Sunday, November 22, 2009

Context: Follow Your Bliss

Medieval depiction of the Wheel of Fortune.

This morning I was re-reading a transcription of the landmark 1988 televised PBS series The Power of Myth where one of America’s leading mythologists, Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), was interviewed by Bill Moyers ~ a series that helped popularize Campbell and his well-known advice to “Follow your bliss.”

Campbell’s original message has been subject to distortion over the years, so here’s a verbatim explanation from The Power of Myth. In a discussion on sacrifice and bliss, Campbell first uttered the phrase and then Moyers followed up:

Moyers: What happens when you follow you bliss?

Campbell: You come to bliss. In the Middle Ages, a favorite image that occurs in many, many contexts is the wheel of fortune. There’s the hub of the wheel, and there is the revolving rim of the wheel. For example, if you are attached to the rim of the wheel of fortune, you will be either above, going down, or at the bottom, coming up. But if you are at the hub, you are in the same place all the time. That is the sense of the marriage vow ~ I take you in health or sickness, in wealth or poverty: going up or going down. But I take you as my center, and you are my bliss, not the wealth that you might bring me, not the social prestige, but you. That is following your bliss.

Moyers: How would you advise somebody to tap that spring of eternal life, that bliss that is right there?

Campbell: We are having experiences all the time that may on occasion render some sense of this, a little intuition of where your bliss is. Grab it. No one can tell you what it is going to be. You have to learn to recognize your own depth.


standing on my head said...

i'm new to your blog. this one really hit home-the hub of the wheel. the question is, when we've spent so much time dancing on the rim, how do we find the center? and will we recognize it when we do?

Sophia said...

Hi Gregory,

The Wheel of Fortune symbolism reminds me of the Principle of Rhythm from The Kybalion. For every up there is a down.

"Everything flows out and in; everything has its tides; all things rise and fall; the pendulum-swing manifests in everything; the measure of the swing to the right, is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compensates." — The Kybalion

I have an audio book by Joseph Campbell that I will soon be listening to. I've been delving into mythology lately.

christopher said...

The Wheel of Fortune image is of course a codified variant of the Chinese wisdom of positive and negative as complements rather than opposites. I don't mean it comes from the Chinese, though it might since the concepts of Yin and Yang are arguably older as a developed philosophy but the experiences that lead to the vision are universal without question. Joseph Campbell of course did not offer anything new. Instead he explained the Path that can be found in most wisdom traditions and offered it in a form that could be called secular. It is more often coupled with a commitment to some particular theology. Most of the arguments and criticisms of Campbell's "Follow your bliss" are about that stripping of tradition away from the advice. Even the Wheel of Fortune while turning on the hub of European wisdom roots was offered when it was current within the presumption of a Christian world view, a Christian axle.

Gregory LeFever said...

Hello, Standing, thanks for visiting ~ you're always welcome.

And Sophia, your thoughts echo mine exactly. I've been reading The Kybalion rather piecemeal and have not reached The Principle of Rhythm, so now I particularly look forward to it. Thanks!

And Christopher, thanks as always for your excellent insights and perspective. The wheel's "up/down" certainly does correspond to "yang/yin" concepts. I found it interesting that Campbell says he formulated his "follow your bliss" ideas from The Upanishads. He told Bill Moyers:

"Now, I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: sat-chit-ananda. The word "Sat" means being. "Chit" means consciousness. "Ananda" means bliss or rapture. I thought, "I don't know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don't know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is."

human being said...

the core of all myths is one... that's why we can trace them to different cultures just to find out the same thing...

really loved reading this post and the wise comments...

thanks a lot!

human being said...

another example for the this archetypal image of wheel/bliss is the whirling dance of dervishes... the posture of the body and arms/hands is very indicative... encompassing the world above and the world below... spinning round a center...