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Excerpted from We by Robert A. Johnson. Copyright © 1983 by Robert A. Johnson. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"Above all, this myth gives us a painfully accurate picture of romantic love--why it came into our culture, what it is, and why it isn't working very well."

Robert A. Johnson, We, Part 2

By learning the symbolic language of dreams, a person learns to see what is going on within at an unconscious level and even discovers what needs to be done about it. Jung demonstrated that myths also are symbolic expressions of the unconscious. But, though a dream expresses the dynamics within an individual, a myth expresses the dynamics within the collective mind of a society, culture, or race.

A myth is the collective "dream" of an entire people at a certain point in their history. It is as though the entire population dreamed together, and that "dream," the myth, burst forth through its poetry, songs, and stories. But a myth not only lives in literature and imagination, it immediately finds its way into the behavior and attitudes of the culture-into the practical daily lives of the people.

The myth of Tristan and Iseult is a profound expression of the Western psyche. It tells us a lot about "what makes us tick." It is a vivid, panoramic view of the psychological forces at work in the unconscious of Western people for the last thousand years of our history. Above all, this myth gives us a painfully accurate picture of romantic love--why it came into our culture, what it is, and why it isn't working very well.

Our myth shows us that romantic love is a necessary ingredient in the evolution of the Western psyche. We will achieve wholeness and will move on to the next step in our evolution of consciousness only when we learn to live consciously with romantic love--that is, with the vast psychological forces that it represents. In the evolution of consciousness, our greatest problem is always our richest opportunity.

Zen teaches that inner growth always involves an experience of "a red-hot coal stuck in the throat. In our development we always come to a problem, an obstacle, that goes so deep that we "can't swallow it and can't cough it up." This exactly fits our Western experience of romantic love: We can't live with it, and we canít live without it--we can't swallow it, and can't cough it up! This "hot coal" in our throats alerts us that a tremendous evolutional potential is trying to manifest itself.

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