Joe Campbell Speaking the Midlife Truth.
“The problem in middle life, when the body has reached its climax of power and begins to decline, is to identify yourself, not with the body, which is falling away, but with the consciousness of which it is a vehicle. This is something I learned from myths. What am I? Am I the bulb that carries the light? Or am I the light of which the bulb is a vehicle? One of the psychological problems in growing old is the fear of death. People resist the door of death. But this body is a vehicle of consciousness, and if you can identify with the consciousness, you can watch this body go like an old car. There goes the fender, there goes the tire, one thing after another— but it’s predictable. And then, gradually, the whole thing drops off, and consciousness rejoins consciousness.” Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth”
We cite Joseph Campbell quite a bit at MEA, but it wasn't until I read Rick Moody's insightful monthly "Human Values in Aging" newsletter that I saw Campbell's beautiful piece of wisdom (you can ask to see the newsletter by emailing Rick Moody at firstname.lastname@example.org). In some ways, it's not surprising to read that Joseph Campbell saw midlife not as a crisis but as a chrysalis, a time for transformation.
Midlife can feel mythical, a Hero's Journey through a dark, solitary, liminal landscape. But, at the same time, it's also when we get "slapped up the side of the head" and regain consciousness. It's when we can see the painful and laughable patterns of our lives to distill some wisdom moving forward. And, if we're truly modern elders, we'll share that wisdom with those younger than us.
Thanks for MEA alum Kim Kennedy for finding this clip from Bill Moyers’ PBS series with Joseph Campbell in which Campbell talks about midlife and even uses a car analogy (which I loved to hear since I’ve suggested our body is a rental vehicle).
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