The Challenge For Those With A Creative Mind
“Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
A great many people have observed that there are resemblances between the mythologies of different cultures. Myths often have a similar context and structure and may even have the same purpose. For Carl Jung, this illustrates a collective unconscious where elements of human history have merged and evolved to create part of the human psyche.
Each culture holds access to the same images and patterns that exist in the human unconscious and this is why civilisations, separated by distance or time, have created comparable mythologies.
It is also why ancient myths are still at present able to reveal truths about ourselves, even at a time when the mysterious has become heresy.
Mythologies, then, are not a study of history or literature, but instead serve as a reflection into the human spirit. Expressions of the soul, specifically art and language, are timeless, all have a tale and a promise that belong to every age, both past and present. Symbols and metaphors are able to express beyond themselves and into the real world. This is the nature of storytelling — to reveal the potential within ourselves.
These stories can give rise to deep emotions and emotions are necessary if we are to comprehend the spiritual. Emotions are the bridge between the unconscious and the physical for they show that the material world has limitations or unseen forces. The mythologies that have resonated most with our emotions and, therefore, the unconscious have endured through human history, each with different interpretations according to the culture.
Mythologies and stories highlight the truth that there exists unrealised potential in the unconscious. Many of us recognise this truth and move through life wavering between two personalities.
One draws itself to instant comforts, safety from the outside world, cheap attachments, servitude and pulls away from uncertainty, solitude and fear. The other encourages us to become whole, to realise the deepest curiosities within ourselves.
“The usual hero adventure begins with someone from whom something has been taken, or who feels there is something lacking in the normal experience available or permitted to the members of society. The person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary, either to recover what has been lost or to discover some life-giving elixir. It’s usually a cycle, a coming and a returning.”
― Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces
This is why, as Joseph Campbell wrote, many mythologies embrace what has become known as the ‘Hero’s Journey’. Campbell realised that Krishna, Buddha, Apollonius of Tyana, and Jesus all shared a parallel mythological basis. Each followed a journey away from the familiar and into the unknown,seeking an opportunity to drop themselves into their unconscious and explore their greatest, unrealised potential.
Gautama Buddha left his father’s palace and travelled around northern India in search for enlightenment. He practised the life of an ascetic, depriving himself of every comfort imaginable. This included starving himself until he become so emaciated he could hardly stand.
Years of trials and tribulations eventually led him to the woodlands of Bodh Gaya where he sat under a Bodhi Tree and meditated for period of forty-nine days before attaining enlightenment and knowledge of the Four Noble Truths.
Here is an example of a man who broke free from the grasp and security of his father, choosing instead to search for answers for the ultimate questions.
Buddha knew that the answers extended far beyond material pleasure and that all the wealth of the princes of India could never alone bring man happiness. This recognition would see him begin a journey of pain, discomfort, starvation and austerity — a long struggle for the truth. Buddha hurled himself into the darkness, forcing himself into a sharp state of awareness where the present moment was all that mattered.
The pattern of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ can be found in many mythologies across the world. Theseus battled a Minotaur, St George defeated a dragon, Odysseus was victorious in the Trojan War, and Jesus came to take away our sins. Each character receives a call to adventure and then, after realising they can no longer refuse this calling, they set off to defeat enemies, brave trials, make allies and cross thresholds. This is until at last they return having integrated their unconscious whilst fulfilling their divine purpose.
Joseph Campbell wanted his readers to view these myths as representations of a person’s farewell from their conscious character, into the unfamiliarity of their unconscious in pursuit of their authentic self. The purpose of the myth is to assist an understanding between “individual consciousness with the universal will”. In other words, myths let you know where you stand as a person.
You are able to see yourself in the myth and understand where you are in relation to the characters of the tale. The stories of Buddha, Jesus and St George are popular because we are able to empathise with their struggles and journey. Myths support us in understanding what has been, where we are and how to move forward. The conscious personality cannot read itself; it needs a reflection, a mirror, an echo. Campbell believed this to be the function of mythology — to realise an experience of being alive.
Steven Pressfield, in his book ‘The Artist’s Journey’, uses the chronology of the Hero’s Journey in relation to the life of an artist. Pressfield believes that we are all artists who are undergoing our own artistic journey. To understand where we are on this journey, each artist must appreciate the mythology of the hero.
For Pressfield, each creative mind has a calling, a gift within them that they are unable to ignore or avoid. All creative people gravitate to a certain form or message, although many will refuse to embrace this purpose because of self-doubt, fear or apathy. Yet, the calling will always remain, dragging the person down until they decide to unlock the possibilities.
Artists do not fear their work, they fear the person they will become. Because all art is a discipline and disciplines carry individuals across thresholds, but new beginnings are frightening and no sensible person dare contemplate such an idea.
To discover “that we are more than we think we are” means that we would have to change the stories we tell ourselves, but no one wants to change their minds — to change your mind is to accept that you were once wrong and to be wrong about yourself is humiliating.
The journey, as Pressfield writes, is internal for art is not about self-expression, but self-discovery. No artist truly knows what it is they wish to express before completion. No, instead, the creative mind is moved by the unconscious.
Art, then, is a discipline that seeks to unite with the spirit and discover the infinite promises hidden within. The artist is the hero, much like St George, Buddha and Apollonius of Tyana except there is no dragon or army, no external force or creature to overcome, for instead the demons exist inside.
Pressfield inspires artists to see themselves as living the life of the hero, to see their work not as something to resist but as a discipline to master.
Both the artist and the hero recognise the value of fighting a different battle every day. Both have learnt that resistance is not only avoiding the work, but, more importantly, the spiritual expansion that accompanies it.
Fearing your art, so much so that you resist it, shows that the potential is significant. Both nature and the unconscious are on your side.
Pressfield wants the creative mind to understand that artists are chosen not nurtured. The calling will continue to persist. But, it is your decision whether you run or take on the responsibility.
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art