In 2009, I was privileged to receive a New Mythos grant from OPUS Archives for "Blisters on the Way to Bliss," a project in the Joseph Campbell collection. My plan was to dig through some of Campbell's unpublished work, especially his many audio taped lectures, to find out what he taught about bliss and the hero's journey. These two ideas are quite powerful and evocative and it's hard for me to imagine a new mythos or cultural narrative that doesn't incorporate them somehow. But I wonder if they haven't become somewhat glossy and simple in the last thirty years. The profound requires reflection, some quiet time of contemplation, and this can be hard to come by. In my ideal world, bliss and the hero’s journey would be appreciated for their complexity, not reduced to another talking point in the rhetoric of optimistic, hyper-individualism. Contributing to this ideal is my goal.
I approached Campbell and his ideas with these questions in mind:
- If a hero serves something larger than herself, what does she serve?
- What did Campbell mean by “bliss?”
- What is the relationship between bliss, which seems to be a purely personal phenomenon, and the Hero’s Journey, which culminates in a boon brought back to the community?
- Where is the shadow, the rejected, repressed, and unconscious, in the seeker, the hero, the quest, and in these notions of “bliss” and heroism?
- Finally, what does any of this have to do with the quest for a new, shared narrative?
The time that I've spent with Campbell continues to impact my thinking in ways that I didn't imagine and my own appreciation for bliss and the hero's journey continues to deepen. Honestly, I thought I pretty much knew what Campbell was talking about when I started my research, but now I think I know why he talked about these things for decades without losing his passion-- they keep unfolding.
That said, I want to share the immediate fruits of my research with you."Blisters on the Way to Bliss," is a four part, story-based exploration of Campbell's ideas. You can download a pdf of the project on this site for your personal use or to share with a group. I put these materials together with the JCF Mythological RoundTable (R) Group program in mind and we have been using them here in the high desert. The discussions and stories that I have been posting here on this blog for the last few months-- The Frog Prince, Percival and the Fisher King, and (soon) the Blackfoot myth of the Buffalo Dance-- are taken from "Blisters on the Way to Bliss." So if you are a roundtable group member, please try these stories and give me your feedback! Ditto if you are thinking of such an enterprise, or are inspired to get some friends together for a night or two and experiment with this kind of conversation.
Materials for the first three gatherings/discussions are comprised of a story, suggested discussion questions, and additional pieces from Campbell’s work that amplify the themes. The series culminates in an evening of personal storytelling. Although they were designed as a series, each story works independently and can be used to illustrate many other topics.
I can share this project so freely because the Joseph Campbell Foundation has generously granted me permission to use the materials that I found in the archives. Please respect the copyrights, which belong to me and the JCF respectively, and do not reproduce any of this material without proper attribution. Thank you, and please contact me with your thoughts and reactions to the project, which is a work in progress and a snapshot of my process, complete with both blisters and some moments of bliss.
Download "Blisters on the Way to Bliss"