Bliss, heart, path
I agree with the statement by Joseph Campbell that you should “follow your bliss”. What he means by that is not hedonistic enjoyment but something like so: I started to read the novel The Star of the Invisible Empire because I found the title evocative—yet as I read it I found it to be turgid; really, it was dead—the title was alive, the book was dead. Admittedly, I read it in French but that wasn’t the problem—the book itself was dead. On the other hand, a biography of Aleister Crowley I happened to have to hand was very much alive—even though I don’t agree with Crowley as a man, whereas, in principle, I should agree with the author of Invisible Empire because his politics are similar to mine.
Carlos Castaneda put it so: “Does this path have a heart?”. For whatever reason, the Crowley biography had a heart and felt alive—as did a book on goddesses by Joseph Campbell—whereas Invisible Empire was dead; and, for me, the Koran was dead—I glanced at it at the same time. The Koran was dead but Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and the Greek myths were alive.
This is not intellectual or moral—although it has an implicit ethic, I think. What we should always look for in life is whether a thing is alive—whether it has a heart. This is the only thing that matters—and it makes all the difference, for all the books I have described have equal intellectual levels and are as “hard” to read, require as much effort, and yet those that have a heart require no effort at all.
Ezra Pound: a book should be a “ball of light in your hand”—if it isn’t that, if it isn’t an organism that is alive, then it will be heartless. It applies to more than books: it applies to everything. Hence, for example, I think only David Lynch’s Dune has a heart—all his other films are dead. I think it’s because his other films are “try-hard” to make him look arty and so they’re too thought out—that makes them dead. Dune was made for commercial purposes but it happens to have a mystical theme that intersects that Lynch’s other interests; it was alive because he didn’t have an opportunity to be self-indulgent, pretentious, and arty.
Castaneda said: “Before you embark on any path ask the question: Does this path have a heart? If the answer is no, you will know it, and then you must choose another path. The trouble is nobody asks the question; and when a man finally realises that he has taken a path without a heart, the path is ready to kill him. At that point very few men can stop to deliberate, and leave the path. A path without a heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy; it does not make you work at liking it.”
That’s all very true. Incidentally, Castaneda exemplifies a point from my previous article about monotheism and polytheism—I noted that the way to contact the sacred is through the poetic mode. Castaneda was a big hit in the 1960s, but he got into trouble when it emerged that the Yaqui shaman he allegedly received his esoteric wisdom from in an “anthropological study” didn’t exist—or there was no evidence he existed. Therefore, Castaneda did not possess some esoteric wisdom from Central America.
For sure, Castaneda contacted the spirit world—the mode he used to do so was called “Don Juan”; now, whether “Don Juan” was a real man or a real man who was embellished is neither here nor there—anymore than if I say, “By the river there’s a circle in the sand I drew because the goddess needed a place to stand.” Further, Castaneda was always surrounded by a coterie of women—he was a real Don Juan you might say (insert emoji laughing with tears, slightly on its side like a spun coin).
This is really the only criteria by which to make decisions—it is not deliberative or rational, not ethical; it’s a question as to whether a person or a course of action has life—it needs to have a pulse. It’s not unrelated to magic, to the path that bids you on—to the path that if taken will give you further signs. Man cannot serve two masters: if you follow the dead path for money and fame it will be drudge work, if you follow the heart path it will be light work.