#216 – The Light Inside Dark Times with Michael Meade

photo of Michael Meade


Michael Meade has studied myth, anthropology, history of religion, and cross-cultural rituals for over 35 years. His hypnotic and fiery storytelling, street savvy perceptiveness, and spellbinding interpretations of ancient myths and symbols are highly relevant to current culture. He has an unusual ability to distill and synthesize these disciplines, tapping into ancestral sources of wisdom, while connecting them to the stories of people today. He is the author of The World Behind the World, The Water of Life: Initiation and the Tempering of the Soul; editor, with James Hillman and Robert Bly, of Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart; and editor of Crossroads: A Quest for Contemporary Rites of Passage. Meade is Founder of Mosaic Multicultural Foundation, a network of artists, teachers and activists that fosters community healing and development efforts.

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A psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.



  1. Michael
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Dr. Dave. I wanted to tell you how thoroughly impressed I was with your conversation with Michael Meade. He speaks from genuine experience and avoids the feel-good sound-bytes of cheap and naive positive psychology.

    The point raised about the dangers of “literalism” made me reflect at length. This challenges the polarity established by the religious fundamentalists with their dogma and superstitions and the scientists with their blind faith in empiricism. Though a skeptic at heart, I have to admit that I agree with Meade’s implications about the nature of myth. They can’t be fully nailed to logical analyses but to the host of ambiguous experiences inherent in our humanity.

    Myths are celebrations of the mystery of living, and they represent the potential for something more beyond the narrow categories that enslave us. Stories have the power to give us a sliver of understanding if we’re willing to immerse ourselves in them.

    It’s no surprise that Meade finds a sense of genuine communication in myths, poetry, and other literature. Social class, age, and background disappear to give way to our common imagination.

    In the Dalai Lama’s The Universe in a Single Atom, he cautions scientists that they must not be dismissive of the subjective side of our humanity. This is precisely what both faith-based extremists and scientists fail to understand. The subjectivity expressed in the world’s myths provide that subjective dimension that is so missing in our lives today. Myths also give form to the dreaded darkness that each one of us must face in order to mature in any significant sense.

    Unfortunately, and as a high school English teacher I can vouch for this, we have been moving away from the splendors that literature has to offer for some time now. Meade mentioned that a good teacher knows how to awaken a sense of poetic awe in his or her students. I was so touched by this comment. This is quite a challenge when one has to compete with limited attention spans and a culture that holds entertainment as the highest virtue–so much so, in fact, that some things that are just entertaining are confused with being “educational,” just because they arouse interest.

    Myths challenge us to reflect on what it means to be alive and therefore require sincere effort and attention. I am happy to see someone of Meade’s understanding and experience reach out to others on behalf of stories and their importance to our lives.

    In the recently published Empire of Illusion: the End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by Chris Hedges, there are some bleak statistics about our country’s literacy rates in addition to student lack of interest in the humanities. “The Modern Language Association’s end-of-the-year job listings in English, literature, and foreign languages dropped 21 percent for 2008-2009 from the previous year, the biggest decline in thirty-four years. The humanities’ share of college degrees is less than half of what it was during the mid- to late 60s….Only 8 percent of college graduates, or about 110,000 students, now receive degrees in the humanities” (Hedges 108).

    That is why I was so moved by Meade’s interview, for he emphasized the purpose of metaphor and nuance in human life. Since so little interest abounds in the humanities, I felt less alone upon hearing of Meade’s endeavors.

    Lastly, I must commend both of you for highlighting a common misinterpretation in Joseph Campbell’s work. As you noted, he did say, “Follow your bliss,” but this has been taken out of context for convenience. It is not about just imagining what you want and reaching happiness. It’s amazing how everything can be twisted to justify self-indulgence. “Following your bliss,” as you guys conveyed in other terms, also involves the dark night of the soul. This, of course, has nothing to do with the wishful thinking of positive psychologists who peddle their shallow nonsense for profit.

    Wisdom is to be found in the lasting stories of our world cultures. They are in many ways the conscience and soul of our overwhelming and enigmatic history. They pose the questions that we must ponder for ourselves and provide us with the mysteries that make love and understanding possible.

    Thank you for an honest discussion. Your shows are excellent, Dr. Dave.

  2. Tony
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Dear Dave,

    Thank you for this rich interview with Michael Meade. There’s something about story and metaphor that leaves one feeling enriched – like when we can feel last night’s dream humming below the surface of the day’s business – that a more rational, psychological language can’t reach.

    The title of the discussion also put me in mind of an excellent book called ‘The Light inside the Dark’ by Zen teacher and Psychotherapist John Tarrant which came out in 1998 and also touches on the difference between ‘Soul’ and ‘Spirit’, and the themes of ‘Descent’ and ‘Ascent’.

    Best wishes, Tony

  3. Posted August 29, 2009 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Hi Tony,

    Thanks for this comment. Interestingly, I met John Tarrant socially some years ago. I didn’t know about this book. He is local to this area where I live and I’ve been meaning to invite him onto the show for some time. Your comment is a good reminder for me to do so.

  4. Virl
    Posted October 26, 2009 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    I really enjoyed this interview and where Mr. Meade was coming from. What I picked up the most was how Michael stated that our society must always, in a sense, be on top of everything. If we are not, we may have the tendency to sugarcoat facts or be in denial. I liked how he debunked the “silver lining” statement and how we must accept whatever our current situation is and really look for, I don’t want to say a positive outlook, but a learning experience.

  5. Randy Westfall
    Posted October 11, 2014 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Thanks – this was an excellent show with Dr. Dave and Michael Meade. I bought his book, The World Behind the World.

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