I finally finished reading, in toto, Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion (google books; amazon). I found it in my Father’s Library when I visited for Christmas and have been hanging out with it casually since then—half a year to finish ain’t so bad (I have been reading other things).
It’s organized in small 3-5 page chapters, each of them edited from talks or books of Campbell’s aggregating the essence of his life, understanding of mythology from around the world, interpretations of Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and the world’s story he can grok. And grok well he does. While it does encompass most of his mythological structural underpinnings, it reads more like spiritual literature, so its byline of Reflections on the Art of Living is apt. I found them profound, touching, and intimately teaching. Each segment is so dense, touching on the basics of life in the world, it was a better book to hang out with than read directly; its implications for life as an artist, writer, dancer or otherwise strike deep and keep resonating for me. I can tell it will be a book to keep nearby, something to keep the flow of creative juices bubbling forth. It blends both poetry, pull quotes that function as poetry, and citations of his own and others into a basic and aesthetically pleasing read. I’ve read snippets of his seminal The Power of Myth, of course, but that one reads more as non-fiction, albeit as a cohesive interview experience; this Companion works in a more complementary way to one’s own life.
Here are a few excerpts from the end pieces, which were parts of the beginning too:
Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.
The obvious lesson…is that the first step to the knowledge of the highest divine symbol of the wonder and mystery of life is in the recognition of the monstrous nature of life and its glory in that character: the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think—and their name is legion—that they know how the universe could have been better than it is, how it would have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without life, are unfit for illumination. Or those who think—as do many—”Let me first correct society, then get around to myself” are barred from even the outer gate of the mansion of God’s peace. All societies are evil, sorrowful, inequitable; and so they will always be. So if you really want to help this world, what you will have to teach is how to live in it. And that no one can do who has not himself learned how to live in it in the joyful sorrow and sorrowful joy of the knowledge of life as it is. (cit. Myths to Live By)
We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.
The world is a match for us. We are a match for the world.
The first function of mythology is to sanctify the place you are in.
Follow your bliss.
If you want the whole thing, the gods will give it to you. But you must be ready for it.
A bit of advice given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation:
“As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm.
It is not as wide as you think.”
Thanks Joseph. Your amazing technicolor language continues to instruct us.