Follow Your Bliss: The Genius Of Joseph Campbell

How mythology and folklore play a part in your own hero's journey.
Brown Concrete Hallway

“Myth is what we call other people's religion.”
― Joseph Campbell

This quote explains myth to me in a way that dictionaries could not. Is my religion a myth, just a bunch of stories to help us understand the Divine?

Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers has had a huge impact on my life, offering introspection on subjects I once had blind faith in.

Filmed shortly before he died at Skywalker Ranch, his teachings on following your bliss and reevaluating religious doctrine was nothing short of a revelation to someone raised in strict Catholicism. 

Myths attempt to bring man to a level of consciousness that is spiritual. Campbell thought that religions were relevant in their time, but have gotten stuck in the metaphor. He believes we need new myths to keep up with an ever-evolving society; the metaphors need to be updated for the new age.

Joseph Campbell devoted his life to the study of myths and religions and how they can help us in our everyday lives. He was a scholar who turned his back on academic glory to bring his findings to the masses in books like The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Pathways to Bliss, and the Masks of God series. His work has inspired generations of artists; among them George Lucas, The Grateful Dead, and countless authors and screenwriters.

Since the beginning of time, man has tried to make sense of the world and its place in it. But how do we explain the unexplainable, know the unknowable? Campbell says that myths are “clues” to the “spiritual potentiality” of human beings. While people identifying with religious groups are on the decline in our society, it doesn’t mean mankind has ceased to look for spiritual fulfillment.

The indication is … of a plane of being that’s behind the visible plane, and which is somehow supportive of the visible one to which we have to relate. I would say that’s the basic theme of all mythology.

-Joseph Campbell

Religion has always been a way to explain what happens after we die, and how to live a meaningful life. Campbell says we must break through the ceiling of organized religion to have a personal relationship with God.

Being a devout Catholic, it had never occurred to me to have a personal relationship with the Creator. He was up there and I was down here (hoping to get up there someday!)

Life is always on the edge of death, always, and one should lack fear and have the courage of life. That’s the principle initiation of all of the heroic stories.

-Joseph Campbell

Campbell believed each and everyone one of us has a hero’s journey in our lifetime. And the way to find it is by following your bliss. 

Or, in other words, love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life. Whether you feel the pull to be a mechanic or a classical pianist, follow that calling for your best life.

Finding your bliss is, Campbell says, a personal journey we must all undertake. Seek out things that excite you and give you joy. Start there. Search your childhood memories for times when you were your happiest. What were you doing? 

Campbell tells the story of his friend Carl Jung, how in midlife Jung began to worry that he'd never found his bliss, so embarked on a course to find and fulfill it. After much exploration and soul searching, he remembered what made him happiest when he was a child- creating buildings with stone. In his forties, he built Bollingen Tower on Lake Zurich, his home until his death.

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.   

Joseph Campbell

That doesn’t mean the journey will be easy. The whole world will tell you that you cannot be what you want because it isn’t practical, you won’t make any money and you need to grow up and get a real job, yada yada yada. But just moving slowly in the direction of your bliss will allow miracles to unfold as the universe supports you in your vision.

“We're not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”

Joseph Campbell

And that's the icing on the cake, by being your best self you're saving the world in the way that only you can do. Your light will be a beacon for others, encouraging them to find their Holy Grail, the thing that illuminates their soul. Being your true self is an act of bravery that encourages others to do the same.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

Joseph Campbell

Looking back through history, rituals and myths serve many functions in society.

Early man’s painting on cave walls showed how they revered the animal they killed, telling stories of the animal’s willing sacrifice and how they would give thanks to the animal before eating it. Eons later, American Indians have the same kind of rituals and reverence for the buffalo. While we pray to thank God before our meal, they prayed to thank the animal for his sacrifice.

Life lives off death, and while we're removed from that now due to the advancement of civilization, it's still true. Killing those magnificent animals was so hard on the psyches of the tribesman that rituals and myths were created to absolve them of the creatures’ death and appease the gods so they may be able to hunt more in the future. The circle of life, indeed.

Throughout his lifetime, Campbell found many similarities in the themes and rituals of different civilizations in their search for answers about God. He calls this the Monomyth (one myth) in as much as all mythic stories from around the globe are just varying forms of one single glorious story. 

Campbell laments the lack of rituals in our society today, especially for boys becoming men. Women have a biological function that lets them know they have achieved womanhood and would go into a hut to meditate on their likeness to the earth goddess and her life-giving function.

Boys, however, have to transcend their childhood in other ways. Tribes would create elaborate rituals to help them do that, and although they were often harsh by today's standards, they turned them into functioning members of society, serving something bigger than themselves.

Since male teenagers have no such ritual today, Campbell believes the result is the restlessness and violent crime that plagues cities from these young men and their lack of transformation and mentoring.

While Myths are man’s attempts to search for meaning and connect with the divine, they also help us find ourselves, and as Campbell says, the experience of being fully alive. The Knights of the Round Table and their search for the Holy Grail is an example of what myths can teach us: each person must leave the wasteland of an unfulfilled life and search out and find that which fulfills him.

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.

Joseph Campbell

The knights, like us, must battle themselves and must come to a place without fear or desire, a place of becoming who you were meant to be. That is how myths assist us in living our lives to the fullest.

Sheila is an LA-based writer and actress working in the Television industry.

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