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.

Bruce Lee On The Importance Of Being A Quality Human Being

You know how I like to think of myself? As a human being.

For Bruce Lee, it was important to identify himself as a human first before any race, gender or ethnicity. By emphasizing his humanity over anything else, it helped him transcend social and cultural barriers and at the same time, it allowed him to think broadly and to have his philosophy be attainable to any individual.

However, Bruce Lee’s goal wasn’t simply to be human. Rather, it was to be a human of “quality”.

The function and duty of a human being, a “quality” human being, that is, is the sincere and honest development of potential and self-actualization.

Self-actualization means to achieve one’s full potential through creativity, independence, spontaneity, and a grasp of the real world. Simply put, to become the best version of yourself.

In order to fulfill one’s own potential, it is important to hone the ability to self-reflect. Self-reflection can allow us to detach momentarily. To see our own flaws and limitations so we know the areas we need to improve or strengthen.

We can ask ourselves: What habits do we need to break? What habits do we need to start? Where do we lack knowledge? Are we too passive? What part of our life requires immediate action?

For Bruce Lee, his goal was to actualize himself and he believed that should be the goal of all humans.

To promote the growth process and develop human potential:

To get through social role playing

To fill in the holes in the personality to make [one] whole and complete again.

The social role-playing part is important as well. We are social creatures and we have to do well by our community. It’s not a selfish attitude that Bruce Lee advocated but rather he believed in actualizing ourselves by performing our social duties to the best of our ability while improving upon our flaws. Both can go hand in hand. If we become the best version of ourselves then the ripple effects of that are felt by our friends, families and the community we live in. At the same time, by dedicating ourselves to being a productive member of society, it can help move us closer to our ideal state.

What the hell; you are what you are, and self-honesty occupies a definite and vital part in the ever-growing process to become a “real” human being and not a plastic one. Somehow, one day, you will hear “hey, now that’s quality; here is someone REAL.” I’d like that.

The key to being a quality human being is self-honesty. If we lie to ourselves and run away from who we currently are then there can be no improvement. Other people can point out our flaws but it’s easy to rationalize that truth and act as if other people are wrong. It’s also important to understand that who we currently are isn’t what we have to be. Bruce Lee also advocated constant change and this change has to come from within. We can only improve and grow if we wish to and in order to do this, we need to be honest with ourselves. Brutally honest about somethings. It can be uncomfortable to pick at our own flaws but there really is no other way to inch towards self-actualization. There needs to be constant ownership and accountability of our own actions. Perhaps in this manner, one day, someone can look at us and say “here is someone real,” just as Bruce Lee was.

Book referenced: Bruce Lee Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living 

Poem: To Overcome The Self

Man is never alone,

Within him dwells another,

Someone who knows his desires, his weaknesses and dreams,

He sits with comfort,

Waiting to speak up,

The opportunity arises whenever a decision needs to be made,

Right or wrong,

The one who dwells always picks the wrong one,

And his choice rings in the head causing the limbs to obey,

Is that the devil?

Is that how religion came about?

To find a way to quiet this voice,

This resistance that devolves man from God to peasant,

Desire a doctrine to follow so it can drown this other voice,

So we can do good, be good, act good and become good,

Without such doctrine, the fight is lonely,

The worst realization is the everydayness of the struggle,

Each morning brings about the foe, renewed, energized, dangerous, without any hint of the previous day’s defeat,

If it was every defeated,

Each day the battle restarts and each day we must overcome that voice,

Otherwise, life is shortened,

The pleasure from the experience of life, the fulfillment of life, is lessened,

As if there was a cap on what you can get out of life,

As if the brilliance that life offers is only for those who resist,

As if the one that dwells in you is placed in you as an opportunity,

A ready-made obstacle for you to understand what life is about,

That is why the fight is important,

To resist and overcome, daily,

But some never win,

Others give in,

The rare few look forward to it,

Those few I seek,

To become like them, a warrior who resists his inner voice,

Who overcomes himself,

Who reclaims the Kingdom lost.

 

 

Reflections: Question Yourself

And most important: Question yourself. Question yourself everyday. (Jocko Willink)

Too often we mirror others in the hopes of finding something about ourselves. We may follow the plans set out for us by our parents or teachers or other advisors and hope that by doing so, we can navigate through life in a fulfilled manner. Or we act like the people we admire, taking on their habits, mannerisms, beliefs and opinions, all the while distancing ourselves from our true nature. When you don’t know what you want to be or what you want in life, it’s only natural to grasp on to something that gives you and your life a sense of stability.

But this stability is rarely long-lasting. The fulfillment we get from doing what we are told and by following rather than leading our own lives is illusionary. What we lack is self-understanding. We are too busy trying to fulfill the requirements of others which we come to believe are our own plans and ideas that we rarely question who we are, why are we acting the way we do and what is it that we truly want out of life.

Ask yourself: Who am I? What have I learned? What have I created? What forward progress have I made? Who have I helped? What am I doing to improve myself—today? To get better, faster, stronger, healthier, smarter?

The simple and straightforward questions. Sometimes, self-reflection comes with the baggage of spiritual or mystical. In the sense that when reflecting upon our needs and wants we jump straight to the meaning of our lives, the purpose of lives, the point of our lives and such questions can be difficult to answer and can leave us more confused rather than giving us clarity which self-reflection is supposed to. But by narrowing the search, by focusing on our immediate actions such as what have you done today to make yourself healthier or smarter or what have you done to make someone else’s life easier, it can provide a sense of direction especially if your actions were accompanied by positive emotions.

You may not know what you want to do with your life but you now know that helping others felt good. The meaning of your life may be still unclear but you do know that in your day-to-day living you enjoy going for a run or reading about Roman history or the new technological advances. These small puzzle pieces can come together to form a picture that can show you what you want to look like.

Ask yourself those questions, those hard questions and then answer them, truthfully. And realize that all of us—ALL OF US—can do better. We can be better.

Life is about change, it is about growth, about evolution. By unpacking what you want through relentless self-examination in the form of questioning oneself, we step closer to finding out who we want to be, what we can do and what we wish to do. However, even such an understanding isn’t permanent. What you find in your 20s may not be what you want in your 30s or 40s and so on. So, the answers that helped you at one stage of your life may not benefit you at a later stage which is why the constant need to reflection and question yourself and your behaviors, attitudes, and emotions is a necessary tool in life.

There is really only one permanence in life which is death. Everything else is liable to change, including ourselves. But that change only comes if we are willing to explore other possibilities. These possibilities include different versions of ourselves. However, to explore these possibilities, one needs to have a self-reflective mind, a mind that is always open and questioning.

Book Referenced: Discipline Equals Freedom by Jocko Willink

Stoic Lesson: The Importance of Journaling

Our current age is so fast-paced and there is so much information out there that it feels like you are just jumping from one thought to another without completely digesting the message. We get all this information which we never unpack and see if it’s useful or not.

For Marcus Aurelius, who was a Roman Emperor and a Stoic philosopher, this unpacking of information was done through his writing. He kept a journal that we now know as his book ‘Meditations‘. The book is essentially comprised of personal notes, each one reminding him of something that he considered to be important, some principle to remember and live-by. Rather than adding information, Marcus Aurelius refined what he knew and tried to live by it.

Which is the point of philosophy. Philosophy isn’t simply to contemplate whether we exist or not or what logic means but rather, philosophy is about how one lives and for Aurelius, he was able to embody his philosophy by constantly reminding himself of what was important.

From the point of view of the imminence of death, one thing counts, and one alone: to strive always to have the essential rules of life present in one’s mind, and to keep placing oneself in the fundamental disposition of the philosopher, which consists essentially in controlling one’s inner discourse, in doing only that which is of benefit to the human community, and in accepting the events brought to us by the course of the Nature of the All. (Pierre Hadot)

The essential reason why Aurelius wrote was to control his inner discourse. By that, it is meant his thoughts. If you allow your mind to be completely free, it is likely to fill your head with anxiety and fears or, it’ll distract you from the right action by leading you towards some immediate gratification. But by repeatedly reading and writing the principles that you want to live by, you bring those ideals to the forefront of your mind and then your action follows.

It is not enough to reread what has already been written. Written pages are already dead, and the Meditations were not made to be reread. What counts is the reformulation: the act of writing or talking to oneself, right now, in the very moment when one needs to write. (Pierre Hadot)

This is an important thing to understand. If one reads the ‘Meditations’ what they will find is that Marcus Aurelius is basically repeating the same handful of principles over and over again. The reason for this is that the book was never meant for public eyes. Rather it was his personal journal. But what we can understand from this action is that we need reminders. We need to remember to stay on the right path. This is done through daily practice. Every day you have to hammer it into your mind what you want to be, how you want to act, how you want to represent yourself. Writing is one way to do this. Because the act of writing alone causes you to concentrate on the thoughts which are formulating into the words in front of you.

Marcus writes only in order to have the dogmas and rules of life always present to his mind. He is thus following the advice of Epictetus, who, after having set forth the distinction between what does and does not depend on us —- the fundamental dogma of Stocisim —- adds:

It is about this that philosophers ought to meditate; this is what they should write down every day, and it should be the subject of their exercises (I, I, 25).

You must have these principles at hand both night and day; you must write them down; you must read them (III, 24, 103). (Pierre Hadot).

These principles depend on the individual. For the Stoics, the main principles were to understand how little control we have in life, how we do have control over our reason and attitude, how death can approach at any moment and how we must align ourselves with the universal purpose.

This may not be how you wish to live. But whatever you consider to be important, whatever principles you wish to follow require constant attention. You just have to remember to reinforce these principles on a consistent basis.

The practical nature of stoicism is one of the reasons why this philosophy is still relevant. It acknowledges how easy it is to be overwhelmed or to stray off the path but it also provides a solution in the form of journaling. Simply by writing for ten to fifteen minutes in the morning and maybe even in the afternoon, it can act as a reminder and help you to carry yourself with grace, to think of the right things and to act in the correct manner. The repetition of such can then slowly transform your character to the point that you begin to embody the philosophy by the way you live as it did for Marcus Aurelius.

Book referenced: The Inner Citadel by Pierre Hadot


Stoic Lesson: Aim For Internal Growth

Stoic Lesson: How To Keep Yourself Accountable

Stoic Lesson: The Right Mindset For A Happy Life

Stoic Lesson: Concentrate On What You Can Control

Stoic Lesson: You Have To Acknowledge Your Sickness Before You Can Be Cured

Stoic Lesson: Epictetus On Progress

Stoic Lesson: An Exercise In Being Grateful


Youtube: Learned Living

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Poem: The Old Rebel

Article: Montaigne On How To Be A Well-Rounded Thinker

Short Story: The Bus