Most of our conversations are usually a series of reactions with anxiety providing the energy. Little if any light is shed on the underlying source of our fears and dissatisfaction. Obligatory niceties are exchanged, useful information and even compassionate connections occur but our behaviors go on as before. We all know something is not right in our global village but it is not a favorite topic of conversation and frankly most of us don’t know where to begin with the problems being so numerous and overwhelming.
What would a profound and relevant conversation addressing the future of humanity sound like? Do people capable of such conversations even exist? What would they talk about? Would they have answers that would be helpful and practical? We are about to listen in to such a conversation and most of us will probably find it profound, relevant, helpful and practical. And we are indeed privileged to be able to listen in.
The following excerpts of a conversation between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers (B.M.) can be seen on video and found in the book/transcript The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell (J.C.). Arranged by topic we can readily see that the profound concepts found in Simple Reality were always on the tip of Joseph Campbell’s tongue, so to speak, and Bill Moyers’ probing questions brought out the best in the most brilliant mythologist of our age.
Speaking in the introduction to the video Moyers’ had this to say about Campbell: “It was above all, the authentic life he lived that instructs us. When he said that myths are clues to our deepest spiritual potential, able to lead us to delight, illumination, and even rapture, he spoke as one who had been to the places he was inviting us to visit.”
“What did draw me to him?”
“Wisdom, yes; he was very wise.”
Notice the difference in the definition of myth found in the dictionary and myth as defined by Joseph Campbell.
“Myth: a traditional story presenting supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that serve as primordial (original) types in a primitive world view.” American Heritage Dictionary
“Mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical.” Joseph Campbell
|J.C.||“Myths inspire the realization of the possibility of your perfection, the fullness of your strength…Myths are infinite in their revelation [insights].”|
|J.C.||“Mythology is a tool for self-discovery, a way of gaining access to the secrets of the psyche.”|
|J.C.||“They are archetypal dreams and deal with the great human problems. I know when I come to one of these thresholds now. The myth tells me about it, how to respond to certain crises of disappointment or delight or failure or success. The myth tells me where I am [The First Great Question].”|
|J.C.||“Myths are clues to the spiritual possibilities of human life.”|
|B.M.||“So if you find that many different cultures tell the story of creation, or the story of a virgin birth, or the story of a savior who comes and dies and is resurrected, they are saying something about what is inside us, and our need to understand.”|
|J.C.||“Rollo May says there is so much violence in American society today because there are no more great myths to help young men and women relate to the world or to understand that world beyond what is seen.”|
|B.M.||“What was the message of George Lucas Star Wars trilogy?”|
|J.C.||“…technology is not going to save us. Our computers, our tools, our machines are not enough. We have to rely on our intuition, our true being. The hero’s journey is not a courageous act but as a life lived in self-discovery. The ultimate aim of the quest must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and the power to serve others. The hero lives to redeem society.”|
|B.M.||“But aren’t many visionaries and even leaders and heroes close to the edge of neuroticism [anxiety, phobias and other abnormal behavioral symptoms]?”|
|J.C.||“They’ve moved out of the society that would have protected them and into the dark forest into the world of fire, or original experience. Original experience has not been interpreted for you, and so you’ve got to work out your life for yourself. Either you can take it or you can’t. You don’t have to go far off the interpreted path to find yourself in very difficult situations. The courage to face the trials and to bring a whole new body of possibilities into the field of interpreted experience for other people to experience—that is the hero’s deed.”|
|J.C.||“One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.”|
|J.C.||“The secret cause of all suffering is mortality itself which is the prime condition of life. It cannot be denied if life is to be affirmed.”|
|J.C.||“True wisdom ‘lives far from mankind, out in the great loneliness, and can be reached only through suffering’ [quoting Igjugarjuk, Shaman of the Caribou Eskimo tribe].”|
|J.C.||“I had an illuminating experience from a woman who had been in severe physical pain for years from an affliction that had stricken her in her youth. She had been raised a believing Christian and so thought this had been God’s punishment of her for something she had done or not done at that time. She was in spiritual as well as physical pain. I told her that if she wanted release, she should affirm and not deny that her suffering was her life, and that through it she had become the noble creature that she now was. And while I was saying all this, I was thinking, ‘Who am I to talk like this to a person in real pain, when I’ve never had anything worse than a toothache?’ But in this conversation, in affirming her suffering as the shaper and teacher of her life, she experienced a conversion—right there. I have kept in touch with her since—that was years and years ago—and she is indeed a transformed woman.
“I gave her the belief that she was herself the cause of her suffering, that she had somehow brought it about. There is an important idea in Nietzsche, of Amor fati, the ‘love of your fate,’ which is in fact your life. As he says, if you say no to a single factor in your life, you have unraveled the whole thing. Furthermore, the more challenging or threatening the situation or context to be assimilated and affirmed, the greater stature of the person who can achieve it. The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.”
|J.C.||“One of the psychological problems in growing old is the fear of death. People resist the door of death. But this body is a vehicle of consciousness, and if you can identify with the consciousness, you can watch this body go like an old car. There goes the fender, there goes the tire, one thing after another—but it’s predictable. And then, gradually, the whole thing drops off, and consciousness rejoins consciousness. It is no longer in this particular environment.”|
|J.C.||“Marriage is not a simple love affair, it’s an ordeal, and the ordeal is the sacrifice of ego to a relationship in which two have become one. I would say that if the marriage isn’t a first priority in your life, you’re not married. The marriage means the two are one, the two become one flesh. If the marriage lasts long enough, and if you are acquiescing constantly to it instead of to individual whim, you come to realize that that is true—the two really are one.”|
|J.C.||“‘God’ is an ambiguous word in our language because it appears to refer to something that is known. But the transcendent is unknowable and unknown. God is transcendent, finally, of anything like the name ‘God.’ God is beyond names and forms. Meister Eckhart said that the ultimate and highest leave-taking is leaving God for God, leaving your notion of God for an experience of that which transcends all notions.”|
|Good and Evil|
|J.C.||“…good and evil are simply temporal aberrations and that, in God’s view, there is no difference.”|
|J.C.||“There is a basic mythological motif that originally all was one, and then there was separation—heaven and earth, male and female, and so forth. How did we lose touch with the unity? One thing you cannot say is that the separation was somebody’s fault—they ate the wrong fruit or said the wrong words to God so that he got angry and then went away. So now the eternal is somehow away from us, and we have to find some way to get back in touch with it.”|
|J.C.||“The kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth and men do not see it.”|
|B.M.||“Eden is—in this world of pain and suffering and death and violence?”|
|J.C.||“That is the way it feels, but this is it, this is Eden. When you see the kingdom spread upon the earth, the old way of living [P-B] is annihilated. This is the end of the world. The end of the world is not an event to come, it is an event of psychological transformation, of visionary transformation. You see not the world of solid things but a world of radiance [P-A].”|
|J.C.||“… the biblical tradition is a socially oriented mythology. Nature is condemned.”|
|B.M.||“In the Christianity story the serpent is the seducer.”|
|J.C.||“That amounts to a refusal to affirm life. In the biblical tradition we have inherited, life is corrupt, and every natural impulse is sinful unless it has been circumcised or baptized. The serpent was the one who brought sin into this world. And the woman was the one who handed the apple to man. This identification of the woman with sin, of the serpent with sin, and thus life with sin, is the twist that has been given to the whole story in the biblical myth and doctrine of the Fall.”|
|B.M.||“Does the idea of woman as sinner appear in other mythologies?”|
|J.C.||“No, I don’t know of it elsewhere…The idea in the biblical tradition of the Fall is that nature as we know it is corrupt, sex in itself in corrupt, and the female as the epitome of sex is a corrupter.”|
|B.M.||“So you would agree with Abelard in the twelfth century, who said that Jesus’ death on the cross was not as ransom paid, or as a penalty applied, but that it was an act of atonement, at-one-ment, with the race.”|
|J.C.||“That’s the most sophisticated interpretation of why Christ had to be crucified, or why he elected to be crucified…[the] idea was that Christ came to be crucified to evoke in man’s heart the sentiment of compassion for the suffering of life, and so to remove man’s mind from blind commitment to the goods of this world. It is in compassion with Christ that we turn to Christ, and the injured one becomes our Savior. It is the suffering that evokes the humanity of the human heart.”|
|Being “Born Again”|
|B.M.||“That is why there is so much pain associated with the true religious transformation of conversion.”|
|J.C.||The New Testament teaches dying to one’s self, literally suffering the pain of death to the world and its values. This is the vocabulary of the mystics.”|
|Science and Mythology|
|B.M.||“One of the intriguing points of your scholarship is that you do not believe science and mythology conflict.”|
|J.C.||“No, they don’t conflict. Science is breaking through now into the mystery dimensions. It’s pushed itself into the sphere the myth is talking about. It’s come to the edge…the interface between what can be known and what is never to be discovered because it is a mystery that transcends all human research. The source of life—what is it? No one knows. We don’t even know what an atom is, whether it is a wave or a particle—it is both. We don’t have any idea of what these things are.
“That’s the reason we speak of the divine. There’s a transcendent energy source. When the physicist observes subatomic particles, he’s seeing a trace on a screen. These traces come and go, come and go, and we come and go, and all of life comes and goes. That energy is the informing energy of all things.”
|J.C.||“…a dream is a personal experience of that deep, dark ground that is the support of our conscious lives, and a myth is the society’s dream. The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth. If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of society, you are in good accord with your group. If it isn’t, you’ve got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you.”|
|Reaction and Resistance|
|J.C.||“You’ve got to say yes to this miracle of life as it is, not on the condition that it follows your rules. Otherwise, you’ll never get through to the metaphysical dimension [Simple Reality].”|
|Why Am I Here?|
|J.C.||“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning of life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”|
|J.C.||“If you realize what the real problem is—losing yourself, giving yourself to some higher end, or to another—you realize that this itself is the ultimate trial. When we quite thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.”|
|B.M.||“How is consciousness transformed?”|
|J.C.||“Either by the trials [suffering] themselves or by illuminating revelations [insights]. Trials and revelations are what it’s all about.”|
|Ethics and Oneness|
|B.M.||“Myths deal with metaphysics. But religion also deals with ethics, good and evil, and how I am to relate to you, and how I should behave toward you, toward my wife and toward my fellow man under God. What is the place and role of ethics in mythology?”|
|J.C.||“We spoke of the metaphysical experience in which you realize that you and the other are one. Ethics is a way of teaching you how to live as though you were one with the other. You don’t have to have the experience because the doctrine of the religion gives you modes of actions that imply a compassionate relationship with the other. It offers an incentive for doing this by teaching you that simply acting in your own self-interest is sin. That is identification with your body.”|
|B.M.||“Love they neighbor as thyself because thy neighbor is thyself.”|
|J.C.||“That is what you have learned when you have done so.”|
References and notes are available for this essay.
For a much more in-depth discussion on Simple Reality, read Simple Reality: The Key to Serenity and Survival, by Roy Charles Henry, published in 2011.