Joseph Campbell meets the Frog in the Well (continued from previous post) and the transformation of our consciousness
If you don’t subscribe to Netflix, you should. Even if short-term. There is a phenomenal interview done between Bill Moyer and Joseph Campbell you should watch over and over again. It is well worth your time. It is about the power of myth and its role in our discovering who we are and how our consciousness transforms, shapes, and commits us to change. Campbell ultimately is a teacher. It is here I continue our story.
What is it a teacher does, but to teach a new way of consciousness and how to think for ourselves. That it is the trials of the journey we see in the book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell, that propel each of us to our transformation and ultimate destination, often even meaning the return to our source.
That it is the trials one faces on the journey knowing that there can be no reward without renunciation, paying a price. This is often the process of losing who we thought we were. We can see this in the Frog in the Well story where the frog initially only thinks of himself through his limited knowledge due to his environment. That for us our primary task is to stop thinking only of ourselves, our own self-protection. Often this means giving ourselves to another. We see this in others jumping down in the well without regards to their own safety.
What Campbell is speaking to is this transformation of consciousness. In effect, moving from one way of thinking to another.
To the point that you now have to think differently. This transformation is caused by trials and illumination, i.e., seeing the light. That it is through trials and revelations that we move forward thinking… ya, I can do that. The power of myth is that it has always been the hero figure who we model ourselves after. Ultimately it is when we act on instinct (look within) that we achieve our goal and in the case of the frog (my students), they learn seeing beyond ourselves (who we think we are), to who we are yet to become. Campbell uses the analogy, the myth of Star Wars, to show how we are all connected ultimately to what he calls finding our bliss and not being afraid to follow it.
For the teacher it is helping others see the vitality within themselves. That it is out of your center that has to be known and held – that the action comes. In Buddhism we often refer to nirvana. Nirvana is a psychological state of mind. It’s not like heaven, it is here in the midst of our daily turmoil (called samsara), your life’s conditions. Nirvana comes when you are not compelled by desire or by fear. When you hold to your center and act out of there. The Buddha doesn’t show you the truth, he illuminates the way YOU are to follow. All a teacher can do is give you a direction… as if a lighthouse with a beam of light you must follow for yourself. The whole idea of the frog in the well myth is to bring us into a consciousness that is spiritual that speaks directly to us as we move into the light.
The key is letting go and using the force of our imagination to take us there. To remain where we are or look upward and move towards the light. To be prepared and ready for it when we see it. Campbell calls it a manifestation of your character. However, the conditions have to match the readiness of someone who can then find this for themselves. The key is the achievement must be one we are ready for. The desire to step out and say, “yes I can do this”. Hence the value of the teacher showing the way. It becomes what you are ready for is what you get. Some will find a way to get out of the well and some will not. The transformation becomes something they did not know or had forgotten they already possessed within. What I have just said is very important that relates ultimately to our spiritual growth. The power of myth helps to take us there. Raising our consciousness up to a different, or higher, level.
To associate with the powers of nature that for the Chinese has always been the yin and yang, the I Ching. With this they can leave the well by learning how to fly. Hadn’t Confucius begun his quest all those centuries ago by studying the five ancient classics and the I Ching, the Book of Change? Wasn’t it by looking back at what had occurred that one could know what was to come next when similar circumstances presented themselves… and who was this modern-day teacher/philosopher who kept coming and going. What could he possibly teach them they did not already know? Now he appears having written a new version of the I Ching, claims to being a Taoist philosopher and having written extensively about the Tao and Lao,Chuang, and Lieh Tzu… and knew the history of the frogs at the bottom of the well better than they knew themselves… or better said what they had always known and taken for granted or simply forgotten.
Perhaps he was here simply to remind them. But then isn’t all true learning re-learning what we have always known and simply forgotten. Ultimately, the true test is do we serve the system or do we change the system for the better. An even bigger question is this why we return over and over again. That if a person doesn’t listen to the demands of his own spiritual and heart life and follow a certain path, he will surely find trouble. He soon finds himself out of alignment with whom he is yet to become. That the creative spirit lies out there beyond the boundaries of the norm. As if on the edge of what is known verses what is yet to be discovered.
What a paradox living had brought their cold dark home. What was the true meaning of happiness? They had thought everyone wanted what they had… An endless supply of bugs to eat and lots of relics from their past they had brought with them to admire. Who needed a future when they had their past? Why couldn’t living in your past be enough to give you a future.
Was it the role of this new teacher to somehow show them the way? They had learned you could be as complete a frog, or person as your spirit had taken you by embracing the past and that in itself had always been enough. Others from outside had come along and taken the finer points of Confucius for themselves, because they could do so without the need to join those in the bottom of the well. Leaving them with a few crumbs that others infrequently threw down to seemingly make them happy with what they had left from memories of who they once were. Having nothing to do, they had learned the happiness of doing nothing except to wait and watch for the sun to pass by each day or wishing on a star seen but for a moment overhead at night. Being left to be content with just what they had.
But then they had known the sweetness, or happiness of doing nothing and wondered why or how change could possibly bring them something they felt they already possessed. They began to understand that it was nothing more than not living beyond oneself. To not become enamored or attached to things you really have no use for. Over time it seemed everyone else wanted what they had without having to take the plunge into a deep dark well that was only lit an hour or so a day when the sun was directly overhead. They knew they must bring others to someplace they would go, if only they could go themselves without their leaving home.
Otherwise to be left in the dark… to be as complete a person as your spirit has taken you thus far but now frozen, or found, in the bottom of the well as if waiting for change that must inevitably occur. Your memories however reminding you of what you are here to contribute that will lead you back to your ultimate endeavor and destiny beyond where you now find yourself in the bottom of the well.
Their new teacher or the philosopher telling them they must first overcome their fears so that they too could learn how to come and go as he does but they can’t or won’t because they have lost the desire or knowledge of how to do so. It seems they were not always a frog whose jump was just a few inches. That this being enamored with Confucius and looking inward had blinded them to other abilities they had always had but now never used. That their comfort in doing nothing but rest on the laurels of Confucius had made them into something they were not… that their fear of failure was more than their need for success that the venture out of the well would lead them too. It was just too easy to stay where they were. They just thought they were happy… a prevailing innocence that kept them… well innocent.
But wasn’t that what following Confucius had taught them all these centuries? Just as it is said to get to the castle you must first cross the moat… the same goes for the thoughts you have each day. They are like the clothes you decide to wear each day.
That in reality the well they were in was an illusion they had created for themselves. As if they had intentionally dug it and then jumped in… Thinking that knowledge and Confucius would forever give them the cover they needed to maintain this happiness of doing nothing. An unaccounted-for love of being unaccountable to and for themselves except as they have been taught by the innate presence of Confucius everywhere they look. As if he is always looking over their shoulder. As a look back shows he is always gaining on you when you are there in Qufu.
They had forgotten a neighbor of Confucius named Mencius who taught only love. That we are forever surrounded by grace and are here to be filled with love. To love the whole world and to allow our enthusiasm fill us with our gift and that we are to share that gift with everyone we meet. Mencius lived a few centuries after Confucius and could see the hole people were digging for themselves.
Embracing the sage who would one day overshadow all they were to become. As the philosopher, you are continually reminded that you are here to do the work…. and to make things right. That the happiness of doing nothing begins with knowing that to forgive oneself is the first step to happiness. That God dwells within each of us as us… Just to be happy as we meet others smiling with our mind.
To treat everyone, you meet as a member of your universal family wherever they are. Knowing when you help yourself that you are actually helping others. Understanding that to lose your balance is sometimes just living your life you are here to live. Accepting everyone you meet as a teacher. As you spend your time crossing over to who you are yet to become by always looking through your heart all the while knowing that it will be in this way we know God.
Coming back to Qufu and the frog in the bottom of the well… finding the sweetness of doing nothing and enjoying where that leads as you begin by knowing others as you come forward to find yourself in the Tao. Acknowledging your role as one responsible for bringing forth the words of the ancient sage as a member of the I Ching/Confucius Society in Qufu. To be the teacher and philosopher conveying that the only limits are self-imposed. Bringing the thoughts and works of Confucius and my friends (Lao, Chuang, and Lieh Tzu) forward as I endeavor to help others climb or even fly from the well themselves.
Below is an original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (10 TREADING / Heaven over Lake). 2/9/94 The above is found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.
Finding One’s Step
The day of great importance has arrived. A great journey is commencing. The dragons are curious.
Is there sincerity present? Is peace and harmony ever apparent? The day has arrived. Draw no attention to yourself keeping to the back woods, the mountains, streams and lakes.
Your feet must not stumble. It is important that you have worn the right shoes. With beating heart and trembling hands the way ahead requires endurance.
Concentrating on one step at a time. Focusing only on the path ahead. When trouble arrives remaining alert to peril, looking ahead and watching one’s step as one with nature secure in following the way of knowledge.
The dragons interest has peaked. Others have come this way and failed. these footprints appear to be true. A great journey is commencing.
As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, I am asked to tell… just who was this Lao Tzu and why is he so important? I know I spoke of this last time, but some may have missed so it bears repeating. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching was the culmination of thousands of years of philosophical thought of what was to become Taoism thanks in part to copies found in tombs of those who were buried with copies of it in China. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching. Verses 60 and 61 appear below. Verses 1 through 59 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming months.
A partial preview can be seen on the Lao Tzu and Taoism tab here on my website. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught others along the way that guides us.
The commentaries below are meant to be read as a discussion between Lao Tzu and those interested who have thought deeply about the text itself. The quotes below and references to their authors are from Red Pine’s, Lao Tzu’s Taoteching.
Verse 60 – The Way of long and lasting Life
Calmness and economy, two traits the sage follows instinctively. In becoming still, the sage turns to his breath and then his thoughts. When his thoughts are calm, his virtue remains within. When his breathing is clear, he is reminded of his center and being at one with the Tao and all things. By embracing economy, the sage can possess what he needs without using more than his spirit requires thereby keeping his virtue intact.
Planning ahead the sage accumulates virtue, accumulating virtue means that he overcomes all. Overcoming all he knows no limit. Knowing no limit, he can return to the Tao as if guarding what is real. Knowing this, he takes care of his body and breath. Caring for his body he remains unharmed.
He stays behind as if one thousand years old. His roots nourished by the breath of ten thousand things. Maintaining deep roots and a solid trunk the sage prospers adhering to the way of virtue letting his branches and leaves breathe through eternity.
Ho-Shang Kung says, “If you cook a small fish, don’t remove its entrails, don’t scrape off it’s scales and don’t eat it. If you do, it will turn to mush. Likewise, too much government makes those below rebel, and too much cultivation makes vitality wither.”
Wang Chen says, “The government that takes peace as its basis doesn’t lose the Way. When the government doesn’t lose the Way, yin and yang are in harmony. When yin ang yang are in harmony. When yin and yang are in harmony, wind and rain arrive on time. When wind and rain arrive on time, the spirit world is at peace. When the spirit world is at peace, the legions of demons can’t perform their sorcery”.
Su Ch’e says, “The inaction of the sage makes people content with the way they are. Outside, nothing troubles them. Inside, nothing frightens them. Even spirits have no means of using their powers. It isn’t that spirts have no powers. They have powers, but they don’t use then to harm people. The reason people and spirits don’t harm each other is because they look up to the sage. Ans the sage never harms anyone.
Verse 61 – Harmony finding the Way
Bringing harmony to all around him, the sage is reminded of cooking a small fish. Too much attention and the fish turn to mush, too little and it soon burns. Harmony can only flourish when each is allowed to find its own way. Some fish will become mush and others will burn. But in the end, if it is to be eaten a consensus or middle ground will be found.
In governing the world by following the Tao, the sage displays no powers. Just as the world learns to eat fish, he remains inactive or seemingly behind the scenes. He governs but does not act his virtue remaining intact with harmony always finding its way.
As the sage is the essence of virtue disharmony can never enter the picture. Neither can the people do him harm, nor him harm others, as he too finds the world’s middle and a place for everyone at the table.
Lao Tzu says, “The reason the sea can govern a hundred rivers is because it has mastered being lower” (60).
Ho-Shang Kung says, “To lead a great state we should be like to sea: and we should be at the bottom of a watershed and not fight even the smallest current. A great state is the meeting place of both the high and low. The female refers to everything yin, weak, humble, yielding, what doesn’t lead.”
Wu Ch’eng says, “The female doesn’t make the first move. It is always the male that makes the first move. But to move means to lose. To wait means to gain. To move means to be above. To wait means to be below. The great state that doesn’t presume on its superiority gains the voluntary support of the small state. The small state that is content with its inferiority enjoys the generosity of the great state. The small state doesn’t have to worry about being lower, while the great state does. Hence the great state needs to be lower.”
Wang Pi says, “By cultivating humility, each gets what he wants. When the small state cultivates humility, it preserves itself, but that is all. It can’t make the world turn to it. The world tuns to the great state that cultivates humility. Thus, each gets what it wants, but it is the great state that needs to be more humble.”