People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
For those of you who have never heard of Joseph Campbell, he was a man who could tell a good story. In fact, his life was devoted to the study and teaching of mythology. He believed that myths – powerful stories passed on through the ages and across cultures – hold the truth of life.
More than any other scholar, Campbell awakened us to our need for these universal stories in finding our way during turbulent times.
Among his most popular reads is The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a book dedicated to describing the hero’s journey. Finding your way out of addiction is a hero’s journey. It’s about leaving the comforts of the known, and courageously seeking the truth of your existence. There is pain and sacrifice on the quest, and you constantly run up against a world that does not make your journey easy. At the same time Campbell says,
The ultimate dragon is within you, it is your ego clamping down on you.
The journey out of addiction is hard because your experience while acting out may be as close to the rapture of being alive as you have ever felt. So disconnecting feels like you must give up something that predictably (and habitually) delivers the feeling of aliveness. And herein lies the trick of the dragon. An addictive high may feel quite powerful, but it’s a poor substitute for the experience of being alive that Joseph Campbell believes we are all seeking.
So if you want to overcome addiction, you have no choice but to take your own hero’s journey.
If you realize what the real problem is – losing yourself, giving yourself to some higher end, or to another – you realize that this itself is the ultimate trial. When we quit thinking about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo an truly heroic transformation of consciousness. Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
And how do you embark on your journey? Campbell offered some sound advice from his decades of studying the heroes who have gone before you.
- Find and use good teachers along the way (or therapists, clergy, friends, coaches, etc.)
- Read literature that speaks to your heart for where you are at on the journey
- Do not neglect your inner journey, for inside you is where the real hero’s journey happens – so develop a contemplative side to life
- “Follow your bliss” was Campbell’s general advice while on your journey
In truth we all are on the hero’s journey whether we are doing our best to overcome addiction, or battling another dragon of the ego. We may feel like we are stuck or not making progress, but the journey is not a linear one. Perhaps only when we get to the end and look back will life make more sense. And maybe then we will realize that what we sought for so long had been with us from the very beginning.
I love Joseph Campbell, so thank you for reminding us what a powerful message he left behind. It seems his advice to “follow your bliss” supports leaving behind the comforts you spoke of.
“It’s about leaving the comforts of the known, and courageously seeking the truth of your existence.”
This is so true. It seems like addiction is wrapped around the comforts we have created for ourselves, not the bliss that we should be seeking from life.
Sarah Scott says
The hero’s journey, mmm. Joseph Campbell, mmm. The stories we tell or hold onto are deeply rooted, the power of diving into them and then letting them be is where healing can happen. Before hearing your approach to addiction healing, I always imagined addiction as a psychical phenomenon, yet those are simply the “masks” of the story. If that one mask is removed, another story is ready to reveal and be the story teller.
John, I’m personally asking you to help navigate my thinking and interpretation of your words and findings, into more practical terms. I feel strongly to share this with others, yet my approach to sharing comes off as “fluffy” and un-rooted in reality. Maybe the only way to share this healing, is by fully encompassing– Diving deeper into the mindfulness, accepting the 90 day challenge, today, right now.
John Fitzgerald says
Sarah, my personal site http://www.3inNYC.com has some things to say about the practical aspects of life which you may find helpful.
Also, it is hard for me to advise you on how to share this information because what you are really doing is simply sharing your truth – as you know it – with those you care about most. Even if it comes off as fluffy then so be it. Let others ask questions of you, which in turn pushes your own development in spiritual growth and contemplation which is all good :)
Substance abuse and the self destructive cycles that stem from it derive from some of the darkest recesses of our humanity. Ones journey to find their way through these terrible places is entirely esoteric. This makes addiction so difficult to overcome because there is no single prescription that fits all. You can be given guidance from the best of mentors/educators/councilors but the ultimate path that leads to ones own healing is a personal ordeal. Addiction is something ive been struggling with for quite awhile. Throughout my process of progress and pitfalls I have tried (with varying degrees of effort) to utilize as many different approaches towards self actualizing as full and well rounded a life as I can. In the worst of times its through the words of people like Joseph Campbell and the lens they speak through that I draw the greatest hope and motivation to not give up on building a brighter future.
John Fitzgerald says
Well spoken words Michael, could not agree more with your feedback. While the journey of addiction motivates the search and implementation of solutions, in the end it’s a spiritual quest requiring contemplative engagement.
Bilisumma Ashenafi says
This is my first time reading about Joseph Campbell, and little that I know he is truly a hero, “finding your way out of addiction” just that by itself is so powerful. What addict would we have thought will think that way? He was truly devoted to really put his mind into believing that addiction can be won over. If only every addicts pay close attention to Josephs methodology maybe they may change some part of their life without needing any help from others.
Reading this made me realize, it’s all in my head and that it’s up to me to control my brain when necessary. So John thank you for sharing about this hero, that I didn’t know about!
John Fitzgerald says
Thanks for your feedback! Please check out his books when you have time, well worth the effort!
Katy TW says
It’s interesting that you should bring up Joseph Campbell. My husband was at the library today and picked up Campbell’s The Mythic Dimension, a collection of his essays from 1959-1987, and I was just leafing through it before I came across this blog entry. A lovely companion to following one’s bliss is the Jungian concept of synchronicity. When seemingly random co-incidences repeatedly occur, and you stop to notice them, it is possible to perceive a deeper meaning or force underlying existence. Recovery from addiction, and life itself, is better when it has meaning. I think our culture’s propensity towards addiction is in some ways filling a void that a meaningful existence would and should provide. Through meditation and other mindfulness practices, I am able to see and enjoy the mystery of our reality, which has enormously increased the joy I get from life. Not only can I follow my bliss, I am able to perceive it, which is central to my life now. During transcendent moments, I grasp the universal human capacity for heroism about which Campbell writes, and that adds a beautiful dimension to existence.
I am so pleased to see the recent strides the field has made towards using evidence-based treatment methods. Thanks for leading the way.
John Fitzgerald says
Thanks for the nice comment!
Jeannie Schuster says
I agree with what Joseph Campbell has stated and yes it is a journey. It’s a journey on the continuum of life, and hopefully the part where a person truly finds themselves. I believe that it is the ultimate journey to be a hero who is willing to find who he/she really is created to be and not the person everyone else has raised us to be. Regardless of your circumstances, drug addicted or not, this is the hero’s journey which brings true freedom and healing. It also makes clear a person’s purpose in life, which will bring about a true sense of well being and meaning. Otherwise, we all stay in our own personal addictions…TV, food, drugs, etc. So yes…be your own hero and find the people who will be your cheerleaders and support during your journey.
Cathy Steele says
I really enjoyed reading his philosophies of life. So true is it when Mr. Campbell said, “The journey out of addiction is hard because your experience while acting out may be as close to the rapture of being alive as you have ever felt.” What an impossible feeling that must be for one to take, going away of what made him/her feel, what alive is. It is so easy for people on the outside looking in to say, “Just quit”. It is as saying, “stop living” to the individual that is on this rugged and horrendous journey. I can remember thinking many times, “This is ridiculous, grow up, your no longer a teenager” while watching people spiral out of control. This article is a good wakeup call and reminder, that it is not – that easy.