Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Campbell’


“People have the notion of saving the world by shifting things around, changing the rules, and who’s on top, and so forth. No, no! … The thing to do is to bring life to it, and the only way to do that is to find in your own case where the life is and become alive yourself.”

Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth)

Last week I gave a university seminar on how affect plays an important role in communicating climate change. A few days later, I met with some environmental studies students to continue to discuss climate change and how to better communicate this issue to the public. As I looked around the table I saw the interesting faces of students working on their graduate degrees. I was reminded of that life the excitement of research and the stress of getting through it all. I also realized that when I was working on my degree –some thirty years ago – global warming was a basic research problem, not a phenomena taking place everyday, not a problem threatening our future. Unlike me, these students were not just studying global warming they were witnesses to it. Even more disturbing, their lives stretched out into a future where increased disruption would be the new normal.

The room was full of sadness, anger and hopelessness. Statements of “It’s already too late,” “The issue is too big for individuals to solve,” and “Nothing is going to happen to solve this problem” wove through the discussion. The more we talked the more we descended into a dark emotional abyss. It is so easy to enter darkness when facing this issue. It’s one of the reasons we all tend to avoid the issue. Who wants to go down into that darkness? Who wants to live in hopelessness?  Global warming seems to be a very dark cloud with no silver lining. The students wanted to know if I thought there was any hope. Could we pull ourselves away from the rapidly approaching climate cliff (by the way, far more destructive than any financial cliff)? I sat for a while experiencing the depths of despair. I was down in that dark place. Part of me wanted to admit defeat. Yes, we seem committed to destroying ourselves. I wanted to accept the hopelessness.

It’s so easy to slip into that feeling for it absolves us of any action. Joseph Campbell compared this space of limitation to the appearance of the dragon or monster in myths. Whenever we find ourselves in that place of “I can’t” we know the monster has appeared. Campbell says that, “Slaying the monster is slaying the dark things, the dragon locking you in.” Remember the scene in the Lord of the Rings when the fellowship was down in the dark caves of Moria? They had awakened the Balrog, the flaming monster of the depths. Gandalf stood up to this darkness. He faced the monster with, “You shall not pass!” His sacrifice enabled the rest of the fellowship to come up out of the darkness. Any transformation requires sacrifice.

Sitting in that classroom amidst darkness I experienced a sense of peace. This wasn’t my ego wanting some magical escape. It was a deep sense of strength and resolve. Jung would say that the Self, the archetype of centeredness, had arisen within me. I felt peaceful in the presence of the monster. In that moment I heard myself telling the students of my growing up in the fifties, how I lived amidst rampant racial discrimination and the ever nigh threat of nuclear annihilation. People knew these things were wrong – just as we know the wrongness of global warming. But many felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems. How could things ever change? It took individuals to find the strength within to live a different way. To stand before the monster and say, “You shall not pass!” Rosa Parks chose one day to say this to a bus driver. Martin Luther King Jr. chose this path and many others joined together to slay the dragon of discrimination. Think of all of the changes that have taken place over the past fifty years that began with the few who chose to live one day.

Joseph Campbell says, “become alive to yourself” if you want to change the world. I believe this is what happened back in the fifties. Individuals awoke to life. In the darkest of times we can truly experience this sense of inner peace and resolve. We have many examples to guide us. With such resolve we can stand before the dragon of global warming and say with certainty, “You shall not pass!”

Read Full Post »

“When I was a graduate student in Germany – this was in 1928-1929 – I discovered the works of Freud and Jung, which opened up a psychological dimension to the field of mythology. … Jung became more and more eloquent to me. I think the longer you live, the more Jung can say to you. … Jung gives us clues as to how to let the myth talk to us in its own terms, without putting a formula on it. … [In 1953] Jean and I had tea with Jung and his wife at Bollingen … He was a very big man, and my wife tells me that his eyes were very attractive.”

Joseph Campbell in An Open Life

The second person who has had a deep influence on my life is the mythologist Joseph Campbell. He was a rascal in the way he used myths to get us to question our beliefs. He encouraged us to follow our bliss, knowing the challenges this would bring up within us. He was both charmer and gentleman. He was a man filled with immense knowledge, which he obtained through a self imposed retreat to Woodstock, New York where he  filled the hours with intense reading. He once said that his form of meditation was underlining. Campbell was far more interested in the similarities among myths than the dissimilarities. Through his research in comparative mythology he formulated the concept of the monomyth of the hero’s journey. This archetypal pattern is found within many cultures around the world. It describes the pattern of coming to grips with living an engaged life. He felt that through this journey we bring meaning into our lives.

A sample of Campbell’s rich knowledge and style as storyteller can be found here:

I discovered Campbell’s writings only after he had passed away. After watching the PBS series Power of Myth I started to read Campbell. I wonder what effect his writings would have had on the direction of my life had I discovered him earlier in my life? I did not so much read his books as devour them. As soon as I finished one, I would run out and buy another. His ability to trace many of the foundational images of the Judeo-Christian belief system to its more ancient roots in Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures was a revelation to me. His description of the myths of indigenous cultures awakened me to the deep seated wisdom that has existed from the dawn of human beginnings.

It was in the midst of reading Campbell’s works that I kept coming across the name of Carl Jung. I knew who Jung was, but had  paid little attention to him. The more I read of Campbell’s works, the more I realized that I needed to find out what Jung was saying. At the time, I was living in England. I remember walking down to the local bookstore to buy something of Jung’s. I found a copy of his work on the archetypes of the collective unconscious, i.e. volume 9i. It is difficult to describe in words what I experienced when I began reading this work. After reading the first page, I knew I had discovered a remarkable and invaluable treasure. What grabbed me was Jung’s appreciation of the shadow and how our suffering was a source of transformation. Well, that was all it took… I could not stop reading Jung, and I could not hold back from getting myself into analysis. So, I am very thankful to Joseph Campbell for leading me to Carl Jung. It is no exaggeration to state that he saved my life.

“Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you … When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

Joseph Campbell

Read Full Post »