“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a land of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are – – if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”
J. Campbell: Well I always tell my students “follow your bliss”.
B. Moyers: Follow your bliss?
J. Campbell: Your bliss where the deep sense of being formed, and going where your body and the soul want to go. When you have that feeling then stay with it and don’t let anyone throw you off.
Have you ever read Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt? Remember the last line? “I have never done the thing that I wanted to in all my life.” That is a man who never followed his bliss. Well, I actually heard that line when I was teaching at Sarah Lawrence. Before I was married, I used to eat out in the restaurants of town for my lunch and dinners. Thursday night was the maid’s night off in Bronxville, so that many of the families were out in restaurants. One fine evening I was in my favorite restaurant there, and at the next table there was a father, a mother, and a scrawny boy about twelve years old. The father said to the boy, “Drink your tomato juice.”
And the boy said, “I don’t want to.”
Then the father, with a louder voice, said, “Drink your tomato juice.” And the mother said, “Don’t make him do what he doesn’t want to do.”
The father looked at her and said, “He can’t go through life doing what he wants to do. If he does only what he wants to do, he’ll be dead. Look at me. I’ve never done a thing I wanted to in all my life.”
And I thought, “My God, there’s Babbitt incarnate!”
That’s the man who never followed his bliss. You may have a success in life, but then just think of it — what kind of life was it? What good was it — you’ve never done the thing you wanted to do in all your life. I always tell my students, go where your body and soul want to go. When you have the feeling, then stay with it, and don’t let anyone throw you off.
B. Moyers: What happens when you follow your bliss?
J. Campbell: You come to bliss. In Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: Sat, Chit, Ananda. The word “Sat” means being. “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means rapture. I thought, “I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.” I think it worked.
B. Moyers: What was your rapture?
J. Campbell: Well started with Indians, and then it went on into more and more mythological matters, and the realm of the arts music, and when I met Jean the dance came in. This is it. Just stay with that.
B. Moyers: One doesn’t have to be a poet to do this?
J. Campbell: Poets are simply those who have made a profession and a lifestyle of being in touch with their bliss. Most people are concerned with other things. They get themselves involved in economic and political activities, or get drafted into a war that isn’t the one they’re interested in, and it may be difficult to hold to this umbilical under those circumstances. That is a technique each one has to work out for himself somehow.
But most people living in that realm of what might be called occasional concerns have the capacity that is waiting to be awakened to move to this other field. I know it, I have seen it happen in students.
A wonderful way of teaching we had at Sarah Lawrence where I taught for 38 years, I’d had an individual conference with every one of my students at least once a fortnight for half an hour or so. Now, if you’re talking on about the things that students ought to be reading, and suddenly you hit on something that the student really responds to, you can see the eyes open and the complexion change. The life possibility has opened there. All you can say to yourself is, “I hope this child hangs on to that.” They may or may not, but when they do, they have found life right there in the room with them.
B. Moyers: How would you advise somebody to tap that spring of eternal life, that joy that is right there?
J. Campbell: We are having experiences all the time which may on occasion render some sense of this, a little intuition of where your joy is. Grab it. No one can tell you what it is going to be. You have to learn to recognize your own depth.
B. Moyers: Do you ever have this sense when you are following your bliss, as I have at moments, of being helped by hidden hands?
J. Campbell: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as the result of invisible hands coming all the time — namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.
B. Moyers: Have you ever had sympathy for the man who has no invisible means of support?
J. Campbell: Yes, he is the one that evokes compassion, the poor chap. To see him stumbling around when all the waters of life are right there really evokes one’s pity.
B. Moyers: The waters of eternal life are right there? Where?
J. Campbell: Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.