- From the French short film, Le Ballon Rouge, 1956
“Follow your bliss.”
“Follow your bliss” is Joe Campbell’s motto and mantra. As defined in Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, (always an amusing, often provocative reference), Bliss is “The highest degree of happiness; blessedness; felicity; used of felicity in general, when of an exalted kind, but appropriately, of heavenly joys.”
But what happens if you have lost your bliss? How can you rekindle it? Joseph Campbell, the world-famous mythologist, believes you can jump-start it in two easy steps.
Here they are, in his own words –
1) Find a Sacred Place
The sacred place “is an absolute necessity for anybody today, You must have a room , or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is a place of creative incubation. At first, you might find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”
2) Read A Book Or Hear A Song You Loved
“Our life has become so economic and practical in its orientation that, as you get older,” Campbell says,” the claims of the moment upon you are so great, you hardly know where the hell you are, or what it is you intended. You are always doing something that is required of you.”
“Where is your bliss station? You have to try and find it. Get a phonograph and put on the music that you really love, even if it’s corny music that nobody else respects. Or get the book you like to read. In your sacred place you get the “thou” feeling of life that these people (the ancient hunters) had for the whole world in which they lived.”
As for the challenges and psychic sufferings in life? “Find a place inside where there is joy, “Campbell writes, “and the joy will burn out the pain.”
Proof of Concept
I followed Campbell’s advice on rediscovering bliss through books. I went back and reread the two books that gave me “bliss” early in life. The first was The Agony and The Ecstasy a biographical novel of the life of Michelangelo by Irving Stone. I read the book when I was nine. The second was My Autobiography by Charlie Chaplin . I was twelve when I read it. Both were about artists.
When I look back on my life, there is no question those two books, (ordered through my family’s subscription to the Book Of The Month Club – remember that club?) had everything to do with my own journey in helping film-makers cultivate their voice and their art.
As for songs, I took Campbell’s suggestion, veering toward the “corny music that nobody else respects.” That was the work of The Carpenters. For me, it was magic. There is such a captivating and haunting tone in Karen Carpenter’s voice.
I hope this spring, in a time of transition, you find the time to check out the literature and music that pointed you to the person you are today. It may open a lens to your inner self which has been obscured by the rigors of time.
Note: The quotes were taken from the book, The Power Of Myth, a redaction of the legendary conversations between Bill Moyers and Joe Campbell from the 1980s.