Wisdom of Life

Joseph Campbell: On the Wisdom of Life

headshotIf you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

Following your bliss is not self-indulgent, but vital; your whole physical system knows that this is the way to be alive in this world and the way to give to the world the very best that you have to offer. There is a track just waiting for each of us and once on it, doors will open that were not open before and would not open for anyone else.

We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us. It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. Life will always be sorrowful. We can’t change it, but we can change our attitude toward it. All life stinks and you must embrace that with compassion. Awe is what moves us forward. You become mature when you become the authority of your own life. Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.

When the Buddha declares there is escape from sorrow, the escape is Nirvana, which is not a place, like heaven, but a psychological state of mind in which you are released from desire and fear. And your life becomes harmonious, centered and affirmative. Even with suffering.

The first step to the knowledge of the wonder and mystery of life is the recognition of the monstrous nature of the earthly human realm as well as its glory, the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think they know how the universe could have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without death, are unfit for illumination.

Life lives on life. This is the sense of the symbol of the Ouroboros, the serpent biting its tail. Everything that lives, lives on the death of something else. Your own body will be food for something else. Anyone who denies this, anyone who holds back, is out of order. Death is an act of giving.

As you proceed through life, following your own path, birds will shit on you. Don’t bother to brush it off. Getting a comedic view of your situation gives you spiritual distance. Having a sense of humor saves you. The only way you can talk about this great tide in which you’re a participant is as Schopenhauer did: the universe is a dream dreamed by a single dreamer where all the dream characters dream too.

The spirit is really the bouquet of life. It is not something breathed into life, it comes out of life. This is one of the glorious things about the mother-goddess religions, where the world is the body of the Goddess, divine in itself, and divinity isn’t something ruling over and above a fallen nature… Our story of the fall in the Garden sees nature as corrupt; and that myth corrupts the whole world for us. Because nature is thought of as corrupt, every spontaneous act is sinful and must not be yielded to. You get a totally different civilization and a totally different way of living according to whether your myth presents nature as fallen or whether nature is in itself a manifestation of divinity, and the spirit is the revelation of the divinity that is inherent in nature.

Heaven and hell are within us, and all the gods are within us. This is the great realization of the Upanishads of India in the ninth Century B.C. All the gods, all the heavens, all the world, are within us. They are magnified dreams, and dreams are manifestations in image form of the energies of the body in conflict with each other. That is what myth is. Myth is a manifestation in symbolic images, in metaphorical images, of the energies of the organs of the body in conflict with each other. It is only when a man tames his own demons that he becomes the king of himself if not of the world.

What is a god? A god is a personification of a motivating power of a value system that functions in human life and in the universe.

Love is the burning point of life, and since all life is sorrowful, so is love. The stronger the love, the more the pain. Love itself is pain, you might say — the pain of being truly alive.

Marriage is not a love affair. A love affair is a totally different thing. A marriage is a commitment to that which you are. That person is literally your other half. And you and the other are one. A love affair isn’t that. That is a relationship for pleasure, and when it gets to be un-pleasurable, it’s off. But a marriage is a life commitment, and a life commitment means the prime concern of your life. If marriage is not the prime concern, you’re not married… The Puritans called marriage “the little church within the Church.” In marriage, every day you love, and every day you forgive. It is an ongoing sacrament – love and forgiveness… Like the yin/yang symbol… Here I am, and here she is, and here we are. Now when I have to make a sacrifice, I’m not sacrificing to her, I’m sacrificing to the relationship. Resentment against the other one is wrongly placed. Life in in the relationship, that’s where your life now is. That’s what a marriage is – whereas, in a love affair, you have two lives in a more or less successful relationship to each other for a certain length of time, as long as it seems agreeable.

What is it we are questing for? It is the fulfillment of that which is potential in each of us. Questing for it is not an ego trip; it is an adventure to bring into fulfillment your gift to the world, which is yourself. There is nothing you can do that’s more important than being fulfilled. You become a sign, you become a signal, transparent to transcendence; in this way you will find, live, become a realization of your own personal myth. The ultimate aim of the quest must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and the power to serve others. A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.

Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again. You really don’t have a sacred space, a rescue land, until you find somewhere to be that’s not a wasteland, some field of action where there is a spring of ambrosia—a joy that comes from inside, not something external that puts joy into you—a place that lets you experience your own will and your own intention and your own wish so that, in small, the Kingdom is there.

Excerpts from Joseph Campbell’s works

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~Joseph John Campbell was an American Professor of Literature at Sarah Lawrence College who worked in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work covers many aspects of the human experience.

©Excellence Reporter 2019

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Categories: Wisdom of Life

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