It’s been a heavy week in America. I wanted to share some feel-good items that I think can lighten the weight and lift your spirit, at least for a few minutes…
To begin with, I enjoyed this link that contains 21 pictures to restore your humanity. I even cried a few happy tears when I was scrolling through.
Here’s some amazing beauty available via PDF from NASA – for free.
And surely, this baby hedgehog will make you smile, so I just have to include him:
Finally, here is one more reason to smile. My beautiful, three and half year old niece dancing with a dancing Santa decoration. We are all so blessed to have her in our lives, and I hope she can bring you a smile today.
Today’s Words for Wednesday is a blast from the past: I wrote this in 2008 for my Hindu Traditions course. Enjoy! I highly recommend the book I discuss here, The River Sutra. I also recommend the readings by Joseph Campbell. So rich!
Of the many stories and themes that flow through A River Sutra, one stands out above all: passion. The individual stories that are told alongside this river are both awe-inspiring and heartbreaking. Altogether, these stories of passion, the story of A River Sutra, function to demonstrate the four functions of mythology as set by Joseph Campbell. While these functions appear throughout myths, it is important to remember that, “We shall have only to follow… a multitude of heroic figures… in order to see again what has always been revealed. This will help us to understand not only the meaning of those images for contemporary life, but also the singleness of the human spirit in its aspirations, powers, vicissitudes, and wisdom” (Campbell, Hero Thousand 36). The narrator of A River Sutra meets such figures along the Narmada River. As he gets these powerful glimpses at life, so do the readers. His journey is our journey.
Along this journey, the human spirit Campbell speaks of is encountered again and again. Defining this sense of humanity is far different from defining what we are as Homo sapiens. Our bone structure and DNA makeup are not the elements that unite us. What makes us human is our abilities to reason, empathize, connect, relate and emote. Within these abilities lie responsibilities and, often times, pain. However, Campbell teaches that it is this pain that makes us human: “The impact of this horror on a sensitive consciousness is terrific – this monster which is life. Life is a horrendous presence, and you wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that” (Campbell, Pathways 3). This concept of pain relates to the four functions that Campbell asserts must be present in a traditional mythology and which are present in A River Sutra.
The pain that is seen throughout A River Sutra points to the first, metaphysical function of mythology. Life’s “horrendous presence” is most clearly demonstrated through “The Teacher’s Story” and “The Musician’s Story.” It is first worth noting and discussing that both of these stories are about musicians. Among its many themes, the novel strongly asserts the importance of music as the sound of life. This presence of music is reminiscent of the dancing Shiva: “The dance, like life itself, is a mixture of the terrific and the auspicious, a juxtaposition and unification of destruction, death, and vital triumph, the volcanic bursting-forth of the lavas of life. [This expression] of the Divine . . . comprises all the goods and evils, beauties and horrors, joys and agonies, of our phenomenal life” (Zimmer 174). These words echo Campbell’s.
Zimmer and Campbell emphasize the importance of art and opposites as part of the mysteries of life; A River Sutra brings these ideas to life through the wide array of experiences the characters reveal. Campbell also instructs that “ . . . the function of the artist is to present these eternal mysteries in terms of a contemporary context of life” (Campbell, Hero’s Journey 211). Gita Mehta has composed a story that poignantly uses the power of music, essentially the power of art, and the power of the individual story in contemporary life to create a relatable mythology that unfolds with the four functions of mythology. As the readers experience the narrator’s response and exposure to the various stories of A River Sutra, they come to not only recognize but appreciate the functions of mythology that Campbell has put forth.
According to Campbell, “ . . . the first function of mythology [is] not merely a reconciliation of consciousness to the preconditions of its own existence, but reconciliation with gratitude, with love, with recognition of the sweetness. Through the bitterness and pain, the primary experience at the core of life is a sweet, wonderful thing” (Campbell, Pathways 4). In order to appreciate the beauty of life, we must first reconcile ourselves with the pain of life. Therefore, one of Mehta’s first stories is one of the most dismal. The story of Master Mohan is arguably the most heart breaking story in the novel. The beginning of this particular story is beautiful: Mohan finds his young protégé and works desperately to provide him opportunities and, ultimately, happiness and safety. It is a touching story of passion between teacher and student. As much as Master Mohan was helping the boy, the boy was also helping him. With Mohan’s unappreciated status in his family, the boy was a shining light. We initially see the beauty of life and relationships in this story. However, the harshness of reality steps in and, in one terrifying moment, everything changes: Master Mohan watches the gruesome and horrendous murder of his protégé. While it is typical for individuals to struggle with the death of a loved one, the death of children is often all the more distressing. The loss of a promising life unlived is simply devastating to those left behind. It is so devastating to Mohan that he eventually takes his own life. This story’s primary function is to reveal the horrors of life. This first function of mythology runs throughout the story, revealing a variety of other horrors. By the end of the novel, however, the wonderfulness of life is revealed and, as the conclusion of this paper will reveal, the first function is resolved.
“The second function of mythology, then, is to present an image of the cosmos that will maintain your sense of mystical awe and explain everything that you come into contact with in the universe around you” (Campbell, Pathways 8). Two of the most powerful stories of awe in A River Sutra are “The Executives Story” and “The Courtesans” story. As Campbell describes, “We have two main attitudes toward the central horrific mystery [of life], this thing beyond good and evil: affirmation and negation” (Pathways 105). For both the executive and the courtesan, it is actually their initial path of negation that leads them to the path of affirmation. They learn that, essentially, the world will seek out each individual; there is no escape from it.
The journey of Bose, the executive, demonstrates how this man renounces his rowdy sexual life and comes to find peace in the mythology books he has inherited from his father. Within the myth of The River Sutra, the characters themselves are constantly encountering myths and creating them. However, as Bose remains both renounced and engaged in myth, he feels a sense of restlessness. This suggests the idea that one cannot stay on the path of negation. The world will call; the world was calling Bose. When he turns to the lover he cannot commit to,she comes to possess him. After this possession, it is no coincidence that Bose’s initial, temporary cure comes from the form of a snake and that his final cure occurs at the Narmada River. After all, “in Hindu mythology the symbol of water is the serpent” and water is “a tangible manifestation of the divine essence” (Zimmer 37, 34). In order to overcome his possession, to move past his negation to affirmation, Bose must reconnect with divine essence – with God. The snake also speaks to this idea as it is a reminder of Vishnu, whose “favorite symbolic animal” is the snake (Zimmer 37). Zimmer also explains that “ .. . in the symbolism of the Myths, to dive into water means to delve into the mystery of Maya, to quest after the ultimate secret of life” (34). Through this process, Bose comes to understand tribal rights and writes an essay that gets published – he has moved negation to affirmation and demonstrated the “mystical awe” Campbell discusses.
“The third function of a mythological order is to validate and maintain a certain sociological system: a shared set of rights and wrongs, proprieties or improprieties, on which your particular social unit depends for its own existence” (Campbell, Pathways 8). All the stories told along the Narmada demonstrate this on some level. There is a general notion of right and wrong, beautiful and horrendous. While the characters that the narrator meets across the river vary in background, age, and experience they all share the same senses: the murder, suicide, shock and awe is universal. However, “The Courtesans Story” offers the strongest demonstration of the “sociological system” at play in Campbell’s third mythological function. This story also asserts the “horror” of the first function and the “awe”of the second function, moving readers ever closer to the ultimate fourth function.
The courtesan worked very hard to protect her daughter from the evils of the world. Like the story of the musician and the teacher, this story also emphasizes the importance of art. It is interesting that that courtesan’s daughter is kidnapped when they have gone out to a performance for the daughter to sing. This idea of music as the sound of life is working here to move the daughter towards life. The daughter has been on a path of negation. The world comes to her in a strange form to lead her to a sense of affirmation: she is kidnapped by a bandit. While this initially appears to be the horror of the story, it is quite the opposite. The daughter finds the love of her life. Through the life they live, the sociological system begins to reveal itself in a frightening way. The courtesan’s daughter lives with a man outcast from society. He is deemed a horrific bandit, a man to be feared and captured. However, he has maintained a logical set of rights and wrongs and did “what any man of honor would do” (Mehta 182). This man killed those who killed his family, but harmed no others. He was incredibly respectful of the courtesan’s daughter, earning her honorably.
The story of the courtesan’s daughter shows society in all its reality: though it attempts to maintain a proper sociological system, it fails the courtesan’s daughter and her husband. Societies depend on order, and the third function of mythology is intended to demonstrate this order. What is shown in A River Sutra is that this system is not yet perfected, and this is arguably true for all societies. Universally, groups of individuals typically strive for peace and harmony, for a line of right and wrong that functions to respectively reward and punish. This system is fallible though, as it is governed by man. In this, we are reminded of the horrors and sorrows of the world. The system fails, the good bandit is murdered, and his beautiful wife commits suicide. Campbell reminds us that, “Society lapses into mistake and disaster” (Hero Thousand 308). Nevertheless, in seeing these mistakes and disasters, societies have hope in getting it right.
The first three functions of myth flow throughout the various stories presented in A River Sutra. The readers, as well as the narrator, must continuously face life’s “horrendous presence” in order to reach the pedagogical and psychological fourth function of mythology. “The Musician’s Story” is the final demonstration of the “bitterness and pain . . . of life” (Campbell, Pathways 4). As the musician begins telling the narrator her story, it is clear it not going to have a happy ending. Nevertheless, a glimmer of hope shines as she shares how she developed a musical relationship with her father’s student. Mehta has again returned to the ideas shared amongst life, passion, and music. As the musician felt she had connected to this man who became her bridegroom, her passion for music began to soar. Her dreams are shattered though when the young man is freed from the commitment to her father and he chooses not to marry her. Though it is not as heartbreaking as the murder of the young boy in “The Teacher’s Story,” the narrator and readers are left wondering – Why do we have to face this pain? How are we supposed to reconcile it?
The novel truly answers these questions through “The Minstrel’s Story.” As the final story of the novel begins, the fourth function of mythology is approached: “All societies are evil, sorrowful, inequitable; and so they will always be. So if you want to help this world, what you will have to teach is how to live in it. And that no one can do who has not himself learned how to live in it in the joyful sorrow and sorrowful joy of the knowledge of life as it is” (Campbell, Myths 104). “The Minstrel’s Story” again reveals to readers that one cannot hide from life, but must face it head on in order to actually be alive. As the narrator listens to the story of the minstrel, he has already faced the suicides of Mohan and Courtesan’s daughter. He saw the hopelessness in the story of the Musician. While the Executive’s story demonstrated the idea of going back into the world, the narrator, as well as the readers, still needs a more powerful example to fulfill this fourth and final function of the myth.
The very first story told in A River Sutra is “The Monk’s Story.” Born of a rich family, this young man has renounced the world. He has just enough time to tell the narrator about the glorious spectacle that was his initiation into the sect of mendicants. The narrator is left with unanswered questions as the monk rushes to return to his brother monks. If he does not return to this group, he will have to find another. In his last words to the narrator, he explains, “I am too poor to renounce the world twice” (Mehta 41). While the horror here is not as pointed as it is in the stories of the teacher, the courtesan, or the musician, it foreshadows what must be told by the end of the story: the progression from renunciation to affirmation. We must reenter the world.
In “The Minstrel’s Story,” Naga Baba first appears as a peaceful ascetic. He has taken on the role of savior and teacher to Uma. Chapter Fifteen is heartwarming and presents little conflict or horror. It is rather shocking in Chapter Sixteen when the narrator discovers that Naga Baba has become Professor Shankar, an archaeologist removed from spirituality. And, while this may be a rather dramatic example, it acutely demonstrates how individuals must “reenter the world” (Mehta 281). The narrator had envisioned that Naga Baba was “ . . . in a cave somewhere, seeking higher enlightenment” (Mehta 281). However, we cannot dwell in our sorrows nor hide from the world in a cave. We must be in the world to experience it, to live in it, and to help others to live in it.
Campbell indicates that the “happy ending [of the myth] is to be read . . . as a transcendence of the universal tragedy of man” (Hero Thousand 28). The happy ending is not a “contradiction” to the tragedy contained within the myth, yet an accompaniment utilized to represent “the down-going and the up-coming” nature of life (28). The ending of A River Sutra is ultimately a happy one. As Professor Shankar drives away, the narrator “wonder[s] for the first time what [he] would do if [he] ever left the bungalow” (Mehta 282). The final image is of him staring into the powerful river.
It is easy to imagine that the narrator does indeed leave the bungalow. What he does after the professor leaves is not of concern to readers, as long as he reenters the world. If he does not, the stories he has heard meant nothing to him. However, the novel can end without the revealing what happened next because as much as it was the narrator’s journey, it was the readers’ journey. Time and time again, the various characters showed us that “ . . . all life stinks, and you must embrace that with compassion” (Campbell, Pathways 77). Heartache, suicide, murder and death pervade the story, but the final image does not emphasize those horrors. The final image is peaceful, leaving readers in the river, reminding them of the notion of “Vishnu’s heavenly world” (Zimmer 111). Yes, the horror is here – but beauty surrounds it.
Life eats on life. (Campbell, Myths 169). Campbell has told us this. A River Sutra has demonstrated it. Life can be horrific. However, it does not end there. It is horrific because we care, because we have both passion and compassion. Passion fuels us. Without desire, pain, and struggle, the glory of the world would mean nothing. The pain that we feel in our life of passion is a sign that we are alive. If we moved through safely, unharmed, untouched, unmoved, what would be the point?
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero’s Journey. Novato: New World, 1990.
— The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1972.
— Myths to Live By. New York: Penguin, 1972.
— Pathways to Bliss. Novato: New World, 2004.
Mehta, Gita. A River Sutra. New York: Vintage International, 1994.
Zimmer, Heinrich. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. New Jersey: Princeton
Not just today, but all days, we need to pray for peace and make movements towards it, for the self and the world. Inner peace is the path to global peace. Take time each day to tend to your inner peace.
Celebrate International Peace Day and spread peace in your corner of the world.
The Tricycle article “Practicing with Loss” (published four days ago on Tricycle) contained this poignant quote:
We are all going to suffer our losses. How we deal with these losses is what makes all the difference. For it is not what happens to us that determines our character, our experience, our karma, and our destiny, but how we relate to what happens.
I couldn’t help but think of the series two finale of Buffy (penned by Whedon himself) and Whistler’s powerful voice-over, which is well-known to fans:
Bottom line is even if you see ‘em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what, are we helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come, can’t help that. It’s what you do afterward. That’s when you find out who you are.
Just thought it was a neat connection. Felt compelled to share it with my fellow Whedonites. It’s an important message, regardless of context.
I read a great post on Tumblr this morning from GradnessMadness about “quitting” grad school. It’s ultimately a positive post, but it realistically addresses the way many other people feel when an individual decides to “quit” grad school. That’s a very loaded term, and a powerful one in our culture. And I think the term itself makes it difficult for some of us to make decisions because we don’t want to let down ourselves or others. And it’s a term I struggled with for a long time this year. I begin to consider “quitting” grad school. After months of anxiety, therapy, and soul-searching, I realized I was using the wrong word. I wasn’t the same person I was when I started grad school four years ago, and it wasn’t serving me the way it did then. Once I got the right language, my decision was easy: I was ready to “let go” of completing my PhD.
I have a long list of reasons for not wanting to be in grad school now, but then I realized that, more importantly, I don’t have any reasons left to stay. I love the school I’ve been at, and it’s been a transformative experience for me – educationally and spiritually. I have met amazing people, and I’m glad that I’ll be able to remain a part of the community. I am also pleased that, though I won’t move into the final year of course work, I’ll soon have completed the requirements for my Master’s in Mythological Studies. I will be proud to walk with my peers in May at graduation, and I look forward to starting the next stage of life after that.
Life is a huge learning experience, and I’ve definitely had a lot to learn over the last decade, especially. We really come into our being in our 20′s, and I feel like now, in my early 30′s, I’m finally getting my footing. Though I’m also in a place where I realize how much more I have to learn about myself, the people around me, life, and the world. There’s been a lot of things I have had to let go of over the last decade, most significantly the life in martial arts that I had begun. I lost that life-plan due to an injury, and it’s taken me many, many years to accept that and choose to let it go myself rather than suffer the wounds of something that was taken from me. I’m realizing how much our attitude – and even the words we choose to identify that attitude – impact our view of ourselves, our world, our lives. Anyway, I’ve let go of who I used to be, and now am ready to embrace who I am.
On a final note, I just want to say I am incredibly grateful for the amazing support system I have of local friends and family as well as my life-time friends, school friends, blog friends, and Twitter peeps stretched across the US and Canada. I feel the support you each offer and am blessed to have you all in my life. Namaste.
I went to a college prep high school. From the first day of freshman orientation, we were asked to decide a career path. Everyone was supposed to know what they wanted and start working towards it immediately. Looking back, I think that’s a whole heck of a lot of pressure to put on someone who is only 14. And at the time, it absolutely overwhelmed me. I was fortunate that I was not receiving this pressure at home as well, but for 5 days a week for 4 years, I felt like this decision was bearing down on me. What are you going to be? What are you going to do? Where will you go to college? Who are you? And in four years, my answer never stuck. Even in college I kept changing my mind. In community college wanted to be an English major, a film student, a communications major. I got to explore my options and settled on Psychology. I transferred to a four-year university and got my BA in Psychology. But then I realized that still wasn’t what I wanted to do. So I went back to my first love, English, and that’s what I got my first MA in. I believe in following your bliss (thank you, Joseph Campbell) and have walked into the doors that have opened before me. The next thing I knew, I was offered a position to teach.
I’ve recently realized, however, I still don’t know what the answer is. What are you going to be? What are you going to do? Who are you? I have been searching for a definitive identity for 17 years. There was one identity as a martial artist that I held onto for dear life, and when I lost that identity due to injury, I was really shattered. I’ve been picking up the pieces of myself for 10 years, looking for a new identity. And I’m just realizing that I don’t have to be definitive.
It is something the world still asks for though, isn’t it? Think even just about the “About” or “Bio” sections on all the social networking websites we’re plugged into. On Twitter, you’re supposed to tell people who you are in “fewer than 160 characters.” Facebook and WordPress don’t give a word count limit, but it’s still the standard to “define” yourself, to let people know who you are, in clear and concise words. Earlier this year I attended WonderCon, and on a panel for Looper, Joseph Gordon-Levitt began discussing the societal pressure to define the self. He concluded: “We can all be all sorts of things. You don’t only have to be one thing.” Sage advice.
In this world of avatars, bi-lines, and profiles, we’re constantly defining ourselves. But our we limiting ourselves? We share our real lives virtually and our virtual lives become a part of our reality. In the mix, who are we really? Do we really want these personas, or do these personas want us?
I subscribe to Tricycle magazine and receive daily quotes from the newest online articles they have available. Two have come up this week on self and have really resonated with me. Here’s a couple of my favorite bits.
In “Self as Verb,” Andrew Olendzki explains, “Self is a process. Self is a verb.”
In “No Self or True Self,” Jack Kornfield quotes one of his masters: “I am none of that. I am not this body, so I was never born and will never die. I am nothing and I am everything. Your identities make all your problems. Discover what is beyond them, the delight of the timeless, the deathless.”
One of my favorite quotes has also been on my mind lately:
“Speak what you think today in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.
I have always followed this. And I have usually been good at knowing exactly what I want. Even though it may change the next day. Lately, I’ve been very indecisive. I have a crystal clear picture of who I was. Who I am has been a bit fuzzy. And who I want to be has been the most difficult to identify. But I just have to find the quiet, and listen to my self.
Another of my old favorite quotes has also been looping in the back of mind. This comes from some dialogue in the 90s movie Reality Bites:
Lelaina: “I was really going to be somebody by the time I was 23.”
Troy: “Honey, all you have to be by the time you’re 23 is yourself.”
Yourself. Your. Self. Who that is changes, constantly. And I’m just beginning to really recognize how fluid the self is and how fluid I need to be with myself.
So, on this independence day of our country, I’m claiming the independence of my self. Freedom to be whoever I am from one day to the next. To stop clinging to definitions and images of me. And just be.
It’s important to think about our impact on our environment every day. Today is a day to help us bring awareness to our environment and spread the word around the globe. In 1972, the UN General Assembly established World Environment Day to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Each year, continuing to celebrate this event becomes even more important. The United Nations Environment Programme emphasizes that the economic recession around the globe shows our need for a Green Economy, which should address social equity AND dramatically improved environment management. Currently, the world population is at 7 billion. It is estimated that by 2050, the world population will be 9 billion. This puts a greater pressure on natural resources; demands for food, water, and energy will continue to rise.
Want to do something?
Support World Environment Day! You can participate in a variety of ways from doing arts and crafts with your kids to engaging in social media activities. UNEP has a list of activities here. You can even register your activity and enter UNEP’s contest. These activities can be done between now and June 8. Some activities require more planning, so I should have got this post up sooner, but the easiest thing to do is spread the word! Inform the kids in your life! Plant a tree, ride a bike, or recycle!
Info materials are available here. Get your learn on!!
First time here? Welcome! So, most weeks, I post this lil “Links of the Week” post on articles or other things I find online that I am absolutely compelled to share!! Hope you find something here that moves you in some way, even if it’s just to a smile.
As my friend Jody said, here’s a good reason why every business needs a mythologist on staff: 7 Horrifying Historical Origins of Famous Corporate Logos
The week’s cutest news: Tiniest Chameleon, Brookesia Micra, Discovered On Madagascar Island
The week’s creepiest news: How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did
So, I usually share links because they’re awesome. This week, I have something to share that I’m not supportive of! While browsing my campus bookstore, I saw this darling notebook with a cover that said “Choose to be Green.” I thought it was awesome! But then I noticed something… there was no recycle symbol anywhere. Though the product was promoting green, it wasn’t green! Therefore, I’m sharing this Choosey Chicks links to encourage you not to buy any of their products. They promote some positive ideas – choose peace, choose change, choose strength – but they are only out for profit. As far as I can see, they aren’t attempting to make any changes, at least not for the environment.
But, I’d like to end on a happy note, so I recommend you go here to learn more about Peace Sounds, a beautiful album that will soothe you and provide a donation to Thich Nhat Hanh’s current tour.