By David Summerfield
Let’s make this more than a “Happy New Year” – how about a year full of aliveness, inspiration, and “going after it” if you know what I mean. This month, Stacy and I watched all of Bill Moyers’ interviews with Joseph Campbell, which was made into a PBS series “The Power of Myth” (1988). I became incredibly energized by watching all the interviews. Campbell was the consummate multidisciplinary scholar ever. Born in 1904, he kept learning all he could in every discipline, traveling the world over, and looking 1st hand into all the various cultures he could find. And his thirst for knowledge was always guided by an innate intention to live fully and show others how to do the same. He taught for almost 40 years at Sarah Lawrence College, and his interviews (guided by Bill Moyers) were really just treatises on how to be totally alive.
(From “Billmoyers.com” – Moyers asking Campbell a question from The Power of Myth interviews)
The kicker for me happened when Moyers asked him what his “peak” experience in life had been. We’re talking about his most outlandish or “over-the-top” experience in his life. Looking thoughtful for a few seconds, the by now familiar grin spread over his face – it was as if he were telling us a secret. It was a month before he graduated from Columbia University. (Incidentally, May 17, 1925). He was entered in the 880 (or half-mile), in a dual meet with Brown University. You could see by the look in his eyes that he was actually reliving the run right there in front of the camera. It was the perfect experience. He knew he was going to win it, and everything leading up to the start had been perfect. He led all the way down the home stretch and ended up running the world’s fastest 880 that year. (for track fans, it was a 1:56) This was Campbell’s example of what it felt like to be really alive or to have a real “peak” experience.
Perhaps you know why I’m bringing Joseph Campbell into this newsletter. Here was a tweed-jacketed professor of advanced years, sharing his knowledge. But ask him what the most meaningful experience in his life was, he immediately came up with this simple ‘ole 880-yard run on a track, during a regular ‘ole “dual meet”. Most of you have participated in track meets. Do I dare ask if you have just one track run that was the peak experience of your life? I bet many of us do have that one moment, which left an indelible mark on our psyche. Wanting proof that this really happened, I bought a subscription to the New York Times and went to their archives, and with the date of May 17th, 1925 (Wikipedia), I found my proof. There it was, and here it is:
(from New York Times “timesmachine.nytimes.org” May 17th, 1925, page 119. I’m guessing Campbell is the 5th from the left, back row.)
Of course this has led me to ponder what can happen inside our heads while we run. (And, frankly, run for more than 880 yards. Okay, I’m talking about “distance” running….hours at a time. This is not to belittle those with fast-twitch muscles, who pack it all in, in just a few seconds. That kind of running is SO intense, I can’t imagine much “thinking” can happen as the yards flow by, it’s all just a matter of survival. But I do remember delivering what I’d call a ‘sprint’ at the end of a marathon – the final 100 yards…and I can’t imagine why I did that, other than trying to shave off a second or 2 in a 3-4 hour run. Surely I wasn’t trying to beat someone to the finish line at that point!) I digress again. With all that, now I have to include the fast-twitch runners along with the slow-twitch ones too, they are out there training almost as long as us LSD folks. Where am I going with this? Yes, Joseph Campbell comes into the picture again.
During the interviews, Campbell kept going back to the theme of “follow your bliss”. Running that race in 1925 was obviously still blissful to him over 60 years later. And that has everything to do with the act of being really alive….“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” So, I’m at least nudging you to go out there and “feel the rapture of being alive”. You’re out there running along for
hours of “alone time”, you can at least use the time to fabricate a way to really feel alive! Something tells me every being on this planet has a fire burning deep within…that’s waiting for its person to honor it by letting that fire burn bright and clear for all to see. And the “all” can just be the trees around you, or the rocks, the birds, the clouds – heck, even just the pavement!
First off, there’s no need to get on a world stage and pull off something remarkable (produce world records, etc.) You don’t have to be a Joseph Campbell. But you can be a____________(insert your name here). That’s a good place to start. So, I can be a David Summerfield, meaning – “Hey there David, what can you do or are doing to really ‘be’ David Summerfield?” Ask yourself that question. What do you love doing more than anything else? (And that can…should…change as you evolve.) And if you’re already doing “it”, then find a way to carry it to a new level. Oh, and this doesn’t have to be witnessed by anyone but you! My favorite “rapturous” activities are rarely done for others to even know about. That’s the fun part. It’s actually taken me years to realize everything I do is really just for me – I’ve come to actually need that influx of energy that comes from the “aliveness” activity. “Awhile” ago, I entered all sorts of running races, enjoying getting to the finish line as fast as possible, and I loved passing people towards the end – which always felt “rapturous”. Wait – what about those I passed on the way to the finish line? They must have felt a bit diminished, no? Absolutely. I did when I got passed at the end! Suddenly, the rapture was transformed into a “what an ego trip, David”. So now my rigorous outings are for me only. And I set my own standards to surpass or not, and the intense aliveness can come about fairly easily now.
So, no Earth-shattering feats, okay? But definitely shattering the blandness (repetitive tasks/chores/jobs done on a daily basis) of a life path that has perhaps become lacking in deep meaning. Of course Campbell dealt with that in his interviews: “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” Wait! What is he saying? Read that more carefully as I had to. Another way to put it is “every step you take is creating the path you’re on”. If you question the path you’re on….look no further than to observe the steps just taken. Do you like what you see? Is there anything there you’d like to tweak a bit – to make it more full of life…..or rapturous….blissful? I’m just saying, no matter what it is you do, do it with an aliveness that “knocks your socks off”. And keep trying the next day to do it again some other way. Why not have that rapturous feeling on a continual basis? Why not? Happy New Year with a continual experience of Rapture 🙂