Do ever feel like when you’re reading, you aren’t really learning anything, but you’re re-discovering what you already had inside you? That’s how it felt after reading The Power of Myth, a book companion to the PBS mini-series featuring Bill Moyers and mythologist Joseph Campbell in conversation. Having never read any Campbell (I’m starting on The Hero With A Thousand Faces next) I found it to be a great introduction to his worldview.
Campbell had a lot of wisdom for artists, but here are two of the more practical excerpts.
On having a “sacred place”:
[A sacred place] is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen….
[O]ur life has become so economic and practical in its orientation that, as you get older, the claims of the moment upon you are so great, you hardly know where the hell you are, or what it is you intended. You are always doing something that is required of you. Where is your bliss station? You have to try to find it. Get a phonograph and put on the music that you really love, even if it’s corny music that nobody else respects.
On how to read:
Sit in a room and read—and read and read. And read the right books by the right people….When you find an author who really grabs you, read everything he has done. Don’t say, “Oh, I want to know what So-andso did”—and don’t bother at all with the best-seller list. Just read what this one author has to give you. And then you can go read what he had read. And the world opens up in a way that is consistent with a certain point of view. But when you go from one author to another, you may be able to tell us the date when each wrote such and such a poem—but he hasn’t said anything to you.
(This is something that both my friend Brandon and George Saunders have suggested.)
Great book. Highly recommended. Here are some other excerpts.
We watched the PBS miniseries and it was really life-changing. Something I think you latch onto depending on where you are in your life. I wish I could see your drawing in a larger size to fully read it but it was marked private in flickr…
Austin Kleon says
whoops! sorry, april. Here’s the full-view: http://flickr.com/photos/deathtogutenberg/2495721756/sizes/o/
We read part of this in high school. He’s really into Star Wars :)
1. I love the quote about the “sacred place”. For me, when it works right, this is the function of my long walks to the particular park I like. Never thought about it this way before, but really it’s like a hero’s journey away from what’s familiar and into the unknown, even though the unknown is just a catchment pond with a creek and a bunch of trees and wildflowers. Today I watched a little blue heron land in that pond, and when that happened, I wasn’t thinking about what to write on my blog today, or what to have for dinner. I was just watching it.
2. From the illustration, I really like the point that eternity is the *absence* of time, not a *long* time. That, to me, is what tapping into myths / deep stories / sacred places is about: you get appropriately lost in what’s happening, such that you don’t have any consciousness of time – or, to put it alternately, time stops having meaning for you. It makes me wonder whether this is the root of the joy we experience when we sink into the “Flow” state that Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi has described, because one of that state’s distinguishing characteristics is a loss of all sense of time.
This also leads to still other thoughts about the insane ways that we overschedule our working days, especially in corporate America, but I *will* save that for a blog post of my own.
A “sacred space” is definitely what I’m missing most in my life. The closest thing I probably have right now is the bus ride to and from work (that’s my decompression time, anyways.)
I like your equation: walk = hero’s journey.
Czikszentmihalyi, Campbell, Lynda Barry–they’re all saying the same thing: the highest function of art is to tap into this eternity, this *absence* of time…to capture that magical feeling, that experience, of “flow”…
Darwin had a “thinking path” behind his house that he would walk several times a day, even when he was in poor health. It freed his thoughts and I think it connected him with the natural world to see the minute changes in the woods day by day.
Falling in love with an author and reading everything he or she wrote is something I used to do without even thinking about it, as a kid. I would cruise by that author’s shelf at the library every week just to see if there was anything I’d missed. (Sometimes I would find out later the author had been dead for years. Sometimes I would find out there were more books under another name or in another section. Joy!)
My most recent love affairs, with Ellen Gilchrist, Lynda Barry, and Henry James, have been a little more deliberate. But I think if I have to make too much of a project or an effort of it, it’s a sign I’ve picked the wrong author, perhaps out of a misguided wish to be “serious” or to improve myself.
Thank you for your notes!
Austin Kleon says
Truth: if you need to make a project of it, it might not be meant to be.
I think I need to start going for more walks…
I was mesmerized when I first SAW the interviews with Joseph Campbell (w/Bill Moyers). It made sense of mankind, for me. Loved the sacred place of the keeper of Chartres Cathedral – the light, the height, the peace.
A walk under the canopy of leaves with light fractioning in overhead is just as rewarding, if you allow it to be.
Shimmers reflecting from watter, tall grasses swaying in the wind, the fluttering notes of birds.
Yes, walks can easily allow you to stumble upon the sacred place. Joseph Cambell, let’s reevaluate those priorities!
Austin Kleon says