• Joseph Campbell
  • January 31, 2019
    Read, recorded or researched
Whether you think you need it or not, this book is stuffed full of wisdom on how to live your life. I’ve distilled my favourite parts under four headings, from writing to love, and every time I read back over Campbell’s thoughts, something new leaps at me.

The Best Points

Reflections on the Art of Living


Love & Destruction

  • You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. Destruction before creation.
  • Every process involves breaking something up.
  • The psyche knows how to heal, but it hurts. Sometimes the healing hurts more than the initial injury, but if you can survive it, you’ll be stronger, because you’ve found a larger base. Every commitment is a narrowing, and when that commitment fails, you have to get back to a larger base and have the strength to hold to it.
  • Nietzsche was the one who did the job for me. At a certain moment in his life, the idea came to him of what he called “the love of your fate.” Whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, “This is what I need.” It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment—not discouragement—you will find the strength is there. Any disaster you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life. What a privilege! This is when the spontaneity of your own nature will have a chance to flow.
  • One is always in danger of over-valuing the sheer love experience. You feel that you are losing something if you pull the experience down, but you have got to pull it down. All you have to do, really, is know what the possible relationship can be.
  • If you go into marriage with a program, you will find that it won’t work. Successful marriage is leading innovative lives together, being open, non-programmed. It’s a free fall: how you handle each new thing as it comes along. As a drop of oil on the sea, you must float, using intellect and compassion to ride the waves.
  • Before there are any children or even before there is a marriage, the crucial question is: “Is this the gentle heart?” Is the person seeking a possession? Or is the person feeling a responsibility to the one with whom the relationship is taking place? If there is feeling of responsibility, then I think you are in danger.
  • I personally don’t even think that unconditional love is an ideal. I think you’ve got to have a discriminating faculty and let bastards be bastards and let those that ought to be hit in the jaw get it. In fact, I have a list. If anybody has a working guillotine, I’d be glad to give them my list.

Finding your path

  • “As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.”
  • As Schopenhauer says, when you look back on your life, it looks as though it were a plot, but when you are into it, it’s a mess: just one surprise after another. Then, later, you see it was perfect. So, I have a theory that if you are on your own path things are going to come to you. Since it’s your own path, and no one has ever been on it before, there’s no precedent, so everything that happens is a surprise and is timely.
  • It takes courage to do what you want. Other people have a lot of plans for you. Nobody wants you to do what you want to do. They want you to go on their trip, but you can do what you want. I did. I went into the woods and read for five years.
  • The really serious one is “…when you’ve gotten to the top of the ladder and find it’s against the wrong wall.” And that’s where so many people are. It’s dreadful. And then, Jesus, to descend the whole ladder and start up another… Forget the ladder and just wander, bump around.
  • When you wander, think of what you want to do that day, not what you told yourself you were going to want to do. And there are two things you must not worry about when you have no responsibilities: one is being hungry, and the other is what people will think of you. Wandering time is positive. Don’t think of new things, don’t think of achievement, don’t think of anything of the kind. Just think, “Where do I feel good? What is giving me joy?”
  • I mean it. This is simply basic. Get those pressure ideas out of your system, and then you can find, like a ball on a roulette wheel, where you are going to land. The roulette ball doesn’t say, “Well, people will think better of me over there than over there.” Take what comes and be where you like. What counts is being where you feel you’re in your place. What people think is their problem. “What will they think of me?”—must be put aside for bliss.
  • I thought anybody who worked for money was a fool. I took a vow never to do anything for money. Now, that does not mean that when I do something for somebody I don’t ask for money. I want as much as I can get, but that’s the secondary part of the game. My life course is absolutely indifferent to money. As a result, a lot of money has come in by my doing what I feel I want to do from the inside. If you do that, you are doing things that attract money, because you are giving life and life responds in the way of its counterpart in hard coin.
  • If you follow your bliss, you will always have your bliss, money or not. If you follow money, you may lose it, and you will have nothing.
  • If you’re getting a degree to compensate for an inferiority complex, give up the complex, because it’s an artificial thing. When you’re going for a degree, you don’t do what you want to do. You find out what the professor wants you to do to get the degree, and you just do it.
  • The crucial thing to live for is the sense of life in what you are doing, and if that is not there, then you are living according to other peoples’ notions of how life should be lived.
  • My experience is that I can feel that I’m in the Grail Castle when I’m living with people I love, doing what I love. I get that sense of being fulfilled. But, by god, it doesn’t take much to make me feel I’ve lost the Castle, it’s gone. One way to lose the Grail is to go to a cocktail party. That’s my idea of not being there at all. My sense of it is that you have to keep working to get there. It may take a little while. Even when you have gotten there, it’s easy to get flipped out, because the world has things it wants you to do and you have decided not to do what the world wants. The problem is to find a field of action to give you that inner satisfaction so that you’re not thrown out.
  • The call is to leave a certain social situation, move into your own loneliness and find the jewel, the center that’s impossible to find when you’re socially engaged.You are thrown off-center, and when you feel off-center, it’s time to go. This is the departure when the hero feels something has been lost and goes to find it. You are to cross the threshold into new life. It’s a dangerous adventure, because you are moving out of the sphere of the knowledge of you and your community.
  • When one thinks of some reason for not going or has fear and remains in society because it’s safe, the results are radically different from what happens when one follows the call. If you refuse to go, then you are someone else’s servant. When this refusal of the call happens, there is a kind of drying up, a sense of life lost. Everything in you knows that a required adventure has been refused. Anxieties build up. What you have refused to experience in a positive way, you will experience in a negative way. If what you are following, however, is your own true adventure, if it is something appropriate to your deep spiritual need or readiness, then magical guides will appear to help you. If you say, “Everyone’s going on this trip this year, and I’m going too,” then no guides will appear. Your adventure has to be coming right out of your own interior. If you are ready for it, then doors will open where there were no doors before, and where there would not be doors for anyone else. And you must have courage. It’s the call to adventure, which means there is no security, no rules.
  • There are two approaches to choosing a profession. One is to study the statistics on the number of jobs that are going to be available in this or that category in the next ten years and base your life on that. That’s following the rim of the wheel. The other, is to ask yourself, “What do I want to do?” If you do that, then you are up against your decision. But if you say, “I am going to do what I want to do,” and if you stay with it, then something will happen. You may not have a job, but you will have a life, and it will be interesting.


  • A human being in action cannot represent perfection. You always represent one side of a duality that is itself perfection. The moment you take action, you are imperfect: you have decided to act that way instead of that other way.
  • So what is keeping you out of the Garden? Your fear and desire: that which the Buddha transcended. And when the Buddha did not respond to temptations of fear and desire, he passed through the gate to the tree, where he now sits with his hand pointing to the earth. That’s redemption. The Buddha and the Christ are equivalent. Jesus has gone through and become, himself, the fruit of the tree. When threatened by fear and desire, let ego go.
  • The goal of the hero’s journey is yourself, finding yourself.
  • What is the obstruction in your life, and how do you transform it into the radiance? Ask yourself, “What is the main obstruction to my path?”
  • Could God exist if nobody else did? No. That’s why gods are very avid for worshipers. If there is nobody to worship them, there are no gods. There are as many gods as there are people thinking about God. When Mrs. Mulligan and the Pope are thinking about God, it is not the same God. In choosing your god, you choose your way of looking at the universe. There are plenty of Gods. Choose yours. The god you worship is the god you deserve.
  • What did you do as a child that created timelessness, that made you forget time? There lies the myth to live by.
  • What do you like to do? What have you learned to do? Jung was a big, strong man, and he liked to push rocks around, so that’s what he did. I’ll bet that if you search back, you’ll find connections between the sacred space that you have now and a really special space that you had as a child. As an adult, you must rediscover the moving power of your life. Tension, a lack of honesty, and a sense of unreality come from following the wrong force in your life.
  • You must kill your god. If you are to advance, all fixed ideas must go.
  • What the Dalai Lama said was, “Now you are on the Buddhist way. Keep up your meditation, as there is no instant illumination. The mind moves slowly into this. Do not become attached to your method. When, in the course of your meditation, your consciousness will have expanded and been transformed, you will then recognize that all the ways are valid ways.” The rational mind stresses opposites. Compassion and love go beyond pairs of opposites.
  • Wisdom and foolishness are practically the same. Both are indifferent to the opinions of the world.
  • Spengler said, in a telling sentence that got into me when I read it: “Man makes history. Woman is history.” She’s what it is about, and the man fashions the field within which she can produce history and be history. The man’s function is to act. The woman’s function is to be. She’s “It.” She is Mother Earth.


  • Although analysis facilitates competent action, your spontaneity of action is inhibited when you are constantly thinking of the rules. This is true for everything. The one who attempts to be an artist and has not learned the craft is never going to be an artist. If you find you are trying, go back to school. You’re not ready yet.
  • When writing, don’t criticize the words coming out. Just let them come. Let go of the critical factor: Will I make money? Am I wasting time?
  • When I’m writing, I think of the whole academic world: I know how they think about this material, and it is not the same way that I think about it. I just have to say, “Let the guillotine come down. You are still going to have this message.”
  • It’s a very strange process: actually holding that door open and getting the sentences out. Do not think about the negative side. There will be negatives that are going to come down, but you have to hold the door open if you are going to do anything that has not been done before. You have to suspend all criticism to do your work. In writing, you have to do this all the time in order to get the sentence out. Suspending criticism is killing the dragon Thou Shalt. Kill him.
  • If you have trouble because you are thinking, “Who is ever going to see this?”—then think of someone you know who would resonate to your statement and write for that person.
  • The two things, then, that I’d say are necessary for breaking through what’s called writer’s block are, first, to have a person to whom you are addressing yourself and, second, to set aside a couple of hours a day when, as it were, you’re writing letters of love to that person.
  • You have to be reckless when writing. Be as crazy as your conscience allows.