Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Joseph Campbell on love among the wreckage


“Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

– Joseph Campbell

On Joseph Campbell’s birthday, I want to recall one of the rules for living that he understood well:  for every setback, look for the opportunity. Its close companion is: for every wound, look for the gift.

These can be tough rules to follow when you feel that you have been knocked down unfairly, when you have lost your home or your job, when your partner has betrayed you or your best friend has turned against you.

Yet it is in the times of greatest adversity that we most need to look for the opportunity beyond the setback, and the gift in the wound. When we are willing to play the game of life this way – even when life looks very little like a game – we often do better, We may find that when one door was slammed in our face, another was opening, and that behind it were better things than we had been able to imagine.

Here are some of Joseph Campbell’s reflections (partly inspired by Nietzsche) on what can emerge from the train wrecks along our life tracks:-

Whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, “This is what I need.” It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment – not discouragement – you will find the strength is there. Any disaster that you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life. What a privilege! This is when the spontaneity of your own nature will have a chance to flow. 

Then, when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You’ll see that this is really true…The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.-

What would that mean, to bring love to the wreckage? A woman named Petra gave me a telling first-hand example from a literal wreck that seemed at the time to mirror other disasters in her life:

“I was at a stage where it seemed one earthquake after the next went through my life leaving me very shattered and vulnerable..In the midst of this I was driving my little old Toyota home from a long trip. Suddenly, on the highway, the hood lifted up and smashed against the windshield, which sort of imploded so that I could see nothing until I was able to stop the car.

“I got out. It was one o`clock in the morning, not a great time to be trying to deal with this. Very attentively, I looked over my car and found I had something in the back I could use to tied down the hood. Very attentively, I got back into the car and adjusted to looking through a small clear patch in the fractured glass. I drove, very attentively and very slowly, through the rest of the night to the place where I was living at that time.

“I know this was a situation of total wreckage where love was brought to that moment. Somehow in that moment there seemed to be an immediate understanding in me that my soul hadn`t decided for death which could have easily happened in that situation. There was no space left for moaning ‘there should be something else’. There was just fully attending to this moment of my life.”-

I find this a quite beautiful example of what it can mean to “bring love to the moment” – and how that can get us through, and back on the roads of life. When Campbell speaks of bringing love to the moment he is reminding us that – however helpless we may feel in the face of unwanted events – we always have the freedom to choose our response.-

Train wreck at Montparnasse, 1895


  • Sherry Puricelli

    This is a beautiful story and powerful reminder, Robert. “Bring love to the moment.” That’s going to be my theme for the day.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  • Nancy

    That the healing comes through the wound is one of my favorite lessons from you. Growing up with severe myopia as an outstanding student, rushing through my life, when I finally slowed down in my 40s to learn to really SEE, including really seeing other people, it made my experiences richer than I would have ever imagined.

  • Robert Moss

    Sherry – Thank you. I would be interested to what follows when you go through the day with that as your theme.

  • Robert Moss

    Nancy – Thank you. As you know, this is can be a theme for a whole life.

  • Nina

    Bringing up the topic of wounds and gifts… A couple of years ago my good friend went through a difficult period, which didn´t seem to have any possible positive end. I felt involved in that issue and consequently had a dream about visiting him at home. He was there crying. I embraced him for support and said something like: we will manage the situation. But in fact my heart was heavy. Then I found myself standing in the garden of his house when the herd of beautiful wild horses dashed to it. They were running across the garden several times and brought along a fresh spirit of freedom.
    After I woke up I realized that the trap my friend was manipulated into by his own brother couldn´t stand a chance against the inner liberty which has always been in his essence. In the reality there was a good ending and he got out of his “prison”. So yes, I agree that that there is a hidden treasure in our ordeals but the gems really want to be dug out and sometimes it will take its toll.

  • Robert Moss

    Nina – I hope you were able to share that wonderful dream, with its gift of the wild horses of spirit, with your friend. The telling alone would have transferred energy and confidence. We can dream for others, and we can learn to transfer the energy and guidance of the right dream in a way that helps get them through.

  • donna

    I’ve recently had a concerning mammogram result and followed this up with thermal mammography yesterday. The images on the screen showed no “hot” spots, but cold ones — which could be “normal” for my body. Last night my mother appeared in my dream, as her youthful 40-year-old self, healthy and beautiful. She surprises me at the airport, where I am waiting to board, and tells me she will go to my house and care for my pets. All will be well. In working with the dream, I remember that my first mammogram was at the age of 40, that at that age, my mother had had a breast cancer scare and that all turned out fine for her. Take away: I am my mother’s daughter, and this is a good thing that is on my side!

  • Janice

    Hi, Robert. This is a wonderful story. It is a reminder to choose consciously.

  • Pingback: Robert Moss on Joseph Campbell | Modes of Understanding

  • Chuck Denton

    To help stay on your true path, always transform the lemons into lemonade fueling your journey with love from every lemon that gets in the way.

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