Over the years, I have read passages and quotes of Joseph Campbell, who is best known for his philosophy: “Follow your bliss.” After studying years and years of comparative religion, mythology, and human experience, Campbell offers us great insight on the hero’s journey.
I’m just getting to know Campbell through an audio series The Power of Myth. In it, he tells a great story of two policemen who saved the life of a young man ready to jump at Pali lookout.
Nu’uanu Pali is a big tourist attraction on Oahu for its exquisite panoramic views. It’s also known for its strong trade winds that form sort of a natural wind tunnel. I’ve been there several times and done some trail running through its back trails. It’s absolutely stunning.
But for whatever reason, it has also become a popular spot for those looking to take their last jump. Like the Golden Gate Bridge, it is also notorious.
According to the story, it was early morning as the two cops wound their way up the narrow road to the lookout when they spotted the young man standing on the ledge. Instinctively the first cop darted out of the car and caught the wrist of the young man just as he leapt off the edge. The momentum of the fall was so great though that it sent the cop nearly over the lookout with him. Thankfully the second cop had responded just as quickly and was there to grab his partner and bring them both back over the ledge.
When asked later, “Why didn’t you let go?” The first cop responded, “I couldn’t let go. If I had let that young man go, I could not have lived another day of my life.”
Campbell called this:
One pointed meditation, everything else in his life dropped off.
His duty to his family, his duty to his job and career, all of his wishes and hopes for life just disappeared. And he was about to go.
He quotes Schopenhauer, who would consider this a:
Break through of a metaphysical realization that you and the other are one. And that the separateness is only an effect of the temporal forms of sensibility of time and space. And true reality is in that unity of all life.
A truth that becomes spontaneously realized. The hero is the one who has given his physical life to some order of realization to that truth. He is one with life.
We hear about this phenomenon with everyday heroes, when they can’t quite explain what made them do the heroic act. I find it fascinating because most of us consider our greatest natural instinct to be that of self preservation, and yet when crisis strikes there are those whose self preservation goes completely out the window. They act instinctively, beyond reason, where at the core we are all connected.
In small ways you can see this happening every day all the time. And thankfully we don’t have to linger about scouting out crisis to do so. Acts of tolerance, patience and love bring us all closer to that innate sense of aliveness.
As for our greatest heroes, those we’ve lost in the act, Campbell suggests that there is no better experience of being alive.
“Life is pain, and life is suffering, and life is horror, but, by God, you’re alive. And it’s spectacular.”
I leave you with this: Tolerance, patience, acceptance, kindness, compassion, love, peace, are not only great pathways to following your bliss, they are the instinctive guides of the hero’s journey.