I am very pleased with “Finding Joe“…a movie/documentary about the core “message” behind most/all of the world’s religions, belief systems and mythological symbols, as told by Joseph Campbell. In spite of the name, the documentary is, rightfully so, far less about the messenger, Joseph Campbell, than the message itself – as it should be. So what is the “message”? Most of us hold views, opinions, perspectives on what it means to be “religious”, what it means to be “spiritual”, what it means to be “rational” what is meant by a “myth”. Although it is psychologically comforting to be convinced that our views and opinions on these often misunderstood concepts are complete, correct, final, one can often miss out on the potential for a valuable, even transformative experience when we re-consider, re-learn, the “true” meaning behind these terms and concepts. But where does one begin such an exploration, a re-learning of what may be a life-time of misunderstanding, a life-time of comforting ignorance? Few of us have the time to read seminal works from all of the worlds religious, spiritual or mythological traditions. Fortunately, Joseph Campbell has done the work for us. The movie/documentary “Finding Joe” is a wonderful, palatable, plain-English presentation of the core message behind a life-time of studying and teaching the world’s spiritual, religious and mythological traditions. The message?…..slay your dragon, follow your bliss, release your transcendent being from imprisonment and trance.
I was first introduced to Joseph Campbell about a year after he died (1987), through the popular series of interviews (The Power of Myth) with Bill Moyers which took place, appropriately, at the ranch of George Lucas. Lucas and Campbell were personal friends and the idea, the basic themes, symbols and story-line behind the Star Wars Trilogy came out of Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Since then, I have watched the POM dozens of times, watched dozens of taped lectures from Sarah Lawrence College where he taught for nearly 40 years, read around 8-10 of his books, numerous influences from Jung, Eckhart, Buddha, Freud, Huxley, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Castaneda, Black Elk and others I don’t recall. In spite of what may look like a reasonable immersion into his mythological and comparative religion studies, I have only barely touched the surface of Campbell’s comprehensive research and I often struggle trying to explain the message to others (as far as I understand it). In some cases, others who have seen the POM or read The Hero’s Journey or other works by Campbell, still seem to struggle with exactly what the “message” is. In some cases this struggle to understand the “message” can be explained by a misinterpretation of the word “metaphor“. Somewhere in Campbell’s writing he refers to this problem, this difficulty in understanding the message of the myth, as a psychological problem. Not in the sense that someone may be psychologically ill. But more along the lines of psychological predispositions we all face. Particularly to “concretize” intangible, metaphysical or symbolic messages. The most common example of this is biblical or scriptural literalism….an “adherence to the explicit substance of an idea or expression” (Wikipedia). Another way of describing this is reading the message of the myth as prose, rather than poetry. Reading the denotative rather than connotative message. Christ “literally and physically” ascended to a real place called heaven. As Campbell has said, this is a mistaken reading of the myth.
“The reference of the metaphor in religious traditions is to something transcendent that is not literally any thing. If you think that the metaphor is itself the reference, it would be like going to a restaurant, asking for the menu, seeing beefsteak written there, and starting to eat the menu. For example, Jesus ascended to heaven. The denotation would seem to be that somebody ascended to the sky. That’s literally what is being said. But if that were really the meaning of the message, then we have to throw it away, because there would have been no such place for Jesus literally to go. We know that Jesus could not have ascended to heaven because there is no physical heaven anywhere in the universe. Even ascending at the speed of light, Jesus would still be in the galaxy, Astronomy and physics have simply eliminated that as a literal, physical possibility, But if you read “Jesus ascended to heaven” in terms of its metaphoric connotation, you see that he has gone inward – not into outer space but into inward space, to the place from which all being comes, into the consciousness that is the source of all things, the kingdom of heaven within. The images are outward, but their reflection is inward.” (Joseph Campbell)
Watching Finding Joe only a few days after I had my own mini-epiphany, the realization that I would return to graduate school to pursue my life-long interest in comparative religion, positive psychology and transpersonal psychology, is a door-way opening. Getting in touch with my previous graduate advisor from UNBC and hearing/reading his full-support of my decision, is another door opening. I have returned to following my own bliss. I expect there will be as many obstacles as there may be doors opening, but I will not be discouraged, I will remain on the balance beam for what will amount to my fourth major career change. This will be my last…for no other reason than I am running out of time, corporeal time anyway. This is the path, the career, the life which was mine all along….I just needed to be hit by the hammer of authentic realization a few more times until the message was clear, obvious, unmistakable. I got the message now.
So I am off to slay my own dragon, the one with the scales which say “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not”. These are the dictates of our society, our family, our friends, our fears. These are the limits we accept and place on our selves. These are the blinders which prevent us from being who, and what, we truly are. Our essence, our bliss our “Sat, Chit, Ananda” (Truth, Consciousness, Bliss). I look forward to this journey like no other before. I have “released my own transcendent being from imprisonment and trance” and will become the spiritual, writing, photographing student of life – child of the universe – I have been all along. I hope to meet, and learn from, many others on a similar path – one step, one day at a time. Starting today.
“God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It’s as simple as that.” (Joseph Campbell)
“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” (Aldous Huxley)
“I think the person who takes a job in order to live – that is to say, for the money – has turned himself into a slave.” (Joseph Campbell)
“Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know.” (Aldous Huxley)
“Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.” (Joseph Campbell)
“Our work then as men and women is not only to free ourselves from family cages and collective mind-sets but to release transcendent beings from imprisonment and trance.” (Robert Bly – Iron John)
“When you follow your bliss… doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors; and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else.” (Joseph Campbell)