Category Archives: Joseph Campbell

Change your Story, Change your life

Do I live in a friendly or hostile universe?

I was riding the train into Manhattan when a man sitting opposite hailed me.  He showed me his purple heart metal and said he had two of them.  Apparently,  he wasn’t being given enough common courtesy from the woman taking the tickets. His father came to the US from Italy and, as soon as he had landed, signed up and fought in the Second World War.  He, himself, had served in Vietnam but ruminated that, with the people coming into the country now and the way folks acted, he wouldn’t do it again.  I said there were a lot of good people. His opinion was that there are only a handful. We agreed that a little common courtesy went a long way. Just talking with him seemed to sway his view that this society was no longer worth serving. He boarded the train with a story in his head that he was verifying. That story was capable of being shifted.

When I got home, I found a letter from a close friend. She said someone had given her an unexpected sum of money and she was sharing it with Julia and I because she believed in who we were and what we were doing. This kindness and consideration blew us away. Even though our friend could have certainly used this money for herself, she felt she could afford to offer a portion of it to us. She believed sending us this gift would enrich her being. Knowing this friend, I can say that she does feel that this society is worth serving.  It is another story that can be verified.

One of my favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein:

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”

I do have to remind myself often that I live in a friendly universe.

However, I have demonstrated the validity of this decision to myself innumerable times. When I find that my mind is taking me down a rabbit hole, and I am becoming anxious about the state of the world and what might happen if this or that occurs, I declare that I live in a friendly universe. I can actually feel the story I am telling myself start to shift. The outcome, for me so far, is that I continue to live in a friendly universe. For that, I am immensely grateful.

I believe the mythologist, Joseph Campbell, would have agreed with Albert that our beliefs and reactions to the world around us reflect the stories that we subscribe to.  Each religion, spiritual practice and culture revolves around a set of stories.

People in power with vested interests, and salesmen in the media, often try to convince us that we live in a hostile universe. This belief leads to fear of others whose stories are different from our own. It can also lead us to take our own stories literally and become ridged in our thinking. Once our hearts are closed off, we often find that we do, indeed, live in a hostile universe.

I also believe we can get to a place where we are able to share our stories to mutually benefit one another.

I know someone whose basement was flooded one year just before Christmas. All of her families’ presents were destroyed. On Christmas day, her doorbell rang and when she answered it, instead of finding a person, she discovered a mountain of presents for her family. When people ask her if she has told her kids that Santa is not real, she says that he is. Someone used their story of a jolly man who brings presents and good cheer to others, to help this woman’s family; they became Santa Claus. Santa is a story that we can take to heart, that we share to mutually benefit one another.

There is a Jewish legend of the Lamid Vavniks, that predates Santa and describes 36 anonymous folks who are so pure of heart they keep the whole world in balance.  This story makes it a virtue to do something wonderful for someone else in secret.

How many other myths or stories outside of our comfort zone could benefit us in ways that we have not even considered?

Being willing to not only shift our own story but recognize something beautiful in someone else’s story, can help us to decide, on a daily basis, that we live in a friendly universe.

The Story I Can Hear

“If we see it all as literal, it might end up in a fight.

If we see it as a story, it might work out alright.

Let’s go out and meet the modern, willing to embrace-

See the gold inside the dust, be the change that’s taking place.

I long to tell the story I can hear.

One that fills my eyes and opens up the skies.

I long to tell the story I can hear.

One that fills the skies and opens up my eyes.

Not just for believers, or those who think its true,

but that holds me in its arms as it reaches out for you.

We’re busy telling stories. Meanwhile, life goes on.

It listens to our verses. It sings all of our songs.

One song. Our songs.

Not just for believers, or those who think its true,

but that holds me in its arms as it reaches out for you.”

The Levins  (inspired by Joseph Campbell)

May your story place you in the center of a friendly universe.

You are the Earth- The Earth is You

Reaching the ‘Becoming Life Point’.

“Captain Tree: ‘Leaf your worries behind.

Climb up high.

Be still and you will find.

See the world as it was meant to be.

Free, free, free.’”

-Ira Scott Levin (Uncle Eye)/ Captain Tree

***

In honor of Earth Day, I humbly suggest that the Earth is here for all of us, regardless of our belief, culture, or point of view. It does not discriminate or judge us. Silently turning, it churns out life in myriad forms.

Throughout history, poets have paused to listen to the Earth’s song whistling through the meadows and mountains.  Its verses are endless but the refrain is essentially the same:

“Make of me what you will for you are me and I am you.”

The Earth is modeling a way of being that encourages us to recognize what we have to offer.

If I were to find the cornucopia, the mythical ‘horn of plenty’ that perpetually pours out fruits, nuts and flowers, I would be overcome with wonder. If I thought I was the cornucopia, and could offer beauty and nourishment to everyone I met, it would transform my life. If I lived on the cornucopia and was not aware that I was a part of it, I might not take the time to be still enough to recognize what was at hand.

The famous mythologist, Joseph Campbell, interpreted what the poet T. S. Elliot called the  “still point of the turning world” as “The energy of the center. The inexhaustible fountain, of the source.”

He reflects on this “source” further by saying, “The source doesn’t care what happens once it gives into being. It’s the giving and coming into being that counts, and that’s the becoming life point in you…

…I think of grass- you know, every two weeks a chap comes out with a lawnmower and cuts it down. Suppose the grass were to say, ‘Well, for Pete’s sake, what’s the use if you keep getting cut down in this way ?’ Instead, it keeps on growing.”

Think of this within you.  How often does life try to beat you down? We are subjected to life’s forest fires, that flare up and claim what we love. There are bitter winters, droughts, floods; we are strip -mined, poisoned, polluted, over-populated and yet…Like the Earth, we can still access “the becoming life point.” We may be broken open but are capable of bestowing beauty and nourishment to ourselves and those that are not even here yet.

So, here’s to the Earth and here’s to you my friend. May you come into the fullness of your splendor.

Life is your Valentine

The Seed Cracked Open

It used to be

That when I would wake in the morning

I could with confidence say,

“What am ‘I’ going to

Do?

That was before the seed

Cracked open.

Now Hafiz is certain:

There are two of us housed

In this body,

Doing the shopping together in the market and

Tickling each other

While fixing the evening’s food.

Now when I awake

All the internal instruments play the same music:

“God, what love-mischief can ‘We’ do

For the world

Today?”

–          Hafiz rendered by Daniel Ladinsky from The Gift

Good afternoon Sweet Hearts,

Today is named after a Roman saint who defied an emperor’s ban on marriage and united scores of young lovers in matrimony. He was executed for this on February 14th. “Valentine’s Day” then supplanted Lupercalia, a Roman fertility festival.

Later, Shakespeare and Chaucer weaved Valentine’s day into their work and exchanging romantic handmade paper cards became popular in Brittan during the Middle Ages. This gave way to big business in our modern Hallmark age. But Valentine’s is also a day for true love to flourish like flowers coming out of the February snow. Love is certainly not restricted to couples, or even a traditional love affair with God, which is why I chose the Hafiz poem above. Making life our Valentine allows for a sweetness that lingers longer than an everlasting gobstopper.

“The waters of life are right there…wherever you are- if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”  -Joseph Campbell

Since you are a beautiful vase filled with the waters of life, let me offer you these-

Roses

Everyone now and again wonders about

those questions that have no ready

answers: first cause, God’s existence,

what happens when the curtain goes

down and nothing stops it, not kissing,

not going to the mall, not the Super

Bowl.

“Wild roses,” I said to them one morning.

“Do you have the answers? And if you do,

would you tell me?”

“The roses laughed softly. “Forgive us,”

they said.  “But as you can see, we are

just now entirely busy being roses.”

-Mary Oliver

However you spend today, know that you are loved!

Cherish your current beautiful manifestation.

MLK and “interrelated structure of all reality.”

How MLK stayed connected to love.

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by the Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.

-Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.- a man who utilized his stream, or what Mooji would call, “the cosmic current of existence,” to help expand our universal understanding.  MLK was a man of action. His actions were blockbuster without having to shoot his way into enemy territory, punch out the bully or watch as the villain plummeted from a great height. Instead he actively connected to love, to the energy and awareness that manifests as all of us, to help us to see, feel and experience this, “Interrelated structure of all reality.”

You could say that MLK was selfless. He was willing to sacrifice even his life to get us to know that our differences are not only skin deep, mere pigmentation, but that our true Self includes everything that we perceive, and can conceive.

Again, I will quote Mooji to show how the actions of MLK stimulated a whole generation to work together towards our greater freedom.

“If you study and learn as a person, you can only function as a person- maybe as a good person, a skilled person- but when you awaken… you start moving as a whole environment. When something arises that needs to be done, that need is recognized, and a movement to fulfill it begins, and other streams join in until it becomes a river. You see how the forces join together.”- Mooji

How did MLK do this?  Martin did not allow himself to be defined and filled in with hatred of injustice but he would daily pray to be used by love, to live in the manner of love. He made sure to perform regular services for others. He strived to stay in good bodily and spiritual health. He meditated on the teachings and actions of his spiritual leader.  Most importantly and the hardest of all, he prayed for the oppressor.

His knew that love was a non-dual reality that transcends our limited clinging to the black and white.

This morning I ran across this Joseph Campbell quote:

“The Indians addressed all of life as a “thou”- the trees, the stones, everything. You can address anything as a “thou”, and if you do it, you can feel the change in your own psychology. The ego that sees a “though” is not the same ego that sees an “it.” And when you go to war with people, the problem of the newspapers is to turn those people into “its.” “ – Joseph Campbell

Matt Khan in talking about surrendering to love says it starts with taking a vacation from concern.  Not denying the things that are wrong or unjust, just taking a vacation from filling ourselves, our mind and body, emotions and cells with what is wrong.  Allowing ourselves to connect or surrender to love allows for solutions to our concerns to come through so when we come back from vacation, we can get back to work refreshed.

We are all a perception away from being able to act as a unified field.  The victory of MLK is not a victory for the church, or for one people but for all of life.

He knew who he was and his most constructive actions came from that knowing that he was, “free at last.”

Today is a chance for reflection and for being aware of the work that needs to still be done.  Still, in the midst of it all, may we be able to connect to love so that our concerns can be faced without anxiety but with the expectation of solutions we will usher in together. 

 

Elul and the Hero’s Journey

Promise yourself that you will remember who you are and not marginalize yourself within circumstance.  There is prosperity within our wake as we push into and become absolved within our own stream.
 
“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”
Joseph Campbell/ Reflections on the Art of Living
The Hero's Journey

For many years at this time of year, Julia and I would be heading to California to see our community and help lead High Holiday services.  The Jewish High Holidays are called the days of Awe because they are an opportunity to return to our truest being, and enter once again into a state of wonder where we can see the world with fresh eyes.  It is also a time of internal inventory, forgiveness and making amends.

The month before these days of Awe is called Elul, it is a time of preparation and study. Yesterday, I started my preparation by clearing the accumulated sea of weeds that had taken over our backyard.

Thích Nhất Hạnh was once asked why he spent so much time gardening when people enjoyed his poems so much.  He said, I garden like this, so I can write poems like that.

After the yard was clear, I rehearsed and then sat with a stack of books to gather wisdom to weave into the services that I will gratefully get to lead for my family this year. In the midst of this gleaning, Julia and I had dinner and watched a movie called Still Life.

The day before, we had allowed ourselves to see Kubo, and the Two Strings, which is still in the theater. My friend Emmet insisted that, “masterpiece is an understatement,” when describing this film.

kubo-main_0

In contemplating both films, (which I highly recommend) as I went back to my preparations, I realized they offered me as much as the clearing of the weeds, studying and rehearsing. These films in opposite ways demonstrated the Hero’s Journey.  Kubo, was among the finest examples of this mythical cycle I have seen.  Joseph Campbell is smiling from beyond. It utilized artistic and cutting edge animation, magic, storytelling and high action to bring the hero to the brink and back and have him return with a valuable gift that allowed his village to expand within themselves.

It may, as Emmet predicts, win an Oscar, or it may go under the radar. Still Life, will most certainly go under most people’s radar.  It was not animated, it was minimalistic.  It did not utilize magic or high action. It was sparse, gracefully slow and so beautiful. It was not the film  we thought it was going to be. If it had been, we would have thought it was quaint and forgotten it.

It was profound.

The hero of Still Life, is a solitary man who brings dignity to those who die alone. He looks for family and friends and if none can be found, he researches and writes their eulogies, selects their music and attends their funerals.  He stands as a witness to their lives and upholds the beauty they held.

Still-Life-2

We can become so used to our need to be entertained, to fill in the spaces, it is refreshing to return to the grandeur of subtlety. We are being showered with gifts all around us every day that call us back to being.

I went back to my pile of books after the movie and Ram Dass had this to say to me:

“…You study the scriptures, you study with teachers, you read books, you collect knowledge.  None of that is wisdom, it is merely the vehicle that’s going to help you get there.  As we move toward wisdom, we move on a path from intellect to intuition, from knowing we know about something, to an intuitive sense of our interconnectedness with everything. Intuitive wisdom is an appreciation of something through becoming one with it.”

Whatever your Elul or journey is, may you return with something greater than yourself that you can share with the rest of us.

You are under Esthetic Arrest

I just finished reading Joeseph Campbell’s Reflections On The Art of Living and have launched into his The Inner Reaches of Outer Space.
There are so many amazing concepts to go into. Joesph Campbell was such a delta of mythology, he makes a tremendous hub of universal knowledge and points the way to a paradigm shift in which we see the beauty of the messages behind the myriad of symbols and stories that we use to connect to the stream.
Above all, I have been fascinated and a bit obsessed with the idea of Esthetic Arrest. The term came from James Joyce. Joyce, when referring to art said that if it made you desire the object or subject portrayed, then it was pornographic. If it brought up fear or loathing in you, then it was didactic. If however, it was something that took you beyond fear and loathing ( in Las Vegas with Hunter S. Thompson, who seems to have read his Joyce as well ; )
and desire, and reflects wholeness, harmony and radiance with a “divinely superfluous beauty” it could act as a portal connecting us to all of life. It creates a still point amidst the vastness of a universe in which everything is constantly in motion.

“Esthetic arrest, the condition of the heart or spirit or whatever not being moved by desire or fear, is …the immovable spot…
The biological urges to enjoy and to master (with their opposites, to loathe and to fear) , as well as the social urge to evaluate (as good or evil, true or false), simply drop away, and a rapture, sheer experience supervenes, in which self-loss and elevation are the same. Such an impact is “beyond words;” for it is not such as can be explained by a reference to anything else. The mind is released- for a moment, for a day, or per-haps forever.- from those anxieties to enjoy, to win or to be correct which spring from the net… in which (we) are entangled. Ego is dissolved, there is nothing in the net but life- which is everywhere and forever.”

– Joeseph Campbell/ Reflections on the Art of Living.

Below is a TED talk of Tom Reed talking about taking pictures of nature that create an intake of breath denoting shock or the wow that hopefully allows for easthetic arrest as opposed to the breath out which denotes comfort or desire to be in the setting alone.
I have attached Van Gogh’s Starry Night because I feel his painting illustrates the reflection of nature that elicits this shock/ intake of breath. Of course what strikes us all individually and allows for esthetic arrest will be as varied as the myths that humanity has taken up to experience transcendence.

Tom Reed- Natural Beauty and Aesthetic Arrest:
http://youtu.be/aB8L5a-P6NM

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and may the interactions we have with family and friends go beyond our static stories and transcend into whiteness, harmony and radiance !

The ‘work’ of art and the desire for mastery.

This week, I heard a talk by Rima Bonario in which she talked about being a non-anxious presence and that really struck me, for as we are going for whatever victory we are after, being able to relax into the process without anxiety seems like the prize in itself.  
I also had a talk with the artist Matt Brady, who reminded me that being a conduit for healing was preferable to being a ‘healer’, for if we take on someone else’s sickness, we will get sick.  (Not to mention the temptation for our ego to lead us into peacock posturing ; ) 
I am constantly, or at least periodically refreshed by the gems that come through when I choose to notice them. This talk by Sarah Lewis was one of the choices on the plane home last week and it is very intriguing. She is talking about the difference between success and mastery.  
Success is an event and mastery is a life.  It is the difference between being able to hit a bullseye and knowing you can do it repeatedly. Being driven to reach beyond what we think we can do lifts us up to another level.  
“Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.”
– Michelangelo
Crazy Horse sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski comes to mind in regards to this.  He started to carve a memorial to Crazy Horse in the black hills of South Dakota in 1947 and worked on it until he died in 1982.  He worked on it for 36 years and didn’t take a dollar for it.  Today his sons are carrying on his work.
Crazy Horse sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski 
Joseph Campbell talks about our art, (whatever that is) being our work and if we have to do something for money to support our art, that is our employment.  That doesn’t mean we can’t  be of service in our employment and have meaningful healing interactions, it means that if we have something that allows us to connect others to their interior in a collective way, that it is up to us to make sure that it comes out and that we dedicate time for that.
It is like James Joyce writing his book The Dubliners before Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man was even published.
“It’s as though he said, ‘There it is. I have to formulate this thing for my own realization of what it is.’ “…
“All forms in life are imperfect, but the function of art is to see the radiance through the imperfection.”- Joseph Campbell
May you be a non-anxious presence though your work and though your days!

 

Joseph Campbell: Pez Dispenser of Myths

Joseph Campbell was perhaps the most celebrated and beloved cosmic Pez dispenser of the wisdom and meaning of myths in every culture, religion and philosophy on this little planet of ours. Not only was he the author of a myriad of liberating books such as The Power of Myth and The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he was George Lucas’s consultant for the original Star Wars Trilogy.  His talks with Bill Moyers on PBS are the stuff of legends, (literally).
In Reflections on The Art of Living he talks of leaving the university where he was studying Celtic Romance.  He had taken all the classes he needed for a PHD but before he wrote his dissertation, he began wandering through Europe where his real education began.  He discovered James Joyce, Picasso, the 1927 crew of writers and artists in Paris .  He realized that when getting a degree, you are not learning but doing what you are told to get the paper. He didn’t think he could go back into that bottle, so he walked away from getting his PHD and spent five years in the Depression up in Woodstock reading books.  Then he drove out to California and a friend of his drove with him to Carmel and introduced him to John Stienbeck, who got him a place to stay.  Joseph became involved with the characters in Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and he was the impetus for the big party in that book.  His wanderings led him to his understanding that, “as Schopenhauer says when you look back on your life, it looks as though it were a plot, but when you are into it, it’s a mess: just one surprise after another. Then, later, you see it was perfect. So, I have a theory that if you are on your own path things are going to come to you. Since it’s your own path, and not one has ever been on it before, there’s no precedent, so everything that happens is a surprise and is timely.”
Essentially he advises us to leave the wasteland of our own stagnation and fears, forget what other people think of us and follow our bliss to our true center where the treasure lies and amidst those jewels, peace itself.