US mythologist Joseph Campbell said and wrote a lot of things over the course of his life, but there was one sentence, in particular, that caught the attention of the US public back then and still today, and that statement is “follow your bliss”. Readers of Campbell’s books were forever captivated by his prompting to hear the call to your own adventure. “Where is your bliss station?” he questioned. “You have to try to find it.”
To what is Campbell, a professor of literature and expert on mythology, referring when he prompts us to follow our bliss?
Campbell studied at university in Europe, but he didn’t get a PhD. And when it was time to get a job, he didn’t get that either. Instead, he turned to what impelled him at that time, and that was to seek knowledge. “All I did was read, read, read and take notes,” he says. To facilitate this habit, he rented a shack in the woods, and from 1929 until 1934 he read Mann, Spengler, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Kant, Goethe, Jung, and so on. “It takes courage to do what you want,” he writes. “Other people have a lot of plans for you.”
There were days when Campbell wished someone could give him the answer, knock on the door of his cabin and tell him what he should do with his life. He was searching in his books for a message, and it would have been easier had someone given him a clue - start here and follow the path in this direction.
But Campbell knew that the call to your own adventure begins and ends with you. “Freedom involves making decisions,” he writes, “and each decision is a destiny decision. It’s very difficult to find in the outside world something that matches what the system inside you is yearning for.”
In this issue of Womankind, and in the spirit of Campbell, we seek those who ‘follow their bliss’. And in our quest to find such people, we discover some incredible people, such as one who spends her days painting flowers and botanical scenes all over her chateau walls, to another who wears historical costumes as everyday wear in downtown Wellington, New Zealand. We speak to adventurers, sea swimmers and runners, mothers who find their bliss in home-schooling, and artists who have given up stable careers to go it alone in the countryside. We speak to visionaries in the luxury fashion world who have found bliss in creating a flourishing business alongside a flourishing family, never forgetting their origins and generously giving back to their community. And lastly, we speak to musicians who, with tears in their eyes, describe the ecstasy of creating blissful sounds.
When Campbell was reading books in the woods, he was certainly reading Nietzsche. Books such as Nietzsche’s work of philosophical fiction, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, have themes which are prominent in Campbell’s thinking. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the protagonist, Zarathustra, follows a path of transformation, the three metamorphoses - his spirit transforming first into a camel, then into a lion, and lastly a child.
When we embrace the difficulties of our life, rather than running from them, we become the camel. When we abstain from the temptation to distract ourselves or put our head in the sand - but rather, when we’re humbled and strengthened by our difficulties, we become the camel. We could face the death of a relationship, or a loss, or disappointment. Or it could be as simple as not knowing what on earth we should be doing with our lives. And when we take on what life throws at us with equanimity, we become the camel - loaded, burdened, weighed down - but still moving forward, still following the path.
“Whatever your fate is,” writes Campbell, “whatever the hell happens, you say, ‘This is what I need!’ It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment - not discouragement - you will find the strength is there. Any disaster you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life.”
But the camel soon comes to the lonely desert. It is lonely because the camel has begun to move away from the path it was on, which had been governed by societal expectations, rules, duties, and tradition. The camel is walking at some distance from the path set down by others, but the surrounding scene is dark and unmarked. Where is the path? But before the camel can gain its freedom, and begin to find its path, it must slay the dragon of “Thou Shalt”.
For our Womankind contributors in this issue, who followed their bliss, the dragon of “Thou Shalt” may come in the guise of those who raised eyebrows at their plans. “Buy a chateau and paints its walls in flowers? Are you mad?” Or, “Start a daily running routine when you are almost 50 and have never run a day in your life. What a joke.” Or, “Leave a prestigious career path in international relations to sell historical fashion patterns online. Why?”
The dark night of the soul
Comes just before revelation.
When everything is lost,
And all seems darkness,
Then comes the new life
And all that is needed.
But in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the spirit must metamorphose into a lion and be master in its own desert, writes Nietzsche. To forge your own path, to follow your bliss, to impose your will upon the world, you must, according to Nietzsche, have the courage and ferocity of a lion. You cannot find your path if you remain the camel, dutifully bearing the load. It is in the “loneliest desert that a second metamorphosis occurs, the spirit here becomes a lion; it wants to capture freedom and be lord in its own desert”. And the lion must fight and slay the dragon of “Thou Shalt”.
But still, even if the lion breaks free of “Thou Shalt”, the lion is still yet to forge a new path. For that to happen, the final stage must occur, and the spirit undertakes its final metamorphosis into a child - a new start, new beginnings. And with that, the previous stages are left behind and, the child - freed of attachments, accepting of life’s uncertainty, its flux, its blurry edges - follows its bliss and forges its path.
As Nietzsche writes: “the child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a wheel rolling on its own, a prime movement, a sacred Yes.”
Is following your bliss pattern,
Quitting the old place,
Starting your hero journey,
Following your bliss.
You throw off yesterday
As the snake sheds its skin.
To leave the known path is often depicted in mythology as akin to entering the dark woods, or to plunge oneself into the ocean, or traverse the desert. Crossing the threshold into the unknown may involve relinquishing the security of a successful career, or moving to an unknown place. “It may be depicted as an ascent or a descent or as a going beyond the horizon, but this is the adventure - it’s always the path into the unknown, through the gateway.” To cross the threshold may involve a destruction, a cutting back, a throwing out, a starting over. It may feel like a death of the old self.
So what is Campbell referring to when he prompts us to follow our bliss? He is referring to our unique quest to find our fulfilment. “There is nothing that you can do that’s more important than being fulfilled… It is the fulfilment of that which is potential in each of us. Questing for it is not an ego trip; it is an adventure to bring into fulfilment your gift to the world, which is yourself.”
In other words, to follow your bliss is to realise your own personal myth. To follow your bliss is to set forth, be brave, and silence the naysayers. And the final metamorphosis is the spirit of the child - full of joy, wonder, and playfulness, with its eyes set on new beginnings. It’s in the final metamorphosis that the spirit achieves liberation.
Antonia Case, Editor, Womankind magazine