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Into the Wilderness with Joseph Campbell

About ten years ago, I had finshed my MBA, landed the great finance job, bought the new car. Everything was running right on track, but a part of me wanted to run out of town. A new adventure was calling.

I followed that call into the wilderness, quite literally as an instructor with OutwardBound, an international adventure learning organization -- and I with a copy of An Open Life, Michael Toms' interview with mythology scholar Joseph Campbell, tucked in my pocket.

Here is a short exerpt from that text and one which provided important reassurance early on and now fairly sums up a decade or more of my own experience. It also provides a fitting beginning for our own adventures in the open space between the learning organization and truly inspired work.

Joseph Campbell was a brilliant scholar, writer, and teacher and one of the foremost interpreters of our most sacred traditions. Michael Toms is the host of [New Dimensions Radio] and a new-paradigm spokesperson in his own right.

--MichaelHerman


Joseph Campbell: An Open Life

Today, all historical circumstances are changing, and we no longer have the enclosing horizons that shut us in from knowledge of other people -- new worlds are breaking in on us all the time. It's inevitable that a person with any sense of openness to new experience will say to himself, "Now, this won't do, the way we're living." Do you see what I mean? And so, one goes out for one's self to find a broader base, a broader relationship.

On the other hand, there's plenty of reason for those who don't have this feeling to remain within the field because our societies today are so rich in the gifts that they can render. But if a person has had the sense of the Call -- the feeling that there's an adventure for him -- and if he doesn't follow that, but remains in the society because it's safe and secure, then life dries up. And then he comes to that condition in late middle age: he's gotten to the top of the ladder, and found that it's against the wrong wall.

If you have the guts to follow the risk, however, life opens, opens, opens up all along the line. I'm not superstitious, but I do believe in spiritual magic, you might say. I feel that if one follows what I call one's "bliss" -- the thing that really gets you deep in your gut and that you feel is your life -- doors will open up. They do! They have in my life and they have in many lives that I know of.

There's a wonderful paper by Schopenhauer, called "An Apparent Intention of the Fate of the Individual," in which he points out that when you are at a certain age -- the age I am now -- and look back over your life, it seems to be almost as orderly as a composed novel. And just as in Dickens' novels, little accidental meetings and so forth turn out to be main features in the plot, so in your life. And what seem to have been mistakes at the time, turn out to be directive crises. And then he asks: "Who wrote this novel?"

Life seems as though it were planned; and there is something in us that's causing what you hear of as being accident prone: it's something in ourselves. There is a mystery here. Schopenhauer finally asks the question: Can anything happpen to you for which you're not ready? I look back now on certain things that at the time seemed to be real disasters, but the results turned out to be the structuring of a really great aspect of my life and career. So what can you say?

And the other point is, if you follow your bliss, you'll have your bliss, whether you have money or not. If you follow money, you may lose money, and then you don't have even that. The secure way is really the insecure way and the way in which the richness of the quest accumulates is the right way.

...There's a kind of regular morphology and inevitable sequence of experiences if you start out to follow your adventure. I don't care whether it's in economics, in art, or just in play. There's the sense of the potential that opens out before you. And you have no idea how to achieve it; you start out into the dark. Then, strange little help-mates come along, frequently represented by little dark fairy spirits or the little gnomes, who just give you clues, and these open out. Then there is the sense of danger you always run into -- really deep peril -- because no one has gone this way before. And the winds blow, and you're in a forest of darkness very often and terror strikes you.

...Well, mythology tells us that where you stumble, there your treasure is. There are so many examples. One that comes to mind is in The Arabian Nights. Someone is plowing a field, and his plow gets caught. He digs down to see what it is and discovers a ring of some kind. When he hoists the ring, he finds a cave with all of the jewels in it. And so it is in our own psyche [and organizations!]; our psyche is the cave with all the jewels in it, and it's the fact that we're not letting their energies move us that brings us up short. The world is a match for us and we're a match for the world. And where it seems most challenging lies the greatest invitation to find deeper and greater powers in ourselves.


From An Open Life by Michael Toms. 1989 by the New Dimensions Foundation. Published by Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022. http://www.newdimensions.org


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Last edited August 20, 2006 1:02 pm CentralTimeUSA by MichaelHerman
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