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Reply To: Cunneware’s Laugh: The Enticement of Delight,” with Leigh Melander, Ph.D.”


Leigh, your thoughtfulness is deeply appreciated for I have spent the last few days processing our conversation and its relevance to my journey over the last few years. The book by Stephen Miller is on the way; (although I have not read the Saga book, I mentioned I may get to that eventually); and I was never able to track down the essay. David Kudler or Stephen may know where it can be found. I seem to remember Miller remarking at a gathering of some sort when looking at a group of empty chairs surrounding a round table ressembling Arther’s court: “Yes, they are all there”; as if to say the knight’s mythical presence as a reference could be felt even though one could not actually see them. “The Fire is in the Mind” is the piece he wrote about Joseph Campbell as I remember; but I may be mistaken about that. Your recommendation is “spot on” however, and I’m sure the book will be very helpful when it arrives in the next few days. This morning I went perusing through the Foundation’s “Quote” section: (yes, all 500 of them, lol); and I was amazed at the number of references to “play” that kept popping up.

Speaking of which your musical interests and experiences sound fascinating; you were very kind to ask about my musical background as well. I was a professional sideman; (Congas and a little Afro-Latin and Brazilian percussion); for 45 years in Nashville, (although not the kind of instrumentation one normally associates with what is usually produced by the Country recording industry. My career was about as varied as I ever could have imagined, some touring and recording with a few well-known acts over the years; but the larger amount with up-and-coming groups and artists that were well out of the Country mainstream, such as Jazz, Rock, Rhythm and Blues, Latin, and even Brazilian; (although hard to imagine there). I played every kind of gig you could think of such as: weddings, clubs, restaurants, juke joints, concerts, taught a little bit, and worked plenty of day jobs to support my passion which kept body and soul alive. (I have a short magazine bio located in the personal projects section of the forums, or I would be more than happy to send you the link in a personal message if you are interested in a more detailed description.) I always get a bit self-conscious about these sorts of things.

I never made a lot of money at it, but that’s not the purpose when you find something you love; (the privilege of a lifetime to me is finding something that tells you who you are and feeds your soul), but I think the whole “Star” thing really distorts what this is all about because when you get to the end of that phase of your life journey you come up against your own identity destiny quest and what you lived your life for. If your answers fall short of what’s pushing you out of your own interior, then a new inner quest may be in order. So, the individuation process; (this alchemical cooking inside), has me on the hunt. What was it Joseph said? Something about the first phase of life is seeking realization of outward achievement; (like a career or pursuit that serves that purpose); but then in later life all that stuff that’s buried deep in the unconscious starts making its presence felt and asking to be heard so the journey inward begins, and we look for some of the deeper meanings our lives may be asking for. Something Jung said: “He who looks outward sees; but he who looks inward awakens”; or something to that effect.

But back to: “Play”; I think this idea is much more important than many of us realize; and that many of us are so stressed and apprehensive about Covid and keeping our lives together while supporting ourselves; much less seeing all the political toxic disarray around us, that finding “play” can be a really big deal. (Not just as a concept or idea; but in the way we interpret the world we are living in every day.) For instance, when a child is engaged in play, they are creating the world (anew) again every time they do something. There is that sense of wonder and discovery that we as adults have forgotten and must rediscover. And I think the archetypes that get stimulated in the unconscious not only let us know something is wrong or missing; but can help point the way through play to the direction we need to go. And this I think is the truly wonderful thing about any art that meets that inner need that not only fulfills you; but can also inform you what all these things going on inside you are attempting to communicate.

So, the search into the forest begins again. (Where and what is that core complex?) that’s making you do all these funny things Joseph mentions. Do you know what it is that’s driving you? What do you do to address that? (And notice I said address and not fix.) Because that may be that the thing worth keeping. This alchemy stuff is curious business; and the shadow may reveal parts of you that are a huge surprise in more ways than one.

I wanted to briefly bring up Don Quixote because there is an insightful thing Joseph mentions in his conversation with Bill Moyers in “The Power of Myth” that I think applies not only to this mythic realm they are discussing; (for instance knights, chivalry, and psychosis); but how we as individuals might think about play as it relates to this “Wasteland” we all have to deal with in the modern world; especially now more than ever.

On page 129 they are discussing the hero’s call and how it evokes one’s character, and that actually the adventure is a manifestation of one’s character because the quest is something that person is ready for and it’s how they respond to it that affects and helps to determine its’ possible outcome. Now we get into the challenge of living within a system, because everyone has to figure out how to meet and assimilate this challenge to create a life for themselves. This is important because as he said people have stopped listening to themselves- and herein lies the risk of the call of the left-hand path of the hero instead of staying warm and cozy in the village compound of the right-hand path. They may risk a mental crackup because the heart is not always interested in just following the herd and doing what one is told. People are not herd animals or slaves to social ideals unless they choose to be so. Something tells them inside this is all wrong; but maybe they have responsibilities that cannot be ignored; and the below is not about finding a hobby because that is not what is working on them from inside themselves.


I don’t want to quote the whole conversation; just a few paragraphs should give you a general idea of what he is talking about. On page 130 Moyers asks:

“So perhaps the hero lurks in each one of us when we don’t know it?

Campbell: “Our life evokes our character. You find out more about yourself as you go on. That’s why it is good to put yourself in situations that will evoke your higher nature rather than your lower. “Lead us not into temptation.”

“Oretga y Gasset talks about the environment and the hero in his “Meditations on Don Quixote”. Don Quixote was the last hero of the Middle Ages. He rode out to encounter giants, but instead of giants, his environment produced windmills. Ortega points out that this story takes place about the time that a mechanistic interpretation of the world came in, so that the environment is no longer spiritually responsive to the hero. The hero of today is running up against a hard world that is in no way responsive to his spiritual need.”

Moyers: “A windmill?”

“Yes, but Quixote saved the adventure for himself by inventing a magician who had just transformed the giants he had gone forth to encounter into windmills. You can do that too, if you have a poetic imagination. Earlier, though, it was not a mechanistic world in which the hero moved but a world alive and responsive to his spiritual readiness. Now it has become to such an extent a sheerly mechanistic world, as interpreted through our physical senses, Marxist sociology, and behavioristic psychology, that we’re nothing but a predictable pattern of wires responding to stimuli. This nineteenth-century interpretation has squeezed the freedom of the human will out of modern life.”

Moyers: “In the political sense, is there a danger that these myths of the heroes teach us to look at the deeds of others as if we were in an amphitheater or coliseum or a movie, watching others perform great deeds while consoling ourselves to impotence?”

Campbell: “I think this is something that has overtaken us only recently in this culture. The one who watches athletic games instead pf participating in athletics is involved in surrogate achievement. But when you think about what people are actually undergoing in our civilization, you realize it’s a very grim thing to be a modern human being. The drudgery of the lives of most of the people who have to support families—well it’s a life-extinguishing affair.”


So, I hope you see the connection I was attempting to establish between what we normally think of as “play” to this larger social and mythical application; and perhaps would share some of your thoughts about this. Again, thank you for your very kind and generous reply. (Before I go; thank you so much for sharing all your new musical pursuits and I really loved your song titles. From reading the way you write I’ll bet your harp playing is exquisite. Good luck with learning the mandolin; if you ever come to Nashville, I’d be honored to show you around.)