I walked down to the bank of the river and caught the sun’s light stabbing through the horizon line of pines on the other shore of the Black River. The sunrise after a rain is always so golden and green. A gilded gift of Nature for her pourings. The night before was hard. My son and I got into camp late, being waylaid by work and traffic and other conveniences of modern life. Hot on our heels was a persistent, chill rain that accompanied us for the rest of the evening. There is no joy in setting up a camp in the rain, and even less in a pitch black rain at night.
We scrambled in the mud to get up a tarp, tying some rope to a few trees and giving ourselves a rough lean-to. We dragged over the picnic table and had ourselves a dry space to work under. We found a spot that was not completely flooded on the ground and quickly threw up the small tent my son and I would share. It all came together loudly and frantically; curses being thrown around as often as the rain hit the ground. And believe me when I tell you that there is nothing that cuts through the rain of night like the high-pitched curses of a ten-year old.
With the tent setup, we thought it best to stake it down. Winds were ripping and it was already trying to blow around. And that is where it went from bad to worse. No stakes. No fucking tent stakes… We ran around in the rain, flashlight’s bobbing in every corner of the trunk and then on the ground, but no stakes were to be had. They were lost. Unpacked from the previous camping trip. No time for blame or grief. We needed to get this fucking tent staked down.
Sticks! I sent the boy out on a quest. Find me sticks of just so thick and just so long and bring them back for sharpening and stabbing. My son is born for quests in the rain guided only by flashlight in a foreign land. He returned quickly with a handful of sticks perfect for holding down a tent. One was even already carved into a spear point. Aha! I wasn’t the only traveler to come unprepared to these treacherous lands! We did our best to secure the tent. It stayed in place and that was a victory in itself. We had yet to eat so we huddled under the hanging tarp to cook a meager dinner of brats on the burner stove, with chips and water to wash it down. We were soaked and shivering and the mosquitoes noticed the safety of our tarp. They ate as we ate. They ate more than we did. At some point we could take no more. We crawled into the damp sanctity of the tent, blew up air mattresses, and let the rain tap rhythm to our sleep and the trees sing dirges with the winds and eventually we fell into a fitful sleep.
I tell this story for a reason. Because despite the fucking misery of that first day, and it was miserable, we made it into something more in that moment because there was no escaping it. We made it into an adventure; a myth. We made it into something that had to be endured for a greater story. We never let the difficulty and the strain, physically and emotionally, of that rain-soaked setting up of the camp to tarnish the shine we had for our camping experiences. And the boy and I, we love camping, so when nature threatened to make us despise it, we took the challenge and made it into a myth. A part of the narrative of our great camping stories.
Instead of complaining, we made it into a warrior’s tale of necessity. We had no choice but to build this camp, cut off as we were from our home regions. We were stranded adventurers and we made do with what we could find on the land to construct our shelter. We fought epic, bloodletting bugs to eat the meager foods we could scavenge and we turned in, grateful for out temporary reprieve from the rain and readying ourselves for the epic tales of tomorrow.
The Need for Myth In Our Lives
So maybe the truth of the story above isn’t so exotic and exciting as myth. But, the origins of most myth aren’t that exciting. What happens with most great stories is that they are passed back and forth and the details are embellished and the labors exaggerated, until you eventually land on a story that is honest in spirit but glorious with mythological detail to make it worth telling and hearing.
The rain from my story will eventually fall like a typhoon; tears of ancients Gods that mourn for natures demise. The mosquitoes will become great hulking monsters picking up stray adventurers and sucking them dry in mid-air before dropping bloodless bodies in their flight. Food will become what we scavenged or trick from the greedy, mischievous hands of wood sprites and other forest dwelling mysteries. All of it will will be magical but the moral of it, that we suffered challenges in the spirit of nature and to enjoy the great wonder of the outdoors together, that will remain in tact, and that is what truly matters. The point is, I will memorialize this story in such a way that it becomes part of who I am; part of the myth of my life. It will slowly morph into a story I often tell with grand embellishment because it will be one of those times that slightly changed me and defined my character.
The telling of our myths say something about our values and character. The myths of our lives become a small telling of ourselves and in hearing them you understand a little more about who each one of us are. That is what all myths are really. From those ancient ones we still tell ourselves of Heroes and Gods from a land long past. To those modern myths that spring eternal from our shared experiences. They are all a valuation of what we hold as treasures of our being. Courage. Strength. Fortitude. Patience. Humility. Whatever themes live and breathe in our myths are the themes of our lives and only by solidifying our personal experiences into myth can we garner the benefit of the values we work to embody.
That is why we have to make sure to mythologize our lives as often as possible, through the pursuit of experience and bearing well the inevitable misfortune and triumph that makes all myths worth telling.
So, how do we create stories of mythology in our own lives?
Keep Your Wits and Your Humor About You At All Times
I have a disclaimer to make before you set off on your own adventures, hoping to etch into marble the legacy of your own myth. Never, and I mean never, take yourself too seriously and always, and I mean always, keep calm and patient with the experience. The worst thing you can do when pursuing a life of mythology is to think that you are stronger than the Gods and wiser than Fate. You are a mere mortal running with powers that will always be just out of your understanding. That is the beauty of this magical life. Don’t fight it, embrace it. There will be plenty of other fights to be had that you can actually win.
The truth is, if you are going to have any sort of adventures you are going to have to suffer some indignities, some less than ideal situations, and some serious blows to your ego. No hero of any story was a hero to them self and they all bared great trials in order to be worthy of the myths we tell of them. Just remember that. You are not going to impress yourself with some of the nonsense shit you do. But that’s OK. Doing and failing is part of the hero’s journey. No myth is worth telling about the hero who got everything they ever wanted on their first try. We need the stories of struggle and adversity and overcoming. Those are the stories that all people want to hear and that all people can relate to.
The best thing you can do when you are trying to build your myths and you fail is learn your lesson, laugh it off, and try again. Whether this means laughing at yourself for leaving the fucking tent stakes under the tent (Yes, that is where they were and in my defense it was dark and raining and I was tired.) or allowing yourself to be dirty and wet and tired and just embracing the fun of a night in a cramped tent playing card games to the sound of rain outside.
Small Experiences Can Make Big Myths
We need not always undertake Herculean labors to create the seeds of myth in our lives. There are a million opportunities for small adventures every day. The only requisite for a myth is that there is an opportunity to exemplify some great attribute you would like to be associated with you. The beauty of myth is that from the small seeds of myth you plant the grand mythology will grow. It will become bigger than it was through the sharing of it with others, and in looking back on it you will realize how big, even those little things we do, truly are .
Go dance in the rain imagining that it is the joy shed tears of the Goddess of music, delighting in your movement. That myth says you are carefree and precocious and a graceful presence in an occasionally dreary world. Go run through the woods on a long trail envisioning a quest of delivery between Gods. That myths says you are strong and fast and agile and full of an endurance that can bear the long-lasting sufferings of the world. Go sit in a meditation retreat or church service with other souls aching to discover themselves and imagine yourself in Communion with the Gods, telling the world that you value wisdom and intellect and discovery in your mythology.
The point is, creating myth in our lives is as easy as getting clear about what we value and then finding opportunities, big and small, to emphasize them in our lives. If you want to be someone who is remembered as creative and colorful, pursue those opportunities to embody those values through your experiences. If you want to be known as a warrior, full of strength and fortitude, then pursue a life of fitness and bring into that mythical journey, opportunities to prove the worth of it through competition, with yourself as much as others. All these small opportunities are of great importance into creating the mythology of who we are and they will be the things that people tell of us when we are gone.
And when you really want to solidify the motif of your myth – when you want to truly prove your dedication to that value you want to embody – you should seek out some larger adventures that will define your commitment to the values and character of your mythology. Camping weekends. Adventure races. Travelling. Hosting events. Volunteering. Artistry. Those things that require planning and stretch out over a time and are deliberate expressions of who we are and what we care about. Those are the big adventures that are the cornerstones for our smaller adventures and are the larger structures of our myth.
Makes Other’s The Hero Of Your Stories As Well
Your stories can not be only about yourself. You need a supporting cast and they should be equally heroic and mythological in their feats. In your stories you will have a varied cast of characters. The Jester. The Lover. The Mentor. The Sidekick. The Adversary. So many other people will weave in and out of your myths and there is something you should remember, in their stories they are just as mythological as you are. They are the main characters of their stories as much as you are yours and we should treat them so.
We should not think ourselves so worthy of a good story that we would hurt others to get it. Whatever virtues and values you seek to embody with your mythological adventures, they should never be those that you would not want others to also adopt.
The goal in this fairy tale of life is not to get everything that we want by any means necessary but to tell the best story that says the most about who we are. The goal is to write a myth that we would want told about us and no one should want to be known as someone who hurts others to get what they wanted. That isn’t the story of a hero, but one of a villain and the worst thing you can be is a villain in your own story.
Myth is not something that is untrue, it is something that is true about an idea. It is a story spun from the bones of truth to tell a greater story about what we value in the world and in the characters that we most celebrate in the world. Your life is your myth. The stories you create of your living will be those told by others when you are gone and we should seek to create the greatest myths of our lives through the experiences we pursue.
Those small things that we engage in every day can be made so much more magical by seeing in them opportunities to embody the values that we hold dear in life and by making the experiences of them larger than they might be. So go out there and battle great monsters and have great adventures. Your myth is waiting to be written and your stories are waiting to be told.