The ancients found solace and explanation from myth making derived from exactly this kind of juxtaposition. And, as it turns out, it’s good for us! Who knew?
Andrew Newberg, MD, is a researcher at Jefferson University in Philadelphia who studies spirituality and the brain. In his Great Courses series of the same title, he says what science shows is myth and metaphor help us to solve problems and create breakthroughs. The way this happens is pretty interesting. We all know the feeling of working and reworking a problem that is stuck in our brains. It goes round and round until we sometimes fear it will consume us! Well, that’s the dominant side of the thinking brain, using its linear and logical way of processing, doing its best to make “sense” of everything. The trouble is, the “sense” it sometimes makes, comes from frustration at not being to figure out the issue. We then prematurely conclude that we aren’t smart enough to figure this out! What science is discovering is what the ancients learned intuitively early on. Problem solving occurs best when we open the cycle of the repetitive thought patterns and allow new information in from the creative, symbolic and artistic side of the brain.
Most of us instinctively know that when we exercise a little bit every day, take a walk and clear our thoughts, our lives work better. What’s happening physiologically when we do this is we are bringing oxygen to both sides of our brain, because we are using both sides of our body--not only the dominant side, the side that uses the bigger share of oxygen when we are sitting still.--And when we bring oxygen to the submissive side of our brains, we are better able to access the vast store of emotionally healing, story-telling, sense making wisdom. Dance, drumming and meditation and certain kinds of prayer have the same impact as exercise in opening up the submissive side of our brains. When we combine a myth or a metaphor with the process of opening up our brains, BINGO, we have a potent new perspective on our problems!
Our brains like rhythmic polarities, such as good and evil, on which to ruminate, most likely because of the binary way information is spread through our neurons, where there is only one of two choices our attention can go at any moment. When we can frame a conversation in that context, right/wrong, black/white, we can build a series of gradations in between. This is when our creative brain steps in and helps us out. Think of indigenous people telling stories accompanied with drumming and dancing, or religious services where a teaching lesson is coupled with music and prayer. Whether fact or fiction, many of the myths have an introduction of spirit or God or magical powers that creates a synthesis and/or a solution to the two poles.
Back to the barred owls, and the red super giant star Betelgeuse, in Orion’s right shoulder, his sword arm. When I read about the symbolism of the barred owl, its daytime territorial counter-part is the red shouldered hawk! Both hawks and owls are birds of prey—raptors. Wow, what a coincidence! Is there a message for me that I am being protected? Or that I am “shouldering” much? Or being too aggressive? Whatever the context of the events of my life at that time, the metaphor of the red shoulder and the myth of Orion can help to open up any “stuck-ness” in my brain. My journey to the myth/metaphor side of my brain always provides me with a new perspective. Even if it doesn’t give me a solution to my ruminations, it helps to discharge any anxiety I am feeling when I get stuck in repetitive thoughts. At the very least, I am struck by how interesting and awesome a world is, where this red shoulder coincidence can occur. Any problems are reduced in significance by contrast.