Shopping Cart

No products in the cart.

Reply To: Talking with filmmaker Patrick Takaya Solomon about Finding Joe””


Hello Scott (aka scottrparent),

You write

The biggest is a description for consciousness vs. mind vs. soul.  I know I’ll be asked to make a distinction.  If I can’t, the rest of the presentation(s) will stall on this point.

As both Juan and Patrick point out, that’s a tall order indeed. Naturally these terms have to be part of the conversation, but you don’t need to be an expert – just provide some working definitions. Given these are presentations on Joseph Campbell’s work, you don’t need to lock down an ironclad description of each (which is about as likely as nailing one’s shadow to the wall), but just give a sense of how Campbell uses the terms.

Perhaps the best way to approach it is to acknowledge up front Juan’s observation: humankind’s greatest thinkers have been wrestling with these terms for thousands of years, yet they remain a bit blurry.

To illustrate that point, you might want to borrow this tidbit Joseph Campbell cites:

The story is told of a Confucian scholar who besought the twenty-eighth Buddhist patriarch, Bodhidharma, ‘to pacify his soul.’ Bodhidharma retorted, ‘Produce it and I will pacify it.’ The Confucian replied, ‘That is my trouble, I cannot find it.’ Bodhidharma said, ‘Your wish is granted.’ . . .”

Joseph Campbell
The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 142 (2008 edition)

Part of the problem is that we are using mind to look for mind, using consciousness to define consciousness (sort of like trying to touch the tip of your right forefinger with your right forefinger, or bite your right eyetooth with your right eyetooth).

Campbell often uses consciousness in the sense of awareness – aka “waking consciousness,” or “ego-consciousness,” both terms he uses to represent the part of me that is aware of the world around me. This can include not just sensory objects, but thoughts, internal states – the part of me known to me.

Many people seem to think consciousness is the only thing there is: when we are awake, we are conscious, rational, self-acting – our default setting.  But Campbell, like Jung and most other depth psychologists, contrasts consciousness with “the Unconscious” – which refers to those parts of our being that I’m not aware of, that which is unconscious to the waking me. He illustrates this at the simplest, physical level with the process of digestion: right now I am digesting my breakfast, but I have no idea how – it would take a blackboard filled with complex mathematical equations to represent the complex biochemical processes taking place within my belly and gut – and yet, it’s not something that is happening to me: I am the one doing the digesting.

Similarly, our total psyche is much larger than the conscious part of our being, which juts up above the threshold of consciousness like the tip of an iceberg, with the bulk of one’s being not visible, beneath the surface. The unconscious dynamics of the psyche often swamp rational, conscious processes (all you have to do to experience how this works is fall in love).

As for mind, that has multiple definitions. According to my American Heritage dictionary, the two most relevant definitions are

1. The human consciousness that originates in the brain and is manifested especially in thought, perception, emotion, will, memory, and imagination.

2. Intelligence; intellect

The second definition equates the mind with mental processes (indeed, the etymology of the English word “mind” can be traced back to the Indo-European base *men- [“think”], from which the Latin word for mind [mēns] is also derived, which is the source of “mental” in English).

Joseph Campbell uses the word “mind” mostly in the sense of the first definition. There is clearly an overlap with “consciousness,” but mind seems to suggest something more (emotion and memory, for example, as well as imagination, aren’t always conscious, though they do lurk in the background).

Soul appears in most mythological belief systems (e.g. ka and ba in ancient Egyptian mythology), and has sometimes been described as the life force of the individual, the incorporeal essence of one’s being. Personally, I rather like archetypal psychologist (and Campbell friend and colleague) James Hillman’s description of soul:


By soul I mean, first of all, a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing itself. This perspective is reflective; it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens. Between us and events, between the doer and the deed, there is a reflective moment – and soul-making means differentiating this middle ground.

It’s as if [emphasis mine] consciousness rests upon a self-sustaining and imagining substrate – an inner place or deeper person or ongoing presence – that is simply there even when all our subjectivity, ego, and consciousness go into eclipse. Soul appears as a factor independent of the events in which we are immersed. Though I cannot identify soul with anything else, I also can never grasp it by itself apart from other things, perhaps because it is like a reflection in a flowing mirror, or like the moon which mediates only borrowed light. But just this peculiar and paradoxical intervening variable gives one the sense of having or being a soul. However intangible and undefinable it is, soul carries highest importance in hierarchies of human values, frequently identified with the principle of life and even of dignity.

In another attempt on the idea of soul I suggested that the word refers to that unknown component which makes meaning possible, turns events into experiences, is communicated in love, and has a religious concern. These four qualifications I had already put forth several years ago; I had begun to use the term freely, interchangeable with psyche (from Greek) and anima (from Latin). Now I am adding three necessary modifications. First, “soul” refers to the deepening of events into experience; second, the significance soul makes possible, whether in love or in religious concern, derives from its special relation with death. And third, by “soul” I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, and fantasy – that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical.”

From the “Introduction” to Revisioning Psychology, by James Hillman

I toss all the above out not to say this is the way it is, but more as entry points into these concepts. See how these comport with your own understanding – even if your thoughts differ, might help you clarify what you need for purposes of your presentations (I assume the 12 hour and 24 hour versions won’t be packed all into one day!).

Circling back to consciousness, though Joseph Campbell does use the word in terms of ego-consciousness (or “waking consciousness”), he does sometimes bend brains with an expansion of the concept of consciousness (though you may not want to go there, depending on your audience and how deep you are diving)


It is a part of the Cartesian mode to think of consciousness as being something peculiar to the head, that the head is the organ originating consciousness. It isn’t. The head is an organ that inflects consciousness in a certain direction, or to a certain set of purposes. But there is a consciousness here in the body. The whole living world is informed by consciousness.

I have a feeling that consciousness and energy are the same thing somehow. Where you really see life energy, there’s consciousness. Certainly the vegetable world is conscious. And when you live in the woods, as I did as a kid, you can see all these different consciousnesses relating to themselves. There is a plant consciousness and there is an animal consciousness, and we share both these things. You eat certain foods, and the bile knows whether there’s something there for it to go to work on. The whole process is consciousness. Trying to interpret it in simply mechanistic terms won’t work.”

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth


“Let us imagine ourselves for a moment in the lecture hall where I originally presented the material for this chapter. Above, we see the many lights. Each bulb is separate from the others, and we may think of them, accordingly, as separate from each other. Regarded that way, they are so many empirical facts; and the whole universe seen that way is called in Japanese ji hokkai, ‘the universe of things.’

But now, let us consider further. Each of those separate bulbs is a vehicle of light, and the light is not many but one. The one light, that is to say, is being displayed through all those bulbs; and we may think, therefore, either of the many bulbs or of the one light. Moreover, if this or that bulb went out, it would be replaced by another and we should again have the same light. The light, which is one, appears thus through many bulbs.

Analogously, I would be looking out from the lecture platform, seeing before me all the people of my audience, and just as each bulb seen aloft is a vehicle of light, so each of us below is a vehicle of consciousness. But the important thing about a bulb is the quality of its light. Likewise, the important thing about each of us is the quality of his consciousness. And although each may tend to identify himself mainly with his separate body and its frailties, it is possible also to regard one’s body as a mere vehicle of consciousness and to think then of consciousness as the one presence here made manifest through us all. These are but two ways of interpreting and experiencing the same set of present facts. One way is not truer than the other. They are just two ways of interpreting and experiencing: the first, in terms of the manifold of separate things; the second, in terms of the one thing that is made manifest through this manifold. And as, in Japanese, the first is known as ji hokkai, so the second is ri hokkai, the absolute universe.”

“Now the consciousness of ji hokkai cannot help being discriminative, and, experiencing oneself that way, one is bounded, like the light of a bulb, in this fragile present body of glass; whereas in the consciousness of ri hokkai there is no such delimitation. The leading aim of all Oriental mystic teaching, consequently, might be described as that of enabling us to shift our focus of self-identification from, so to say, this light bulb to its light; from this mortal person to the consciousness of which our bodies are but the vehicles. That, in fact, is the whole sense of the famous saying of the Indian Chāndogya Upaniṣad: tat tvam asi, Thou art That,’ ‘You yourself are that undifferentiated universal ground of all being, all consciousness, and all bliss.’ Not, however, the “you” with which one normally identifies: the “you,” that is to say, that has been named, numbered, and computerized for the tax collector. That is not the “you” that is That, but the condition that makes you a separate bulb.

It is not easy, however, to shift the accent of one’s sense of being from the body to its consciousness, and from this consciousness, then, to consciousness altogether.”

Joseph Campbell, “Zen,” Myths to Live By


Consciousness as we experience it both mediates and fits comfortably within ji hokkai – the experienced world – but Campbell suggests consciousness infuses and informs everything in the universe, making our individual ego-consciousness but one expression of consciousness qua Consciousness.

I love the lightbulb metaphor; however, here again we have a bit of an overlap with soul . . . or do we? I’ll leave that to you to determine, but this is a fun concept to play with – use it if it fits.

I don’t know if my post triggers any insights for you into how to present these terms, or just makes your task harder. Ultimately, though, you don’t have to have all the answers: you can’t go wrong if your presentation conveys your passion and enthusiasm for Campbell’s mythological perspective.

Metaphorically Yours,