Pathways to Bliss

Mythology and Personal Transformation
by Joseph Campbell | New World Library © 2004 · 194 pages

This is one of the three books by Campbell we cover and in this Note, we'll learn why following our bliss is so important (hint: our bliss is the transcendent wisdom within us bubbling up!) and how we can more courageously follow it in our lives (hint: say "Yes!" to life more often!). We'll also look at how we can make the simple things in our life part of our heroic journey and how going for it isn't an ego trip.

“There are something like 18 billion cells in the brain alone. There are no two brains alike; there are no two hands alike; there are no two human beings alike. You can take your instructions and your guidance from others, but you must find your own path.”

~ Joseph Campbell from Pathways to Bliss

This is the third Note I’ve created on Joseph Campbell. As I mention in the others (see Notes on A Joseph Campbell Companion and The Power of Myth), Campbell sits in the Granddaddy slot in my spiritual family tree. I hart Grandpa Joe. :)

This book is from the collected works series New World Library and the Joseph Campbell Foundation are assembling. The prose and the presentation are stunningly beautiful.

If you haven’t explored Campbell and his hero’s journey yet, get on it! I trust you’ll enjoy my Notes on this gem, Pathways to Bliss—which provides some Big Ideas on applying the power of myth to transforming our modern lives.

Bliss = The Transcendent Wisdom Within You

“Your bliss can guide you to that transcendent mystery, because bliss is the welling up of the energy of the transcendent wisdom within you. So when the bliss cuts off, you know that you’ve cut off the welling up; try to find it again.”


That’s beautiful: “…bliss is the welling up of the energy of the transcendent wisdom within you.”

As I mention in the other Notes, Campbell initially arrived at his sense we should follow our bliss when studying the ancient Upanishads—the core texts of Hinduism.

The classic Sanskrit scriptures tell us there are three jumping off points to enlightenment: sat (beingness), chit (consciousness), and ananda (bliss).

Cambell says he wasn’t sure what his proper “beingness” looks like and same with his “consciousness.” But his “bliss”? He knew what THAT felt like and figured if that was one of the three pathways to enlightenment, he’d follow it!

And, he likes to say, it seems to have worked out pretty well. :)

So, KNOW that there’s an incredibly transcendent wisdom within you and it wells up THROUGH YOUR BLISS! Meaning: When you feel joy, bliss, rapture, it’s because GOD is flowing through you. And, well, that’s a good thing. :)

Alternatively, when you DON’T feel that bliss, that’s a sure sign you’ve disconnected from your Source. Then what? Then it’s time to find it again.

How? Follow your bliss.

Think the thoughts, do the things, and be around the people who help you feel radiantly alive.

Abraham-Hicks says that we have an Emotional Guidance System that tells us whether or not we’re connected to Source. We feel great when we’re plugged in. Not so great when we’re not. The trick is to check in to how we’re feeling, know that our emotions are an amazing tool to help us tune in and then CHOOSE better feeling thoughts as we take inspired action in our lives. Fun!

The individual must learn to live by his or her own myth.
Joseph Campbell
In the West, you have the liberty and the obligation of finding out what your destiny is. You can discover it for yourself. But do you?
Joseph Campbell

Your Life Composed by A Novelist

“In a wonderful essay called ‘On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual,’ Schopenhauer points out that, once you have reached an advanced age, as I have, as you look back over your life, it can seem to have had a plot, as though composed by a novelist. Events that seemed entirely accidental or incidental turn out to have been central to the composition…

Another astonishing way to look back is to pick up some diary entries or notes that you kept a long time ago. You’ll be astonished. Things you were convinced you had realized more recently will all be pinned down there. These are the driving themes of your life.”

Reminds me of Emerson (see Notes). He says: “The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency.” And reminds us that: “The years teach us much the days never knew.”

Isn’t it amazing how, when we look back on our lives we can see a set of beautiful themes and a remarkably coherent story line that looks like it was composed by a novelist?!?

What are YOUR big themes?

As you explore your memories and your diaries, what ideas do you come back to again and again and again?!? Can you see the bliss these ideas bring into your life? Can you structure your life so you’re more consistently swimming in ‘em?

Speaking of novelists and life scripts and all that jazz, don’t forget that the word “authentic” and “author” come from the same root. So, if you want an authentic life, you’ve gotta be your own author!

Get on that masterpiece that is your life, will ya?! I’m giddy to see the next chapter. :)

(That reminds me of a story my friend Tripp Lanier shared during one of our chats on his show “The New Man.” He says we should imagine our life as a novel. And ask ourselves: “Would I really want to keep reading this book or is it wayyyyy to boring to even want to get to the next chapter?!?” Hah. Awesome standard to know whether we’re rockin’ it or not, eh? :)

Life Is Calling

“When the call isn’t answered, you experience a kind of drying up and a sense of life lost.”

Life is calling. Are you answering?

If not, beware.

No matter how much you try to numb yourself, the pain’s not going away. Not till you step up and answer the call. Then? Well, then God’s on the line and flowing through you.

Enter: Bliss, Enthusiasm, all the things you want but are afraid you may not get so you keep on doing the same ‘ol, same ‘ol. :)

* ring ring *

* ring ring *

PICK UP, already! :)

The basic story of the hero journey involves giving up where you are, going into the realm of adventure, coming to some kind of symbolically rendered realization, and then returning to the field of normal life.
Joseph Campbell

Say “Yes,” Please

“‘Since all is brahmin, since all is the divine radiance, how can we say no to anything? How can we say no to ignorance? How can we say no to brutality? How can we say no to anything?’ To this he said, ‘For you and me, we say yes.’”

Are you saying yes to it all?


“The scientist knows that at any moment facts may be found that make the present theory obsolete; this is happening now constantly. It’s amusing. In a religious tradition, the older the doctrine, the truer it is held to be.”
Joseph Campbell

Bringing the Boon Back

“The whole idea is that you’ve got to bring out again that which you went to recover, the unrealized, unutilized potential in yourself. The whole point of this journey is the reintroduction of this potential into the world; that is to say, to you living in the world. You are to bring this treasure of understanding back and integrate it in a rational life. It goes without saying, this is very difficult. Bringing the boon back can be even more difficult than going down into your own depths in the first place.”

First things first: “Boon.” What a sweet word. Defined as “a thing that is helpful or beneficial as in: the navigation system will be a boon to both civilian and military users.” Boon. :)

Alright. Now that we’ve got that squared away… :)

So the hero goes on his or her journey. For what? To discover (and recover) the unrealized, unutilized potential in yourself! Then what? Then we return with the boon. :)

And THAT can be even more difficult than the first part of the journey!

As Emerson says: “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

You might’ve noticed that it’s kinda challenging to REALLY give your highest self to the world, eh? So, even after all this work, all this heroic growth, all this discovery and recovery of our latent potentialities, it’s STILL hard to come back to the world and get our shine on, huh?


Welcome to the hero’s journey. And, let’s not forget that it’s the RETURN that’s the most essential part of the trip. :)

So… Where are YOU on your journey?

Do you need to head out? Or do you need to return?

(Fun. And, don’t forget: Life is really one beautiful journey and return after another so don’t get too comfie (and/or stressed, of course) with wherever you’re at. :)

Your Spiritual Practice? I Underline Books

“For myself, well, Alan Watts once asked me what spiritual practice I followed. I told him, ‘I underline books.’ It’s all in how you approach it.”


That. Is. Classic.

Campbell spent five years during the Depression READING, READING, and READING. Love it.

What’s YOUR spiritual practice?

Consequently, that which religious people call conscience is a social structure that functions as part of the moral system of the culture in which the child is born.
Joseph Campbell

The Simple Tasks of Life

“But the simple tasks of our life, when you’re doing them because they’re a function or factor in the life that you love and have chosen and have given yourself, then they don’t weigh you down.”

Reminds me of George Leonard’s wisdom from his fantastic book, Mastery (see Notes): “Could all of us reclaim lost hours of our lives by making everything—the commonplace along with the extraordinary—a part of our practice?”

Campbell also says this in conversation with a woman talking about doing the dishes and how that ties into the hero journey: “You bet your life. All life has drudgery to it… In Zen, however, even while you’re washing the dishes, that’s a meditation, that’s an act of life. It’s not a chore, and it’s not what you’ve just been calling it. Sometimes the drudgery itself can become part of the hero deed. The point is not to get stuck in the drudgery but to use it to free you.”

Are you “weighed down” by “the simple tasks” in your life?

Whether it’s doing the dishes or changing the diapers or any of the million and one mundane tasks that’re part of our lives, we always (!!!!) have a choice about how we engage in them.

They can weigh us down or elevate our souls.

What’s your choice?

What did I do? I read. I followed the path from one book to another, from one thinker to another. I followed my bliss, though I didn’t know that was what I was doing.
Joseph Campbell

Balancing Cosmic Power + Your Personality

“There is a story—you may have heard me tell it before—of a samurai. His overlord had been killed, and his vow was, of course, absolute loyalty to this lord. And it was his duty now to kill the killer. Well, after considerable difficulties, he finally backs this fellow in a corner, and he is about to slay him with his katana, his sword, which is the symbol of his honor. And the chap in the corner is angry and terrified, and he spits on the samurai, who sheathes his sword and walks away. Now why did he do that? He did that because this action made him angry, and it would have been a personal act to have killed that man in anger, and that would have destroyed the whole event.

It is very much like this hunting act of the Pygmy. This is a mythological attitude. You are acting not in terms of your individual, personal life but with the sense of yourself as the priest, so to say, of a cosmic power which is operating through you, which we all are in circumstances, and the problem is to balance yourself against that and have a personality at the same time.”

First, cool story about the samurai, eh?

To the extent he was impersonally fulfilling his vow, he’s all good. The moment it became personal, time to sheath the sword.


And then this gets a Big Wow: “… the problem is to balance yourself against that [cosmic power which is operating through you] and have a personality at the same time.”

I think this is definitely one of the (if not THE) biggest challenges we face in our spiritual evolution: How do we align with the Divine AND allow our personal essence to shine through?

There’s all this talk about annihilating the ego. It always make me wince.

Why’d we want to do THAT? Part of a whole ‘nother conversation, but even the WORD “ego” rubs me the wrong way. 99% of the people who throw it around can’t even tell you what it is and then even the ones who DO know what they mean when they say it use it in totally different ways depending on whether their orientation is from the West or the East.

In the West, your ego is an important aspect of who you are—the part of you that balances your desires (Id) and your conditioning from the world (Superego). In this world-view, we want to develop a healthy ego. In fact, it’s *essential* to proper functioning. Then we head East and all the sudden we’ve got a totally different take.

As Campbell says: “We hear so much talk now, particularly from the Orient, about egolessness. You are trying to smash this thing which is the only thing that keeps you in play. There’s got to be somebody up there; otherwise you’re not oriented to anything. The self, that’s the great circle, the ship, the ego is the little captain on the bridge.”

He continues: “Of course, to reach the transpersonal, you have to go through the personal: you have to have both qualities there.”

And Ken Wilber (see Notes) did the job most wonderfully for me on this one. He says:

“But ‘egoless’ does not mean ‘less than personal’; it means ‘more than personal.’ Not personal minus, but personal plus—all the normal qualities, plus some transpersonal ones. Think of the great yogis, saints, and sages—from Moses to Christ to Padmasambhava. They were not feeble-mannered milquetoasts, but fierce movers and shakers—from bullwhips in the Temple to subduing entire countries. They rattled the world on its own terms, not in some pie-in-the-sky piety; many of them instigated massive social revolutions that have continued for thousands of years. And they did so, not because they avoided the physical, emotional, and mental dimensions of humanness, and the ego that is their vehicle, but because they engaged them with a drive and intensity that shook the world to its very foundations.

The great yogis, saints, and sages accomplished so much precisely because they were not timid little toadies but great big egos, plugged into the dynamic Ground and Goal of the Kosmos itself, plugged into their own higher Self, alive to the pure Atman (the pure I-I), that is one with Brahman; they opened their mouths and the world trembled, fell to its knees, and confronted its radiant God… There is certainly a type of truth to the notion of transcending ego: it doesn’t mean destroy the ego, it means plug it into something bigger… Put bluntly, the ego is not an obstruction to Spirit, but a radiant manifestation of Spirit.

The integral sage, the nondual sage, is here to show us otherwise. Known generally as ‘Tantric,’ these sages insist on transcending life by living it. They insist on finding release by engagement, finding nirvana in the midst of samsara, finding total liberation by complete immersion.” [from One Taste: November 17]

* queue Hallelujah music *

Back to Campbell: “You are acting not in terms of your individual, personal life but with the sense of yourself as the priest, so to say, of a cosmic power which is operating through you, which we all are in circumstances, and the problem is to balance yourself against that and have a personality at the same time.”

And back to you: How are YOU showing up?!?

How’s the balancing of your personality and your role as priest of the cosmic power working out?!?

Too much of your personality (without the plug into Source) or too *LITTLE* of your personality (in which case, it DOESN’T MATTER how plugged in you think you are because you’ve lost your power)?

As per Wilber, I say we plug into Source and let our radiant manifestation of Spirit shine! Yah? :)

Eternity is not future or past. Eternity is a dimension of now.
Joseph Campbell
Now, that’s the big thing, to activate your imagination somehow. You can’t do this by taking suggestions from somebody else.
Joseph Campbell
What Jung says is that you should play your role, knowing that it’s not you. It’s a quite different point of view. This requires individuation, separating your ego, your image of yourself, from the social role. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t play the role; it simply means that no matter what you choose to do in life, whether it’s to cop out or to cop in, you are playing a role, and don’t take it too damned seriously. The persona is merely the mask you’re wearing for this game.
Joseph Campbell
This gets back to Krishna’s dictum: The best way to help mankind is through the perfection of yourself.
Joseph Campbell

Do I Dare?

“The hero journey is one of the universal patterns through which that radiance shows brightly. What I think is that a good life is one hero journey after another. Over and over again, you are called to the realm of adventure, you are called to new horizons. Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There’s always the possibility of a fiasco.

But there’s also the possibility of bliss.”

Well that gives me a big ‘ol smile. :)

I love the fact that there’s always the possibility of fiasco… It wouldn’t be fun if the outcome was totally guaranteed, eh? And, of course, when we *really* see the rhythms of life, we transcend our fears and laugh a little more throughout the whole process.

Here’s to a life of one hero journey after another after another!

(Do you dare? :)

Questing for It Is Not An Ego Trip

“What is it we are questing for? It is the fulfillment of that which is potential in each of us. Questing for it is not an ego trip; it is an adventure to bring into fulfillment your gift to the world, which is yourself. There’s nothing you can do that’s more important than being fulfilled. You become a sign, you become a signal, transparent to transcendence; in this way, you will find, live, and become a realization of your own personal myth.”

Let go of your fears that following your quest is an ego trip…

And let’s become transparent to transcendence, my friend!

About the author


Joseph Campbell

Mythologist, writer and lecturer.