Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth

Or find your Sacred Space

I have been listening to the audio version of an old PBS series with Bill Moyer interviewing teacher and philosopher Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth. To say it’s been a game-changer for me would be a massive understatement. What an absolute beauty of a man and intellect. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be a student of his, but I feel fortunate to have his books and items like this series still around. What an absolute delight it is to listen to these men in conversation.

BILL MOYERS: What does it mean, to have a sacred place?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: This is a term I like to use now as an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour a day or so, where you do not know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe to anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you, but a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. And first you may find that nothing’s happening there, but if you have a sacred place and use it, and take advantage of it, something will happen.

BILL MOYERS: This place does for you what the plains did for the hunter…

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: For them the whole thing was a sacred place, do you see? But most of our action is economically or socially determined, and does not come out of our life. I don’t know whether you’ve had the experience I’ve had, but as you get older, the claims of the environment upon you are so great that you hardly know where the hell you are. What is it you intended? You’re always doing something that is required of you this minute, that minute, another minute. Where is your bliss station, you know? Try to find it. Get a phonograph and put on the records, the music, that you really love. Even if it’s corny music that nobody else respects, I mean, the one that you like or the book you want to read, get it done and have a place in which to do it. There you get the “thou” feeling of life. These people had it for the whole world that they were living in.

Most mornings, I get up around 4:30 and head into my basement where I do some yoga or exercise, meditate, read or listen to items like the audiobook above, make coffee, read and answer emails from friends, and prepare for the day. I purposely avoid cracking open the Internet or anything external until after I’ve done this, then headed upstairs to see my kids off to school and wife off to work.

Yesterday, while drywalling a new room in my basement, listening to Mr. Moyers and Mr. Campbell talk, the section above deeply resonated with me. Mr. Campbell definitely knew his stuff.

The last week or so, the renovations and the associated temporary restructuring of living spaces (one of my kids is now sleeping in my home office space) have made it difficult for me to get this time in, but I’m ok, knowing that in another few days, they’ll be done and I’m looking forward to getting back into the routine – back into my sacred space.

Productivity & Distraction

Cal Newport dropped Staying Productive on Distracted Days over on his blog and it’s a nail-on-the-head observation for me.

“Productivity” is a slippery term. It’s often used to refer exclusively to the rate at which you produce value for your business or employer. I tend to apply it more broadly to describe the intentional allocation of your time and attention toward things that matter to you and away from diversions that don’t.

A lot of days, this probably involves a solid push on professional activities, as craft is an important part of cultivating a deep life. But not every day. If there are consequential national events transpiring, or you’re dealing with a crisis in your personal life, or you’re not feeling well, a productive day doesn’t necessarily require steady progress through a task list.”

Since the switch to working from home as a result of Covid-19, this has become a daily reality for me. I’ve come to look at it more as being ‘productive’ on the project of what David Cain likes to call ‘getting better at being human’. Sometimes that means day-job work and sometimes it applies to other things as well. In the end, both streams benefit.

Ethics of the Attention Economy

Found this article, Ethics of the Attention Economy: The Problem of Social Media Addiction, via Cal Newport’s post, A Modest Proposal: Deweaponizing Network Effects. It’s a great read – I mean, you know – if academic papers on business, ethics, the internet and social media are your kind of thing. I can dig it.

“In this section, we argued that addicting users to social media is impermissible because it involves unjustifiably harming them in a way that is demeaning and objectionably exploitative. We argued that addicting users to social media harms them in ways that violate their rights and that these harms are not justified given that whatever benefits social media may provide, they can be realized without addiction. Second, the way in which social media companies have users contribute to making the platforms themselves more addictive, we argued, is particularly perverse because it involves a demeaning insult. Furthermore, addicting users is a morally objectionable form of exploitation that is especially troubling because the pervasiveness and legitimate role the internet plays in our lives create for some users an inescapable vulnerability to such exploitation.”

– Vikram Bhargava and Manuel Velasquez

Rudderless and Loving It

I was reading an article over at the Atlantic, The Prophecies of Q – this stuff is remotely interesting, in a car-crash kind of way. One part struck me:

In a Miami coffee shop last year, I met with a man who has gotten a flurry of attention in recent years for his research on conspiracy theories—a political-science professor at the University of Miami named Joseph Uscinski. I have known Uscinski for years, and his views are nuanced, deeply informed, and far from anything you would consider knee-jerk partisanship. Many people assume, he told me, that a propensity for conspiracy thinking is predictable along ideological lines. That’s wrong, he explained. It’s better to think of conspiracy thinking as independent of party politics. It’s a particular form of mind-wiring. And it’s generally characterized by acceptance of the following propositions: Our lives are controlled by plots hatched in secret places. Although we ostensibly live in a democracy, a small group of people run everything, but we don’t know who they are. When big events occur—pandemics, recessions, wars, terrorist attacks—it is because that secretive group is working against the rest of us.

QAnon isn’t a far-right conspiracy, the way it’s often described, Uscinski went on, despite its obviously pro-Trump narrative. And that’s because Trump isn’t a typical far-right politician. Q appeals to people with the greatest attraction to conspiracy thinking of any kind, and that appeal crosses ideological lines. QAnon carries on a tradition of apocalyptic thinking that has spanned thousands of years. It offers a polemic to empower those who feel adrift.

– Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic

Normally I wouldn’t have mentioned it, but it made me think immediately of a quote I read recently from Alan Moore:

“Yes, there is a conspiracy, indeed there are a great number of conspiracies, all tripping each other up … the main thing that I learned about conspiracy theories is that conspiracy theorists actually believe in the conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is chaotic. The truth is, that it is not the Jewish banking conspiracy, or the grey aliens, or the twelve-foot reptiloids from another dimension that are in control, the truth is far more frightening; no-one is in control, the world is rudderless.”

Wikipedia

I remember this quote striking me as the notion of the ‘truth being that no-one is in control’ could be viewed as frightening – or conversely, liberating, if you so choose. The realization that things aren’t the way they are for you due to someone else’s actions or plans – or another being entirely, but rather because they simply are what is, provides one a great deal of latitude. Deciding how you are going to process and accept that knowledge can go a long way in helping you decide how to comport yourself moving forward.

Carry Wood

My 3 cords of firewood were delivered and I set about stacking it to dry. I worked a little each day, in chunks. Partly because it was a good mental exercise break, but also because the heat was pretty serious at times.

There’s been volumes written about the merits of manual labor – in case you haven’t read any of it, the TLDR is that it’s good for you.

I most often stack my wood in silence, choosing to enjoy and absorb the sounds around me and the voices in my head. On one particular occasion, I decided to listen to some music via my Air Pods. It was different.

I was stacking my wood like usual, thinking about all the other things I had to do, what was currently wrong and all the other things that had to be sorted as my playlist churned out in the Air Pods. Gary Clark Jr’s live version of ‘When My Train Pulls In’ came on. I thought how amazing it was that I was walking back and forth in the middle of my yard, in the woods – in the middle of nowhere essentially – on a nice overcast day with a slight breeze keeping the bugs down and at the same time I was being steamrolled by the music this man was making – or channelling – in another time and another place.

As the solo in the song peaked, I realized that none of that stuff I was thinking about prior really mattered. That, indeed, there was no place I could be other than where I was right at that moment, doing what I was doing, because everything had led to that moment – there was no way things could be otherwise. There was no way I could be anywhere else, doing anything else, there, or in the Universe at large. Nothing could have changed the things that were wrong, or sorted what needed sorting, or finished what needed doing. I was supposed to be right where I was. So everything was alright – and couldn’t get alrighter.

That was my satori moment with Zen master Gary Clark Jr.