Photo via Chris Burkard

The Importance of Following Your Bliss

Joseph Campbell is proof that if we follow our dreams, the things we need will come and always at the exact time we need it. His philosophy is often summarized by his phrase: “Follow your bliss.”

The American mythologist, writer and lecturer, Campbell is best known for his studies in comparative mythology and religion in cultures both ancient and modern around the globe. His work covers many aspects of the human experience.

Campbell’s philosophy is based upon the myths, legends, and great stories cross culturally throughout history. His book The Hero With A Thousand Faces explores the theory that the important myths which have survived for thousands of years all share a fundamental structure — the “hero’s journey”.

Campbell explains:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Across cultures, history, and geography this universal message is used by artists and storytellers to evoke symbols and motifs that connect us to our deeper selves. These great myths can help us along the heroic journey of our own lives.

The hero’s journey is the common pattern in which reveals our deeper self. With each adventure there is risk. If you take the journey there will be the dangers, and also the help. There is a possibility of disaster. However, there is also the possibility of bliss.

Following your bliss will take you on your hero’s journey, a unique path that can never be experienced by anyone else.

Prometheus from Greek mythology who was the creator of mankind and gifted mortals with fire stolen from Mount Olympus.

Campbell lived his own life following his bliss.

When Campbell was seven years old, his father took him and his younger brother, Charlie, to see Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. The show sparked his fascination with Native American cultures and mythology.

After earning his masters from Columbia University in 1925, Campbell traveled to Europe where he was first exposed to masters of modernist art and thinking including the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee, James Joyce and Thomas Mann, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.

These encounters would eventually lead him to theorize that all myths are the creative products of the human psyche, that artists are a culture’s myth makers, and that mythologies are creative manifestations of humankind’s universal need to explain psychological, social, cosmological, and spiritual realities.

Star Wars was heavily influenced by Campbell’s books

Upon returning to the US in 1931 Campbell withdrew from his Ph.D program at Columbia University and went on the road to experience the “soul of America”. He wrote in his journal:

I returned to the University and said: “Look, I don’t want to spend my life trying to learn only what you want to teach me.” I had taken all the necessary classes for the title; I just had to write the damned thesis. If I didn’t write it, they wouldn’t let me study further and so it was time to say: go to hell.

On his travels he befriended John Steinbeck and fell under the spell of marine biologist Ed Ricketts (the model for “Doc” in Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row as well as central characters in several other novels). Ricketts would deeply influence both men.

The bliss of a young Joesph Campbell

He began an intensive and rigorous independent study. Unable to find a teaching position or success with his writing he retreated to a small cabin without running water in Woodstock NY. Campbell recalls:

I moved to the countryside and spent five years reading. I never got my doctor title. I learned to live with the minimum possible, that gave me freedom and a wonderful time. Courage is necessary to do what we desire, once others always have a plan for us. Being aware of that, I decided to follow my dream: I didn’t know how I spent these five years, but I knew I would survive another five, if it was necessary.

Campbell would later accept a teaching position and achieve great success as an author, editor, and speaker. His books and teachings have has a tremendous impact on a number of artists, musicians, poets, and filmmakers including George Lucas’ Star Wars and Disney films such as Aladdin, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast.

The hero’s journey remains important in modern times as it did to our ancestors. It is the essence of humanity and the basis of our consciousness. It is important to have the courage to follow your bliss and be brave enough to enjoy the sorrows — it is the privilege of being alive.

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.

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