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Myths to Live By



“...in this wonderful human brain of ours there has dawned a realization unknown to the other primates. It is that of the individual, conscious of himself as such, and aware that he, and all that he cares for, will one day die.”

Bringing another deep thought book to you today; the type of book you want to read heading into the weekend so you have time to digest and absorb everything. This type of book requires you to step back and consider each essay before moving on to the next. Reading that quote above in Joseph Campbell's Myths to Live By should give you an indication of why I am now deeply immersed in Ernest Becker's Denial of Death. The world of mythology/religion/psychology is a fascinating place to be and Joseph Campbell is the forefather of mythology.


This book charts the course of twenty-five talks made by Joseph Campbell at the Great Hall of The Cooper Union Forum in New York City. Edited into shorter essays, this book packs a lot of thought into a small number of pages. War and religion mythology feature prominently and in perhaps my favourite section, Campbell walks through the evolution of the ideas of Zen as they weave through the philosophies and religions of India, Japan, and China. This all fits more broadly into Campbell's ideas of religion and philosophy being split between Eastern and Western ideals.


"...when the intellect sets to work on life with its names and categories, recognitions of relationship and definitions of meaning, what is inward most is readily lost."

How true about the ideas of Zen. The ideas of being truly present with what is happening around us; not trying to name it or categorize it but just letting it be. It reminds of the modern ideas of mindfulness; to be present in our lives to truly exist in the world. To be mindful of the small things and show appreciation towards everything we have in our lives.


"It is a way of contemplation that can be just as well enjoyed while walking, working and otherwise moving about in this world, as while sitting in a lotus posture, gazing at a wall or at nothing, ..."

As Becker notes in his book, our ultimate existence will forever be shadowed by our attempt to understand the meaning of our life and coming to grips with death. Zen seems to be trying to provide a way to find footing.


Campbell brings the ideas of zen to the page through the works of many cultures. This one essay alone shows that these ideas are spread amongst many different cultures and regions and it really is a beautiful thing to see ideas written about as they spread throughout the world. In some way, it recognizes how close we truly are to one another. Although we seem to be more inclined to recognize differences, these deeply rooted ideas are singular. They are shared between us and Campbell does a remarkable job at linking these ideas together.


Moving beyond Zen, Campbell recognizes that mythologies are a way of linking us together.


"Mythologies, in other words, mythologies and religions, are great poems and, when recognized as such, point infallibly through things and events to the ubiquity of a "presence" or "eternity" that is whole and entire in each."

Each, being us as individuals and as groups. Mythology in the form of poetry and story is deeply embedded in our culture and our personal lives despite whether we are aware of it or not.


A book like this is best served up after having a sense of who Joseph Campbell is. His powerful ideas of mythology that have become foundational in their own right. I would recommend you start with his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces or The Power of Myth. Both which give a broader sense of his understanding and knowledge. Once you've recognized his knowledge on the subject this is the book you pick up next. An excellent broad spectrum of topics in the fashion that only Joseph Campbell can bring. If you can't already tell, I'm a fan.


On the Desk:

TWSBI ECO Transparent Blue Fountain Pen (check it out here)

Pilot Iroshizuku 100th Anniversary Fuku-roku-ju ink (hard to find but you can find an alternative Iroshizuku green here)


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