In the introduction to “Augustus Finds Serenity” I outlined the reason why I had sought to use the medium of metaphor and parable to outline the concepts that I thought were useful in helping people live more fulfilled lives.
I started my career as an engineer and the principal tools I used were built on mathematics and physics. Rational, quantitative science has delivered many benefits to the world. Yet there is still much of what is important to me that is not illuminated by scientific method.
Why is this so?
In some ways we are still locked in to the “Age of Reason” prompted by the discoveries of Newton and Descartes. The tremendous advances of western societies initiated by scientific and mathematical discoveries in the seventeenth century led many to believe that the world could only be understood by the application of such rationalism. However by the twentieth century, many (including some very influential scientists) were beginning to doubt the efficacy of this approach in coming to grips with the world.
In most pre-modern cultures there were two recognised ways of thinking, speaking and acquiring knowledge. The Greeks called them mythos and logos.
Logos (reason) was essential in engaging the material world. It was needed in ordering our societies, manufacturing our produce and dealing with the physical environment.
Mythos (myth) helped us to come to a more informed understanding of human nature and our place in the world. The stories of gods and heroes shared over generations the practical knowledge of dealing with the human condition. Whether it was Jason seeking the Golden Fleece or Hercules enduring his Twelve Labours, people understood that these weren’t stories of real people but pointers to how we might live our lives.
These two ways of knowing are complementary. We rely on both to help us come to grips with the human predicament. If we accept logos but reject mythos we will be logical, competent people but lacking in spirituality and a deeper understanding of human nature. If we reject logos and accept only mythos we might live a rich internal life but will be grossly ineffective in dealing with the world around us.
Darryl Reanney, in his lovely little book “The Music of the Mind” quotes the famous lines from TS Eliot’s “Little Gidding”.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Reanney points out ‘that most people react to this poem in a special way; they sense that it is true without being able to see why it is true’ Mythos can tap well-springs of knowing that logos can not and vice versa.
As well, much of the wisdom that we arrive at through the means of mythos is also paradoxical when viewed through the lens of logos.
He who loses his life shall find it.
The best way to learn something is to teach it.
All I give to another I give to myself
Reanney called the realisations we get from such a process “another way of knowing”.
Just then, as we hand down the realisations we get from logos in formulae, theorems and equations, the realisations that we get from mythos we hand down as parables, metaphors and stories. In this way mythos underpins our spirituality, and also indeed, in many ways, our understanding of human psychology.
What we must guard against in this process of course, is not to take the stories as literal. We need to see them as reflecting ‘truths’ but not being true in a factual way. This is the trap of fundamentalism. Indeed a Buddhist sage once pointed out, ‘When the sage points to the moon, the fool sees the finger!’
This then is the reason for the use of parables in my little book. The world’s wisdom traditions have all used the same vehicle. I trust that these little stories will resonate with you, and connect you with some realisations that are accessed by “another way of knowing”!