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The Way of Art and Two-Way Roads” with Mythologist Craig Deininger”

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      Dr. Deininger,

      I enjoy your editing skills. Thank you. The inspiration for my riff was your MythBlast , Plotinus along with archaic syncretism , Neil deGrasse Tyson on quantum physics ,  James Joyce , Joseph Campbell . I think of my post as a musing , stream of consciousness  that flows as a mixed cocktail chilled , spilled , shaken not stirred , served Up . The way spirits should .





      Yes, I could feel the stream of consciousness at work. Just wanted to say regarding my editing, is that I have trained my own ear when it comes to writing, to attend to those moments where the poetry feels most, hmm, poetic, whether in the feels of the sounds of the language, meter, rhythm, etc. and of course come through. It’s an entirely biased process. But I try to steer clear of ‘editing’ per se, when I point these areas out in others’ work. It’s more feedback from “an” ear of what seemed (and in keeping with our numinous theme) most numinous. And when I do that, I risk selecting content that the author may feel the same towards. But regardless of whose ear it resonates with, each line or stanza I highlight, I like to approach as a new numinous kernel, like a symbol, that points in a new direction that may be explored. Or around which an entire new poem may be built, or the poem itself built out more. So, didn’t want my reworking of your poem to come across as definitive, rather as a series of windows into new terrains, all.


      Thanks, Jamesn.

      I am just now coming back from the work which always seems to take longer than how I envision it will. Well, Saturn’s in his own sign these days, so that settles that. Anyway, being a bit clearer, there was one thought I wanted to build on a moment, which deals with all the claiming of autonomy/individuation business and the risk/courage aspect, too.

      As I reread what I had written, I heard a some inflation in the tone (even if I did say this kind of claiming is not the inflated type…). And I hold to that as a principle. But lately been feeling that if one is not in Samadhi/enlightened status, and not holding that supreme Middle Road, razor’s edge between the opposites, then one is to err in one direction or another. Or even if the enlightened do go off the middle road, I bet they take that not-middle road very middle-roadedly!

      Anyway, inflation and deflation. With my creative writing students I respect both, so when I nudge them a little to the inflated side, they question it. Rightly so. I’ll call it “attitude” both in lay terms and in Jungian, though with the latter, deflation equally qualifies as attitude. At its worst, inflated expression is narcissistic, indulgent, and smug. But at its best it can make for pretty damn interesting writing! And outside of writing, surely it often can accomplish valuable things in the day-to-day, and in its lighter form, could we simply call it “confidence?” Confidence accomplishes things. Just look at athletes. How likely to see the task through were the baseball player to say: “Oh, he’s throwing 90 mph, I don’t think I’ll be able to hit it.” So, in seeking out things like what on earth “numinous” means, I think it can open some ways that otherwise would not have been opened. Or, to quote Wendy Doniger: “It is impossible to define myth, but it is cowardly not to try.” And perhaps connect on that fastball.

      By the way, to reveal my bias, although it doesn’t sound like it I’m sure, I do prefer the deflated, or even humble side. Since there is a sincerity to that, and since I prefer the quiet spaces where the resonance is on, and volume is simply redundant, or worse, it just cheaply drowns out the subtler, deeper aspects of a thing. And also there’s the virtues that accompany the humble (and now I’m conflating deflated and humble, but will be inflated enough to press on): thoughtfulness, patience, acceptance, are usually associated with this humility/deflation. And archetypally, it pairs well with wisdom and spiritual development (Buddha and the begging bowl, the less or “emptier” of the Tao: like how the walls make the room, but the empty space that the walls define are where the value resides. Or “He who does not know speaks. He who knows speaks not.” (Maybe I should be mindful of that last part–ha).

      I guess the whole point is that sometimes, against all wisdom, (or perhaps a greater wisdom?) inflation is the side to err on. Perhaps, just a little bit. Too deep into it and an Icarus crash and burn, or crash and sink, rather, is inevitable.

      I remember one time in Los Angeles, a young man, maybe 15, was testing out his inflated attitude. He had the pants cinched by a belt at his thighs, boxers up to the waist, arms swinging, stomping like an elephant down the sidewalk. And he ruled that sidewalk! because we got out his way! But then the hem of his pants tripped him up and he went down hard–like a board. He quickly got up and scurried off. We all quietly smiled at each other. No one laughed out loud, though. We felt ambivalent. I mean, it was amusing as hell, but also empathy was activated. But on top of that, even if it was overdone, there was a courage involved in just commandeering the sidewalk like that. Only in this case, it didn’t quite open out into some profound mythic discovery. But then, maybe it had.

      Okay, been going on long enough, Anyway, I think embracing a position of imbalance between the opposites is valuable. Life regularly pushes us into having to anyway!  So bottom line, I suppose embracing imbalance is a balancing act. And knowing when to mildly inflate or step down in a particular context, a kind of wisdom. And bottom bottom line, I think there are times when all parties involved lose when we don’t take a little risk and step up into it, like approaching “what is numinous,” for example.  And if we miss, strike out, fall hard on the concrete, well, in the solid, confident, courageous words of Jack Nicholson’s McMurphy: “Well I tried, didn’t I?  Goddammit, at least I did that.”





        Craig; thank you for refining this last part for indeed in each of our journeys it is the: “riding of the leopard without being torn to pieces”; on which our trajectory puts us that makes this: “at least I tried damn it” so critically important. This thing Joseph Campbell called: “One’s Bliss”; that push out of our own existence that Joseph informs us takes us out on the razor’s edge path into the dark unknown forest by ourselves where we have no idea of where we are going except we know we have to go. That dark night of the soul’s journey filled with self-doubt and constant struggle which contains moments of deep despair and yet in the distance there is a “numinous” glow; that “Telesphorus Lantern” that leads us on telling our heart and soul this where I have to go because this is who and what I am. The answers I am seeking are there because the experiences I am having tell me so in a language that only I can understand.

        Thank you for this incredibly illuminating set of posts that have been so exhilarating to partake with you. (I have left a private message in the top left side panel of this forum where you click on the bottom right corner to open which I hope is self-explanatory on how much I have enjoyed it.)

        I will leave a separate link here that may better explain my thoughts on why I think these things we’ve been talking about are so extremely important in today’s Covid moment in time.


        We would like to extend our thanks to Craig Deininger, Ph.D. for spending the week with us in Conversations of Higher Order.

        Craig, thank you for giving so generously of your time, and the thoughts you have shared. Though of course we understand you do have other commitments you must attend to, don’t be surprised if the conversation continues on without you (which is part of the fun – indeed, I’m likely to add a comment or two myself).

        We look forward to doing more of the same with your next essay, should you be willing.



        Thank you so much, Stephen. It was a pleasure–or rather, has been so far, since I will remain attentive to the posts and respond, although perhaps in a little-bit-less-timely manner. The process has been fulfilling and inspires me to think more on the mythic. It is refreshing how “real” the explorations and voices have been in our conversation, and I look forward to more.

        Before I dive into 170 pages of my students’ creative writing projects that await feedback and grades, I wish to leave off with one of my favorite Campbell quotes, and one that I think is quite pertinent to the times we are now facing (and since this topic came up earlier in the conversation). The quote is from the Power of Myth (again), and although I’ve read plenty of Campbell’s more scholarly work, it seems that during this thread I’ve come full-circle back to favoring this one—perhaps because our first posts reminded me of where and how I first “met” Joseph Campbell. Or, perhaps because it is an interview, and therefore, spoken-word, on-the-spot, and sincere in its spontaneity and simplicity. Speaking of simplicity, the quote is from the opening moment of that interview, where Campbell is responding to the very first prompt: “Why myths?”

        And he says: “One of our problems today is that we are not well acquainted with the literature of the spirit. We’re interested in the news of the day and the problems of the hour” (3).

        And I think that quite sums it up. He does not say “spiritual literature,” but rather, “literature of the spirit.” A very big difference, there. Certainly, the news of the day is necessary. But the myths are essential (emphasis on that word’s root: essence). The news is urgent and uncertain. But the myths are timeless and stable, and I think we could use a good dose of those sorts of influences these days. In fact, I daresay it is urgent! So, sure, here’s a good, urgent-news headline that I’d love to see on some front-page:


        Oh, and by the “good-life,” I really just mean “life,” which, as anyone acquainted with myth will agree, is precisely as good as it gets.



          Great food for thought,

          It would take Murfy’s law and an American Indian a indigenous native of the the land to get the job done. Such great symbolism … detaching … raising up … the plumbing from the underworld , throwing it through the window to provide an escape. Very iconic.

          Joseph Campbell would be proud an American Indian was  Chosen  to part the waters !!! Release the waters from below of the deep !!! Actualize exodus from the  Institution  .

          The hospital was a hot bed of Freudian and Jungian complexes. A microcosm of the human mind and its weaknesses.

          The Chief experienced quite the departure, initiation, and return !!! From the Institution.



          I must first admit that I am maybe a little out of my league here. Everyone’s insights are so beautiful. But I am moved by this discussion and would like to share the few thoughts I have had.

          I am new to Campbell, although, his teachings feel familiar in a way that is not simply a recollection but rather what has been there all along. Truths that live readily available if only they could be spoken aloud. And Mr. Campbell seems to do just that.

          With that said, I am reminded of a lesson by Caroline Myss gave where she explained the difference between thinking about God and experiencing God. That when the stuff that animates all things, animates within us, we break through some sort of barrier. I wonder of this obstruction perhaps is our own sense of individualness, a separation from all that is, that instead dissolves into all that is. Even if for but a brief moment. One time, my mother and I were at a Joann Fabrics perusing the aisles. Seemingly at the same time, we both saw this spool of dark blue ribbon with tiny strands of gold weaved into it. It took our breath away, we were completely taken by this beautiful, mysterious, sensual color. An experience I think we are always trying to get back to with one another. A place where we were of the same. Was it not the numinosity evoked by that simple object that connected us beyond ourselves?

          I am not sure this is on track, but I’m sending my thoughts forward anyway.

          With love and honor,

          Whitney (vitalumen)



          You mention returning to The Power of Myth interviews “perhaps because it is an interview, and therefore, spoken-word, on-the-spot, and sincere in its spontaneity and simplicity.”

          Indeed, over the years I have found myself dividing Campbell’s work into two broad categories, which in my mind I call “written Campbell” and “spoken Campbell.”

          I love “written Campbell” – e.g. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, The Masks of God, etc – well written, densely packed sentences and paragraphs, with exhaustive footnotes.

          But what most strikes a chord with the public seems “spoken Campbell” – whether the Power of Myth and other interviews (e.g. An Open Life: Joseph Campbell in Conversation with Michael Toms) and discussions (The Hero’s Journey; A Joseph Campbell Companion, etc.), as well as books edited from lectures (Myths To Live By, Pathways to Bliss, etc.).

          Campbell’s writing is beautiful (he read every word aloud to Jean, which helps when I come across a complex passage that I don’t get at first: I’ll read it aloud, paying attention to the rhythm provided by the punctuation), but there is a spontaneity and charm to Joe just talking. I believe “spoken Campbell” is much more accessible than his more scholarly work, though both draw from the same well.



          Carolyn Myss is right on with her distinction between “thinking about” and actual experience of the transcendent – and I love your personal example (a mystical experience in a fabric store!).

          But what really speaks to my experience is your observation that

          his teachings feel familiar in a way that is not simply a recollection but rather what has been there all along. Truths that live readily available if only they could be spoken aloud. And Mr. Campbell seems to do just that.”

          When I first read Joseph Campbell, and even more when I viewed the Power of Myth, it was an “aha!” moment for me – not because he was speaking “new truth” or was telling us “This is the way – walk ye therefore in it,” but because he was articulating things I had felt and known for a few years, but had never quite been able to put into words until Joe came along.

          I believe he helped so many of us find our own voice – which seems clear from your comment (you are not “out of your league” at all).

          Thanks for adding your voice to the discussion (and please feel free to jump into any other threads in these forums that draw your interest, even those that may seem to have faded out – all it take is one new comment or observation to breathe new life into a conversation)



          Hi Whitney and Stephen,

          At last I find a moment of leisure to respond to your words. Whitney, I hear you on what Caroline Myss shares regarding thinking about “God” and experiencing “God.” And how the ‘stuff that animates things, animates within us.’ And in the case you shared, all this through a dark blue ribbon with strands of gold woven into it.

          From there paths of inquiry open up, like symbol, or beauty as a catalyst, or equally, the rational investigation of the distinctions between thinking and experiencing. But I don’t want to follow any of those and instead jump to the end of your post where I think you provide an answer as good as any for all of us (ironically in a question): “Was it not the numinosity evoked by that simple object that connected us beyond ourselves?”

          Not to intentionally complicate matters, but I don’t even think I’ll follow the “numinosity evoked by the object”-part, even though it offers itself to the wide world of symbol-approach, the whole connotation (or experienced connotations) behind or beyond the image, which is of great value. And I think you have a priceless symbol here, and will leave it at that.

          The reason I keep writing about everything I don’t want to write about is because these topics are precisely what I do want to get to the heart of, and I’m thinking on this Sunday morning that in going beyond them, I may perhaps get nearer to them (which is a procedure that your insights inspired).

          How is this? Specifically, it is with the phrase you shared: “connected us beyond ourselves.” Wow! What that means, well, I could make some decent guesses, I suppose. But what it does when I read it, now that’s where it opens up. For one, it feels like it reminds me of something I’ve always known but rarely remember. I am attentive to it also because it’s a paradox, and paradoxes seem to provide some of the deepest truths, whether in the form of Zen koans or the uncertainty principle in quantum physics, or in literary irony, etc., etc.

          And now I have to digress to progress. Again! (last time, I promise). Just to get into the spirit of paradox, into the beyond-ourselves, instead of defining what one is and flattening it out, let me share my all-time favorite paradox so it can simply “do” what it does and let that be the definition:

          A monk asked his master Tozan, who was weighing some flax: What is Buddha?                                    Tozan said: This flax weighs three pounds.

          …(ten minutes later)… I just love that. Anyway, back to your paradox of connecting beyond ourselves. If a dark blue ribbon with gold threading is somehow involved in transporting you and your mother beyond youselves where you connect in some “beyond-you” space, then I think you are also getting into that “all that is” region that you mention earlier. Which I think we all have tasted of to whatever degree, and each in their own unique circumstances (otherwise everyone would be lined up around the block for blue ribbons threaded with gold). Lucky for you, they’re all yours.

          So, “connecting beyond ourselves?” I have no idea what it means or how it works. But I know it’s true. And it’s that kind of knowing that we could never prove. And more importantly, it’s the kind that we’d never need to. And so, as your write in the very beginning of your post: “The difference between thinking about ‘God’ and experiencing ‘God.'”




            It is interesting that Master Tozan used imperial measurement rather than metric or archaic Japanese.  Translations do leave artifacts worthy of investigation. The myth poetics of Flax weaves an interesting tale  …

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