The private individual awareness of an underlying “I” is only with us when our attention is turned to it. Furthermore, some memories of moments of such awareness are accompanied by a special clarity that was possibly vivid in childhood. In the light of these remembrances, it may appear that this inner observer determines whether events are remembered. The inner “I” seems to be missing when one’s attention is distracted or swamped by the strong impressions of an external life. Yet an external shock may also give rise to the internal observer—indeed, may be necessary to arouse it, as myths show us. Associated events are then remembered in a quite direct, clear, and vivid way. Contemplation of this inner being may also make clear that it is always the same person who observes, as though there is for it no such thing as aging. Do space and time even exist for it? Some of the myths specifically, if subtly, engage questions about the origins of time and space and their significance for reality.
Of course, there is no question that our most “awake” moments are few and far between. Authors as far apart in space and time as Plotinus and Northrop Frye recognized that these moments of special clarity arise only rarely, but are well remembered. It is not easy to admit that one’s ordinary self so totally forgets the sense of wonder that it experienced in moments of such seeing! Our forgetting all too easily leads us to suppose that this poorly remembered inner sense is so different from our present state that it can be of little lasting importance in our lives. It may be so fleeting that it later seems even illusory. Myths can help us appreciate the significance of these differences between awareness and being asleep. If we tried to remain in touch with this less familiar Self, would we be distracted by our daydreams and illusions and therefore unable to respond appropriately in the external world Or is the opposite the case? We can see that our lives are so pervaded by the apparently necessary learned mechanical reactions to external stimuli that they mostly obscure or entirely swamp our inner awareness. Is it possible to find an effective balance between the inner and outer influences? In some part , one recognizes that encounters with both are significant features of ones sense of being a complete individual in a real world. The following chapters attempt to illuminate how myths help us revisit such realizations and become more fully balanced. Perhaps the wisdom in ancient myths resides in their ability to invoke deeper impressions of the different values that exist at these different modes of awareness.
To be faithful to the myths, let us regard the inner and outer aspects of the world as two different levels, which are simultaneously available to us while we remain curiously separated from each. It is true that during most interaction with the outer world, the inner awareness of oneself, or even the “thought” of it, does not exist for us as a present reality. At such times, reality exists only in overwhelming encounters with external events, and we are occupied with these challenges. The other world, the one that exists in the momentary glimpses of an inner self, is then almost an aberration. It is there only as a vague feeling of presence that, while it offers another possibility, does so only when we are somehow led to give attention to it. But while the inner world is generally only fleetingly perceived, it seems to embody a more mysterious, perhaps poetic quality—beyond our everyday occupations but somehow consistent with a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in our lives.