In my own life, mostly it comes from books, though I have had a long series of magnificent teachers.*
Dear Mr Campbell,
I read these words only this morning in The Power of Myth which you co-authored with Bill Moyers. Your words are true for me as you are one of my magnificent teachers.
Other words had already captured my attention:
‘I don’t think there is any such thing as an ordinary mortal. everybody has his own possibility of rapture in the experience of life. All he has to do is recognise it and then cultivate it and get going with it. I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about ordinary mortals because I’ve never met an ordinary man, woman, or child.’*
When I read this, I’d just been thinking about how the quests for honour, nobility and wisdom are open to all and I believe the truth of your words is more accessible now than ever before in human history.
I am writing to you from 2018 but you spoke these things in 1986 just before you died. Only a few years later the Internet would herald a bold new world of connection and information for turning into knowledge and action through their imagination and creativity. There’s always been formal and informal learning but the possibilities of learning from beyond the institutions of education have become exponential. Even now I am engaging in a Bootstrappers Workshop (I think you’ll enjoy exploring what these blue words make possible) in which I watch videos from a thoughtful practitioner (another of my magnificent teachers), after which I’m encouraged to engage in some personal work and connect with hundreds of others through message boards.
You knew this about humans because of your love of mythology. Some see myths as untruth but I read somewhere** that myths are true in generally true, though not specifically true. If I may quote you back to yourself, this appears to dovetail with what you are saying here:
‘No, mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth – penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words.’*
Out of this love of mythology emerged your hero’s journey, ‘the adventure of being alive’* – another idea of yours that has been misunderstood. Nassim Taleb has described himself as a “sceptical empiricist” but he understands what you’re saying, one time writing in a book inspired by the myth of Procrustes:
‘A man without heroic bent starts dying at the age of thirty.’**
Taleb is writing from his understanding of the universe as a random and even chaotic place, and you are also writing these things I’ve been quoting back to you in relation to a life of chance and how we need to find our centre within:
‘The place is find is within yourself. […] There is a centre of quietness within, which has to be known and held. If you lose that enter, you are in tension and begin to fall apart.’*
In the Bootstrappers Workshop there’s a little video extra from Elizabeth Gilbert and she is distinguishing between hobbies, jobs, careers and vocations – and I’m thinking hobbies for interest, jobs for income, careers for purpose and vocations for legacy. I believe it’s our myths, though, that hold these together – how we connect to ourselves and to others and to our world.
Perhaps one of the greatest things you have taught me is how people the world round have common hopes and aspirations and meanings and they have been exploring these in myths and stories for thousands of years. Our myths are where we’ll find or greatest plans and hopes for humans and our world.
I close my letter of gratitude with some words from the writer Neil Gaiman:
‘Albert Einstein was once asked how we could make our children intelligent. “If you want your children to be intelligent,” he said, “read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”‘^^
(*Joseph Campbell, from Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(**See Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.)
(^From, Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)
(^^From Neil Gaiman’s Art Matters.)