Saturday, May 30, 2015

Only Through Experience Can You Know Sympathy


I’ve been reading some writings from Joseph Campbell, author of Hero With A Thousand Faces, where he talks about the idea that only through experience can you know sympathy. He says, “It is through experience that the soul grows, by learning to extend its horizon of sympathy and understanding.” In other words, a person can’t sympathize with sorrow until they have been sorry enough to know what deep sorrow is.

I’m not altogether sure I agree. As a teenager, I had many peers who seemed extremely compassionate to poor people and the plight of non-whites in our society. Back then, we were a generation against the Vietnam war, though few of us ever served in the military, and we were all for civil rights, even though most of my friends were white. We came to these conclusions through logical consideration and, for some, peer pressure.

On the other hand, as I grow older—I’m now in my mid 60s—I have become much more compassionate to all my fellow human beings, and I credit that attitude to having experienced a long series of, lets call them learning opportunities, where I suffered as a target of discrimination. In short, I’ve had more than my share of sorrows, and I like to think that I have learned a great deal from them. And the older I grow, the more I understand that there is no good and bad, no right and wrong. There is only experience, and what we do with that experience.

I’ve also learned that each of us humans have accumulated a different set of experiences that shape our lives, and that makes each of us unique, no one person any better, worse, or more valuable than the rest.

Campbell argues that it is through having experienced all experience that the soul finally achieves perfect sympathy and understanding. The soul comes to a point where it has learned everything experience can teach, and that point is called enlightenment. Campbell takes this idea a step further to suggest that all people should do everything they can do to accumulate a vast wealth of varied experience, and that getting tied down in any routine where one practices the same thing day after day for years at a time (like a dead-end job that does nothing more than put food on the table) means stagnation, and is tantamount to death. Again, I must disagree. I believe even so called “dead-end jobs” provide opportunities for growth and understanding, and the job is only ten hours in a day. There is so much more to life and learning.

Although I must admit, my life improved a hundred fold after I abandoned corporate America to pursue a career in writing where I manage my own time, goals, and interests. So perhaps Campbell is on to something.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Your Sacred Space: A Pathway To Bliss


In 1985, Joseph Campbell (March 26, 1904–October 30, 1987) sat down with Bill Moyers for a series of interviews, resulting in 24 hours of raw footage that was edited down to six one-hour episodes and broadcast on PBS in 1988, and the full transcript was published as The Power of Myth, a discussion of Campbell’s views on spirituality, psychological archetypes, cultural myths, and the mythology of self.
In the interview, Campbell expressed the idea that the greatest sin for modern humans was getting stuck in some 9-to-5 job that fulfilled nothing more than paying the bills, and kept one rooted in existential dissatisfaction. In his philosophy (and mine) he felt people needed to find, and then follow their own bliss.
Campbell said: If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.
One of Campbell’s most interesting ideas for me concerned the need for what he coined “sacred space”—a place for uninterrupted reflection and unrushed creative work. For him, this was necessary to discern one’s bliss. For me, this sacred space necessary to achieve the type of writing that satisfies my soul.

Many writers and artists not only have their own private space to create, but also their unique set of workspace rituals that draws them into a creative state of mind. I certainly do, and without them—like when I’m traveling—my writing suffers, which is why I seldom try to write while traveling any more. Campbell saw the need for a “bliss station” for the purpose of rooting ourselves, a place to block out the world so we can focus inward.

I have three bliss stations, each for a specific purpose:

My office is a place I shut out the world to write. I spend four to six hours each day there, immersed in the process of writing and research. I also spend time promoting my books and general communications with friends, other authors, and readers.

My backyard is where I get out of the house to connect with nature, relax by the pool, and read. For me, it’s down time out of the office, but still devoted to refreshing the soul.

My meditation room is no more than an oversized closet, but it is the one place on earth devoid of other people and distractions, a place not even my husband is allowed to enter. It is a place of silence, a place where I experience the silence at my core. It is the one place I do nothing, absolutely nothing, nil, zilch, nada. This is a place of no striving, a place I listen to my heart. Strangely enough, it is the place where much of my inspirations for stories come to me.

For me, all three spaces are an outright necessity. I think any creative person intent on find his/her bliss needs a space and a certain time of the day free from people, phones, TV, Internet. I think of it as a space to bring forth what you are, and what you might be—a place of creative incubation. Often nothing happens at all, which is good. But if you’re in your sacred space at a certain time every day, something often will come to you, which is even better.

Modern life has become so goal oriented on practical and economic issues that it’s become difficult to know which way to run next, which goal to chase after. It seems every minute demands something of you, and you end up like a hamster in a cage, running around a wheel, chasing, chasing, chasing the next thing on your list. The way, at least for me, to step off that wheel is by immersing myself in one of my three bliss stations, and shutting out everything else.

Campbell said: The religious people tell us we really won’t experience bliss until we die and go to heaven. But I believe in having as much as you can of this experience while you are still alive.

What I’ve found is: Bliss is waiting for you, and when you get in touch with it regularly, you begin to draw people into your life that will open the doors so that you can delve more deeply into your bliss. The deeper you delve, the more you draw to you. For me, it was simply a exercise of stepping off the wheel often enough to see what matters to me. It was the most important and satisfying thing I've ever done for myself. It's what keeps me whole and happy.

The Buddha found his bliss by becoming a hermit for six years. Jesus found his way by wandering in the desert for 40 days and nights. I’m not suggesting that you or I will become a deity, but on the other hand, why limit ourselves?