Myth has always served as a vehicle through which aspects of the human experience have been expressed or explained. Sometimes, though perhaps less often, myth has been used as a way to express a way of not just understanding, but improving how we live our lives.
In his book “The Myth of Sisyphus”, Albert Camus does just this. The story of Sisyphus rolling a rock up a hill everyday, only to have it roll right back down, is a metaphor for the absurdity of life, according to Camus. He furthers his interpretation by stating that there is a need for meaning in even the seemingly mundane. So, Camus uses this mythology to explain we must find meaning in order to make life endurable.
Today there is a modern day mythology: Superheroes. Just like Greek myths, they too can help to illuminate the human experience in terms of insight and action. I can’t think of a better place to begin than with the myth of the “The X-Men”.
“The X-Men” is the story of “mutants”; humans born with a gene mutation that gives each individual mutant some unique power or gift. Part of the X-men myth is the origin story of many of these mutants. We first come to know some of these mutants as children and they are considered anything but special. On the contrary, many of them are outcasts and/or introverts. They are aware that something inside them is different, wrong and odd. They do everything they can to hide this part of themselves. This mutated piece of them outcasts them from others, and therefore their belief is that it is of no use.
However an older mutant comes along, a professor, who has the wisdom to teach these children not just who they are inside, but also that their insides do not need to be a life sentence of being alone and misunderstood. This mutated part of them that they hate could actually end up being their biggest asset. Yet, it can only happen if they agree to start down the road of forging a relationship with this mutated, painful piece of themselves. If they can bare the pain of this part of them that has felt wrong, shameful and useless for so long, they can emerge as the person they were meant to be; more powerful, more fully realized, more evolved.
The X-Men origin myth can help to explain what therapy, especially with men and children of trauma, can be: the development of one’s “mutant gene”. Simply put, the part of us that is creative, has intuition, makes people laugh, or has that eureka moment in the middle of the night, is also the part of us that we try to get rid of because it feels pain and therefore “feels” too much. So instead of molding this valuable part of us, we try to get rid of it. But all this does, at best, is make us “normal”; which is… well… boring.
Valuable lessons can be taken from the X-Men myth. First, if there is something that feels odd or out of place in us (mutated), rather than try to kill it off it is best to mine it for all its worth. In other words, though it may seem counterintuitive, we become more powerful when we go into the most painful parts of ourselves as opposed to running away.
Second, the X-Men myth demonstrates a crucial universal truth: It is through our relationships with others that we fully and truly get to know and better ourselves. Leaning on someone to develop who we are is not weakness. It is, in fact, the opposite. To become better than what we are now, we need the aid of someone who already knows the value of insightful connection.
Before I finish, let’s make sure that you know that I know that none of this is easy. The X-Men myth also shows that dealing with what we’ve got inside can be wildly difficult. It asks that we put ourselves in a vulnerable place, and though this vulnerability is essential, that doesn’t make it any less painful. When we begin an internal journey what we find is often scary because it may not feel like the stuff of heroes, but rather of darkness. Which brings me to the next subject of this topic. If anyone can show us the value of darkness, it’s the Dark Knight. Stay tuned for Part 2.