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A Personal Myth

Copyright © 1995 by by Charles Mish

 


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Myth: A Working Definition
A mythic corpus consists of a usually complex network of myths that are culturally important, imaginal stories conveying by means of metaphoric and symbolic diction, graphic imagery, and emotional conviction and participation the primal, foundational accounts of aspects of the real, experienced world and humankind's roles and relative statuses within it. - John Doty

Last spring as I was preparing to take a major step in my life, I was given the task in my Gurdjieff group to formulate my own myth. I decided to approach the task in a (for me) unusual way. Instead of trying to force the story, I put myself in a receptive state and waited to see what would surface. Before long, the image of Salmon Boy swam into view, and the following story more or less wrote itself.

Salmon Boy

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, a salmon was hatched in a high mountain pool, far from the Great Waters of his parents' homeland. From his infancy onwards Salmon Boy enjoyed his life with the Salmon People - swimming around, leaping above the surface to catch flies in the sunlight, keeping an eye out for the kingfishers and eagles and hawks, and letting the current take him downstream.

One day after many a rapids and many a bend in the river, Salmon Boy found himself entering the deepest water he had ever known, and salty, not like the waters of his birthplace.

By and by, after much wandering and searching, he met an Elder Salmon at the mouth of an underwater cave. Old Salmon Man had a certain look in his eyes, as though he could see things a long way off.

Swimming up to him respectfully, he asked him the following question. "Sir, I've been traveling for a long, long time, but I'm not sure where I am. Can you tell me?"

The Elder Salmon regarded him steadily for a moment, and then responded, "This place we call Great Mother Ocean. The homeland of the Salmon People. You are here. Keep your eyes open and pay attention. Eventually you will find what you are looking for. That's all you need to know for now." Saying this, he withdrew into the cave.

Salmon Boy thanked the Elder and swam thoughtfully away. He now knew two things, where he had come from, and where he was now.

But as time passed and he came into his maturity, he began to wonder about one more thing: "Where am I going?" He wondered about this quite a lot and asked his brothers and sisters many questions, but no one had an answer that seemed to satisfy him.

One fine day, however, he met Old Salmon Woman, who told him of a group who were preparing for a journey far up in the mountains. From her description it sounded like a place he wanted to be.

When introduced to the members of the group, he found them strangely familiar, although he was sure he had never met any of them before. One day when the preparations were well under way, he went back to Old Salmon Man at the mouth of the underwater cave. Approaching him respectfully, he told Old Salmon Man about the group and its plans, then asked for his advice. The Salmon Elder told him, "Soon you will make a long journey - full of adventures but very difficult. Beware of the sea lions at the mouth of the river. Beware also of the fishermen with their glittering lures. The long swim against the current will require a great effort. But if you can avoid these dangers and reach your destination, you will attain what you came into the Great Green World for."

Returning to his group, Salmon Boy told them what the Elder had said. The group continued their preparations with greater intensity.

One day, the group felt the call more urgently than ever. They set off together. As time passed, Salmon Boy began to feel a real sense of solidarity with his brothers and sisters, and something more, something he had never felt before - what was it? - something like destiny.

In the distance he could hear the sea lions roaring hungrily, anticipating the arrival of the group. Who would perish and who would prevail? Not knowing the answer to this question, but with growing faith he plunged into the waves, knowing this was the journey all must make.

* * *


The story flowed from my bones. The archetypal images -- the Great Waters, the Wise Old Man, the Wise Old Woman, and the Perilous Journey to the Source -- belong to the collective unconscious. From an outside perspective, my story is merely a reworking of a well-established pattern. From my own perspective, however, I discovered that I had formulated for myself my own sense of entry into the timeless mythic world. The story accurately rendered in pictorial form the larger issues in my life at that time.

To be specific, in a few months I would be making real a long-cherished dream: creating a sustainable homestead on pristine rural land.

This fulfillment of this dream had been a long time coming. Twenty years ago, the dream was born when I visited a friendís place on Lopez Island. But with an urban-born and-bound wife and two young sons to support, my dream gradually faded.

After fourteen years of marriage, however, my nuclear family detonated. When the fallout settled, I was free to pursue my original desire. Fortunately a few years after the divorce I happened to meet a fine woman, a true kindred spirit, who shared my dream. Even before the wedding we bought land on Lopez Island. In the next few years we put in an orchard, a garden, a waterline, and a pond. One crucial element was lacking -- the home -- solar, earth-friendly, sustainable, a sacred space for living in harmony with the earth and for gatherings of kindred spirits.

But as the prices of lumber skyrocketed my hopes of building such a place on a teacherís salary dwindled. At one point I felt like the prince in "The Golden Bird" whose task is to move a whole mountain by himself.

There are only two laws to the universe, it is said. The first: Begin. The second: Continue. We decided to continue.


Happily, the universe seemed to accommodate us. Interest rates plummeted and we refinanced our home to raise construction funds. A chronic health problem of mine disappeared. After much sorting and sifting, we found the right designer and a competent builder who would tolerate working with an amateur carpenter and his wife and two sons. So last summer began another phase of our mythic journey -- the construction of the solar home. Several times during the process, as I was helping to raise a wall or hammer some sheathing into place, I had the uncanny feeling that I was stepping into my own dream.

As I sit here writing these words on a rainy night in Seattle, I dream of the cottage on the island, half-built but weather tight. With its slate grey roof and its scalloped shingles, it stands patiently in the mist waiting for us to return with the swallows next summer to bring it to completion.

As William Blake put it, "Better to murder an infant in its cradle than to nurse unacted desire." Iím pleased to see the infant out of its cradle and learning to walk. It will be interesting to see where it goes from here.

Charles Mish

December 1994


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