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Finding My Own True Myth

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    Toby Johnson

      During the 1970s, I was on staff at The Mann Ranch Seminars, then later “Reminding” at Dominican College. I was part of the crew that worked Joe’s appearances in Northern California mid- to late 70s. At that first seminar at The Mann Ranch, I was a work-scholar, as a young “flower-child,” and was asked to come early to help clean. Campbell also arrived early. So I met Joe personally and developed a friendship with him and corresponded with him through the end of the decade. I was a student at the California Institute of Integral Studies, first in Comparative Religion, then Counseling Psychology. I understood Campbell’s work and message was more than just the history of religion, that he was talking about a kind of modern enlightenment into the nature of myth and story that pointed to what he used to call “the new myth.” I understood the new myth to mean the myth of myth, i.e., the religious/mythical idea that “the Universe,” “God,” “Greater Consciousness” communicates itself to us through the metaphors of religion and through clues in our own experience of finding meaning. I think that’s what most of us learn from Joseph Campbell. AND that too is a myth. It is possible to keep rising to higher and higher perspectives. This frees us from religion while pointing to a “spirituality”/mystical consciousness that underlies religion.

      I am a gay man, and as a psychotherapist in San Francisco specialized in Gay-oriented Psychotherapy. I saw, both in my own life and in that of clients, that Campbell’s approach to religion resolved so many of the psychological and moral problems that religion created for gay and lesbian people. I’ve only half-jokingly fancied myself “Joseph Campbell’s apostle to the gay community.”

      As editor/publisher of a ‘zine in the late 90s called White Crane Journal: a quarterly of gay men’s spirituality, I always included a tidbit of wisdom from Joe and a column called Bodhisattva Watch in hopes of introducing readers to Campbell’s ideas. (The story of Avalokiteshvara and the Way of Participation in the Sorrows of the World was my favorite lesson of his.)
      I’ve written several books about Joe and the New Myth and about gay spirituality. My most recent book is titled Finding Your Own True Myth: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell.

      I’ve belonged to the Campbell Foundation for many years, and was involved with the Archive at Pacifica in the early days. I’ve have just followed the Facebook page over here to the Conversations of a Higher Order. (Doesn’t “Higher Order” suggest exactly that rising to higher perspectives I mentioned earlier?) I am so honored to have let my life be filled with Joseph Campbell’s brilliance.


      What an expansive perspective and rewarding life experience you bring to these conversations, Toby! Thank you for sharing so much of your walk through life and your experience of Campbell’s message, which no doubt resonates with so many here. “Joyful participation in the sorrows of the world” is a truth so sublime – that epiphany alone, courtesy of Campbell, has enriched my life beyond expectation.

      And yes, “Conversations of a Higher Order” is more than a catchy title – the name itself conveys an expectation.

      Glad to have you here, Toby!

      Toby Johnson

        Hi Stephen, thanks for the welcome. I’ll share more about what I think the important consequences and lessons are from Joseph Campbell’s thought.

        I have, indeed, had a wonderful life, filled with so many curious coincidences/ synchronicities. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s all a dream. To wit, my grand experience of having for my “wise old man” on my spiritual/archetypal journey, Joseph Campbell himself.

        That reference to “dream” reminds me both of the inevitable explanation of consciousness as a solipsism, but also of Joe’s speaking of the Bodhisattva’s consciousness as “the long world-dream of the All-Regarding, whose essence is the essence of Emptiness.”



        Hi Toby,

        It is nice to meet you and your thoughts! It sounds so interesting to have been in the Flower Power Days with Campbell’s events! I loved the 70’s decade, the “Flower Power” vibe, the music, rock concerts, etc. I was in my teens at the time and later found The Power of Myth and other works of Campbell. I very much have enjoyed your thoughts here. I am into synchronicity also, and feel attuned to your mentions about the sorrows and joys in life.

        –Mary Ann

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