Did you know that there’s a specific difference between a maze and a labyrinth?
A maze does not have an intent, and so, we get lost in mazes.
A labyrinth however is designed to bring us into its center.
In some sense, you could say the fundamental question our age wrestles with is whether life is a maze or a labyrinth.
Without getting spun around this axel, let me share with you one of my favorite myths: the story of Ariadne’s Thread.
More popularly known as Theseus and the Minotaur, this is a story of a greedy father who gets cursed by the gods. His curse is that his wife gives birth to a monster, the Minotaur, and due to his great shame, the father-king hires the greatest engineer alive, Daedalus (who apparently wasn’t a great father cuz his son was Icarus), to create a great labyrinth to contain the cursed child-bull.
Skip forward a few decades, and every year this King demands slaves be sent to him from the city-states he rules. These slaves are to be strong young men, and they are challenged to enter the Labyrinth, and if they can find their way out, they will be sent home a hero.
No man who has entered has returned.
They are actually sent as food.
But in the year of our story, a young hero arrives named Theseus. He meets the King and his daughter, Ariadne. That night Ariadne receives a dream that she must give Theseus a ball of red yarn for his adventure into the maze.
And thus, our heroine places in the hand of Theseus one of the great enduring symbols of our culture: Ariadne’s Thread.
This is the mythic symbol that there is always a path back, that no matter how lost you get in the wasteland, or an ideology, or an abusive relationship, or a rough psychedelic trip, there is always a red thread beckoning you home.
I love this story.
And this article is an invitation to follow the threads I’ve laid the last few articles.
Because, in some way I don’t fully understand, this feels like the most important idea I’ve expressed so far.
I’ve realized that the intent of Kathedra is to produce Dharma Artists.
1) Expanding Our Temporal Horizons
We started this journey by looking out at our horizons, literally and symbolically.
We are sick. Our culture needs help, and we can help.
To help will require us to expand our temporal horizons.
And no amount of force can grow temporal horizons, only inspiration can.
Inspiration can come from two polarities: artists or crises.
If you’re reading this and resonating, I hope you choose to live your dharma as an artist and help us envision new horizons.
2) Myths are the Instrument
The instrument for enlivening our cultural horizons is myth.
One of the great lovers of myths, Joseph Campbell, has left us a map we can play with as we hone our myth making songs.
The four melodies a myth needs to envelop and nourish the human spirit is:
- The Psychological Function
- The Metaphysical Function
- The Cosmological Function
- The Sociological Function
Using myth begins with the first melody, the psychological function. The chorus of this song is:
I choose to create my meaning.
Viktor Frankl, the founding prophet (and psychotherapist) of Humanistic Psychology, wrote one of the most famous sentences produced by humans regarding the first melody.
From the ashen pits of Auschwitz, where he laid as prisoner, and having just recently lost his wife and children to the mauling fury of Nazi racism, he wrote:
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
“And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.”
(Man’s Search for Meaning, p. 86-7).
I weep whenever I revisit Man’s Search For Meaning.
I stand before something holy, blinding, and at the same time, uncomfortable.
And I weep.
This man was sent to hell. He watched his wife and his children be taken. He watched his country men murdered, starved, beaten, tortured, and humiliated, and all the while, he held to his Ariadnic thread. He knew he would write a book for the world on everything he experienced. He imagined himself teaching this book in college classrooms. He envisioned teaching the world his lessons from hell.
I weep because he had every reason to choose hate, blame, and bitterness, and somehow, beyond comprehension, he chose meaning; to endure, and ultimately to be of service (he credits the desire to write the book and teach its essence as the hope that helped him endure).
The last of our freedoms is our ability to choose our attitude.
This is the glory and the grace of living inside of a myth.
This kind of meaning and grit await anyone who chooses the Dharma Artist path.
3) If You Don’t Think Myths Matter, Glimpse The Wasteland
I’m looking forward to being a dad soon. I’m excited for both the sleep torture that will bond me to them forever, and the moments of awe at witnessing the dawning of a new consciousness.
However, there will be a point where my little eden will realize one day they will die.
We all had our moment, and I’m sure if our parents could have known how it rocked our little psyches, it would have broken their hearts.
Describing the wasteland of our modern mythic landscape feels like this.
It’s a story that, when fully told, is to describe a kind of self-inflicted genocide that I don’t think we’ll fully appreciate until a century or two later.
We are living in the wake of a culture without a functional collective myth and the result of it is hundreds of millions of people psychologically injured and tens of millions dying per year.
In 100 years, we’re going to look back at our time as something like the bubonic plague, but rather than a biological pathogen, it was a psychic infection; the great gray plague.
The human psyche cannot function without myths. Our current myths are hollow. New myths cannot be mandated, they cannot be forced, they can only take root through inspiration.
The task of our time is to help build a new collective myth.
4) Where Do We Start: The Thrice Born Journey
Don’t fall into the first major trap on this path: skipping your development, and jumping to critiquing others or culture.
The path to collaborating in a modern renaissance begins with ourselves.
Before you can begin to contribute to building a new collective myth, you’ve got to tend to your personal myth.
The map for this journey is not the Hero’s Journey, but the Thrice Born Journey.
The process of moving through the stages of the Thrice Born will unlock a key ability needed to become a Dharma artist; mythic play.
Mythic play is the ability to inhabit other myths than your own, to truly live in them without getting trapped in them, and then step out of them and compare them to yours, maybe even synthesize them with yours, to help add to them.
The stages of the Thrice Born Journey are:
Stage 1: First Myth
Stage 2: First Death
Stage 3: The Wasteland
Stage 4: Second Myth
Stage 5: Second Death
Stage 6: The Wasteland Deux
Stage 7: Thrice Born
Our First Myth is Mr. Anderson in the Matrix.
Our First Death is Mr. Anderson falling into the mirror.
Our first encounter with The Wasteland is Neo’s journey from the moment he ‘wakes up’ to the moment he is shot in the chest by Agent Smith.
Our Second Myth is Neo being reborn into his identity as The One.
Our Second Death is Neo in The Matrix: Resurrection, where we discover he almost died but the machines kept him alive to cage him.
Our Return to the Wasteland is Neo lost in The Matrix, believing it is real.
And finally, after 20+ years of movies, the most famous Hero’s Journey story arrives at thrice born consciousness when Neo wakes up for the second time, thus becoming Thrice Born.
To live without having died to your first perspective is like living with one eye.
To have died and been reborn, is to have earned a second eye.
To be thrice born is to discover the nature of optics; glasses, telescopes, microscopes, and pixels.
The Thrice Born Journey unlocks the capacity for Mythic Play.
Mythic play is the ability to hold any frame of reality, any perspective, and play with them, lightly, at will, with freedom.
And this is a required skill to become a Dharma Artist.
5) But Be Aware of The Trap of Mythic Play: Postmodernism
There is a major trap many thrice born in our time have gotten stuck in;
“Everything is subjective, it’s all made up, and so, everything is equally fake – or equally true.”
At first glance, this seems wise. It’s true.
All models are lies. Like maps, they are never what they represent.
But what is not true is the idea that because all models are subjective, all models are equal.
At its best, this stance makes us cautious.
At its worst, this stance makes us cowards.
The great trap of the thrice born is to deny all hierarchies.
This trap has been called Postmodernism, Moral Relativism, Pluralism, and Model Agnosticism.
Mythic play is worth this risk.
Mythic play allows us to begin playing the game of life as Dharma Artists, and that’s what the fuck we need.
The alchemy to the postmodern trap is the Dharma Artist.
The alchemy of the trap of mythic play is to give a fuck.
The gift of mythic play is that you are truly free of what fuck you give where.
6) Mythic Play Allows Us to Create Living Mythologies
The alchemy of Postmodernism is Pragmatism.
Pragmatism is the metaphysical orientation that says: I don’t know and you don’t know, but through experiments and play, we can begin to create a model and models based on experiments and play are more true than those that aren’t.
To people reading this who haven’t had a thrice born experience, this is going to seem painfully obvious and repetitive (because they’re not yet aware how all knowledge is ultimately partial, incomplete, subjective, and has some kind of bias in it).
For thrice born people, many may nod along to the definition of pragmatism, but would absolutely not advocate publicly for any specific perspective (because, either caution or cowardice).
A great (but not perfect, because there are no perfect) examples of Pragmatism is the United States legal system.
A set of rules have been proposed. Each state works out to the best of its ability how those laws are interpreted and enforced, and whenever a case isn’t solvable, there is a supreme court that can change the rules of the game.
When it comes to human creations, the modern legal system is one of the most pragmatic models we’ve been able to create.
And again, yes, this system has corruption and fails at times, but the core message of these articles is to call forward those who call out. If you’re critiquing, and not actively building, I hope to inspire you to alchemize those critiques into constructive tweaks.
We need builders.
Once a thrice born genuinely embraces Pragmatism the cocoon begins to move from imaginal cellular mush towards a specific structure that fulfills a specific function.
Once we accept there is a living ought within us, a living ethic, a living moral code, we trigger a transformation where we start becoming.
We gotta get over our fears and grievances with hierarchy, and begin creating our own.
This is nothing less than taking responsibility for creating our own mythology.
Mythic play coupled with mythic pragmatism allows for mythic collaboration.
Mythic collaboration is the prerequisite to humanity as a species navigating the 21st century.
And this is how you seed a Renaissance.
7) Meet A Map For Creating Living Mythologies: STAGES Matrix
If you’re still with me now that I’ve said some hierarchies are better than others, I’d like to introduce you to the mostly unknown history of actualization hierarchies.
These are the ‘good’ hierarchies most people haven’t heard of, and that people who critique hierarchies don’t notice exist.
The negative side of hierarchy is what has been called ‘Power hierarchies.’ And these kinds of hierarchies are responsible for most of the terrible acts humans have done to other humans.
However, there are another set of hierarchies that have been worked out by a group of scientists and researchers in the field of Developmental Psychology.
People like Sigmund Freud, Janet Piaget, Erik Erikson, Robert Keegan, Lawrence Kolberg, Jane Lovinger, Terri O’Fallon, Ken Wilber, and, most famously, Abraham Maslow have been working on mapping actualization hierarchies.
Their conclusion: there is a common pattern woven through all these map-maker’s maps, and it is the structure of evolution; of matter, consciousness, ego, morality, and culture.
One of the most scientifically robust maps is O’Fallon’s STAGES Matrix.
This map tracks the developmental changes humans move through as they age.
This map is important because it clearly defines the stages of developmental one must reach in order to acquire mythic play which is a prerequisite skill to begin suturing our culture’s mythic wounds.
If you haven’t yet read my article on the STAGES Matrix, I recommend you read it before continuing.
Most people reading this will be at the 3.5 Achiever level.
“The Achiever, what Kegan calls ‘Self-Authoring,’ has developed the ability to internally represent an ‘ideal version of themselves.’ They begin to be able to navigate ‘the future’ to guide their actions. They are able to navigate ‘the past’ in order to learn or heal certain blocks that keep them from becoming more of who they want to be. They develop the ability to genuinely move beyond their race and nationalism and see a connection with other groups of people. They want to help improve the world. They develop the ability to honor and move in accord with their inner compass.
This is the level most people are at who enjoy self-improvement books, podcasts, courses and experiences.
The shadow of this stage is guilt; because they now have a deep sense of who they could be and how they want to help the world, when they feel they are falling short of that ideal, it can cause shame or guilt.”
Thrice Born people are 3.5 Achievers who have reached the 4.0 Pluralist stage.
“This stage is the birth of the 4th person perspective and is the beginning of what is called systems thinking. With systems thinking, casualty moves from Newtonian physics to ecologies.
Instead of simply seeing A as influencing B, there is a shift to seeing A’s influence on B as influencing C which influences A to influence B. This kind of transformation of casualty allows engineers to create complex artificial intelligence, biologists to understand ecologies, and therapists like Richard Schwartz to create something like Internal Family Systems.
This stage of development begins to widen the individual’s compassion and allows them to not fall into the trap of the fundamental misattribution error.
Whereas stage 3.5 individuals tend to enjoy and consume self-improvement material that helps them create their ideal future, individuals at the 4.0 stage tend to enjoy and consume self-improvement material that helps people deepen into the present moment (the difference between Tony Robbins’ work and Eckhart Tolle’s). People at this stage tend to resonate with eastern traditions like Buddhism, and modern therapies that bring them into the present moment like Somatic Experiencing and Compassionate Inquiry.
The major confusions at this stage are:
1) Model Agnosticism instead of Model Pragmatism
This is an important confusion to take time highlighting. The birth of a 4.0 perspective is significantly liberating when glimpsed for the first time because it can free us from our first myth, our first peer group. However, the conclusion many people draw from this insight is that all perspectives are subjective, therefore all are equally true (or rather, equally arbitrary).
This conclusion, without the individual recognizing it, paralyzes them. They are not able to harness the 3.5 perspective anymore. They cannot justify to themselves that what they desire is valid, that their personal dreams and aspirations are not ‘just cultural constructs.’
Another shade of this confusion is that people at this stage can point out other people’s subjective bias (often the people they see as enemies), and can deceive themselves that they are not just as biased as those they critique.
This is best exemplified by anyone who identifies with a political position criticizing the echo-chamber effect of the other party. From the outside the hypocrisy is embarrassingly apparent, and yet, we are likely falling into this trap too.
This stage is the birth, but not the integration of Mythic Play.
The alchemy of the confusion of this stage is to move into the next, the 4.5 Strategist.
The goal of these articles is to help people at 3.5 and 4.0 move to the 4.5 stage, the Strategist.
“This stage of development Kegan called the ‘honors track’ of the current cultural curriculum. This stage has ‘included and transcended’ the dizzying pluralistic world back into its authentic self and thus recaptured their desire to individuate – not as an isolated individual, but as an integral part of the inter-penetrating interconnectedness of humanity as a whole.
People at this level have integrated their ‘inner family system.’ They know that they will still experience painful and triggering emotions and experiences, but they are capable of navigating them in healthy, prosocial ways.
They also feel a powerful desire to help others in a systematic way. They begin to feel called to become psychologists, coaches, and consultants, and they reach executive leadership positions in healthy organizations.
They’ve also realized that life is not a journey to a destination, but rather a kind of open-ended jazz collaboration with all people and contexts they find themselves in relationship with.
No stage is perfect and this stage has its own confusions.
The major one is that they can miss noticing that they project their subtle inner feelings onto others and onto the collective. They can demonize or idolize complex systems (nature is perfect if we’d just leave it alone or capitalism is fundamentally corrupt and is the reason for x, y and z).
They tend to not project their inner content onto individuals, rather they project it onto complex adaptive systems.”
This is the stage Mythic Play becomes mature. At this stage, the Self-Authoring individual is included and transcended into the infinite spiraling web of interconnection that the 4.0 stage introduces, and instead of drowning in its waters, they begin to learn how to shape water, how to ride waves, how to fish, create boats, and when possible, simply float.
This is the stage of the birthing Dharma Artist.
There are stages beyond this, and those who have dove deep into the meditation rabbit hole will know many of the stages that await, but that's all for another time.
8) Our Task: Becoming Dharma Artists
A Dharma Artist is at least a Thrice Born, and the only reason that matters is because this fundamentally humbles the ego enough where we can actually begin to learn how to listen.
And the heartbeat of the Dharma Artist is to listen.
First, we learn to listen to the soft whisper inside us.
We make her Queen. We place him on the throne.
We, the ego, the identity, we are the hand the whisper commands.
We also listen to our environment; other conscious creatures, and our collective culture.
In order to listen, to others and to our culture, we have to have access to mythic play.
Mythic play allows us to step inside the world of others, and in doing so, we begin to heal people.
The essence of the root of our culture wound is that we’ve ruptured away from each other. Humanity is a single body and we have gashes, cuts, fractures and breaks.
Every day, in every thought, action, and expression of speech, we either contribute to the decay of the cultural body or begin contributing to the suturing.
We are in the transition between collective stories. We are a people starving for good myths.
A renaissance wants to be born, and no ruler or government can make it happen. Only artists can.
Artists have always been, and will always be, the true revolutionaries.
But true mythic play transcends revolutions. Mythic play includes and transcends.
Dharma Artists are not revolutionaries, they are evolutionaries.
I hope you decide to become one.
Our world needs your dharma.