The Personal Reflects the Collective

The Personal Reflects the Collective

Our own personal experiences often come to us from the depth of human experience. They can speak to us in an exhilarating, universal language, assuring us that our own experiences are greater than ourselves. What is at “the center of our own existence” not only connects us to “all the world,” as Joseph Campbell has said, but is also the most profound, and therefore the most difficult to explain.

Yet this is exactly how we understand that our own experience is greater than ourselves; it even humbles us. With this realization, we may feel, as Jung has, that “we are no longer individuals, but the race,” and that “the voice of all mankind resounds in us.”

One of the primary functions of a sacred story is to provide us with a view of the world, paralleling our own experience, while clarifying the meaning of our existence in the world. Our own personal sacred story does this as well, by reflecting what is going on collectively around us in the time in which we live. This phenomenon works both ways. Who we are at our deepest nature drives us to want to connect with the guiding force of our time. What balances this out is living into our collective potential as sacred beings in relationship with others.

Jung knew this well and expressed it vividly in his autobiography when he asked himself: In what myth (i.e., sacred story) do we live today? He confronted his own unconscious, asking himself what he had accomplished, and realized that he couldn’t satisfactorily answer for himself the question of what myth he was living in. It wasn’t the Christian myth that he lived by, and he found no answer to the question, “But then what is the myth in which you do live?” He had reached an impasse.

This may also be the foremost question any of us can ask ourselves. If the myth or sacred story that once guided us is no longer guiding us today, what is? This requires knowing what most characterizes the spirit of our time, what the underlying inner truth of our lives is, and whether or not the two match up.

If there is a sacred story of our time, what Jung would call a living myth, it would have to be whatever most clearly guides us, whatever most strikes a chord of resonance within us. What deep truth of the human spirit calls out to us the loudest today? What speaks most strongly to our soul, inspiring us in divine directions? Whatever it is, this is what gives voice to our innermost dreams. What are the guiding forces and themes are of our time?

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