Everyone with the slightest familiarity with Joseph Campbell, of course, knows the famous catch-phrase: "Follow Your Bliss". And everyone pretty much knows what it means, as well: Figure out whatever your passion is, and responsibly and diligently move forward, and pursue it... for the rest of your life... above and beyond anything else.
Sounds like words of wisdom from a worthy and knowledgable teacher.... but how exactly does one go about following their bliss?
That's what this book aims to answer.
Joseph Campbell, of course, died in 1987, yet this book didn't appear on store shelves until 2004. That's because it has been assembled posthumously by the Joseph Campbell Foundation from many of Campbell's unpublished notes/lectures/interviews/drafts/etc... Their aim is to bring the great mythologist's unfinished works into a form suitable for public consumption. With that as their aim, the Foundation had the inspired idea to organize a whole book around the premise: How To Follow Your Bliss.
So, it's the usual brand of Campbell's 'Mythology as Psychological Resource', albeit this time around in the guise of a sort of 'mythological self-help book'. A satisfying one nonetheless.
As ever, Campbell's basic premise is that the grand purpose of mythology is to ground an individual in relation to an order of being that is larger than himself. Through metaphor and through ritual, an individual is brought into accord with:
1. The great mystery
2. The physical world
3. The societal order
4. The appropriate stage in one's own development as an individual
(These you may recognize as Campbell's four functions of myth.)
The book starts by laying out all four of these as the foundation for the overall theme, and then focuses on the fourth one, the 'personal development' function of myth, throughout the remainder of its pages. A typical scenario where the fourth function of myth may be considered is the following:
All is well, of course, when an infant lives in a dependency on its mother. It is not alright, however, when a thirty-year-old man depends on his mother for decision-making capabilities. Obviously, at some point between infancy and maturity must come the realization that the correct value is to become an autonomous being. Often these realizations that come at specific transition points in the lifecycle are challenging for a developing ego to embrace.
And myths are often stories that show us, through metaphor, that it is possible to negotiate these thresholds-- often they even point a way as to HOW these thresholds may best be negotiated. In a nutshell, what the great stories tell us is this: let the you that you are now DIE so that something new can be born in its place. Let your current incarnation go.
Following the development of the above ideas, the book continues on into the territory of Jung and the idea of one's personal myth. Each of us may become sensitive to one particular myth over another because it has something essential to tell us specifically about our own unique particular journey.
Finding one's own myth, and living it, in essence, is one's pathway to bliss. Campbell gives suggestions to his students (and to us readers) as to how to find, identify and live one's personal myth.
So, here you get the flavor of the book. If you like the ideas behind The Power of Myth and/or Hero With A Thousand Faces and find them to be a nourishing resource in your own life journey, here's a book that attempts to express and focus on those ideas in a way that makes them seem much more immediately relevant and applicable to one's own life journey.
So, if that's what you're into, you'll find it in this book. Because 'mythology as resource for one's psychological development' is what primarily compells me above all else when it comes to myth, I devoured this book and then cried like a little baby when I finished the last page because I was sad it was all over. Those who can't stomach Campbell should move along move along, because they'll find more of the same here as to what they're used to.
* As a bonus, for everyone out there who finds Campbell's ideas of the Hero's Journey to be somewhat not inclusive of women, this book tries to address that as well. The final chapter is a transcript of dialogues in which many of Campbell's students (male and female) challenge him to broaden the conception of the Hero's Journey to include women in a fuller way. It brings what many consider a sour omission from Campbell's writings to light and is definitely worth the read for anyone who follows that discussion closely.
- Phil Robinson
"Paint the walls of your cage with a dream."