Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bigfoot & the Klamath Knot

Confessions of a Skeptical Believer...

I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, an amazing and ancient repository of relatively untouched natural diversity and resource. I have spent a good part of my life on either the northern or the southern drainages of the Siskiyou Mountains. The Siskiyou mountain range forms a wild and mysterious barrier between the watersheds of the Klamath River in northwestern California and the Rogue River in southwestern Oregon.

The Klamath-Siskiyou eco-region is a world-renowned hub of biological diversity. The rugged terrain that defines this region is some of the most spectacular and inaccessible areas in North America. Ominous, sharp-edged mountains… contrasted with wild, salmon-strewn rivers inspired early explorers and geologists to title the ancient KS Mountains as the “Klamath Knot."

The Klamath Knot contains the largest concentration of intact watersheds, roadless wildlands and wilderness areas to be found in the lower 48. For all its great antiquity, the Klamath Knot has never been subject to volcanism and glaciation like the neighboring Cascade and Sierra Mountains. Rather, this unique east-west range is a result of a massive geologic batholithic upheaval. This intricate tangle of ancient rocks produces a variety of soils which support the large diversity of plants species famous in this region. Because the Siskiyous trend east and west rather than north and south, it holds a floral species diversity that ranges from coastal Redwood to ponderosa pine.

Since this region remained largely unglaciated during the last Ice Age… when most of the continent was under ice… the Klamath Knot acted as a refuge or “Biological Ark” for thousands of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. This amazing and ancient repository of genetic diversity is one of Earths true treasures. In addition to the multitude of known and cataloged flora and fauna that call this expanse home, there is in addition at least one legendary creature dwelling within the Klamath Knot that has for millennium escaped category.

The megafaunal specimen in question has been known by many names throughout the Pacific Northwest… Skoocoom, Sasquatch and most famously… Bigfoot.

Bigfoot is an alleged humanoid creature whose range extends within remote forests in the United States and Canada. It is considered to be a cryptozoological creature and is often described as being a large, bipedal animal. It is said that it's relatives can be found around the world with such names as the Yeti, the Yeren, the Almas, the Yowie and many more.

Bigfoot is described in reports as a large hairy ape-like creature, ranging between 6–10 feet tall, weighing in excess of 500 pounds, and covered in dark brown or dark reddish hair. Alleged witnesses have described large eyes, a pronounced brow ridge, and a large, low-set forehead; the top of the head has been described as rounded and crested, similar to the sagittal crest of the male gorilla. Bigfoot is commonly reported to have a strong, unpleasant smell by those who claim to have encountered it. The enormous footprints for which it is named have been as large as 24 inches long and 8 inches wide. While most casts have five toes—like all known apes—some casts of alleged Bigfoot tracks have had numbers ranging from two to six. Proponents have also claimed that Bigfoot is omnivorous and mainly nocturnal.

The scientific community is generally skeptical about the existence of Bigfoot, as there is little physical evidence supporting the existence of the creature. Proponents assert that the scientific community's attitude towards Bigfoot stems primarily from insufficient evidence. Anthropologist David Daegling echoed this idea, citing a "remarkably limited amount of Sasquatch data that are amenable to scientific scrutiny." He advises that mainstream skeptics take a proactive position “to offer an alternative explanation. We have to explain why we see Bigfoot when there is no such animal."

A powerful and meaningful explanation for humanity’s continued encounters… for humanity’s need for continued encounters… resides in the renowned psychologist, Dr. Carl Gustav Jung’s theory of humanity’s “collective unconscious.” Jung coined the term collective unconscious to refer to that part of a person's unconscious which is common to all human beings. According to Jung, the collective unconscious contains archetypes, which are forms or symbols that are manifested by all people in all cultures. The four famous forms of archetypes numbered by Jung are the Self, the Shadow, the Anima and the Animus.

Anthropomorphic symbols of the unconscious abound in Jungian psychology: The Hero, the Great Mother, the Wise Old Man, the Trickster and, significantly within our context… the Wildman. The Wildman archetype has a global appeal in that it represents primordial energy and freedom. This Wildman or “natural man” archetype is a reminder of where we have come from… of humanity’s initial, wild and innocent state.

The Wildman has always been present in human mythology. In humanity’s oldest known book, The Epic of Gilgamesh, a key figure is the Wildman, Enkidu. In the story he is a wild-man raised by animals and ignorant of human society. A series of interactions with humans and human ways bring him closer to civilization, culminating in a wrestling match with Gilgamesh, king of Uruk. Enkidu then becomes the king's constant companion, accompanying him on adventures until he is stricken ill. The deep, tragic loss of Enkidu profoundly inspires in Gilgamesh a quest to escape death by obtaining godly immortality.

An encounter with Bigfoot… in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest… becomes an actual encounter with our own wild, untamed past, or more importantly, a face-to-face with the Wildman within. The existence of Bigfoot is essential to humanity, for it acts as a reminder of who we were before we became domesticated primates. Bigfoot serves as a personification of our primordial and prehistoric freedom. Jung’s Wildman archetype has become charged with significance and is now standing before us in the murky shadows of the primordial forest that is our mind, ready to release its potential upon our recognition and subsequent invocation. In these high-technological times we find ourselves living in, the need for the existence of Bigfoot has never been greater.

Personally, I believe in Bigfoot. I have seen many strange and mysterious things through-out my travels in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. More than once I have felt the thrill of uncertainty upon hearing a crashing sound just up the trail from where I stood. More than once I have had my hackles stand up in the middle of the night… in a remote camp… where my imagination took command of my reason.

In the final analysis… within my worldview… if Bigfoot doesn’t exist… he ought to.

Stay wild, my friends.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Carl Jung, Modern Media & the Hero with a Thousand Faces

In the long run, the most influential book of the 20th Century may turn out to be Joseph Campbell's THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES. It's certainly true that the book is having a major impact on writing and story-telling, but above all on movie-making. Aware or not, filmmakers like John Boorman, George Miller, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Francis Ford Coppola owe their successes to the ageless pattern that Joseph Campbell identifies in the book. The ideas in the book are an excellent set of analytical tools.

There's nothing new in the book. The ideas in it are older than the Pyramids, older than Stonehenge, older than the earliest cave painting… older than dirt. Campbell's contribution was to gather the ideas together, recognize them, articulate them, name them. He exposed the pattern for the first time, the pattern that lies behind every story ever told.

Campbell is a mythographer… he writes about myths. What he discovered in his study of world myths is that THEY ARE ALL BASICALLY THE SAME STORY …retold endlessly in infinite variation. He discovered that all story-telling, consciously or not, follows the ancient patterns of myth, and that all stories, from the crudest jokes to the highest flights of literature, can be understood in terms of the "HERO MYTH"; the "MONOMYTH" whose principles he lays out in the book.

Campbell was a student of the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, and the ideas in THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES are often described as Jungian. The book is based on Jung's idea of the "Archetypes" constantly repeating characters who occur in the dreams of all people and the myths of all cultures. Jung believed that these archetypes are reflections of the human mind… that our minds divide themselves into these characters to play out the drama of our lives.

The repeating characters of the hero myth, such as the young hero, the wise old man, the shape-shifting woman, and the shadowy nemesis, are identical with the archetypes of the human mind, as shown in dreams. That's why myths, and stories constructed on the mythological model, are always psychologically true. Such stories are true models of the workings of the human mind, true maps of the psyche. They are psychologically valid and realistic even when they portray fantastic, impossible, unreal events.

This accounts for the universal power of such stories. Stories built on the model of THE HERO OF A THOUSAND FACES have an appeal that can be felt by everyone, because they spring from a universal source in the collective unconscious, and because they reflect universal concerns. They deal with universal questions like "Why was I born?" "What happens when I die?" "How can I overcome my life problems and be happy?"

The ideas in the book can be applied to understanding any human problem. They are a great key to life as well as being a major tool for dealing more effectively with a mass audience. Christ, Hitler, Mohammed, and Buddha all understood the principles in the book and applied them to influence millions.

If you want to understand the ideas behind the HERO MYTH, there's no substitute for actually reading the book. It's an experience that has a way of changing people. It's also a good idea to read a lot of myths, but it amounts to the same thing since Campbell spends most of the book illustrating his point by re-telling old myths.

- Adapted from and inspired by Chris Vogler

Those interested in the works of Joseph Campbell are encouraged to visit the Joseph Campbell Foundation.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Jedi Mind Tricks

"Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing..."- Yoda

Luke Skywalker learned the art of mindful breathing on his first visit to Dagobah. While climbing up vines, dashing through the undergrowth, leaping logs and rocks, the young Jedi pupil, his master on his back, is being instructed on the dangers of the dark side of the force. As Luke's mind races with a thousand questions about the dark side, it is clear to Master Yoda that Luke has lost touch with the here and now. "Nothing more will I teach you today," Yoda says. "Clear your mind of Questions."

Mindful Breathing
Mindful breathing is simply the practice of concentrating on the breath. With the inhalation, you know that you are breathing in. With the exhalation, you know you are breathing out. You follow the breath in with awareness as it goes in, and you follow it as it goes out. You notice that the breath is long or short when it is long or short. With mindful breathing you just notice the breath; you do not try to hold it or force it; you do not alter its rhythm or change its volume. Don't hold on to the idea that you should breathe a certain way. Simply become aware of the way your body naturally breathes.

As we focus on our breathing we discover that our mind does not easily stay attuned to our breath, but flies off in a million different directions. Often we have concerns about a future event or confusion about the way something works and our mind becomes lost in a labyrinth of questions, doubts, and plans. Aware of this tendency, Yoda stops Luke before he can become bewildered, rather than empowered, by his education and training. By directing Luke to clear his mind of questions, Yoda is instructing the boy to come back to the present moment - to return to his breath. Luke does as he is told and almost instantly he is visibly calmer.

- from "The Dharma of Star Wars" by Matthew Bortolin