Pathways to Bliss, by Joseph Campbell
“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.” Joseph Campbell
“Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation” by Joseph Campbell is a book like no other I have read – a sort of mythological self-help book. On one hand, the main message is quite common: find your passion, follow it with responsibility and persistence. On other hand, the main message is quite uncommon: it advices the reader to use myths to find and follow his bliss. By other words, the book explains how world mythology can help our personal growth and transformation.
Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) was an author and professor known for his work in comparative mythology. Campbell studied medieval literature at Columbia University. After the Columbia University, he travelled to Europe, to attend universities in Paris and Munich. His work is influenced by writers like James Joyce and Thomas Mann, artists like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, and psychiatrists like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Joseph Campbell formulated the theory that “all myths and epics are linked in the human psyche, and that they are cultural manifestations of the universal need to explain social, cosmological, and spiritual realities”.
According to magazine “Newsweek” Joseph Campbell is “serious thinker who was embraced by the popular culture”. His best-known book is: “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. One thing is for sure: almost all readers of this review already saw some films directly influenced by Joseph Campbell work – probably the best examples are the “Star Wars” movies by George Lucas.
“Pathways to Bliss” is dedicated to the personal and psychological side of myth. According to the author, myths have several functions. One of the main functions of myths is to help us through the journey of our lives. By other words, a guide to find out our “bliss” (“that deep sense of being present, of doing what you absolutely must do to be yourself”). Joseph Campbell defends that if we can move towards our bliss, we are on the edge of the transcendent already.
The author argues that the “beginning of a mythic world (…) is a seizure – something that pull [us] out of [ourselves], beyond of [ourselves], beyond of rational patterns”. Joseph Campbell even claims that “is out of such seizures that civilizations are built”. I agree with him. Only aspiration or deep fear can really pull people together.
Joseph Campbell argues that we should find our personal myth and pursue it (“pathway to bliss”). The main question of the book is probably how to find our passion (or “bliss” in the words of the author). The author gives the readers some advice on how we find our bliss.
According to him, we find our bliss in our unconscious. Because of this we should make records of our dreams and fantasies. Joseph Campbell argues that if we do a journal of our dreams and fantasies we will find “a story (…) building itself up there”.
The objective is to find the “big dreams” that resonate within us. The “big dreams” inside allow us to find our bliss. What are “big dreams” according to Joseph Campbell?
“Big dreams” will become more clear if we start by explaining what are “little dreams”. “Little dreams” are ”essentially autobiographical in their character, and there will be nothing in these particular dreams that [we] share with other”. “Big dreams” are “another kind of dream, where [we] find [ourself] facing a problem that´s not specific to [our] peculiar life or social or age situation” (“one of the greatest problems of man”).
Joseph Campbell proposes that a good way to find our bliss is to keep a journal about dreams and fantasies. I followed his advice, and I began a diary, but I haven’t find my bliss yet. However, I can say some things about my journey to find my bliss. One, is that the journey to find a bliss is interesting. I am finding things about myself that I wasn’t aware of, particularly I became aware about my “little dreams” and some “big dreams”. But the journey is uncomfortable, at least in my case. One becomes more aware about the “little” life one is living. For example, I came to the conclusion that I don’t go out of my comfort zone as often as I should.
I believe this and other books of Joseph Campbell will be read decades or even centuries in the future. “Pathways to Bliss” is a book which deals with issues common to humanity as a whole (personal growth, transformation and myths). Perhaps the book can change the lives of some of the readers of this review. But probably the reading of “Pathways to Bliss” will be uneasy for many more.
Ivo Dias de Sousa is a Portuguese writer born in Mozambique. Ivo is also a Professor at Universidade Aberta, Portugal, giving courses on information management. Currently, Ivo is interested in using his experience on information management to construct applications (see http://windit-app.com/ ) for smartphones, in collaboration with others. Ivo holds a Master in Statistics and Information Management (Universidade Nova de Lisboa) and a Ph.D. in Information Management (Universidade Aberta). Amongst his main interests are information management, psychology of luck and literature.