“Life isn’t meant to be happy. That’s not what it’s about. Ah, the damage that is caused by that attitude. All life is sorrowful. Sorrow is the essence of life. But can you handle it? Are you affirmative enough in your relationship to life to say ‘yea’ no matter what happens?”
One of the functions of mythology is to help us establish our relationship to life, to provide the context and meaning for experiences of all sorts. I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week. Bombs are falling in the Middle East and almost 300 people died in a plane crash. We’re treating children who want into the United States as criminals and arguing over who deserves health care. Here in California, we’re facing severe drought conditions. Times are tough and everyone knows it and we deal with it and carry on, etc.
But sometimes the pain of the world breaks through. Then what?
What’s your world view, your perspective, your myth, about the suffering in the world? Is suffering real? Does it matter? Can we get rid of it if we try hard enough? According to Campbell, a life-affirming mythology is one that makes room for both the joy and sorrow in life and treats them both as inevitable. In this week’s program I tell a Blackfoot myth about the buffalo that Campbell often used as one example of a life-affirming mythology. It provides a way for people to accept all of it—death and killing and the fact that life feeds on life— and find beauty, sacredness, and connection.
A few years ago I heard author and poet Deena Metzger read some of her work in the space that is now the RFJT Listening Lounge. Metzger speaks directly to killing and suffering of many types and someone in the audience asked her how she could go so deeply into those experiences and come out whole. Part of her answer still rings in my ears. You have to look very closely at every thing she said, and not turn away. You will see the pain and horror, but you will see the beauty too.
We have many opportunities to get close to the reality of death as it happens all around us. Do we dare? Do we dare to feel it?
Enjoy the story.
The painting is “Buffalo Dance” by Robert Bissett, who has an interesting website about art and painting in addition to his wonderful work. Check it out.