Joseph Campbell is a legend in the field of cultural anthropology and associated arenas. His book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces is of gargantuan importance, decades after his death. I was watching a brief YouTube video about “the hero’s journey”, an “archetype” identified by Campbell (and influenced by countless human myths, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Otto Rank). Researchers Eva Thury and Margaret Devinney wrote this: “We are all heroes struggling to accomplish our adventure. As human beings, we engage in a series of struggles to develop as individuals and to find our place in society. Beyond that, we long for wisdom: we want to understand the universe and the significance of our role in it.” In this blog, I aim to share a bit about one meaningful Campbell quote about courage, risk, and other virtues.
Here is that YouTube video.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek” is a scintillatingly wonderful thought by Joseph Campbell.
What does that mean to you?
To me, it says that fear is ever-present – for everyone, quite often. We can cower, and we can stay in the figurative safety of the village, or we can go out there and do battle with our allegorical dragons. Writer and psychoanalyst James Hollis urges us to “choose the path of enlargement, not service to wealth, power, fame, or the accolades of others, because it is what is asked of us by the soul.”
…because it is what is asked of us by the soul.
You and I can spend minutes, hours, or years pondering that. It helps if you buy and digest the trenchant book An Examined Life: Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey (2018).
Anyone can do wonderful things and live a full life if they were raised perfectly well and felt no fear. But as Hollis notes: “What makes us frightened is the activation of the old paradigm with which we all grow up: that we are small and the world is large.” He is referencing self-perceptions, self-esteem, self-concept, etc.
This is related to Campbell’s profound thought in the following way. If we do not grow, develop, and improve (overcome fear, past schemas, and familial dysfunction), we will not find what we long for.
The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.
That is to say that, metaphorically speaking, what you are afraid to think about, to let into your conscious mind, to sit with is a clue. It signals a key aspect of your psychology. Unresolved issues linger from our past, inevitably. We are not who we are capable of being. However, George Eliot wrote, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” How is that for an inspirational quote!
If you want treasure, as heroes often do, don’t try to become a CEO, a star on social media, a lawyer, or for God’s sake, a politician. Power and prestige are lures – Siren songs, to use a mythological reference.
“We all have those fears, yet deep within is that call again, that summons. How many talents have been neglected, opportunities aborted, risks rationalized away?” Hollis writes.
A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. ~ Grace Hopper
Hollis finishes his thought: “Each of those moments of postponement, rationalization, and deflection was when we turned our back on our own soul.”
If you want to have sameness, stuckness, and smallness, do not risk. If you wish to find your treasure, face your fear, summon your courage, and be willing to risk. The cave is frightening, but therein lies what heroes seek.
I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and a sword in my hands.
Now I will end with a few more choice quotes about personal growth:
“In a letter from the 1950s, [famous Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung] observed that the work of being an evolved human being consists of three parts. Psychology can bring us insight, but then come the moral qualities of the individual: courage and endurance.” ~ James Hollis
“For human beings are not so constituted that they can live without expansion; and if they do not get it one way, they must another, or perish.”
“You cannot expect to achieve new goals or move beyond your present circumstances unless you change.”
“I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”
“To try is to risk failure. But risk must be taken because the greatest hazard of life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, is nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, live, and love.”
“Desire conquers fear.”
“In speculation, meditation, and ethos alike, it is the human will that sets the goal and attains it. Each man has his own power of action and conduct, meditation, and thought. He works, he struggles, he is like a mountain climber. That is why Buddha is forever calling for an effort of the will.”
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” ~ Anais Nin
“It is not only physical courage which we need, the kind of physical courage which in the face of danger can at least control the outward evidences of fear. It is moral courage as well, the courage which can make up its mind whether it thinks something is right or wrong, make a material or personal sacrifice if necessary, and take the consequences which may come.”
“What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it.”
“To make the growth choice instead of the fear choice a dozen times a day is to move a dozen times a day towards self-actualization.”
“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it’s the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”
“You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.”
“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”
“Risk is essential. There is not growth of inspiration in staying within what is safe and comfortable. Once you find out what you do best, why not try something else.”
“Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.”