Episode 50: Michael Meade – Part 3: The Art and Evolutionary Necessity of Dialogic Mythmaking
Appreciation: “I’m Michael Meade, the author of The Water of Life and The World Behind the World, and I can say this about Living Dialogues: It is one of the few places in this country where you can hear an intelligent, poetic conversation that brings together myth, genuine imagination, the extemporaneous poetic thought natural to people, and the practical issues of the environment and politics – a mixture that is necessary for the re-imagination of this culture. Thank you Duncan for the invitation and the delightful conversation.”
In Part 1 of this ongoing dialogue, Michael Meade and I shared stories and perspectives on the nature and role of myth throughout the human experience, and in so doing demonstrated how we enact and give voice to a fresh contemporary story, together with you, the deep listening audience evoking the new story, as part of our larger mythic interconnectedness. The great challenge and necessity calling each of us is to go beyond our either-or modern polarization and mythless argument culture into artful co-creative dialogue, to realize ourselves as bards and storytellers in our lives, embodying the personal transformational stories which together can weave the next evolutionary Great Story of unification in diversity so needed in our time.
In this Part 2, we share how stories -- telling them, listening attentively to them, learning thereby to see the individual story of our own lives as embodying and resonating with the purpose and mythic meaning illustrated in a Great Story – how all these aspects of story give us knowledge, healing, inspiration, and initiation into a higher life-enchancing and embracing consciousness. We share certain ancient and modern great stories in illustration of this, including the meeting by the well of the 13th century world poet Rumi and his dialogue inspiration Shams Tabriz (see Program 3 with Coleman Barks on The Soul of Rumi below on this site), the Divine Dialogue between the big Self Krishna and the aspirant Arjuna of the Vedic Bhagavad Gita, the Song of God, from thousands of years ago, the prophetic poetry of William Butler Years (The Second Coming) in the early 20th century, and the anonymous pre-Christian poet(s) who gave us the biblical Book of Job (in the superb translation by Stephen Mitchell – see Programs 13 and 14 below on this site).
In this Part 3, Michael and I go into the nature of story as accessing the deep Source we all share, and in the process finding the thread of deep meaning and purpose that runs through each of our lives. It is in this way, finding the thread that weaves all of the pieces of our personal stories into resonance with a Larger Story, that we can become the “missing piece” of our adolescent cultures: the new elders, giving birth to an elderhood of service at all ages, including the wisdom of the “youth elders” as well as those chronologically older, each engaged in a dialogue of mutual mentoring.
As I say at the beginning of Part 2: “The power in storytelling is the power in helping people to understand how to situate themselves in a world that, at times for many people anywhere, can seem chaotic and without meaning when we experience ourselves as powerless to change the great course of events that affects us all.” Michael describes the challenge we then address in this dialogue as follows: “On the national and on the global stage, it seems to me, things have become more and more literal, less and less imaginal or mythic. Therefore, more and more rigidly polarized people tend to cling now to ideas that don’t hold water and people tend to cling to beliefs that no longer transfer the living breath of the living waters of the divine or the eternal. So while holding on to these almost empty institutions and empty thought patterns, people then use them as weapons and attack each other.”
Our response to this challenge is an expression of what I term “The Art and Evolutionary Necessity of Dialogic Mythmaking”. As I say in concluding Part 3, “this call to dialogue that has become so imperative right now is the same as the call to the deep story and the sharing of stories”.
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The best way to reach me is through my website: www.livingdialogues.com. Many thanks again for your attentive deep listening in helping co-create this program. All the best, Duncan.
Michael Meade: My name is Michael Meade, author of the “World Behind the World” and I can say this about Living Dialogues. It’s one of the few places in this country where you can hear an intelligent, poetic conversation that brings together myth, genuine imagination, the poetic thought natural to people and the practical issues of the environment and politics. A mixture that is necessary for the reimagination of this culture. Thank you Duncan, for the invitation and for the delightful conversation.
Duncan Campbell: From time and memorial beginning with indigenous counsels, and ancient wisdom traditions, through the work of western visionaries such as Plato, Galileo, and Quantum physicist David Vaughn, mutually participatory dialogue has been seen as the key to evolving and transforming consciousness. Evoking a flow of meaning, a dia flow of logus meaning beyond what any one individual can bring through alone. So join us now, as together with you the active deep listener we evoke and engage in Living Dialogues.
I’m your host Duncan Campbell welcoming you again to Living Dialogues. And again for this dialogue I’m delighted to continue the flowing conversation and dialogue we’ve been having with Michael Meade, great bard, storyteller, mythologist, itinerant teacher. Michael, again it’s really lovely to be back in the flow here of our conversation.
Michael Meade: Yes. Happy to meet you in the waters again Duncan.
Duncan Campbell: And we, we’re talking, just before we began this dialogue and you were saying it really is a water conversation because we’re really in the flow, we’re talking about the waters of life, we’re talking about the chaos that surrounds the International circumstance at present in particular. And I thought we might begin this with a poem by Lao Tzu that brings up this question of source and how we’re coming back to source. He says:
Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.
Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.
If you don't realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.
Michael Meade: That’s beautiful and it reminds me of this old idea that all stories are connected to the hidden stem of stories and you know the storytellers, I assume people realize, that it’s all this great out flowing of stories that are essentially the same stories changing all the time. And then in the course you know of being a storyteller, at least for myself I wind up really sitting and contemplating scenes and stories and usually it’s a different story that explains the mystery of one story at least to me. And they used to have this idea that if you stay in the stories enough, just the way if a person stays in their own personal story enough, really and dwells in it deeply, then you begin to find the connection to the stem of stories. And once that’s been found it’s like finding the source of the water of the, you know the well. Then you really can’t run out. You can keep descending towards that source. And death is another encounter. Because on the way back to the source a person sheds several skins or lives and learns even the dance of death or the letting go that’s death and so then when the big death comes, the end of this particular story at this time it’s not near as shocking. And people act with greater dignity and even do a little preparation for the next time they decide to pick up a story and come back and live in this world again.
Duncan Campbell: And I think that’s a wonderful way of putting it. Because I think of the statement by the philosopher Schopenhauer saying that our life as we look back upon it reveals itself to us as a great novel with plots and sub plots and intricacies and inter connectedness that we could not see at the time but we can appreciate in retrospect. And then the poet Gerta talks about we life our lives forward but we understand them backwards.
Michael Meade: Exactly. One of the tricks is not to wait until it’s over to find out what it was about. [laughs]
Duncan Campbell: Just what I was getting to. Exactly. Yes, and this is the power of the great stories, because they tell us in a sense how it ends. It’s almost a beautiful way of the universe opening the kimono and giving us a glimpse of where this trajectory is heading, so that as we see that we can more and more let go from our sort of small self determination to make things a certain way and surrender to the path and the call that we are being taken along by the river of life itself. And knowing that mystery there is a confidence and a relaxation and a non aggression or non argument toward the world that actually is the elixir of life itself and it makes us kind hearted as a Grandmother, dignified as a King and able to do what’s needed and called for without doubt or equivocation or impulsivity, as things arise.
Michael Meade: You know to be alive now, in a sense you really have to search for this kind of water of the other world. It used to be that hours were only counted in the daylight. And each day was an ending and an opening of the robe of the kimono. Each day, dusk was the time that people stopped and considered you know a little death is happening now, the sun is dying again and where has my life taken me. And people used to be much more alert, I think to the study of the course of the day and since the hours which really comes from the Greek Aura which is a reference to the graces, they were goddesses, each hour was a goddess really, but anyway they ended at daylight because the great darkness of eternity was returning again. And people used to literally stop there was no clock after sundown. Now everybody was back in the sea of eternity. And in that sense people kept alert to the fact that the world dies everyday and is born again or dies every night and is born again when the sun comes back, the great cycle of the world. Which led people to construct and invent and find rituals to keep themselves in this kind of death and rebirth mode and it again, gives like you were saying, more dignity to the individual life and more sense of meaning to the collective life and now there’s this constant denial of the fact that death is woven into our lives and so we have literal death and violent literal death as the growing thing or the greatest manifestation of culture right now. So it’s a tough time to be alive and an important time, I think for people to find these mythic threads within that can give some dignity and give some genuine purpose because it’s very difficult to find it on the outside right now.
Duncan Campbell: In fact it’s almost like the I Ching. You know there are various moments in that great book of divination as it were that allows a methodology for us to enter into our consciousness at a particular moment in time if we really give ourselves to the process of the book and throwing the I Ching. Where often times the reading will contain something to the effect that now is not the time for the saged man to attempt to show his light. Now is the time to keep the light under the bushel. And wait for the proper timing because if one cries out in the name of justice to a audience that has been numbed by the din of the chaos, it won’t be heard. And so there are times when one has to know speak, when not to speak, when not to expend one’s energy in a way that will deplete it and yet to reserve it and be alert for the appropriate time to make the action that can be heard, that can have affect in the world. And during those times when that situation is not propiscious, or appropriate to act out in the world it’s a calling and a signal to go with them. And to find this deep well within, this deep sense of source so that when the moment comes for the act of external warriorship there will be a kind of clarity and non aggression even as one is proclaiming the truth in the face of opposition.
Michael Meade: It’s done more in the sense of sacrifice than it is in the sense of accomplishment and that only results from some kind of repeated tuning of the inside, of the inside world and again I like this idea that the job of a person is to become themselves but in order to do that a person has to come to a real or genuine realization that they are carrying this deep self within as it sometimes called, which is what the poets are always talking about. And that goes against the grain of this seriously extroverted and somewhat manic culture with faster and faster high speed, you know you have elevated circumstances of insecurity and high speed connections and all of this which often pull people away from the act of finding the stem to the self inside. I’m saying that partly because of working with severely at risk and often violent youth. Kids that have been hurt or whatever has happened and so now they’re doing harm. And the only thing you can do for them really, is to help them find ways to connect to a deep sense of the self, whether it’s through reconnecting to their ancestry or finding the deep voice within themselves and helping them find a way to express what they’re actually experiencing. And I think sometimes, you had said at in another point when we were talking that we might be in an adolescent stage of culture. I certainly find the young people themselves, especially the ones that are less privileged are in a stage of expressing the deep pain that is in modern, especially in America I would say, that is causing this I think to have these very strange foreign policies and so on. And if there isn’t a healing of those young people and those parts of ourselves that are similarly wounded and hurt then the world will just continue to get worse. And I guess that by saying that, I’m also saying that a person has two great responsibilities. One, is to somehow find a road to the center of the self, what we were calling in the last conversation, dragging one’s self to the appropriate well where their water for really enhancing life can be both tasted and then shared out because that’s the second responsibility, is once having found something valuable in one’s self it’s the natural job of people to share it with others. Working with various kinds of tribal and native people I found out that everybody except for modern people believe that people are here to give gifts. It’s only in the modern culture that imagines itself as a consumer culture, here to consume everything. And so on one hand that’s a disaster, turned around though it’s just 180 degrees the wrong way. And those that are living now have the opportunity to find the well of living waters, the gifts inside one’s self and then figure out how to bestow them, or how to offer them and how to give them and that might be you know the way in which things can change. Rather than waiting for a big idea or a big perfectly constituted myth that will make everybody OK again. I think it’s actually about pulling up the waters from the unseen grounds, the subtle earth that everybody inherits in being human.
Duncan Campbell: And the opportunity for each us to do that is present literally everyday and every hour and we don’t need to as you say to wait for the emergence of a big over arching proclamation either from our own individual psyche or from the external world. That these acts of attunement that are done in our daily lives are ones that can actually enrich our own souls and create an atmosphere and we might even say an energy field that makes it more conducive for others around us to receive that gift and to find their own center. So that we in a sense are each reciprocally encouraging and supporting ourselves in this truly noble endeavor to be rather than simply to do all the time.
Michael Meade: Yes. The Irish have a myth, a clever thing in which they say when the center is empty and you can tell the center’s empty certainly in the United States because everybody’s trying to get there, everybody’s claiming their in the middle and all the political parties are rushing to the center and so on. When the center is hollow or else it has broken, then the pieces of it can only be found at the edge and then it’s the job of each person to go to the edge of their knowledge, to go to the edge of their knowing, to go to the edge of what’s possible for them and pick up their own little piece. And then once having learned how to carry it, turn around and head back towards the center and when everyone gets back at the center having gathered the piece of themselves that was at the edge their kind of own cutting edge, their own kind of expansion of knowledge at their edge of their knowing, then the center will be reconstituted from everybody bringing their little piece. And I think that’s what peace could mean now. Is the bringing back of the pieces because I have become distrusting of there being a new myth that can pull everybody back together. I think it’s actually more likely to be the small awakened stories of each person, you know struggled for at the edge of knowing that if enough people were doing that a genuine center could be reconstituted from all the pieces found at the edge. And the way I kind of came into that is because the only new ideas I’ve found are in the margins of the culture. The only courage I’ve found, I find more courage in prison that I do on the supposedly free streets of America, and I’ve found more of a greater welcome amongst refugees who have come to this country looking for this country, arriving here and being shocked at what it really exists here. And I’ve found more welcome amongst refugees than I have amongst regular citizens and I’ve found more generosity amongst people that have no wealth than I ever have with people with wealth. And it has just turned my own mind to saying you know everybody should get to the edge. The margins are rich with this flowing of the water of life. I found more hope in the despairing parts of the culture than I have in those that are privileged and so on. And so I agree with you. You could turn in any direction right now, towards any forest, or any body of water, or any river, you could turn towards any aspect of culture whether it be the issues of poverty, or the issues of homelessness, or the issues of mental illness, or the issues of physical illness, or the issues of injustice, four million people in prison and so on. Anywhere you turn a person could find meaningful work to do within ten minutes and then the only issue is to turn in the direction that one’s soul is naturally bent towards or curved towards. Turn in the direction where one’s own sense of the well resides. And that’s the best I think anybody could do and then let the bigger picture take a little bit care of itself. I’m not saying don’t vote but I’m saying be doing serious work in terms of reconstituting the central sense of being alive when you do vote.
Duncan Campbell: Well so many things you’ve said there Michael have such a resonance. I think immediately of the poem by Yates, the Second Coming that we spoke of before when he proclaims the center cannot hold and the falcon cannot hear the falconer in the ever widening gire, so we’re loosing touch with that sense of being grounded and rooted and sourced by the center.
Michael Meade: Yes.
Duncan Campbell: And at the same time he then goes on to say, that these are times in which the best have no conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity. And so there’s a sense there of the center not holding and needing to reconstitute a grounded center and there is an indigenous prophecy that says very much what you’ve said that I’ve been exposed to through the World Counsel of Elders in which it is said that one of the ways of looking at this is a great African myth in which there was a breaking apart of the center, almost exactly what you’ve said. And all the pieces were scattered and this is the time that’s been predicted when people will from all cultures and all traditions and genders and ethnicities and age groups be finding their particular piece of the puzzle and bringing it back together so that the wholeness can be reconstituted. And each of us has a not only an important but a crucial role to play in that. It’s not any longer the era in which we were going to be instructed from on high or there would be a revelation of a myth through, let’s say Moses on the mountain who then comes down and disseminates it. But that each one of us coming in from, as you say beautifully our own margins, you know contributes our essential piece to the peace. [spells out peace] P-E-A-C-E. And I think also John O’Donahue, the Irish poet and mystic who was found of saying in our dialogues, [speaking in Irish accent] “well you know Duncan the only true creativity it comes from the margins, it’s always on the margins”.
Michael Meade: See I told you it was an Irish story.
Duncan Campbell: Yes, [laughs] and it’s so true.
Michael Meade: Yes. And peace, [spells out peace] P-E-A-C-E is a Latin word which means agreement and so the first agreement really is that a person learn to agree with their deep self.
Duncan Campbell: Yes. Exactly.
Michael Meade: Back to the roomie story of let the book go. And trust the water of your own soul. Then a person is at peace with themselves and then will move in ways that create peace in front of them. The idea of making peace has made an awful lot of war.
Duncan Campbell: Indeed, do you remember that movie Michael that was way ahead of it’s time 30 years ago, Harold and Maude in 1972.
Michael Meade: Yes. Great film.
Duncan Campbell: Great film and I remember how shocked I was when the film showed some peace protesters this was at the height of the Vietnam War, who were very angrily shouting slogans and proclaiming anti-war slogans and Harold and Maude were observing this and stated that they felt that the peace protesters were actually contributing to and creating war by their anger and polarity. And to me at the time, that was such a shocking concept and I don’t know how many people actually really got it. I felt very self righteous myself in those days about my opposition to the war and it was only years later that I appreciated the depth of that observation so…
Michael Meade: I’ve been at that spot. I’ve been at that line where the Police, back in the 60’s…
Duncan Campbell: Sure.
Michael Meade: The Police are on one side…
Duncan Campbell: Yes.
Michael Meade: And the Peace Protesters as they used to be…
Duncan Campbell: Yes
Michael Meade: Are on the other and I’ve been there often enough to know that I’ve seen the first projectile come from either side. And the issue there, is when you get close to the fire and the fire is at the center, just the way it’s at the center of the Earth and it must be at the center of each person, not just a well of inspiration, but a fire that burns because people are like 98.6 degrees even when it’s 20 degrees outside so something’s burning. And when a person gets next to the fire they have to know who they are or they suddenly could become the opposite of what they thought they were. And that’s why I say the first making of peace is the agreement inside of one’s self. The agreement made deeply, actually the African story is that we all made an agreement with a divine twin before we entered this world but in order to incarnate we had to embrace the tree of forgetfulness. And once we’re born we just happen to have forgotten why we came here. And life is to remember that original agreement. When a person does that I think, they’re already close to their own purpose, they’re already aimed in the right direction and they’re very close to having their fingers on the gifts they came to give and it’s back to the idea of carrying something genuine to the center. And then even if it gets very heated and very tense a person is less likely to contribute to the violence because they’re actually are aligned with an agreement inside the self.
For full transcript, please contact Duncan Campbell