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Follow Your Bliss…Doors Will Open

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
From “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver, House of Light

Follow your bliss and doors will open.

From an interview by Bill Moyers with Joseph Campbell

We change the world word by word.
From an interview by Bill Moyers with Maxine Hong Kingston

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
From The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

You’ll find these four quotes at the top of the policy sheet or syllabus I give out to my students at the start of every semester for at least the past eight years. On the first day, we go over these four quotes, and I ask the students which one “speaks” to them, to share their choice with their neighbors, then we all discuss the quotes and what they mean to us, and I share why I chose each one.

While students find all four quotes inspiring, the words of Joseph Campbell “Follow your bliss and doors will open” always lights the most fires.

Some of my students have always heard of Joseph Campbell because the interviews between he and Bill Moyers were televised and became a bestselling book: The Power of Myth. Here is a transcript from which I have paraphrasing;

BILL MOYERS: Do you ever have the sense of… being helped by hidden hands?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time – namely, that if 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. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open 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. 

Campbell further explains that  If you 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. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.

“My general formula for my students is “Follow your bliss.” Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it.” Joseph Campbell The Power of Myth pp. 120, 149

According to Campbell, to follow your bliss doesn’t mean doing whatever you want but figuring out your passion. This is your gift–what you can do to your fullest potential to give back to your community.

Learn more about Campbell’s ideas on bliss at the Joseph Campbell Foundation website.

Of course, there’s a lot more to Joseph Campbell than this one idea about bliss that has captured the public’s imagination following his interview with Bill Moyers. Moyers chose to interview Campbell based on his life work around myths:

“Myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human manifestation,” — Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

“The happy ending of the fairy tale, the myth, and the divine comedy of the soul, is to be read, not as a contradiction, but as a transcendence of the universal tragedy of man.” — Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
“According to Joseph Campbell, there is only one story in the world, retold in many guises….[he] strips away the masks and shows the Hero to be a cultural code: the universal algorithm for transcending mundane consciousness and plugging into the main starry dynamo of the Mind.” — Howard L. Rheingold
“Despite their infinite variety of incident, setting, and costume, the myths of the world offer only a limited number of responses to the riddle of life. In this best-selling volume, Joseph Campbell presents the composite hero,” reads a synopsis of his best known work. “Through Campbell’s eyes, we see Apollo, the Frog King of the fairy tale, Wotan, the Buddha, and numerous other protagonists of folklore and religion enacting simultaneously the various phases of their common story. Campbell begins his interpretation of these timeless symbols by examining their relationship to those rediscovered in dreams by depth psychology. The psychological view is then compared with the words of such spiritual leaders as Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Lao-tse, and the “Old Men” of the Australian tribes. From behind a thousand faces, the single hero emerges, archetype of all myth.”

According to a brief but thorough biography on the Joseph Campbell Foundation website, “his first, full-length, solo authorial endeavor, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Bollingen Series XVII: 1949), was published to acclaim and brought him the first of numerous awards and honors—the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Contributions to Creative Literature. In this study of the myth of the hero, Campbell posits the existence of a Monomyth (a word he borrowed from James Joyce), a universal pattern that is the essence of, and common to, heroic tales in every culture. While outlining the basic stages of this mythic cycle, he also explores common variations in the hero’s journey, which, he argues, is an operative metaphor, not only for an individual, but for a culture as well. The Hero would prove to have a major influence on generations of creative artists—from the Abstract Expressionists in the 1950s to contemporary film-makers today—and would, in time, come to be acclaimed as a classic.

Joe would eventually author dozens of articles and numerous other books, including The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology (Vol. 1: 1959), Oriental Mythology (Vol. 2: 1962), Occidental Mythology (Vol. 3: 1964), and Creative Mythology (Vol. 4: 1968); The Flight of the Wild Gander: Explorations in the Mythological Dimension (1969); Myths to Live By (1972); The Mythic Image (1974); The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion (1986); and five books in his four-volume, multi-part, unfinished Historical Atlas of World Mythology (1983-87).

When he died, Newsweek magazine noted that “Campbell has become one of the rarest of intellectuals in American life: a serious thinker who has been embraced by the popular culture,” says his website.

About a year ago, I had a tour of the Joseph Campbell Archive which is part of the Opus Archives at Pacifica Graduate Institute where I was thrilled to see the various resources including his journals dating back to when he was child.

Campbell had a special relationship with Pacifica which offers a PhD in mythology (see the accompanying conference info); it was only natural for his archives to be sheltered there. Pacifica has two campuses; the archive is at the upper campus 801 Ladera Lane, Santa Barbara, CA 93108. (805) 969-5750

Google map link

The archives aren’t generally open to the public, only by special arrangement or during special events like the so if you ever have an opportunity, you should take it! It’s fascinating to see the work of scholars as well as the original materials which inspired Campbell’s groundbreaking work. It’s also reassuring to see his revision process!

In addition to the archive of  Joseph Campbell, Opus has the archives of Marija Gimbutas, James Hillman, Jane Hollister Wheelwright and Joseph Wheelwright, Marion Woodman, Christine Downing, Katherine Sanford, Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig and more.

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