May 25, 2022 at 11:35 pm #74800
John Bonaduce, Ph.D. – television writer (M*A*S*H*, Maude, and more), composer, conductor, and mythologist – joins us for the first time in Conversations of a Higher Order to discuss “Reflections Upon a Hawaiian Graveyard” (click on title to read), his contribution to JCF’s MythBlast essay series this week. John will be presenting at this years “Fates & Graces” Mythologium, as well as speaking at the Prenatal Sciences Global Conference (October 6 – 9), expanding on mythological themes that move beyond Otto Rank’s discussion of the birth trauma.
This is not an interview, but a conversation. Though I will get the ball rolling, this is your opportunity to directly engage John (and each other) with questions, observations, and insights inspired by his essay. Please feel free to join the discussion.
John – Thank you for sharing your thoughts on visiting Joseph Campbell’s grave. I suspect more than a few readers have made that pilgrimage (in fact, very recently a good friend told me about his experience finding Campbell’s final resting place when he was on Oahu some six weeks ago).
But before we go there, since this is your first visit as a MythBlast author, perhaps you could help forum participants get to know you better by sharing what first drew you to myth, and how you happened to stumble across Joseph Campbell – and which came first, your encounter with Campbell’s work, or your interest in myth (which might be one of those “chicken or the egg” questions)?May 26, 2022 at 6:53 pm #74812
Thank you, Stephen.
I turned to myth out of desperation. I once had a thriving little career going as a television writer. It was sort of a family business and my Dad, hugely successful back in the day, got me in the door, taught me a few things and turned me loose. I found it difficult work, well-paid but anonymous. The William Morris Office sent me out almost weekly to barter my ideas into lucrative contracts for episodic television. I could not understand how the other writers could come up with story elements so quickly and arrange them so effectively. I had no system, no paradigm, no off the shelf formats. Why was I the slowest kid on the block?
Campbell seemed to provide a solid answer back in the 80’s. Everybody in the industry was reading him or pretending to. I liked what he had to say about structure (the Hero’s Journey) and about character (available archetypes just itching to join your little narrative). At some point, my interest in story form was completely superseded by the subject of myth itself to which I have devoted several decades of research in pursuit of questions somewhat larger than “How will Aunt Bea react to Opie’s fishing rod theft?”May 30, 2022 at 4:18 pm #74811
Welcome to our MythBlasts discussion forum John; what a great set of insights of your personal experiences on Joseph’s work. I particularly enjoyed how you infused your own life with his themes while visiting his grave. It’s Memorial Day today, how fitting when we think not just about commemorating the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in the service of others; but in a larger sense reflecting about the ideas and values we live our lives for. I googled one definition for the word: “memory” and found this brief description which I think fits quite well for what I’m attempting to get at.
“The term Mnemosyne is derived from the same source as the word mnemonic, that being the Greek word mnēmē, which means “remembrance, memory”. Mnemosyne. Goddess of memory and meaning.”
And a term often referred to when describing a symbol of some sort that recalls an important memory or experience is called a: “mnemonic trigger” and indeed these devices are often used in storytelling to illustrate the larger context of something one is referring to within a plot or storyline. And throughout human history cemeteries are often the places where people go to commune with the spiritual relationship of a loved one who has passed and their family as well. They are not just repositories for the dead but places of reverence that remind us of the impermanence of our existence and the meaning of our lives. We are evoked into a larger dialogue within ourselves to contemplate the larger values of human relationships like you referred to with Joseph’s overlying themes of: “to love and be loved” for in the end what else is there left that really matters.
One of the things I really enjoyed about the series “MASH”; which I believe you were one of the writers; was the way chaos and human relationships were distilled through trauma into a final outcome where higher human values were exemplified and whatever temporary dilemmas that had been endured were resolved. Each character had their own crisis against the backdrop of the horror of man’s inhumanity of war; yet throughout each episode the viewer was left with something that resonated in some way with their own life experience for them to contemplate.
Sidney Freedman, (the mental health professional who usually paid a visit when someone was having an emotional crisis of some sort); was one of my favorites because he would sometimes write journal entries to his imaginary friend “Sigmund Freud” about his observations during his encounters and as a way to make sense out of his own experiences of war. Although the example here I believe was written by Alan Alda the viewer is provided a window into what it must be like to fight off the overwhelming depressive elements of war and still maintain one’s own sanity. (It must have been a truly rewarding experience to work on this television series which many believe was one of the most important ever made.)
I think now more than ever Joseph’s work has provided profound tools of insight for how individuals can make sense out of their life and find meaning at a time when much of the world seems to be coming off its’ railings. With situations like Covid, Ukraine, the recent inability of political leaders to come to agreement on legislation for the greater good like with gun control, and the rising toxic animosity on social media, he has a way of connecting the dots to many of the issues that have often confounded scholars for centuries; and I, like you, have found him indispensable in keeping myself sane when dealing with many of the problems that often trip us up or hold us hostage until we can work our way through them. His insights into Carl Jung are particularly revealing in this way for religion has a way of concretizing a symbol and attempting to turn it into a “thou-shalt” system of rules that distort instead of reveal, like with science; like producing a wall instead of opening a door or a window; which is what “art” is supposed to do.
In today’s modern complex societies where world cultures so often collide the ability to find one’s path can no longer rely on outdated ways of interpreting things, and we need help in connecting concepts to make sense of where the lines are so often blurred, and we become lost and confused about what to do to unravel the Gordeian Knots of our confusion. Joseph provides clues on how the modern individual can navigate these Dark Forests and find the meaning of our Holy Grail for ourselves.
Here is a perfect example where Joseph masterfully takes a difficult concept like Daoism of the East and combines it with the Left-Hand Hero path of the Greek dualistic West with the Chinese Wu-Wei of not-forcing.
Again John, a hearty and warm welcome here and I am very much looking forward to hearing more your stories and insights.May 30, 2022 at 9:29 pm #74810
Thanks for the reminder, James, that this is indeed memorial day weekend and would be pretty heedless of me to reflect upon my graveyard experience in Oahu without this context.
What is a cemetery if not a curated set of mnemonic triggers, as you called them, designed to summon to our waking sensibility those we have lost to the deep sleep of death? Where we lie, in the end, says a lot about us. Usually, it is the last piece of real estate that matters and there is usually an unhelpful platitude or two, like a caption, meant to capture the essence of the person. Faithful spouse. Loving father. Beloved grandpa. None of these are real triggers though. Or, if they are, they are powered by their own inadequacy. Every spouse falls short in some way, every father has his missteps. Well, let me bring this strange thought into the realm of your response.
I wrote for M*A*S*H (hey, how cool that one of credits has little stars between each letter) as a direct result of my father’s lessons in writing. He didn’t teach me a lot of life skills. He never showed me how to swing a bat or field a grounder. He did not give advice about guns like “aim high, then lower you sight.” We never played poker. I don’t think he knew how. And he never yelled from the sidelines, “Play through the pain.” But he did tell me that a story is told through its subplots. And he did tell me to “hide the exposition.” And he also told me that if I can’t hide the exposition, give it to a subordinate character.
I would like to visit Dad’s grave today but I’m in the last day of isolation from Covid (I promised myself not to mention that but two weeks confined to quarters is really getting to me…).
Dad’s epitaph reads: “Written By Joseph Bonaduce.”
I kid you not, James. I chose it. My family had no objections. I would have ordered a plate which read “Beloved Father,” but I think that does not quite say it. It is not the mnemonic trigger I want and need to conjure the man. There is an intended pun, though unarticulated because, you see, we television writers are either featured in the “opening” credits or the “final credits.”
Obviously, this was indeed Dad’s “final credit.”
Folks like Campbell and Jung can “go to their graves” content that, in Horace Mann’s words, they have contributed something of value: “Be ashamed to die,” he said, “until you have won some victory for humanity.” What a colossal burden for the rest of us to be ashamed to die until we have actually brought some great boon back from the journey. Campbell, who described such boon givers, qualifies as does Jung.
I guess that was not the only grave I visited that weekend. I went to the Pearl Harbor memorial. And, again, there is a relation between the intention of the memorial and its greater meaning. The men who lie forever entombed in the steel carcass of the Arizona call upon our deepest patriotic sensibilities but what a shame if that is where we stop. We are always ready to concretize the mystery in some half-way house of shared values like Patriotism, and, well, that’s good for memorial day weekend. No need to trip ourselves up unnecessarily with the bigger questions of war and peace. The correct optic is a fluttering flag, no bigger than a page from a paperback. A cub scout saluting. Only the meanest spirit would find fault.
But Campbell’s idea of a memorial, which he described eloquently in one of his late lectures, quite literally involves a pointing finger. Literally, a finger pointing to the sky as if to say, “Yes, that is where it came from. That is where the atom bomb fell on this sad town of Nagasaki.” The peace memorial was a place where, in Campbell’s estimation, recrimination had no place and where the aftermath of war is never reckoned in winners and losers but in the resolve that no power on earth should ever be used against another people.
Again, James. Thanks for the context. This is my way of observing Memorial Day from the isolation of quarantine.May 31, 2022 at 9:41 pm #74809
I guess that was not the only grave I visited that weekend. I went to the Pearl Harbor memorial. And, again, there is a relation between the intention of the memorial and its greater meaning. The men who lie forever entombed in the steel carcass of the Arizona call upon our deepest patriotic sensibilities but what a shame if that is where we stop. We are always ready to concretize the mystery in some half-way house of shared values like Patriotism, and, well, that’s good for memorial day weekend.
Thanks, John, for sharing these thoughts about the Pearl Harbor memorial (which I found a truly moving experience) and our honoring of the war dead on Memorial Day –– especially the point you make in the succeeding paragraph about the aftermath of war.
On a related note, exactly ten years ago my wife and I were in Honolulu representing JCF at the Voyage of Aloha conference over the Memorial Day weekend. We had arrived a few days early to take in the sights, which included a visit to the National Cemetary up in the Punchbowl, where preparations were underway for the huge memorial celebration – flags being placed on graves and lining the drive up to the cemetery, rows and rows of chairs being set up, honor guard and military band practicing, etc.
We had considered returning on the holiday itself as part of the crowd honoring the war dead
. . . but we then spent several days rubbing shoulders with locals (rather than staying near Waikiki, as on my first visit to the islands a few years before, we stayed closer to downtown, at the Pagoda, an aging hotel where locals from other islands stay when on Oahu). Several Hawaiians recommended we see how those who live on the islands observe death by instead spending Memorial Day at the Ala Moana park and beach (about a half mile walk from our lodging, I had bathed in the ocean at Ala Moana during a dawn water ritual led by indigenous kahunas to open our conference a few days before).
Best decision ever.
Late afternoon on Memorial Day, my wife and I walked to Ala Moana Park. Instead of a somber atmosphere with color guards, rows of flags, military jets flying in formation overhead, trumpets, 21-gun salutes, and all the usual patriotic ritual, the scene resembled one massive picnic in the park – children running around and playing, families feasting on everything from hot dogs or fried chicken to spam sandwiches, poi, sushi, and more exotic fare – but in addition to the usual holiday activities, every family group was also busy creating little paper boat lanterns, in which they placed the names of relatives who had died, along with poems and such honoring their memory. As the sun set, and large, rough-hewn outrigger canoes with a dozen or more rowers each plied the waters of the little bay, a Buddhist monk and Shinto priestess led a memorial ceremony amplified over loudspeakers.
Then the thousands and thousands of participants all slowly worked their way to the shore where, after a moment of silence and reflection, they released their lighted lantern boats upon the water and then made way for others; at the same time, a smaller number of people released paper lantern balloons into the air, the flaming candles all representing the souls of the departed.
Despite the size of throng, we found ourselves soon enough at water’s edge, where we witnessed hundreds of moving personal ceremonies as the boats and balloons were released. The effect was spectacular. Once the sky grew dark, it was difficult to distinguish between the lanterns on the waves, the paper balloons in the air, and the stars in the night sky above – all was but one vast three-dimensional field filled with individual points of light.
(Forgive the fuzziness of this image from an old phone, taken before the sun had fully set, but it does convey the sense of the lantern ceremony)
I don’t mean to discount official Memorial Day military ceremonies, which I’ve attended before in my hometown – but I found this massive, collective participation ritual that combined joy, reflection, grief, and nature (releasing souls back into the abyss of sea and sky) particularly moving, joyful, and life-affirming. The focus wasn’t just on war dead (though they, too, were celebrated), but on family, and the embrace of this inevitability as part of the natural cycle.June 2, 2022 at 1:08 am #74808
Stephen recalled his experience of Memorial Day some years ago at Moana Park in Oahu. He wrote:
“I don’t mean to discount official Memorial Day military ceremonies, which I’ve attended before in my hometown – but I found this massive, collective participation ritual that combined joy, reflection, grief, and nature (releasing souls back into the abyss of sea and sky) particularly moving, joyful, and life-affirming. The focus wasn’t just on war dead (though they, too, were celebrated), but on family, and the embrace of this inevitability as part of the natural cycle.”
The subtext to every memorial and every memorial ritual across a multiplicity of cultures is always the same: Let us never forget.
The direct objects of that admonition spring to mind somewhat chronologically for me, admittedly with an American or Euro-centric bias: The Alamo, Pearl Harbor, the Holocaust, the twin towers.
But the truth is forgetfulness is built into the human condition. We are a reproductive species and those memories which cannot hitch a ride in our genes are always in peril of being lost to time, vast, implacable, indifferent time. The system is stacked against remembering. One generation must constantly be reminded of what the previous generation held dear, even sacred. It is why we have the Seder and the Eucharist and the Hajj. It’s a dilemma that Campbell saw so clearly and described so well, in terms of religion but he might as well have been speaking about any epochal event in the stream of human history.
“You cannot export myth. Either through space or through time…. Here is a mythology that grew out of a social context that is so far away from what we have now that it is not servicing our psyches. It always has to be interpreted to us” (Hero, p.243).
With this in mind, I faced the usual dilemma of a music teacher on Memorial Day some twenty-five years ago. My high school students had no reaction to the patriotic music in our library. I judged them harshly for that. Okay, the Star Spangled Banner doesn’t get their blood pumping. How about a setting in five-part harmony? No? Nothing. What about She’s a grand old flag, she’s a high flying flag and forever in peace may she wave? America the Beautiful? Most of these students had no experience of war or military service and exhibited an indifference to the idea that freedom is bought and paid for by the sacrifice of others. I don’t blame them. They have only known freedom. It is like a fish being asked to get excited about water. A sensible wide-mouth bass might logically ask, “What’s water?” If water is all you know it remains unknowable.
Freedom and its absence must be, as Campbell saw clearly, interpreted. The farther downstream from Valley Forge—or Pearl Harbor—the more challenging the task. My Canoga Park High school choir and I ended up writing a song and I recall the lyrics quite well.
In your darkest hour, America, I’ll be right there with you
In your times of trouble, America, I will come through.
I seldom say it, how much I love you and in your darkest hour
I will be red, white and blue.
That was the chorus. It was written a couple of years before 9/11, which makes it somewhat prescient. Their verses had some charm and caught the essence of one generation’s indifference to the mindset of the past.
I can never find my flag on the fourth of July
Never had to stand at attention when the general walks by
When I sing the Star Spangled Banner, I never cry
but there’s something inside me that can’t be denied.
In your darkest hour… etc.
The past is continually lost but is, as Eliade pointed out, partly recoverable through ritual and liturgy. And, from my point of view, those who do not remember history are condemned to sing it.June 2, 2022 at 6:36 pm #74807
Though Joseph Campbell passed away October 30, 1987, for a number of years urban legend had him dying on October 31. I even know close friends and colleagues of Joe who thought his death had occurred on Halloween. This idea took hold of the public; for years, Campbell’s Wikipedia entry noted he had died on October 31.
Of course, at JCF our focus is on the facts rather than wishful thinking, so we would change the Wikipedia entry back to October 30, only to find within minutes that some well-intentioned individual or another would have “corrected” that to October 31. No matter how often we posted the accurate date on Wikipedia, it never took.
Eventually, in 2005, I snapped a photo of Joe’s grave marker with the October 30 date, and our web wizard posted that to Wikipedia; in light of the incontrovertible visual evidence, that punctured the urban legend and ended the constant back-and-forth. (The last time I visited Campbell’s entry, that photo was no longer up – likely because no one questions the October 30 date listed there anymore.)
This dynamic definitely intrigued me, leading me to believe that mythologization is an ongoing process in both the individual and the collective psyches, whether or not one is aware of it. I have to admit there is something deeply satisfying about believing a wise old soul who devoted his life to the study of myth and ritual passed away on Halloween – the Celtic Samhain – that traditional moment in the cycle of the year when the veil between this world and the next is thought to be at its thinnest.
Even in our contemporary world, despite records and facts that say otherwise, it is difficult to stand against an idea that seizes the popular imagination.
As you so eloquently point out, “Let us never forget” is the subtext of all memorials, personal or public. I wonder if this re-membering of the departed requires a degree of mythologization, writ large when it comes to iconic figures. In terms of objective fact, historians and theologians are aware Jesus was born nowhere near the Winter Solstice, nor did his death necessarily occur on the exact date as that of other dying-and-resurrected gods celebrated throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. Nevertheless, though actual facts and details may be off, that mythologization of heroic and religious figures does seem to mean we are less likely to forget them.
(I’ve noticed something similar when a family member dies: it’s not unusual for loved ones to share experiences that would appear, at best, to be easily overlooked coincidences on any other day, but are imbued with significance and meaning in relation to the death of a beloved friend or relative.)
Am I making sense? Do you have any thoughts on the relationship between death and the process of mythologization? Might whatever drives us to visit the graves of personal heroes, whether a Jim Morrison or Joseph Campbell, be related to the dynamic underlying pilgrimages to Jesusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre or India’s Bodh Gaya?June 2, 2022 at 9:42 pm #74806
John and Stephen; I was wondering if we could explore a little deeper the context around mythic relationships with the idea of existence and meaning when we experience personal loss of those we have known. I want to back up a bit and explain a bit further what I’m trying to clarify. Cemetaries, mourning, the life and death reflection on the meaning of our lives as we evolve through the life process.
When Joseph in one of his lectures to his students used a particular “metaphor”, he asks them; “Are we the light bulb; or are we the light of which the bulb is but a vehicle?”
This would be a symbolic metaphor of a larger concept on the nature of our existence. But in the Jewish-Christian religion for example you die and go to Heaven; (another symbolic metaphor which conveys a certain type of meaning concerning the “Afterlife”). But where I’m going with this has to do with how human existence is enclosed within a certain kind framework that says that’s all there is; and people are left with this tremendous burden of assimilating the meaning of their own life within this specific context. In other words, we as human beings exist within a Universe of incomprehensible size, depth, and profound mystery; and we are left to assimilate what this means within the context of our own lives; and Joseph explains this in a much different way than just the metaphor of a “light bulb that holds the light”. I’m not attempting to slip out the back door of Eastern concepts such as Brachman or the endless recycling of life from one body to the next. (What I’m really concerned with is how we assign the deeper meaning to our lives through reflection and the privilege, rapture, wonder, (and yes; the suffering and terror and heartache of this Grand Opera of being alive. As Shakespeare reminds us: “We are only players on this “stage called life”; we play our part and it’s up to us; (as Joseph suggests): to assign the meaning of it all and to take it from there until we too arrive at this final destination of the “womb to the tomb”.
For instance, I said:
“The term Mnemosyne is derived from the same source as the word mnemonic, that being the Greek word mnēmē, which means “remembrance, memory”. Mnemosyne. Goddess of memory and meaning.”
“And a term often referred to when describing a symbol of some sort that recalls an important memory or experience is called a: “mnemonic trigger” and indeed these devices are often used in storytelling to illustrate the larger context of something one is referring to within a plot or storyline. And throughout human history cemeteries are often the places where people go to commune with the spiritual relationship of a loved one who has passed and their family as well. They are not just repositories for the dead but places of reverence that remind us of the impermanence of our existence and the meaning of our lives.”
Plays, books, and all manner of story and song constantly reminds us of this 3-act drama; (we are born; we grow up and evolve; and then we must get ready for our final passage to whatever awaits us in the larger “here-after”; (whatever that may be). But there is no argument as to this indisputable reality. (It’s what happens in-between that counts, and the meaning we assign to this experience we call “life”. One of my favorite examples is the Christmas story called: “It’s a Wonderful Life”; where the Hero is forced to contemplate just such issues. (And, again with a similar theme in Charles Dicken’s: “A Christmas Carol”). Both have “Graveyard” crisis points where the confrontation with one’s own mortality forces a decision on how the individual is to come to terms with the one life they are given and how they are going to live it.
I hope you’ll forgive the late reply to this topic but there were several reasons I waited before responding. One is the theme which I originally inserted which was “Memorial Day”; (and I wasn’t quite sure where the topic was going to go from there). And two, I wanted to give others a chance to respond since this was John’s MythBlast in the first place. There were outside factors that influenced my thinking about this that were extremely personal. One was a “synchronistic” occurrence where my brother sent me an email that he was visiting “my mother’s grave”; (who unfortunately had committed suicide some 50 years ago); the very minute this topic posted. (Yes, it seems these kinds of things have a way of getting your immediate attention in a way that makes your emotional radar wakeup that says: “this may be important”); so; I’ve been somewhat hesitant before jumping back in till enough time had passed and finding the right words to explain my thoughts properly.
I hope this is not too convoluted because I’ve been wrestling with this topic response about this for days and wanted to make sure I was on solid ground before posting it. We all have our own individuation process that is unique to each of us; so, I’ve tried to present this as clearly as I could without it getting too confusing. And I didn’t want to take anything away from the wonderful earlier posts that both you and Stephen have already presented.
Again, this is a great conversation you’ve got going; I just wanted to make sure all my ducks were lined up before presenting it. Namaste
Since this post is new and has not been responded to yet I want to include a short addendum which may help better clarify part of what I’m attempting to address. “How we grieve and what this may have to do with our own personal as well as collective myths.” Joseph had several ways that addressed this area including one short clip I will leave here. Our ceremonies and collective rites of passage is one area; (but we also have a “personal” dimension in the way we mourn someone and “reconcile our relationship to life” as well).June 3, 2022 at 10:12 pm #74805
The graveyard is also a “crisis point” in the New Testament. Mary of Magdala shows up, discovers the body of Christ is missing and two angels—not unlike Dickens’ three interlocutors heavy with helpful exposition—give her the explanation which will be repeated to the Apostles: “…go to my brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’”
The empty tomb becomes the theological pivot point for a whole new soteriology. In Matthew (28:5-8) others are encouraged to come to the tomb and see for themselves. “Come, see the place where the Lord lay, and go quickly and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead…”
I do not know why our conversation has had a synchronicity with your own life, why you should simultaneously be engaged in my Reflections Upon a Hawaiian Graveyard and the passing of your own mother five decades ago, but your thoughts are so utterly and nakedly human as to bring you to the big questions about life’s purpose and death’s function. And in your speculations you remind me of Campbell himself, at once open to genuine transcendence, a universe in which nothing is lost, nothing is wasted and who, later on, will be dismissive of any sentimental notions that he will in some way survive death. On the one hand he will say, “Myth induces a realization that behind the surface phenomenology of the world, there is a transcendent mystery source. Through this vitalizing mystical function, the universe becomes a holy picture.”
A “transcendent mystery source?” It borders on the acknowledgement of a universe in which the sacred and profane are two sides of a shared coin. Both are real. Then he turns around and says he’s actually never had a mystical experience in his life. Remember that? Kind of shocking. It was in an interview with Jeffrey Mishlove: “I’m not a mystic, in that I don’t practice any austerities, an I’ve never had a mystical experience. So I’m not a mystic. I’m a scholar and that’s all I’m doing.”
Not a hint of regret. He reacted to the Abyss more with curiosity than terror.
I remember sitting across the table from my wife and asking what I thought was a rhetorical question: How come people don’t wake up every morning and just start tearing their hair out when they realize they are going to die? And she said, “Because we’re a reproductive species.” And then she asked if I wanted more mashed potatoes. It’s that kind of marriage.
We are a reproductive species. And we are very brave and have been notable for our bravery ever since we first turned to the graveyard as a way to respond to the inevitable and frame it in terms we find palatable.
Mary of Magdala went to the tomb and walked away with a whole new church in her clutch. Your brother will return from his visit to the grave of your mother and perhaps he, too, will have something new to contemplate and perhaps even to share.June 4, 2022 at 7:19 am #74804
John, what thoughtful and sensitive insights you offered; and are so deeply appreciated. Yes, this helped a lot with what I have been dealing with. (Stephen also has been extremely helpful with this.) The journeys we travel are uniquely our own as we seek the answers to many of these important inner questions and issues that we have to grapple with that have deep meaning in our lives. Yes, my mother’s tragic death affected many people, and had a lot to do with the trajectory of my life which brought me later to Joseph’s work which gave me a bridge to work through so many of these inner conflicts I have been struggling with over the years.
There is so much I owe to Joseph Campbell’s work I hardly know where to begin, (especially his insights into the work of Carl Jung). And one of the insights he shared had to do with how the trajectory of one’s life changes its’ orientation from that of “achievement” in early life to that of “meaning” in later life. Jung said: “We are in a constant state or process of becoming”; and that “Axiom of Maria”, that alchemy of the inner life struggle to define itself, is always engaged in constantly defining one’s interior in such a way that a new challenge emerges as one moves or evolves toward what he called: the “Dark Gate or Grand Egress or Exit” towards death. We start asking ourselves these deep questions about the meaning of our lives and what will be left behind as our legacy.
Yes, your topic triggered a memory from my past that I needed to assimilate which brought up questions on how we process emotional relationships and resolve some of our past conflicts; or at least see them in a different light. This reminded me of something I experienced years ago when an old friend of mine had passed and there was going to be a “Wake” the night before the Funeral the next day. (If I’m not mistaken there were stories in some of the older Irish traditions where the corpse is actually sat in a chair with a drink in his hand, so he could be right there enjoying his own send-off; but I digress.) I was distressed because I had to work and could not attend either event. This fellow had a lot of friends who were in the same situation, so it was decided that a separate time and space was arranged for all of us to attend and we gathered and just shared personal stories of our friend and it felt very intimate like his presence was there with us for his send-off. There was no formal ceremony; (in other words), there was an emotional catharsis if you will that made a huge difference in how we processed our grief.
But my aim in all of this was to explore this inner cathartic aspect of grief and meaning; in other words: how we connect relationships and meaning to our own life. People are not inanimate objects but living creatures with feelings and emotions that produce profound inner meaning and purpose within the context of our existence; and our death is the final act that crosses over or through this veil or shroud that covers the Grail of our lives and conveys as its’ meaning or purpose of what is left behind that lives on in memory.
Again, thank you so very much for your kind and considered insights for I know some of my thoughts may have seemed a bit nebulous concerning my request. NamasteJune 5, 2022 at 9:23 pm #74803
As this week draws to a close on this very insightful discussion; I want to add a few footnotes that I have been thinking about on this topic concerning: cemeteries, meaning, mortality, and legacy for we all with grapple with this subject in one way or another as a fact or consequence of the living of our lives. In other words, as the curtain of our lives draws to a close, we are compelled to ask ourselves: “What is the meaning of my life? What do I leave behind as my legacy for others? Is it a boon, a story, a task completed, a family or children to which my life draws meaning, or perhaps some other nebulous or undefined aspect from which I drew purpose to which my life was tethered? Perhaps a story unfinished, or a road taken that ended badly?
So often society sends us messages that a life worth living is something “grandiose”, some heroic act or accomplishment that promotes celebrity or turns one’s self-image into a persona mask that hides what is really behind the facade. The masquerade of surface display over which the choreography of our everyday life can become inflated.) Jung warns us not to mistake this veneer for who we really are, for in later life what is behind this mask begins to show through and we must integrate this reality of our shadow side to become whole. In other words, we may not be who we think we are, and part of the task of our journey is to come to terms with this other side of our nature.
So many things in the media for instance “mistake a hero for a celebrity”, and they are not the same. As Joseph mentions to Bill Moyers in “The Power of Myth”, the hero goes for something that benefits others as well as him or herself; and the hero is “not a brand”, but an archetype or mode of experience of transcendence that wears many faces that refers to that aspect potential in all of us. So often I think many of us see our lives in such a way that unless some kind of victory or accomplishment is achieved that our life might be seen as a failure. (In my view that is mistaking the act for the intent.) How many parents, teachers, friends, and others whom we have known through which our life has been enriched; that without knowing them or having them in our lives for whatever brief moment we’ve been allowed – our life would be so much poorer.
Every life has value and is worth remembering, yet how many people die and the life they lived disappears into the ethers. The homeless many times have no grave markers that they were here. Cemetaries sometimes disappear that contain the graves of countless individuals over time are gone forever without a trace for whatever reason. Indian burial sites torn up for some kind of development of one type or another. Civilizations come and go, yet we stand on this very same “timeless ground” they once occupied.
We look to the stars for answers to these huge questions about the meaning of our existence and the overwhelming experience that we are but grains of sand on the endless shores of time and what it all means, and yet we get silence. These questions are not new, but the same ones that man has asked throughout human history. And wars have been fought about which God or belief system we must follow. But Joseph mentions in numerous places throughout his work that “we” supply the answer of what our life means, not the “thou-shalt” system of some religion, priest, or guru. And the meaning must come from us, from our experience, from our compassion and empathy for others, from the trials and tribulations we endure. From the alchemy of our struggles to find out who and what we are, and that the rapture and horror of our experience of life: “is” the gift; “right here – right now”. Not in heaven at some future date; but in our journey/process of now.
He mentions “time” is a duality, and duality always brings one side losses and one side wins. But the experience of our life and its’ purpose lies in the middle way. That the “epiphany” revelation of the transcendent function; (which Jung talks about); comes from holding the tension in our psyche between the opposing warring sides of our individual crisis when we are being pulled apart, and the symbolic realization which unites these opposing realities into a new way of being or thinking dissolves the blockage that keeps us out of our Garden. (The Garden is here spread upon the earth, but men do not see it.); is the biblical quote he uses. But the journey to getting there to find this Holy Grail through all the trials of the Dark Forest that Parsival struggles through is the dark night of the soul that must be battled though. We go down into the depths of our inner psyche to slay our inner Dragons and personal demons, and by doing so we “earn” the answer to our quest through our struggles, and this hero element is in every one of us as we ask these eternal big questions about: Cemetaries, existence, and what it all means.
I so very much appreciate John’s and Stephen’s insights concerning my earlier questions for they helped me resolve a number of internal issues I have been struggling with concerning this topic. And I hope my humble entry makes a bit of sense. NamasteJune 6, 2022 at 12:54 am #74802
If, as you say, our shared insights have helped you resolve some internal issues, I will add not one word. Except a word of thanks for this experience of engagement with friends.June 6, 2022 at 3:27 am #74801
Sometimes without realizing it we become agents of profound change in the life of others. I’ve had several very dear friends who have shared things with me over the years, and without realizing it life’s mystery has tapped me on the shoulder and helped me to understand how lucky I was to have known them. And it wasn’t until they passed that I became aware of what they left behind.
Friendship to me is the rarest of gifts because it gives life a depth meaning that nothing else can. And the struggles we go through provide a perspective of clarity if you are able to step back and see it you can’t get any other way. I won’t go on about this except to say: “Yes, most definitely”, our thoughtful exchanges helped me a great deal to work through some profoundly emotional baggage.
What was it Jung said about the journey? It’s not a destination but what happens along the way. (Something like that.) And I think so much of the time we get so intensely wrapped up in figuring things out that we often miss the good stuff happening right in front of us. Thank you for this moment for it means more than you know.
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