In Once and Future Myths Phil Cousineau sets out to explain not only how ancient myths are relevant to the modern world, but also how the new myths of society relate to the old myths of our ancient relatives. Cousineau shows how much in common we have with one another even though we may be separated by culture, geography, language, or even time. Throughout the book he uses examples from his own life and experience to highlight the ancient myths and their relevance to modern times.
Cousineau does a great job in bringing the myth of Sisyphus to life and applying it to the modern world. He relates the story of his creative struggle after graduating fro college and trying to find a purpose in his life. Sisyphus taught him to learn to love the struggle. In loving the struggle you will have peace and will always be able to keep pushing and move forward. Phil reminded his brother during a conversation that “…myths were things that never happened, but always are.” (Cousineau, p.30) Sisyphus never actually lived, but the truth behind the story is universal and always occurring. Everybody struggles in life to one extent or another, and everyone has to deal with this struggle. How you deal with it determines how you live your life and what you get out of living your life (your life experience). Cousineau summarizes the struggle the best saying: “Out of the struggle with ourselves, from the fire in our soul, comes the thing that never existed before—the music, the art, the words that make life endurable, and more, creative and sublime.” (p.64, Cousineau) This is a fantastic explanation of how to learn to channel your personal struggle in life in order to squeeze the meaning out of it. How you deal with the struggle will determine the fruits that spring forth from your life.
The chapter on “the myth of time” was also very interesting and meaningful. Time is the greatest gift that we were given, yet seems to be the culprit at the heart of all our struggles. The world today is rampant with stress and anxiety because we “don’t have enough time.” The issue, or problem, with time is of extreme relevance today, and I struggle with it all the time (pun somewhat intended ). The mere notion of time in our busy world is dizzying. We seem to have no control over it and it runs our life. Of course, there is never enough of it. The myth that the author shears from the Salish Indians was eerily similar to what has happened to our society. To summarize, people long ago live by the natural rhythms of nature, until the strangers appeared from far a way. The trickster Mink knew that this “time” was powerful and wanted some for himself; so he stole some from the strangers. It was contained in a box with two thin arrows and moved around without ever really going anywhere. Mink became so mesmerized by this “time in a box” that he became forgetful of what he was supposed to do. He had to check the clock before he did anything. Mink became a slave to clock, lost his free time, and began to work more and more, and rest less and less. This was a sobering myth indeed!! We are totally enslaved to time and the elements are mythical. Technology runs are life instead of the other way around. Cousineau concludes that a “timeless experience” is our only answer to the riddle of time. We need to seize life, moment by moment. This is akin to Campbell’s “eternity in the moment.” Timeless activities such as listening to music, walking in nature, or any activities where time seems to disappear are how we capture time, or defeat it. He says “…within play is contemplative time, which is indispensable for happiness.” We need to learn how to enjoy ourselves again and not work ourselves to death. We need to recognize the myths of time in order to save us from the perils and snares of time.
Cousineau also has great stories in his chapters on the myth of travel, the myth of the city, and the myth of sports. All of these chapters are phenomenal in relating old myths to the modern world. In the myth of travel he talks about his love for Paris and how cities have mythical elements to them, and are inspiring in themselves to many people. The myth of travel is similar as he shares his trip to Easter Island and contemplates what the ancient people were thinking when they created those great statues. The myth of sports shows the mythical element in our modern love affair with sports. Sports are universal, and the glorifications of those who play and succeed have deep roots in humanity.
The second book: Trickster Makes this World by Lewis Hyde, was honestly, my least favorite of the two though it was thought provoking in parts. He basically gives views on how the universal Trickster impulse inspires the world of art and imagination. I found the book as whole very tedious, but the parts on accidents and on dirt were both very good. He did a good job of using the myths to allow us to look deeper into accidental happenings and accidental physical qualities. Accidents, as opposed to substance, always seem to be the parts that you can throw away and are meaningless. It’s not the texture of a food that we care about so much as is what the nutrients are that sustain us (texture being the accidents and nutrients being the substance inside, not seen). However, Hyde gives ideas that the accidents may be useful and a necessary and essential part of and object or being. In this, he uses the example of accidents that occur in people’s lives that don’t mean to occur, but are non-the-less meaningful and essential to that life, because they become a part of that life and shape that life.
Hyde’s chapter on dirt was also very thought-provoking and brought the Trickster to life in a vivid and real way. He shows how dirt can be not only destructive, but regenerating. Many times we need dirt (and there is a lot to go around) in order to renew ourselves. In “playing with dirt” or seeing dirt, we find what needs to be renewed and cleaned. This chapter was very important because the “dirt” of society can either bring us down or allow us to rise to new heights by using it as a regenerative tool. It is also good to recognize that dirt is usually a by product of creation.