Conscious Media is nothing new.
Initiates of the ancient and modern Mystery Schools have always crafted stories that carry universal truths dressed up in a particular way for a particular time and culture. That's why you can even have such a thing as comparative mythology - there are consistent similarities in stories and characters whether on weathered temple walls, in spiritual disciplines, initiatory systems, the Kabala, Masonry, Mithraicism, mystic Christianity, Tarot, alchemy, etc.
This extant wealth of ancient media does not mean we don't need new Conscious Media creators. Actually, it should reassure you that we need them more than ever these days, as things in the real world change so fast.
As the emphasis on material goods and gains is shown to be vapid at best and venal at worst, more people are turning inward and upward to find more fulfilling and rewarding ideals and ways of life. Sometimes called Enlightenment Entertainment, sometimes Spiritual Media, this current interest in so-called Conscious Media is a terrific opportunity for you Cultural Creatives to present your unique versions of the ageless wisdoms.
In this series of articles on Conscious Media, we'll first define what it means and then explore some classic paradigms used by myth-makers since time immemorial to create the stories we return to again and again because they move us, teach us, uplift us, and entertain us.
These sometimes overlapping but always complementary paradigms include Mythic Themes & Statements, the Inner Drives (chakras), ArchePaths, the Five Initiations, the Tribal-Individual-Group levels of consciousness, the Creative Process, and Symbols & Images - all of which have been used for thousands and thousands of years to create and craft Conscious Media for the benefit of individuals, cultures, civilizations, and humanity as a whole.
First though, what does "conscious" mean?
You can get into all sorts of interesting debates on this one, particularly with psychologists, neurophysiologists, anthropologists, sociologists, etc. For the sake of our discussion, let's say that living creatures with nervous systems are sentient, a rudimentary form of consciousness that means they have awareness of their environment and respond to it instinctively.
More highly developed creatures seem to exhibit self-identification: your dog recognizes himself in a mirror and your cat, well, that's some form of voodoo hyper-consciousness better left alone.
Consciousness of the flow of time seems to be limited to the higher primates and contributes to our emotional states (anticipation, remorse, etc.) There are plenty of animals in myths, fairy tales, and animation who exhibit higher primate consciousness - Goofy and his pals, Mowgli's jungle buds and Wallace's Gromit.
Self-observation is the beginning of Higher Conscious Awareness and that's what we're after with Conscious Media. It's more sophisticated than ordinary consciousness because you are developing a higher self that watches your lower self. This basic tenet of more advanced spiritual disciplines is supposed to get you detached from your body, your emotions, and your lower mind so that you can use all three as tools rather than being trapped within them. This concept shows up in stories as the Watcher Angels from medieval Christianity and Islam, and in such supernatural series as BUFFYTHE VAMPIRE SLAYER and THE HIGHLANDER, where the heroes are assigned a personal Watcher.
Higher Conscious Awareness is what the Mystery Schools of every spiritual system have taught across time and cultures. It is not only a recognition of patterns, but the tools to create new patterns. These ideas are part of what make media like THE SECRET and WHAT THE BLEEP? so popular - they hold out the promise that we can actually shape reality. As a next step, THE GREAT WORK and SCIENCE OF THE SECRET series explore initiatory systems designed to make changes within yourself which then can create changes in your environment.
So "conscious" for our purposes is Higher Conscious Awareness. What then is Conscious Media?
Media can serve many purposes: catharsis, education, to communicate history, to instill and strengthen values, and simply to entertain. But that's not necessarily Conscious Media.
Conscious Media isn't just about a personal or cultural point of view - that too often devolves to propaganda, like TRIUMPH OF THE WILL or preaching, like the LEFT BEHIND series. It isn't just feel-good media - that too often is great fun but unfulfillingly frothy, like BRIDE AND PREJUDICE and most rom-coms. And it isn't just wildly imaginative utopian/dystopian tropes - those too often are thinly disguised escapes from cynicism and despair, like ATLAS SHRUGGED or THE FIFTH ELEMENT.
Now there's nothing wrong with any of those types of media, or of the current spate of superheroes. Trust me - my inner child is a 9-year old boy and I love action-adventure! Pow! Blam! Kablooee!
It is said that the most powerful myths are true on at least seven of these levels: physiological, psychological, philosophical, astrological, geological, geographical, historical, sociological, cosmological and quantum physics-ical. Make your story more universal, even if it's a small love story, by including at least three of these levels in your plot, dialogue, or imagery, as in the stories below.
From Hercules's Labors to the Hero's Journey, from the Hindu Rama and Sita to Egyptian Isis's search for Osiris, from Jason and the Argonauts to the Knights of the Round Table, these stories were constructed to carry universal truths on many levels and to have a positive effect on the consciousness of the audience. The story concepts are echoed respectively in STAR WARS ("The Force, Luke, the Force"), MOULIN ROUGE ("The greatest thing you'll ever learn is to love and be loved in return"), and many versions of the Samurai 47 Ronin ("Duty and honour above life itself").
Conscious Media is consciously crafted using timeless tools to create a specific uplifting, expansive, transformative affect upon the consciousness of the audience.
Now that we've defined Conscious Media, here is one set of tools you can use to create it: MYTHIC THEMES, PLOT POINTS, and STATEMENTS. [Excerpted from BEYOND THE HERO'S JOURNEY by Pamela Jaye Smith.]
Contrary to popular opinion, The Hero's Journey is not the only Mythic Theme. It's certainly a good one, but it is only one of many. Others include Stealing Fire From Heaven, Lost Love Rescued, Search for the Promised Land, Twins, Fatal Attraction, Don't Ask - Don't Tell, and many more.
Since most modern stories have an ancestry in ancient stories, you can work your way backwards from your story to find your defining Myth. Try creating a logline that references a myth:
Moses after global warming (WATERWORLD) = Search for the Promised Land.
Orpheus and Eurydice in the Indian slums (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) = Lost Love Rescued.
Jason and Medea in a modern law office (FATAL ATTRACTION) = Fatal Attraction.
Once your mythic identification feels right, steep yourself in the concepts. Read at least three stories on that same Mythic Theme from different times and/or cultures. See at least three visual versions: movies, plays, games, etc.
Mythic Plot Points
As you explore media on your Mythic Theme, note the Plot Points and use them as a structural basis for your story, not as rigid forms but as flexible guidelines subject to your interpretation.
Myths are often reshaped, which is fine, and often distorted, which is not. Though certainly we have freedom to tell any story in any way we wish, what you lose by changing some of the internal verities of a myth is the way it resonates with an audience. Remember that these stories were constructed to impart specific concepts and have specific effects on the audience. It's like substituting ingredients in a recipe or reprogramming a game too far from the original pattern - the results will not be the same.
For example, the Hercules myth is an allegory of the astronomical precession of the equinoxes through the constellations of the zodiac, the physiological growth of the spinal column in the fetus, the psychological development of an individual up the chakras, the cultural development of a people, and more. It is not about celebrity status and commercialism, as in the 1997 Disney animated movie, which strayed too far from the mythic integrity of the story and was not very well received.
Though we're advised not to have "on the nose" dialogue, sometimes your characters really do need to voice in words what the story is about, what is the heroine's mission, and what lesson she learns by the end. This is an excellent way to bring conscious awareness of your theme and message directly to your audience.
THE THEMATIC STATEMENT [what's the story about?]
THE MISSION STATEMENT [what's the hero supposed to do?]
THE LESSON STATEMENT [what's the hero learn on the way?]
Where do you place these three specific Mythic Statements?
* The Thematic Statement comes in the first act, usually as part of or right after the setup.
* The Mission Statement usually comes in the first act, or at the very latest by the beginning of the second act.
* The Lesson (epiphany) Statement comes at one of the following: a) beginning of last act if the story's going to shift directions because of the hero's change of heart; b) the climax as the hero learns what it's all really been about; or c) the denouement if it's a tragedy or a really surprise ending.
Who should be saying these Mythic Statements?
The Story's Thematic Statement is usually given by a secondary character. Sometimes it's in the hero's voice-over or narration. It's often spoken by a wise old person or an innocent. In Shakespeare, it's often delivered by an otherwise oblique or obscure character. In modern films, it's often just a good one-liner.
The hero usually gets his Mission Statement from someone else. Sometimes he volunteers for it; sometimes it's a regrettable duty; sometimes he takes on a Mission out of desperation. The hero usually voices his own Lesson Statement. Occasionally, another person points it out to him.
One of my favorite films contains excellent examples of the Thematic, Mission, and Lesson statements all together in the beginning. Given that myth enthusiast John Milius wrote the screenplay for APOCALYPSE NOW from novelist Joseph Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS, it's no wonder the film resonates with mythic portent.
The young Colonel gives Captain Willard his Mission to "Terminate the Colonel's command" and the CIA operative adds, "Terminate, with extreme prejudice." [*] This sets up the ubiquitous tale of young gods overthrowing old gods.
The General makes the Thematic Statement. "But out there with these natives I think it must be a temptation to be god. Because there's a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil, and good does not always triumph. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called 'the better angels of our nature'. Every man has got a breaking point."
The Lesson Statement is given by hero Captain Willard in his opening narration. "Everyone gets everything they want. I asked for a mission, and for my sins they gave me one. It was no accident I was the caretaker of Colonel Kurtz. To tell his story is to tell mine."
The LORD OF THE RINGS trilogies can certainly be classified as Conscious Media. Scholar and classicist J.R.R. Tolkien filled them with myth, anthropology, history, politics, a rise up the chakras for the hero-king, a tribal-individual-group shift for the hobbit hero Frodo, and rich symbolism. Peter Jackson's films are exquisite visualizations that hold true to most of these concepts.
The Thematic Statement of LOTR is given in the prologue of the first film, FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING - Power in the wrong hands is deadly dangerous.
The Mission Statement is formed at the Council of Elrond when Frodo volunteers, under Gandalf's influence, to travel to Mordor with the Fellowship of the Ring and personally throw the cursed ring into the Cracks of Doom.
One of the most moving and valuable Lesson Statements, especially for you story-tellers, is given by Sam Gamgee to a very discouraged Frodo in the second film, THE TWO TOWERS.
Frodo: "I can't do this, Sam."
Sam: "I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something."
Frodo: "What are we holding on to, Sam?"
Sam: "That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it's worth fighting for." [**]
As conscious content creators, we can participate in co-creating our world as innovators always have, by revealing what was hidden, transforming what no longer works, and encouraging the discovery of the totally new.
So explore the classic tools of myth-making and make them part of your story craft. Then you can better turn your own inspirations into Conscious Media to affect, uplift, and transform others.
*quotes from APOCALYPSE NOW © Zoetrope Studios
**quotes from LORD OF THE RINGS © New Line Cinema