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Lessons From People: Joseph Campbell & Different Phases of Life 

Joseph Campbell was a world-renowned teacher and mythologist. He spent much of his life studying and dissecting myths from all over the world. It was his belief that myths can act as blueprints for our lives by acting as a navigational tool. In his book, Reflections on the Art of Living, Campbell gives his thoughts on various subjects, including the idea that as an individual, you need to adapt and change according to the new phase of life you are entering or exiting.

Lessons

Embrace The New You

The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.

As we move through life, a different version of you is required. Give up old beliefs and values which served you well in the past, in order to build new ones more appropriate for the future you want. This includes habits, routines, traditions, and relationships. These often tether you to the old you, the one you are trying to change and improve. No permanent change comes without sacrifice, so you have to determine what is no longer valuable to you.

If we fix on the old, we get stuck. When we hang onto any form, we are in danger of putrefaction.

As Joseph Campbell says, by hanging onto an old form, you are in danger of decaying. You are forcing something old and irrelevant to still serve you instead of paying that form its proper respects and burying it.

So, as we transition from different phases of life, for example, from childhood to the workforce or from dependant living to independent living or from womanhood to motherhood, a different version of you is required in order to succeed fully in this new phase of life. Once you acknowledge this, then you can reflect on what needs to be purged, what parts of you need to be shed, and what new habits, ideas, routines, and so on need to be adopted.  

Destruction before creation.

Fully Commit

As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm.

Jump.

It is not as wide as you think.

In order to embrace the life you want, there has to be a full commitment.

You can’t hold on to past desires and wants while you aim for new ones and try to make everything in your life work at the same time. Some old hopes and dreams need to be abandoned so you can fully commit to the openings that are available to you.

Often, we cling to the old ones because there is a glimmer of comfort there. You know if all else fails, you’ll have your comfort blanket waiting for you, but such commitment can cause your failure to begin with. So, it’s best to jump. To be active. To take chances because, through such actions, other doors open. Other avenues reveal themselves to you.

Through commitment, you make progress in your life. 

Suppose you have shed the serpent’s skin but want to leave some tagged on the end. This is a major problem. It is an anxiety that has to do with what’s back there. 

If you don’t fully commit, you also then leave the door open for guilt and shame. These feelings arise when you think about what else you could have done or wanted to do. Instead, acknowledge those wants belonging to a different version of you, one that no longer exists so you can move on to something more relevant.

Be A Great Servant

The first half of life we serve society—engagement. The second half of life we turn inward—disengagement.

Clearly understand what or who you are serving at the moment, so you can actively mold your life in order to be the best servant you can be.

Not every moment of your life is meant for your own service.

Your time is not yours alone. Whoever you allot that time to, make sure you are not cheating on them. This concept can be as simple as the time allotted to exercising where you are a servant to your physical body and attempt to do your best not to cheat on its needs or helping a friend move into a new apartment where your time is then given to your friend, to a more complicated allotment of time such as finding inner peace for yourself which may require countless hours of meditation and reflection and new experiences all of which you must do in order to serve yourself. 

Renouncing The Old You 

The recommended one is a gradual renunciation. That means getting quit of what you can in a decent, organic way. You can even take with you a few little responsibilities, with the understanding that they are terminal—you’re not going to add to them. The responsibilities that you add will be those of your own new condition, whatever that may be.

Transition to the new you may have to be gradual. Piece by piece. It is impossible really to wake up one day and decide to be a different version of you and achieve that by the time you go to sleep. Or wake up and have a completely different life.

But, once you narrow in on what you want your next few years to look like and what you want yourself to look like, then it becomes a matter of taking on the right responsibility. If you want to become someone who is more confident and can speak in public clearly, then taking on the responsibility and signing up for public speaking courses makes sense. As you take on responsibility suited for the new version of you, you balance that out with a slow and gradual transition away from the responsibilities that the old version needed, which, for the public speaking example, could be less time spent in solitude and more group activities where you are forced to interact publically.

Renunciation is literally a death and a resurrection.

Lessons From Books: The Brutal Realism of Rabbit, Run

In Rabbit, Run, we follow Harry Angstrom, otherwise known as Rabbit. He is 26 years old former high school basketball star who now sells gadgets to make a living. His wife, Janice, is pregnant with their second child, and a 2-year-old son, Nelson. The Angstroms seem like a stereotypical family at first, but it is clear right away that Harry is disappointed with his life. It has not turned out as he wished and feels the need to escape, to find something worthwhile, to find new meaning. The pursuit to fill this hole in his life, he hits the road, abandoning his wife and kid in the process as he searches for purpose.

It is easy to say that Harry Angstrom is a despicable man. He is not a role model, however, he can be seen as a model of reality. How unforgiving life can be and the lack of care it has for your wants and needs. Harry had his own vision of life in which he had never imagined himself running away from his family and yet, he does because life rarely turns out the way we imagine. John Updike paints a brutally realistic image of what happens when a man is without meaning and the hurt that can cause to everyone around him.

Lessons:

Your Accomplishments Mean Nothing

Rabbit is a high school basketball star. Even has a clipping of the newspaper article that was printed after he set the country record for points. At that time of his life, when he was a high schooler, the world must have seemed like a pretty little thing on which he’ll leave his mark. However, the story starts off with these young kids who have no clue who he is. It has only been a handful of years since his high school days and his accomplishments are already forgotten. 

They’ve not forgotten him: worse, they never heard of him. Yet in his time Rabbit was famous through the county; in basketball in his junior year he set a B-league scoring record that in his senior year he broke with a record that was not broken until four years later, that is, four years ago.

At the moment, we may think what we accomplish is meaningful, but the meaning erodes with time. That accomplishment only mattered for that specific moment. It makes you think then: What do accomplishments really mean?

What makes us feel good, makes us feel special will become meaningless with time and you’ll be left to chase the memories of that thing or else, try to recreate it in the present, knowing well enough that it will be temporary.

What Should Have Happened, Won’t Happen

Somehow Rabbit can’t tear his attention from where the ball should have gone, the little ideal napkin of clipped green pinked with a pretty flag. His eyes can’t keep with where it did go.

This sums up Rabbit’s mindset. He is always focused on what should have happened, where he should have gone, how life should have turned out, and can’t see clearly what happened and, in turn, isn’t able to improve it.

Rabbit had dreamt of a better future for himself while he was in high school, but that future didn’t come true. Instead, it took a turn when he got his high school sweetheart pregnant. How much control do you really have over your life? Can you really will your life towards a specific future or are you just being pulled along with the tide of life, having to submit, submerge yourself, and fully accept whatever life brings you? Otherwise, you could live a life full of shame and regret. The two feelings permeate through Rabbit’s pores as he wishes for more. 

Two feelings that live in the heart of many people.

Your Life Is Not Yours

Sticking with the tide analogy, you have to be careful of who you give your obligation to. For who you take on responsibility. To who you commit yourself and your time to, otherwise, you might drown with the tides of life. 

I don’t know, it seemed like I was glued in with a lot of busted toys and empty glasses and television going and meals late and no way of getting out.

Rabbit lived his life passively. He went along with what happened and in doing so, found himself committed and obliged to things that he did not want. One of them being his wife. But he is tethered to her. Tethered in place through his son and his soon-to-be-born daughter. He tries several times to run away from that life, to start afresh, but he cannot do it. He comes crawling back each time.

He wants to go south, down, down the map into orange groves and smoking rivers and barefoot women. It seems simple enough, drive all night through the dawn through the morning through the noon park on a beach take off your shoes and fall asleep by the Gulf of Mexico. Wake up with stars above perfectly spaced in perfect health.

Your obligations can give you a sense of meaning in your life. If you are obligated to the things you don’t care about, then your meaning for life will be something you don’t care about, and that’s what happened to Harry. His passivity has led him to live a life which he doesn’t care about and so he cannot find peace.

External Change Doesn’t Bring Meaning 

The land refuses to change. The more he drives the more the region resembles the country around Mt. Judge. The scruff on the embankments, the same weathered billboards for the same products you wondered anybody would ever want to buy. At the upper edge of his headlight beams the make tree-twigs make the same net. Indeed the net seems thicker now.

Much of the novel is Rabbit’s search for meaning. He doesn’t find meaning in his job. Nor does he find meaning through the family. The only thing that really gave him self-worth is his basketball dreams and with those gone, he has nothing concrete he can hang his hat on and say to himself that he did something good. 

This blind search, mainly external, leads him to Ruth, with whom he starts a relationship. 

He was happy just hanging around her place at night, her reading mysteries and him running down to the delicatessen for dinner ale and some nights going to a movie but nothing like this.

At first, the relationship gives him pleasure. Makes him feel good, but the more he stays, the more guilt he feels. The external change did not help him because internally he was still the same man. A man who gets jealous, who is petty, who is dissatisfied.

His real happiness is a ladder from whose top rung he keeps trying to jump still higher, because he knows he should.

How Little Control You Have In Life

Lovely life eclipsed by lovey death.

The theme of control is evident throughout the novel, but there is a singular moment that encapsulates it at the end. The death of his infant daughter. There are things he could have done to prevent it from happening, but you have to wonder how far in his life he would have to go in order to change the cause-and-effect link that led to his daughter’s death. 

How much control do you really have over what happens around you? You may be able to control yourself, your habits, your emotions, and your feelings, but what can you do about the drunk driver that swerves and crashes into you? There is a level of absurdity to life because so much of it just happens. It’s random. Out of control. Chaotic. You can do your best to bring order, but you cannot control life.

She lifts the living thing into air and hugs it against her sopping chest. Water pours off them onto the bathroom tiles. The little weightless body flops against her neck and a quick look of relief at the baby’s face gives a fantastic clotted impression […] Her sense of the third person with them widens enormously, and she knows, knows, while knock sound at the door, that the worst thing that has ever happened to any woman in the world has happened to her.

Epiphanies Aren’t Real

After all that happens: leaving his wife, meeting Ruth, leaving her to go back to his wife, the understanding gained from the Pastor, the birth of his daughter, the death of his daughter, after these things, the book ends the same way it starts, with Rabbit running away from responsibility. 

He sees that among the heads even his own mother is horrified, a blank with shock, a wall against him; she asks him what have they done to him and then she does it too. A suffocating sense of injustice blinds him. He turns and runs.

Uphill exultantly. He doges among gravestones. Dandelions grow bright as butter among the graves. Behind him his name is called in Eccles’ voice: ‘Harry! Harry!’

Running away from his life. This strikes at the heart of human beings. It is difficult to change who we are. We can change our habits and routines, but it is difficult to change our nature. And Rabbit’s nature doesn’t change. He has not found peace.

His hand lift of their own and he feels the wind on his ears even before, his heels hitting heavily on the pavement at first but with an effortless gathering out of a kind of sweet panic growing lighter and quicker and quieter, he runs. Ah; runs. Runs.

Need To Have A Why

The whole novel Rabbit is searching for a reason. 

‘Well I don’t know all this about theology, but I’ll tell you, I do feel, I guess, that somewhere behind all of this’—he gestures outward at the scenery; they are passing the housing development this side of the golf course, half-wood half-brick one-and-a-half-stories in little flat bulldozed yards holding tricycles and spindly three-year-old tress, the un-grandest landscape in the world—‘there’s something that wants me to find it.’

A reason to live. A reason to accept life. A reason that makes sense of the world. A reason to justify his feelings and beliefs. 

Without meaning, your actions and beliefs seem bland, like a grey sky imprisoning the sunlight. There is no light in Harry’s life. He walks around in the dark, hoping for something to turn up that will improve his life. He doesn’t know what he wants, why he does the things he does, what will make him actually happy and so, we are left with a character who is ultimately dissatisfied with life which is slowly breaking him down and there is nothing he can do about it. 

That’s what you have, Harry: life. It’s a strange gift and I don’t know how we’re supposed to use it but I know it’s the only gift we get and it’s a good one.

Finding the ‘Why’ for your life then becomes the meaning for life.

Stoic Lessons: Anticipate Negativity 

Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial. All this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and nature of evil what is wrong; and I have reflected that the nature of the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own — not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragility of divinity. Therefore I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none if infect me with their wrong. Nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate them. We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work in opposition to one another is against nature; and anger or rejection is opposition. (Marcus Aurelius)

By meditating on what potentially might happen during the day you can take the emotional element out of the occurrence. Because you anticipated it happening, it is easier to detach from the situation and not respond with your initial reaction. Instead, you get to respond with the meditated attitude which Marcus Aurelius suggests should not have any venom or hate in it.

Just as you may plan for potential problems with some project or goal you are working on, it is a good idea to plan the kind of day you want to have and then pinpoint problems that may arise so you can either avoid them completely or have a better mindset to navigate them.  

The meditation exercise should include the kinship aspect. We might be born under different circumstances and environments, but certain emotions and feelings are universal. If you take a moment to empathize with the supposed offender, you can see where they are coming from because you can place yourself in their shoes and know that you might have the same reaction as them. Once you humanize someone, it is much easier to forgive them or look past their shortcomings.

Keep the actual hate or anger for what opposes nature. Don’t waste it on pettiness or reactive emotions. Save it for the wicked and the truly disgraceful aspects of life and human nature. You want to keep the right emotions for the right situations.

Lastly, the point of cooperation. It is Marcus Aurelius’ belief that we are put on this planet to work together. Cooperation is part of nature and if you go against nature you are doing something evil. So, then it becomes an exercise of virtue and goodness navigating people that might not mesh with you right away. It is a mindset shift. Instead of hating, you are actively looking for ways to cooperate, to find a common ground, and build relationships because that is what nature intended. 

Lessons From Stories: Hemingway’s A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

Ernest Hemingway captured an essential understanding of human nature in just 1,465 words. The understanding is: We need order when we’re lost in life.

Chaos and order are the bases of many stories, so it is not unique per se that Hemingway explores this issue, but the way he does it is unique. In A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, the cafe represents order because cleanliness and light are often associated with orderliness. The cafe is an attractive place that shelters those in need, like the old man who is lost in life. The old man regularly gets drunk at the cafe and later on, we are told that his wife recently passed away and he tried to commit suicide. The old man has lost his sense of purpose, his meaning for life and so he clings to the cafe because he doesn’t want to be alone.

Solitude represents chaos in this story. The old man doesn’t want to be alone at home. The older waiter, whose perspective we see the story from, can’t sleep until the sun rises. This is because when your mental state is not correct, one of the worst places you can be is in your own head, alone with your thoughts. That is a dangerous place. A chaotic place. 

The opening scene of the story has two waiters. The older one and the younger one. The two are different in one main way; the younger waiter has a sense of purpose and meaning, hence, he has order in his life.

“You have youth, confidence, and a job,” the older waiter said.

“You have everything.”

“And what do you lack?”

“Everything but work.”

“You have everything I have.”

“No. I have never had confidence and I am not young.”

This is why the younger waiter has a tough time emphasizing with the old man. He can’t see the old man is lost. He passes judgment on the old man and even says the old man has nothing to be sad about because he’s rich.

“Last week he tried to commit suicide,” (young) waiter said.

“Why?”

“He was in despair.”

“What about?”

“Nothing.”

“How do you know it was nothing?”

“He has plenty of money.”

This raises an interesting question. Can someone who has order or meaning in their life relate to someone who doesn’t? Someone who is in a chaotic state? Often when we have meaning in our life, we are focused on it and that can cause us to put blinders on and not see others who are trying to find their own way. Trying to find order. 

The older waiter suffers from chaos. He can’t be alone with his thoughts. He has trouble finding meaning in anything. This is shown in perhaps the most famous passage of this story.

It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee. He smiled and stood before a bar with a shining steam pressure coffee machine.

Nothing matters to the waiter.

But because the waiter has no meaning in his life, he can relate to the old man, and feel empathy towards him. The older waiter is even willing to keep the light on in the cafe for a while longer to give the old man more time to drink.

“We are of two different kinds,” the older waiter said. He was now dressed to go home. “It is not only a question of youth and confidence although those things are very beautiful. Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the cafe.”

“Hombre, there are bodegas open all night long.”

“You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves.”

Hemingway was famous for capturing a moment in time, a slice of life. The story ends without an answer. The old waiter blames his state of mind on insomnia, which could be seen as a scapegoat instead of confronting the reality of the meaninglessness of life.

But what could be a solution to this chaos?

Lost souls need order as evidenced by the old man’s desire to stay in the cafe. Order is then an essential need for those who are without meaning. Perhaps this suggests that when we are lost and lack meaning, we need to find things that bring order into our lives. Routines, habits, people, places, etc. Whatever helps us positively deal with our mental state.

In the story, it is implied that the old man lost his meaning after his wife passed. While the old waiter is seen trying to find meaning through religion but fails to do so. Even the young waiter finds his meaning through his work and his wife, both are liable to change.

What then?

Perhaps the meaning of our life has to be intrinsic. Something that can survive the ups and down of life. Perhaps that is the meaning. How well can you navigate what life throws at you? To constantly find the meaning behind your suffering. To search for the light in the darkness.

Maybe that is how meaning is created, and our mind becomes a place of solitude. 

Reflections On Love

Love is boundless. Its affection blankets people, objects, animals, ideas, the self moments in time, and moments yet to come. Love has no limits. It doesn’t discriminate. It’s a feeling which can create bodily reactions like the quickening of breath, a faster heartbeat, the rising of heat through you, and in that moment, you are present. Love is then what makes you present in the moment. Makes you live in the now. 

To love is to be present.

But love is also in the past and the future. The commitment you made in the past which stemmed from love, a commitment to love someone, a commitment to work towards a goal, a commitment to become someone, it steers your movements still, in the now. The same commitment can cause you to sacrifice for the future. You come to sacrifice your own needs and wants for someone or something outside of you.

To love is to sacrifice.

But that sacrifice can hurt you. You may give love but not receive it. It isn’t an equal exchange. So you give for the sake of giving, but the pain is still there when you don’t get it back. When your sacrifices are used up, disregarded, wasted, misplaced, the pain is bitter and so love balances with hate and if you’re not careful, love becomes hate. So, love is something to be wary of.

To love is to expose yourself to pain.

But it’s in the giving that you feel love. The dichotomy. It’s when you are willing to be vulnerable that you step closer to loving because vulnerability reveals your deep care and affection. You are willing to get hurt, feel pain, even tip towards hate for the sake of love. And to be vulnerable is a mindset. You know consciously you are giving or exposing a part of yourself.. Love is a mindset. You see life through the eyes of love, and it both frees you and binds you. Frees you in the manner that you are seeking goodness when you look at life through loving eyes. But, it can be binding too because when your love is reciprocated and you lose it, then you lose a part of you and are bound to that loss, searching for it, knowing you can’t replace it but need to do so, need to find it, need to be whole again and so, you’re bound to search.

To love is to accept loss.

What do I think of love?

I think love is tainted by romantic ideals. Those ideals are just the surface level.

I think love is in discipline. Disciplined towards viewing life with love. Disciplined towards someone or something.

I think love is in the everyday task. Love allows you to see the uniqueness in the mundane.

I think love is fleeting and needs to be recaptured over and over like any other feeling.

I think love is a mindset. A conscious effort to act with love.

I think love is in denial. To commit to someone or something rather than everything.

I think love goes beyond humans. Love of work. Love of nature. Love of life.

I think to love means to love your fate. The good and the bad. The pleasure and the pain. The success and the disappointment. Heartbreaks and tragedy. Moments of elation and richness. All of it is yours. 

All of it you must love.