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The Air We Breathe

Viewing 15 posts - 46 through 60 (of 83 total)
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    Hi Richard,

    Thank you. It is so nice to meet you. I would love to hear more about Cosmology and Brain Swimme and wish I could have taken your class when you were teaching it to learn more about Cosmology and Swimme.  I have read some of Swimme’s books and have thoroughly enjoyed them–love them!  Perhaps you can teach us here. I am all ears! I do have a question. When I was writing about Campbell’s “Earthrise,” I was trying to find yet one more quote by Swimme that I could not find that to me so perfectly “fits” the feeling of the new myth as the new dawn and new dawn also of Earthrise. I can’t locate a book I had by Swimme, The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos: Humanity and the New Story. He wrote about children awaking in the morning and looking at the rising sun and seeing themselves in the midst of our solar system, waking to that reality everyday, as the new myth. The way he wrote it was so beautiful I remember when I read that book for a class I read that paragraph over and over again. I tried to Google it but did not find it. Now I am wondering if I even had it in hard copy paperback/hardcover or if I had borrowed it from an online library I subscribed to–I sometimes did that as a student to save some money. In any case, I am wondering if you can off the top of your head locate that quote–I will keep trying to find it. That quote of Swimme’s and that book it is in seems like a nice sequel to the book, The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.



    I agree with every statement you have made in your journal entry and discussion about masks as political statements and Republican tendencies as compared with the tendencies of those who are Liberal, and thank you for defining this in such a succinctly definable and readily available (and usable) way! Thanks for this!

    Mary Ann



    Hello to All,

    Forgive me if I am a bit late in contributing to this important conversation-I am just finding out over the past days that many colleagues at the college where I teach are being let go because of this pandemic and what it has meant financially for the college. I live in western New York during the fall and spring semesters and in my native homeland of Germany when I am not teaching. There are vast differences in perspectives when it comes to understanding the divine gift of breath.

    For the most part, German people have been willing to wear masks for not just their own protection, but for the other people that inhabit their cities and neighborhoods. In an earlier post, I outlined the origin of the German word for breath and its relationship to the gods-indeed it is a divine gift. It is significant that the word is connected to the divine in this way.

    Its symbolic significance is something we all notice -in poetry-Zephyr -the west wind, in Christian tradition-the Holy Spirit, in the ancient creation myths, and yet it is taken for granted as we see in the response to the pandemic here in the US. The outrage voiced in having to wear one-the violence directed towards those who do and the agonizing death that comes when we can no longer breath.  I am deeply saddened by this kind of behaviour and wonder if this is a glimpse at something that has made us more ill-more than the virus-narcissism. We like the mythical character are reflecting a kind of deep illness that turns us inward and we feed upon our own selfishness-it is a formula for death. Is it something deep within us-the brain’s driving force to destruction? Sisyphus comes to mind as well. Why are we continuingly moving toward those things that do not  affirm life?  We are tempting the gods here with the life-destroying behviour we are engaged in-certainly so many young people are doing this.

    Reading the myths I still think can help us to understand our limitations and that we cannot triumph against the forces of nature. As I write, I am digging deeply for those myths that are life affirming, ones that can teach us how to recognize again the face[s] of our universal shared humaness/humanity. As I also wrote in an earlier post-it is simply not enough to as Campbell states, “participate in the world”, “say “yes to the world just as it is”-we need urgently to write anew a myth that can speak us-to save us young and old.

    Thank you all for this forum-for all your words of wisdom. In a sea of despair it is obvious there is hope in the combination of ideas, words, good will from all in this group.

    Richard Sumpter


      Maybe this should be a different topic, but this article was in my Alumni Bulletin and seems relevant for this group.  It is Maria Tatar’s collected versions of the tale Snow White from around the world and explains how they give us a way to think about what we prefer not to.

      The tale of Snow White and what the various versions mean to us

      Pilgrim 1




        Hey everyone; your posts I have been reading have been so inspiring and have addressed so many different aspects that have broadened out this subject I hardly know where to begin. There are several in particular though that I think really focus on what we are dealing with in a very succinct way that have to do with some of the more intense dimensions that are really affecting us in ways we have not been prepared for; namely emotional and psychological; not just physical.

        Richard’s incredibly thoughtful article articulates many of the political, sociological, and historical considerations in a breathtaking sweep with a nuanced understanding that informs areas not usually covered. His intricate time-lined approach connects the dots of a comprehensive overview in a way that not only informs but brings many of the often left out historical aspects into play thereby leaving the reader with a much better appreciation of not only where we are now; but how we got here. Really well done and a most welcome addition to this discussion. (Unfortunately it seems the “Snow White” piece did not appear; perhaps a technical issue of some sort is the reason for this mishap.)

        Mary; I can’t say enough about your and Richard’s contribution of Brian Swimme’s ideas to the topic; and yes; I think the mask problem is becoming a central issue we are having to deal with; and so much so that it is posing a severe threat for the spread of this virus quite possibly defining in many ways how much of this situation is going to play out at the moment; at least at this stage.

        This leads me to Johanna’s point; (whose name I misspelled last time; sorry about that because I couldn’t fix it then because of a technical issue); about the “global” aspect of this virus which to me is a huge deal. Her insights about the mythic, behavioral, and cultural dimensions are important I think; especially where Joseph ideas play into all of this because it underlies how we as psychological creatures respond to this crisis in the way we interpret it. And for me this says: “The Shadow” is now part of the conversation; and Jung’s ideas I think play a big part in this crisis drama we are now living in.

        Emotions are extremely ramped up by the anxieties we are all experiencing right now; and because we are all different we are going to experience and perceive it in different ways. Anxiety breeds fear and apprehension which can mean projection of content in how we interpret something. And if there are unconscious elements involved; which no doubt there will probably be depending on the circumstances; then I think it’s important to add this area of subject matter to the discussion.

        For instance; being in a closed confined space for extended periods of time with limited access to freedom of movement is going to add tremendous stress to an already emotional charged outlook. And because fear of the unknown; such as; dealing with something you can’t see and it’s possible health threat one is constantly aware of the dangers involved all around them in their everyday movements. Things like: don’t get too close to someone; don’t touch something that might be contaminated; be sure and keep at least 6 feet apart for anyone outside of your safety zone; and the big one: “You need to wear a mask!”

        So all day you move about; and every so often you are checking on the latest news report about the current state of the virus and how it is affecting the city you live in. And then there is navigating the outside world where the real danger of infection resides. (Nerve-racking?; you betcha!) There are more issues to add like what is your income and food situation? The people around you and how you get along on a day to day level over long extended periods; and do you have an area to get personal space when needed? Perhaps you are working and there are navigational and workplace concerns; a whole different set of circumstances to add to your situation. For those who are able there is of course lots of computer time on the internet and all kinds of influences to assimilate in your head; and then there is sleep; that is if you are able to because you are always thinking ahead to what’s next. Now for some what I have laid out may seem a bit extreme; but what many may be coming to understand is the term: “New Normal” is a realization that your old world has changed; quite possibly in a very dramatic way and you begin to consider getting back to your old normal may not be possible; and for some this can be a tremendous jolt to their sense of security. And then there are all those things you have buried in your unconscious; what Joseph called the: “landfill”; issues you have pushed down that are now they starting to surface because of all this stress and fear. And they affect you and how you feel about stuff and in the way you interpret things in a not so pleasant way.

        Now I don’t want to take this post too far away from the topic at hand; but I think this aspect of the emotional and psychological state people are dealing with as part of this discussion because; IMHO; I think it’s a major factor in the way the pandemic is unfolding; not only for those in one country but: “globally”. And here I think is where we are going to get into this idea of a new myth or way of looking at the world; culturally, biologically, and mythologically. Joseph had a number of thoughts on how he saw the future looking ahead; but he also stressed the individual myth was a major theme he referred to again and again. One of the things he mentions in: “The Power of Myth” is there two things that glue a society together: “aspiration and terror”; and he uses the great 12th century Cathedrals as a spiritual example of what he called: a seizure or madness; And because today’s cultural boundaries are disappearing; as he referred to with Spengler’s: “Decline of the West” he stated: “the individual is thrown back on him/herself and must learn to find their own way; and here is where the Hero/Adventure motif comes into play. So the idea of a new myth he said probably would not come about for a long time; if indeed at all because he said it seemed like this was a new and better way for a global society to come about. (Most of this was covered in Moyer’s POM series.)

        At any rate I’ll leave off here and see if this subject is something anyone want’s to pursue in relation to this topic. But I’ve started a separate thread on the Shadow with a couple of clips from the JCF collection of Joseph’s” Mythos I – from the: “Psyche and Symbol” section on Jung for anyone who may be interested listed in the Video section of the Forums.

        Richard Sumpter

          Thanks to jamesn for the kind words.  Maybe some of you can help me sort out some thoughts.

          As you may have gathered from my earlier posts, I have been doing a lot of thinking and a little writing on the concepts of individualism (particularly “rugged individualism” as exhibited in America) and communalism (not to be confused with communism or socialism).  Since joining this forum, I have been trying to integrate my thinking on these concepts with some of the theories Campbell espouses.

          There are two of his ideas that keep forcing their way into my consciousness.  The first is his theory of the monomyth as portrayed in the Hero’s Journey.  A truncated version has the individual leaving the realm of the known to pursue a quest into the unfamiliar and often dangerous realm. The circular journey is completed, and the status of hero is achieved when the individual, having overcome the challenges, returns to the community with a boon of some kind.  In other words, while becoming a hero may require individual achievements, heroism isn’t fully conferred until the individual returns to the community.  Campbell describes the hero (the individual) as someone who has given him/herself to something greater than self (the community).  This means living not in pursuit of what are perceived as individual needs but living primarily in terms of the community.  In that way, both the individual and the community benefit.

          While the Hero’s Journey can align with my views on individual vs. community, and I can integrate my thinking on it, it raises another problem that Campbell addresses.  I’m not sure there is a specific name for it in his lexicon, but it relates to the idea of duality, of positives and negatives.  In Moyers’ POM video he speaks to this while showing a picture of a Buddha in a cave in India.  He points out that the Buddha is looking straight ahead, but there are faces on either side looking to left and right.  He refers here to “the pairs of opposites,” and reflects on how we use this categorization to organize and understand what we perceive as reality.  We create the illusion of duality, but the reality is that all being is one.  Being is the single fundamental reality.  From this we derive the principle of contradiction: “A thing cannot be and not be at the same time in the same respect.”  All epistemology is based on this.

          Thus, while I use the Hero’s Journey to explain individual and community, I must realize that I am using dual thinking which creates the illusion of two somewhat opposite things while the reality is that they are one.  This tendency to reductionism – reducing a thing to its composite parts – is a product of science and the enlightenment.  Our understanding is enhanced by this “analysis” (the word in Greek means to break apart), but we lose something because of the difficulty of reuniting the parts back into the whole.

          Campbell raises another difficult concept in eschewing dual thinking.  He points out that the pairs of opposites are categories of thought devised by the human mind.  This really get difficult to wrap your mind around when he goes on to say that good and evil are ethical categories we have created.  They do not exist in the mind of God, where all things are one.  He is in synch with the Buddha when he admonishes us not to impose the labels.  We do not have to say that a thing is good or bad.  It just “is.”

          I’m getting a headache so I will end for now.  Thanks to those who could stay with me this far.  I know it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.


            Richard; I definitely hear you on this one; and I’m going to defer to Stephen on any added nuances concerning what Joseph’s final or definitive thoughts were on this. But I definitely have a few which I think have to do with his idea of what he called the: “Left-Hand Path” of the individual quest. One of the things I’ve seen develop over the years as Joseph’s work and ideas have become more well known is there has been a tendency to codify or “thou-shalt” certain: concepts, terms, or themes, that he has become known for within modern culture such as: “follow your bliss”, and “the hero journey, quest or adventure”; so that there has evolved a kind of what he might have called a “virtue manager” approach. In other words it has become in a way personalized or concretized to the extent that a personal must follow a certain kind of strict set of steps or specific order of sequenced experiences for their approach to be validated as: “the way”. So that if something is either left out or done in a way other than this specific prescription it’s somehow inauthentic. And I don’t think that is the message he was trying to explain or deliver at all. As a matter of fact to my way of thinking it goes against his maverick approach to the way he lived; and as a “Comparative Mythologist” in the things he tried to leave behind. One of the things he said was: “There is no one way; there are lots of ways; and you have to decide what you want yours to be.”

            What I get from his ideas is that the individual is following their own intuition; and that is paramount because you are not doing what you are “told” but following your own instincts; like a kind of detective solving a mystery; except that mystery is actual your life’s call to you to seek your own destiny; and that destiny is the potential that lies within you that is asking to be fulfilled; and part of the mission you might say is for you figure out what it’s message is telling you and to answer it. And you are the one who gets to decide the meaning of your life; not the religions or the dogmas that surround you; and I think that includes also some of the prescriptions surrounding the way some of Joseph’s ideas have been interpreted. Following your bliss; “the push out of your own existence” as he put it; it’s incredibly hard sometimes; full of agony and heartache and pain; but you get something for staying on that path that’s calling to you; you get the realizations that: this is what I need; this is who I am; and this is where I need to go no matter what; even though sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing!

            To know what a metaphor is was one of the main things Joseph stressed concerning religion; and like science there is a new “work in progress” version – like the ever-changing of the seasons of life coming into being all the time. You are unique; and that is an important concern he emphasized; so that to me it would seem like your headache is actually a good thing in the larger picture; and (although probably aggravating); it is a signal you are going through this metaphoric alchemical process of figuring out if you are on the right track or not. Life’s funny like that because sometimes what you think something is saying may really be telling you something entirely different. But seeing the road-signs; reading this mystery road-map “has no script”; and you are figuring it out as you go. (Humor of course can be a great help in all of this; because as he says: “it gives you spiritual distance”; you just may not always feel like laughing at time.) Something definitely worthy of remembering; especially after all the bangs and bruises one accumulates along the way.

            History is great for giving us background and a backstory for getting a sense of something; but Joseph spent his life trying to understand the messages of what the world’s myths were saying within a much larger context; they were the metaphors of heros just like we all are to be. Being and non-being are dual; but Joseph’s point was what we are seeking to understand goes past all that. The world is an old old story; and what I get from Joseph is that our job is to figure out our own path; making it up as we go by listening to what’s coming from inside; and that the answers we need will come from following that. And at the end of our journey our life validates those whether those clues that we followed; those experiences that we had; were written by the right author or not; and that author is you just like it is me and everyone else. One can say it’s the one great story; or that we are all interconnected by this “net of gems” or what ever metaphor work’s best; but if we do not answer that call that comes from our own inside how will we ever know it’s relevance to the one life we have been given the privilege to live.

            Richard; I don’t know if any of my thoughts adequately address your questions but that is what they seem to be saying to me and I hope they are in small way helpful.

            (I’m going to leave a piece of text in a separate post taken from one of my favorite sources for understanding many of Joseph’s ideas that may have some relevance to your questions that is taken from an interview Joseph did for Parabola Magazine back in December of 1976; and since it is now no longer available for view online; it will have the address of the entire piece listed at the bottom for purchase for those who may be interested.)

            In case there is a copyright concern and the below (section) of that piece has to be deleted here is that address:
            From Parabola Volume 1, No. 2, “Magic,” Spring 1976. This issue is available to purchase here. If you have enjoyed this piece, consider subscribing.


            Richard Sumpter


              Thanks for the expansive response.  I really appreciate the reminder about metaphor.  It’s one of my favorite tools.

              I would disagree though, that being/non-being is a duality.  Non-being is nothing so it can’t strictly be considered a “thing” which stands as an antipode to being.  All there is is being (IMOH).



              And just a very brief thought_ I shall expound on this more. Poets use metaphor to express exactly what James and Richard are considering. I have written two books of poetry in conversation with a colleague on this point. It is metaphor that allows for the sojourn into mystery of the god within. We can consider/express the god within if we circumvent our western propensity to think in terms of duality.


                Yes Johanna; Richard’s point has to do with a metaphoric reference. Joseph in the below clip describes this further in the clip below as a: “category” of thought. Being and non-being he describes as categories of thought; constructs of the human mind that are located within the field of time which he defines as dual. Light and dark; good and evil; and so on because they are opposites and therefore fall into this mode of thinking because human consciousness has created this construct.

                Because this format only takes one link at a time without pausing for a moderator to check it for outside spamming possibilities I will post a second clip in a second post where he describes this mythological insight and understanding further.

                Clip one from Bill Moyers: “The Power of Myth”:


                  Here is clip 2 from the JCF collection of short snippets covering various themes Joseph addresses that articulates why there is so much confusion and goes even deeper:


                  Richard – I re-posted your link to the Maria Tatars piece (quoting you and giving you full credit) in Mary’s “Multi-cultural Cinderella Tales; Equals but not the Same” thread in the Campbell in Culture forum. Seems to have more in common with that conversation.

                  Thanks for sharing!


                  James et al,

                  Thank you for posting the two links above. Yes, it is language that often positions us to think in dualities and to some extent this is easy-we choose a side and stay there. What is more difficult is to remain in the centre-to have to consider the tremendum fascinosum, because it requires a reconsideration of how we are thinking. There is always fear associate with such a leap but I think it is more life supporting. Perhaps we will at the very least eliminate some of the conflict that is based on thinking in this dual way that Campbell outlines in his interview with Moyers.

                  Consider also the wonderful experience of the mystery itself-we have become so arrogant to believe we know it all -this pandemic has proven it. Science is a gift that allows some ability to understand how we may deal with illness such as this one, but only on a certain level. There is a mystery here-pandemics continue to visit us -to invite us back to the mystery of it all. Viruses are not conscious of doing evil or good. They do “virus things”- invade, search a host, replicate, infect. God did not send it either-as Campbell points us-we are ill equipped to capture this in language. Nonetheless, I think myths can at least point us to this great mystery. I like the Hindu story of Brahma and the three gods that in conjunction with Brahma [Vishnu and Shiv] create the universe that is vast,  seemingly unending, and lead us to the brink of the mystery-Vishnu-the Lord of Speech seems only to provide us with some tools of expressing the mystery-not understanding it , but rather, being conscious it exists. We spend a life time in pursuit of understanding the mystery -the wise one is the one that understand it is not possible-but we should not stop trying. For me, humankind has created some of the most beautiful expressions of what this mystery might mean-poetry, fine art, music. Campbell expresses this in his sojourn into the Chartres. It is a sojourn into the mystery that is the transcendent. Poets express using the metaphor-the poet/philosopher Levinas understood this in his ethics of substitution. The metaphor in not the thing-in-itself. Rather it is the thing that points us to the transcendent.

                  We need not spend our time trapped in the duality we have as humans created. We can experience the full aspect of what it means to be alive. I found that this is profoundly given to us in the film version of Lord of the Rings as the wise man, Gandolph tells Frodo that even Golum [the evil] has a role to play on the grand stage of life.


                    Oh; Johanna; I love the way you articulate this. In my understanding Joseph illustrates in some of his various lectures; it is like driving a car with a parallax; you are seeing from one side of the road while driving but must also compensate for the other while doing so; as he puts it: (“we must find the middle”); in our interpretations of reality.

                    In Jungian terminology as with enantiodromia;  it is the adjustment to the other side; eventually finding our psychological center as we come to terms with our ego’s blind spot; our other emotional side. Our ego thinks it’s running the show and doesn’t want to recognize the psyche’s Shadow; that dark side we keep hidden from ourselves with all that painful ugly content buried in what Joseph called: “the landfill” of the personal unconscious; but the “Self as Archetype”; as the total regulating center of the entire psyche; has other plans in it’s desire to evolve and know itself and the “libido” as an agent activates this content to help regulate and balance the flow of psychic energy that has been blocked; (hence a transcendent function is created to break this stalemate); and the tension between these 2 opposing forces; if it can be held; helps to produce a “symbolic 3rd thing” that compensates this tension thereby releasing this energy flow and a new way of looking at things is produced and brought forth thereby enlarging the psyche’s ability for “growth”; which is it’s intent.

                    Joseph talks about this in several different ways; one of which is when there is an extreme swing to one side this produces an imbalance and so the hero goes forth looking for: “that which is missing” thereby a Quest is initiated. “The Call of the Unlived Life” would be one of these; but there may also be a situation where the Hero is thrown into a situation; (it is not self-initiated); our current Pandemic might be considered as such; it’s totally unexpected but must be dealt with whether alone in it’s isolation or in a group like our society. (Lots of variations of this “Hero theme”); but the challenge is to bring forth the gold of one’s own character in how the challenge is met. Jung tells us: “we are in a constant state of becoming”; and to my way of thinking this translates into: “we are all a work in progress” so to speak; so that the: “transcendent” if we can recognize it informs us.

                    (As you so elegantly stated):

                    “For me, humankind has created some of the most beautiful expressions of what this mystery might mean-poetry, fine art, music. Campbell expresses this in his sojourn into the Chartres. It is a sojourn into the mystery that is the transcendent. Poets express using the metaphor-the poet/philosopher Levinas understood this in his ethics of substitution. The metaphor in not the thing-in-itself. Rather it is the thing that points us to the transcendent.

                    We need not spend our time trapped in the duality we have as humans created. We can experience the full aspect of what it means to be alive. I found that this is profoundly given to us in the film version of Lord of the Rings as the wise man, Gandolph tells Frodo that even Golum [the evil] has a role to play on the grand stage of life.


                    Hi Robert, I like your associative leap to the Mothers and the Black Madonna to Black Lives Matter.

                    –Mary Ann

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