Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation
Part of me doesn’t want to write this review. Not yet. Perhaps in a few months, or in a few years, I’ll feel more able to do this review justice, when I have a fuller grasp of everything this book contains. For the fact is that, Pathways to Bliss is rich in topics, concepts, and philosophies that are relatively new to me. Its contents are broad in scope and deep in meaning, drawn from lectures and interviews that took place over a period of two decades. There is, in short, a lot to take in.
But that’s what I love about reading, after all. That sense of your mind opening, curious, receptive to new and alternative perspectives; pondering different words and possibilities; deciding what can be taken as fuel for your own imagination and ideology, and what can be left for others to pick up. Thus, it is the same richness of content within this book that makes it difficult for me to sum up in a review, which also compels me to write about it now.
At its base, Pathways to Bliss illuminates the common nature of the human experience: that which transcends historical and geographical boundaries and unites us all. Simultaneously, it addresses the individual nature of the human experience, acknowledging that we all have our unique journeys to find, explore, and undertake within this common context: our own highly personal ‘pathways to bliss’.
Bliss, in this context, means fulfilment and satisfaction; a sense of personal certainty, self-awareness, and contentment. It also means much more than this. It is the ultimate, the transcendent experience, the essence of the universe that is held within you. It may even be the meaning of life itself.
“bliss is: that deep sense of being present, of doing what you absolutely must to be yourself… Your bliss can guide you to that transcendent mystery, because bliss is the welling up of the energy of the transcendent wisdom within you.”
Sounds good, doesn’t it? So how do we find it?
A good way to reach your bliss, Campbell believes, is to follow the clues that humanity has historically left along the wayside in the form of myths. Somewhat controversially, he includes religious tales within his definition of mythology, claiming:
“One might reasonably define mythology as other people’s religion. The definition of religion is equally uncomplicated: it is misunderstood mythology. The misunderstanding consists typically in interpreting mythological symbols as though they were references to historical facts.”
Science, Campbell asserts, is effectively demonstrating with ever-more clarity that religions are not based in historical fact. Yet, before the atheists start to celebrate, he still believes that there is truth of another kind to be found in religion — the truth of its symbols, found within its stories. These symbols continue to point to an objective truth: a truth that is not to be found outside ourselves in historical fact, but within ourselves, in our experience of the world at a transcendental level.
“These symbols stem from the psyche; they speak from and to the spirit. And they are in fact the vehicles of communication between the deeper depths of our spiritual life and this relatively thin layer of consciousness by which we govern our daylight existence.”
To back up his argument, Campbell explores and analyses tales from various times and cultures in order to reveal a surprising fact; namely, “One finds the same basic mythological themes in all the religions of the world”. These themes, it seems, have risen independently from the psyche in different parts of the world. They are naturally shaped by local geography and cultures, but the fact that they share basic elements seems to indicate that they are essentially products of — and a necessary part of — the universal human experience.
For millennia, myths have formed the bedrock of human cultures and societies. They help us to understand and interpret the world around us, to give it form and sense. They give us values to live by, rules to follow. They are the knowledge of our ancestors, ready-packaged with lessons in life for us to learn from, and apply to our own personal journeys. But instead of speaking to our logical, factual brain with facts and figures, they speak to our imaginative spirit, our mystery-loving soul, with symbols and images.
And this, Campbell believes, is absolutely necessary if our psyches are to function properly and healthily in the world today. Scientific fact may aid our logical knowledge and awareness of the world and our place within it, but myth aids our psychological development. We may strive for a purely fact-fuelled existence and aim to become atheist, even nihilist beings; but Campbell believes that this simply isn’t enough for our human natures. Despites ourselves, he claims, “the mind goes asking for meanings; it can’t play unless it knows (or makes up) some system of rules”.
Yet there is another stage to myth that goes beyond storytelling and literary awareness. It is not enough to know myths; their physical re-enactment through rites and rituals is what can really help the psyche to transform, cross boundaries and move from one stage of maturity to another in our life cycles. In this way we do not merely know the truths of the world, but feel them, experiencing their transcendental mystery, thus embedding them securely within our own lives.
Whether you’re already familiar with topics such as these, or whether you’re brand spanking new to them but are naturally curious about the great themes of culture and humanity, and how they might relate to your own individual life path, this book deserves a read. Open its pages and, as you do so, open the doors to your conscious mind. See what stories, ideas and impetus for future life experiences step through.
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