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When the Adventure is a Drag

BY Mark C.E. Peterson March 27, 2022

Bored wolf by Johnathan Nightingale, 2015, via Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Joseph Campbell Foundation MythBlast Series has spent March musing about The Adventure and reading Campbell’s Pathways to Bliss which, let’s face it, sounds exciting: filled with presentiment, and descriptive of that happy flow state you can taste when deeper truths appear out of nowhere as you race through town hitting nothing but green lights. It harks to that experience of being in the slot, surfing the curl, on the glidepath with the gods helping to taxi you in. Woohoo, I’m on The Adventure now! you hum to yourself as the world brightens and the qi flow turns the dull miasmic stone soup of every-day-life into an iridescent thrill ride. 

Well, for a while, anyway. You know what I mean.

Everything is going great and then you get interrupted by some seemingly petty piece of daily life. It jumps into your lane and suddenly you’re hitting nothing but red lights. It chokes off the oxygen. The world turns from a wonderland into a dull blizzard of busywork and endless lists. Irritability flips a switch and turns all that sparkle back into shades of tedious, deathly gray.

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Now, we all know that these periods of normal (mundane, pedestrian, dreary, tedious, dull, routine, commonplace, prosaic, uninspired) life happen all the time, but knowing this intellectually doesn’t help. Boredom puts out your fires and all you can do is gather kindling, pile it up and, with whatever hope you have left, smack flint and steel together and pray something catches. 

“Spiritual dryness happens” should be the flipside of every “Follow your bliss” bumper sticker.

Right.

But if real life intrudes on the adventure, sometimes adventure intrudes on real life.

So for my MythBlast this month I was trying to piece together something on The Adventure and Pathways to Bliss and how the adventure requires bliss or how bliss is the endpoint of the adventure and what all of this has to do with Aristotle’s observation that wonder provides access to the architecture of the universe… but seriously, I just wasn’t feeling it. We’re years into covid, we hear the inexorable drumbeat of wars and rumors of wars, our politics has become exhaustingly tribal and, more immediately, I’m in the tumbling and disorienting process of moving in with my amazing significant other. Moving should be a time of excitement, a pathway to bliss all on its own, and metaphorically rich— “you’re in motion! —but I’m pooped.  Moving is boring and relentless and repetitive.  Moving requires cleaning up the place you’ve left and preparing the place you’re headed. Painting, countertops, plumbing, all sorts of stuff. I don’t want a metaphorically rich experience, dammit. I just want it to be done. At times like this, life can feel so mundane that you wonder whether you’re on an adventure at all—or whether you’ve ever been on an adventure.

If you’re like me, this is when you start whining: “What about my damned adventure?  Why do I have to do all of this boring stuff?  And where did all of this junk come from?  And why does the end of the packing tape keep disappearing into the roll??”  

With Charlie Brown I howl, Aaugh!

I was bored with the remorseless persistence of all the trivial, annoying, but mission-critical details that had to be taken care of—and, right on cue, the final straw arrived when my significant other noticed that the floors in the new place were a mess and that maybe we should pick out new ones. 

Great, I thought, one more thing to add to the endless list.

But with that breathtakingly mundane observation the adventure, as it tends to, intruded on my real life.

It’s embarrassing to say this, but it must have taken two weeks before I realized that we were picking out new floors for our relationship.

I’ll repeat that: A new relationship needs new flooring.

I hate it when it’s this obvious. The observation was metaphorically rich in ways that could not be ignored and, boom—all the fires roared back to life. 

Suddenly I found meaning again, a new pathway to bliss, and all it took was to notice the myth, the metaphor, hiding in plain sight—in the literal sense of picking out new floors. Suddenly the flooring was no longer something in a List of Sisyphus; it became symbolic: transparent to transcendence, in Campbell’s language. Picking out new flooring became more than flooring. It became an acknowledgement that our new lives needed a new foundation and, just as suddenly, picking out a new garbage can became a search for the Holy Grail.

That’s what I mean about the adventure intruding to remind you that, as dreary as the world can be, meaningful adventures and pathways to bliss still lurk around every corner—and under every floorboard.

 

Thanks for musing along! 

 

Discuss this MythBlast with the author and the rest of the JCF community in our dedicated thread in Conversations of a Higher Order.

Mark C.E. Peterson is Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies with the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, and President of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture.  He began his work at the University of Toronto focused primarily on Hegel’s natural philosophy and its links to the history of science and technology. These interests evolved to constellate around the larger questions of how humans are related – scientifically, philosophically, and spiritually – to nature. A practitioner of both taijiquan and kundalini yoga for over 40 years his academic research is currently engaged in a semiotic analysis of the relationship between explanatory and narrative/mythological accounts of nature and an Aristotelian re-examination of environmental ethics.
Myth or Dreams from The Hero with a Thousand Faces

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In his later work, Campbell would say, “Myth is other people’s religion, and religion is misunderstood myth.” Thus, in the opening paragraph of this piece, Campbell evokes in his midcentury American reader’s mind as foreign (and as stereotyped) an image of other people’s religion as he could: “the dreamlike mumbo jumbo of some red-eyed witch doctor of the Congo.” His point, elaborated through the rest of the piece, is to break down his reader’s “aloof amusement” at this outré figure and to show that, whatever the societal surface, all myth, dream, and religion flow from the same universal underground source. This is the subversive premise of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, even more radical than its laying out the structure of the monomyth, the Hero’s Journey® schema, for which the book is so justly lauded.

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