is better than an outright struggle, but it leaves you feeling stuck and somewhat helpless. It’s a sense more of resignation than of acceptance, of entrapment rather than freedom, of being stuck rather than moving forward.

The third scenario, peace, represents true acceptance. Notice that in this scenario your country doesn’t have to like the other country, approve of its being there, convert to its religion, or learn to speak its language. You simply make peace with them. You acknowledge your differences, you give up trying to change their politics or religion, and you focus your efforts on making your own country a better place to live. It’s the same when you truly accept your uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. You don’t have to like them, want them, or approve of them. You simply make peace with them and let them be. This leaves you free to focus your energy on taking action—action that moves your life forward in a direction you value.’

Russ Harris. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Introductory Workshop Handout


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Stop blaming and start living

Life rarely turns out how we imagined it. That’s no one’s fault, not even your own. Blaming yourself or others only blocks your progress.

Stop blaming and start living
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Our conscious views of what life ought to be seldom correspond to what life really is. Generally we refuse to admit within ourselves, or within our friends, the fullness of that pushing, self-protective, malodorous, carnivorous, lecherous fever which is the very nature of the organic cell. Rather, we tend to perfume, whitewash, and reinterpret; meanwhile imagining that all the flies in the ointment, all the hairs in the soup, are the faults of some unpleasant someone else.’

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

‘Blame is usually about making the other person wrong. Is this really useful to or working for you? While blame can be very effective and appropriate in a court of law, it most often brings unnecessary suffering to the realm of interpersonal relationships. In fact, there is a saying that holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die.’

Victoria M. Follette and Jacqueline Pistorello. Finding Life beyond Trauma: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Heal From Post-Traumatic Stress and Trauma-Related Problems.


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

How to live according to your ideals

Myths provide a general formula for life and show that obstacles are everywhere. Use your values as a guide to stay following your ideal path.

How to live according to your ideals
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Wars and temper tantrums are the makeshifts of ignorance; regrets are illuminations come too late. The whole sense of the ubiquitous myth of the hero’s passage is that it shall serve as a general pattern for men and women, wherever they may stand along the scale. Therefore it is formulated in the broadest terms. The individual has only to discover his own position with reference to this general human formula, and let it then assist him past his restricting walls. Who and where are his ogres”? Those are the reflections of the unsolved enigmas of his own humanity. What are his ideals’? Those are the symptoms of his grasp of life.

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

If you were on a bus trying to go east in a maze of dirt roads in a large valley, you might not be able to tell your direction from moment to moment. If someone took a series of snapshots, sometimes the bus might be facing north, or south, or even west, even though all the while this is a journey to the east.

Paths are not straight because obstacles sometimes prevent movement in the desired direction. A person who values creating a loving family may nevertheless have to go through a divorce. In that situation, the intention to be loving may be revealed only in limited ways, such as not establishing oppositions between yourself and your spouse that will negatively affect your children, or treating a soon-to-be ex-spouse fairly in the division of assets. Only over time will the underlying value become evident, like tracks left in the snow that show, even though the path is not straight, it is headed east.

Paths are also not straight because we are human. We may intend to go east, but our attention may wander, and we may find ourselves heading north. Someone in recovery from a drug addiction who values sobriety and helping others may still relapse. That person’s mind may be screaming, “See, you can’t go east! You are a liar and a failure! You can’t be trusted!” as if to say, “Because you are heading north, as usual, you cannot value heading east.” In such an instance, that person’s task will be to thank his or her mind, feel the sadness and pain that comes from relapse, and then turn and head east once again.

Steven Hayes & Spencer Smith. Get out of your mind and into your life: the new acceptance and commitment therapy.


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Learn to accept your pain

In today’s society, where we can often feel alone, with little guidance to help us with our problems, we can learn new ways to deal with our pain.

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photo credit: Diana Mehrez via photopin cc

There can be no question: the psychological dangers through which earlier generations were guided by the symbols and spiritual exercises of their mythological and religious inheritance, we today (in so far as we are unbelievers, or, if believers, in so far as our inherited beliefs fail to represent the real problems of contemporary life) must face alone, or, at best, with only tentative, impromptu, and not often very effective guidance. This is our problem as modern, “enlightened” individuals, for whom all gods and devils have been rationalized out of existence. Nevertheless, in the multitude of myths and legends that have been preserved to us, or collected from the ends of the earth, we may yet see delineated something of our still human course. To hear and profit, however, one may have to submit somehow to purgation and surrender. And that is part of our problem: just how to do that. “Or do ye think that ye shall enter the Garden of Bliss without such trials as came to those who passed away before you?”

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

When we encounter painful content within ourselves, we want to do what we always do: fix it up and sort it out so that we can get rid of it. The truth of the matter (as you have likely experienced) is that our internal lives are not at all like external events. For one thing, humans live in history, and time moves in only one direction, not two. Psychological pain has a history and, at least in that aspect, it is not a matter of getting rid of it. It is more a matter of how we deal with it and move forward.

The “acceptance” in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is based on the notion that, as a rule, trying to get rid of your pain only amplifies it, entangles you further in it, and transforms it into something traumatic. Meanwhile, living your life is pushed to the side. The alternative we will teach in this book is a bit dangerous to say out loud because right now it is likely to be misunderstood, but the alternative is to accept it. Acceptance, in the sense it is used here, is not nihilistic self-defeat; neither is it tolerating and putting up with your pain. It is very, very different than that. Those heavy, sad, dark forms of “acceptance” are almost the exact opposite of the active, vital embrace of the moment that we mean.

Steven Hayes & Spencer Smith. Get out of your mind and into your life: the new acceptance and commitment therapy.


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Jump that threshold

When confronted with the unknown, you don’t have to continue with your old way of life. Take the bold step, like a mythological hero, and cross the threshold into a new way of living.

Jump that threshold
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The adventure is always and everywhere a passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers that watch at the boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage the danger fades.

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Life is asking you a question. The question was once mumbled, misunderstood, or nearly inaudible. It’s not surprising that you haven’t answered yes, but, unfortunately, failing to answer or answering no have nearly the same results, and they have those results whether you know that you are being asked a question or not.

It’s time to begin to jump. Answering yes to the life question, no matter how narrowly it’s cast, is such a jump. It is a jump into the unknown. It is a jump into a world in which getting rid of or managing your own history is no longer required in order to begin to live the life you truly want to live. It is a world of self-acceptance, openness, ambiguity of content, and clarity of purpose. It is a world of psychological flexibility, in which you let go of the struggle, give up and live, less concerned about being right than being alive.

You do not have to say yes. Life will accept either answer. There is, however, a cost to silence or to saying no. Indeed, you’ve been experiencing those costs. Your pain is your biggest ally here. Have you suffered enough? Have you?

We don’t want to scare you. You don’t have to begin by jumping from the Empire State Building. You can jump off a sheet of paper, or a thin paperback book. But if you are going to start, you must start.

Steven C. Hayes and Spencer Smith. Get out of your mind and into your life: the new acceptance and commitment therapy.


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

The responsibility to be yourself

When you take responsibility – the ability to respond – you can stop blaming others and finally become the creative, innovative person you have always been.

The responsibility to be yourself
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If the first requirement of an adult is that he should take to himself responsibility for his failures, for his life, and for his doing, within the context of the actual conditions of the world in which he dwells, then it is simply an elementary psychological fact that no one will ever develop to this state who is continually thinking of what a great thing he would have been had only the conditions of his life been different: his parents less indifferent to his needs, society less oppressive, or the universe otherwise arranged. The first requirement of any society is that its adult membership should realize and represent the fact that it is they who constitute its life and being. And the first function of the rites of puberty, accordingly, must be to establish in the individual a system of sentiments that will be appropriate to the society in which he is to live, and on which that society itself must depend for its existence.

In the modern Western world, moreover, there is an additional complication; for we ask of the adult something still more than that he should accept without personal criticism and judgment the habits and inherited customs of his local social group. We ask and we are expecting, rather, that he should develop what Sigmund Freud has called his “reality function”: that faculty of the independently observant, freely thinking individual who can evaluate without preconceptions the possibilities of his environment and of himself within it, criticizing and creating, not simply reproducing inherited patterns of thought and action, but becoming himself an innovating center, an active, creative center of the life process.

Joseph Campbell. Myths to Live By (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell).

In [one example, a] person realized over time that having or not having a job was his response-ability#, even though his father had hit him and then abandoned the family. This man explained that deep inside he had struggled with whether or not he was to blame for hanging in there for so long and not standing up to his father. He had put all this adult responsibility on the child he was then. Staying stuck in this cycle of blame was interfering with his ability to be effective now. The discussion on focusing on response-ability instead of blame allowed him to feel more empowered to take control of his life. It became an issue of letting go of being right so that he could build a stable life for his family, something he valued.

Who would you be now if you could let go of the struggle with judgment, blame, being right (or wrong), and all the other passengers on your bus? What if you begin to have compassion and acceptance for yourself? For many trauma survivors, the first step in this direction is to begin to identify a sense of self—the you who has always been present.

Victoria M. Follette and Jacqueline Pistorello. Finding life beyond trauma: using acceptance and commitment therapy to heal from post-traumatic stress and trauma-related problems.

# The root of the word responsibility is actually “response-ability” or the ability to respond (Hayes, Strosahl, and Wilson 1999). This ability is something that can empower people to take control over their lives.


 

* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

How to achieve your true goal

Setting goals can guide us through the maze of modern life, but the process of working towards those goals can be more important than achieving them.

How to achieve your true goal
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It is only those who know neither an inner call nor an outer doctrine whose plight truly is desperate; that is to say, most of us today, in this labyrinth without and within the heart. Alas, where is the guide, that fond virgin, Ariadne, to supply the simple clue that will give us the courage to face the Minotaur, and the means to find our way to freedom when the monster has been met and slain?”

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Suppose you are out skiing, and when you got off the lift, you mention to the person who rode up the lift with you that you plan to ski down to the lodge where you’re going to meet up with some friends for lunch. “No problem” this person replies, and suddenly he waves to a helicopter above, that upon his signal, swoops you up and speedily deposits you at the ski lodge. You protest vigorously, but the pilot is incredulous. He says, “What’s your beef, my friend? It was you who said the objective was to get from the summit down to the lodge!”
The helicopter pilot would have a point if getting to the lodge were the only issue. If it is, flying down the slope achieves exactly what skiing down achieves. Both have you start at the top and end up at the lodge. The helicopter even has notable advantages: you don’t get cold, or tired, or wet, for example.

There is only one problem with this. The goal of getting to the lodge was meant to structure the process of skiing. That process was the true “goal.”

You have to value “down” over “up” or you can’t do downhill skiing. Aiming at a specific goal (the lodge) allows you to “orienteer” one way to go down the hill. But the true goal is just to ski, not reaching the goal (the lodge).

In precisely the same way, the true goal of goals is to orient you toward your values so you can live a valued life, moment by moment. A successful ACT patient put it this way toward the end of therapy: “I just want to do this because that’s what I want my life to be about. It’s not really about any outcome. I want to be alive until I’m dead.” Goals can help you do exactly that. But be careful! Your mind will often claim that the true goal is the goal itself (after all, evaluating outcomes is what this organ evolved to do), and it will suggest that you should cut corners (like violate your integrity, or ignore other valued aspects of your life) to get there. That defeats the whole purpose, and if you succumb to cutting corners, accomplishing your goals will only mock you.

Steven C. Hayes & Spencer Smith. Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Character growth

Find the essence of your fictional characters, their roots, to see how they will grow. It might reveal something about yourself too.

character development
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The soil above the seed is hard to push through, but this very handicap, this resistance to the soil, forces the young sprout to gather strength for the battle. Where shall it get this additional strength? Instead of fighting ineffectively against the topsoil, the seed sends out delicate roots to gather more nourishment. Thus the sprout at last penetrates the hard soil and wins through to the sun. According to science, a single thistle needs ten thousand inches of root to support a thirty- or forty-inch stem. You can guess how many thousands of facts a dramatist must unearth to support a single character. By way of parable, let a man represent the soil; in his mind we shall plant a seed of coming conflict: ambition, perhaps. The seed grows in him, though he may wish to squelch it. But forces within and without the man exert greater and greater pressure, until this seed of conflict is strong enough to burst through his stubborn head. He has made a decision, and now he will act upon it. The contradictions within a man and the contradictions around him create a decision and a conflict. These in turn force him into a new decision and a new conflict.”

Lajos Egri. The Art of Dramatic Writing

Ask the question, “Who am I?” The question should be deeply rooted in you, like a new seed nestled deep in the soft earth and damp with water.

Thich Nhat Hanh translated by Mobi Ho. C
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