Joseph Campbell – Follow Your Bliss?

Follow Your Bliss Joseph CampbellThanks to Bill Moyer’s excellent 1988 documentary of Joseph Campbell, called The Power of Myth (likely available at your local library), the scholar Campbell became a myth-guru famous for his dictum that we should “follow our bliss”:

If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you.

On the surface this sounds like good advice. Indeed, many people have adopted Campbell’s words as their life philosophy—but often not with satisfying results. The reason is that it is easy to confuse the “follow your bliss” advice with selfish and ego-driven pursuits. When this happens, we risk ambling down our bliss path, like Johnny Appleseed on morphine, unwittingly planting the seeds of our own destruction than reaping a generous harvest.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s famous phrase “irrational exuberance” is just another term for ego-driven bliss gone awry. Before any big stock market crash, one imagines that the Wall Street financiers are following their bliss all the way over the economy’s precipice, as they then drag the rest of the country behind them hoping that this will break their fall.

If we are going to take Joseph’s Campbell’s words to heart, we have to add “heart” to them. We have to temper our bliss with a clear eyed sense of right and wrong, one that is driven by a love for our neighbors, colleagues, and friends. Or as the spiritual mentor of Carlos Castaneda put it:

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For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length—and there I travel looking, looking breathlessly.

It is this less-traveled path, the heart road, that Jesus asks us to take when he says that we should carry our own crosses and follow him.1


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  1. And those who do not take up their cross and follow in my steps are not worthy of me. Matt 10:38 []