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My Turn: A not-so-new myth to live by

For the Monitor
Published: 8/1/2021 1:00:10 PM

Just as fish don’t know they live in water, we don’t know we live in a myth. The myth we are living today tells us we are rational beings with big brains like computers, separate from and superior to our bodies and nature. According to this story, our goal on earth is to maximize personal pleasure and profit. When we do, something magical happens. The hidden hand of the marketplace magically transforms our personal greed into the common good.

Growing up under the spell of this myth, I regarded the Pawtuckaway Boulder Field as merely a bunch of big rocks strewn about from the last ice age. However, the older I get the more I’m mesmerized by this spot. It has become my sacred spot.

Something happens as soon as I pass over the last ridge and descend into the valley of the boulders. I feel the temperature drop and sounds fade, like being ushered into the cool stillness of a great cathedral. Time slows to a crawl and I find myself being lulled into a deep, meditative trance. Along the way, if I am lucky and the light is right, I come across great, hulking personages, some two stories tall.

Perhaps they are stone guardians, put in place to protect this sacred spot by the Pennacook, a peaceful, indigenous people who once dwelled here until broken and emasculated by the white man. The Pennacook, like indigenous people in general, live by a different myth than ours, one grounded not in being the apex species but an interdependent cog, part of a living earth. One can make a strong case that the best hope for the earth and its inhabitants, including us, is to re-adopt this old indigenous myth as our new myth.

According to historian and mythologist Arthur George, a functioning myth must reconnect us to what the ancient world called the center of the world, “a sacred spot where the divine, in the heavens and the underworld, connected with the earthly… at the heart of reality.”

In more straightforward language, a sacred spot is a temple or sanctuary where we can interact with our deities and experience transcendence. I’m aware this likely sounds like New Age mumbo jumbo, something acknowledged by Gary Snyder, poet, scholar and Pulitzer Prize winner, “This ancient aspect of religious worship remains virtually incomprehensible to Euro-Americans.”

One aspect of this indigenous worldview comes from reverence for their ancestors, as Chief Seattle made clear in his famous 1854 speech, “Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as they swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours…”

More insight comes from anthropologists who study aboriginals in Australia, the oldest human race on the planet, many of whom still live as nomadic hunter-gatherers. Their respect for nature comes from a deep connection to the land, based on “inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness.” This practice is the basis of their spiritual expression and, ultimately, their way of life.

Rather than being consumed with making progress, competing to see how much each individual can accomplish and how much stuff he can create, they believe that connecting to nature leads to “a deep understanding and knowing [that] can be reached through contemplation and silence.” As a result, their pace of life is slow and measured, “they don’t mind waiting because they want things done with care.”

I practice transitioning back to this ancient way of being at Pawtuckaway. By defocusing my mind, while staying still and relying upon intuition, I can feel myself slipping into the living world of indigenous life. Entering this animate world is like smelling the first spring flower: The oppressive weight of our modern myth starts to dissipate, like throwing away useless gear from a heavy backpack.

(Jean Stimmell lives in Northwood. His blog can be found online at

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