A Look At Joseph Campbell’s New Book, “Correspondence”

Living Well

By the late 80s, Shakti Gawain was a best selling author and a household name. Through her books and workshops, she became internationally known for helping people access their intuition / inner guidance, and for mentoring them in using their mind-body-spirit connection to heal themselves spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically.

Back then, I was working as a Community AIDS Educator and as a facilitator of a wellness group for PLWAs (People Living with AIDS). And they were all devouring Shakti’s books, Creative Visualization and Living in the Light, because she gave them solid techniques for handling their illness – and she also gave them hope.

At that time, Shakti’s books were published by Whatever Publishing, founded in 1977 by Shakti and author, Marc Allen, in their tiny kitchen in Oakland, CA, where they created books to sell at the workshops they were presenting around the Bay Area. Under Marc’s leadership, Whatever Publishing went on to become the successful independent publisher, New World Library. With the tag line, “books that change lives,” NWL’s more than 550 titles include several Eckhart Tolle books including The Power of Now, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra, and the collected works of famed mythologist Joseph Campbell.

Recently, a delightfully enthused Associate Publicist at New World Library followed the Joseph Campbell hashtags to a recent article of mine, called How To Be A Hero. She then asked me to write a book review of NWL’s recently published collection of Joseph Campbell’s personal letters, called Correspondence.

To be honest, I had to look up articles on how to write a book review. I was certain this task was out of my depth. She also sent me a digital copy of Correspondence, and it looked overwhelming. So instead of reading the entire manuscript, I bought the hardcover.

I like to read several books at once, taking weeks, months, sometimes even years to complete them. And I still prefer the feel of a book in my hands. I even like to sleep with my favorites under my pillow, to assimilate them osmosisly, taking in the whole of the author’s experience in creating and living the book’s message.

I love books of personal letters. An author’s fiction and nonfiction comes mostly from his or her head and can be amazingly analytical. Authors can spend forever picking the perfect word. And rightly so! Mark Twain said that the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. On the other hand, an author’s letters take us into his or her personal life, including innermost feelings and visions. I’m on my second reading of the three-volume collection of Vincent van Gogh’s letters to his brother, and it’s an intimate and exquisite experience of Vincent’s heart. So Correspondence had already won me over.

What to say about Joseph Campbell? Such a beauty of a man. He understood, perhaps better than anyone else in today’s world, the journey of the soul through the earth and back to its source – the calling, the quest, the return and the growth gained. My own spiritual teacher said, again in the 80s, that there’s only one story and every person is living it – the incarnation process of what we call God, realizing itself through matter and returning home. Campbell called it the “one great story.”

Joseph Campbell was extraordinary in bringing arcane wisdom to a vast audience. James Hillman, former director of the Jung Institute, said of Campbell: “No one in our century – not Freud, not Thomas Mann, not Levi-Strauss – has so brought the mythical sense of the world and its eternal figures back into our everyday consciousness.” Newsweek called Campbell, “The rarest of intellectuals in American life: a serious thinker who has been embraced by the popular culture.” Campbell wakes us up to what’s dormant within us.

I don’t dare attempt to sum up Joseph Campbell’s genius work. He had countless degrees and awards and wrote prolifically, he influenced George Lucas to create Star Wars, he hung out with Steinbeck and Krishnamurti, and he worked with The Grateful Dead, saying about a concert he attended, “It doesn’t matter what the name of the god is, or whether it’s a rock group or a clergy… it’s somehow hitting that chord of realization of the unity of God in you all.”

Concerning Correspondence, its editors, Dennis Patrick Slattery PhD and Evans Lansing Smith PhD, have worked with The Joseph Campbell Foundation and New World Library to gather a collection of conversations that present “a portrait not just of Campbell but of a remarkable generation of artists, dancers, filmmakers, musicians, spiritual seekers, poets and novelists, all engaged in the creative powers unleashed by mythology.” The list includes luminaries like West Coast guru Alan Watts, religious historian Mircea Eliade, anthropologist Margaret Mead, political commentator Bill Moyers, Nobel Prize winning novelist Thomas Mann, and Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gary Snyder.

I’ve never written a post where I dropped this many names. There are many links here to brilliant minds. And it’s been a fascinating privilege to explore their thoughts and work. I’m not kidding about assimilating through osmosis. By giving our focus to great works and great minds, we can take our own quest forward. By imitating and identifying with what we want, we grow it in our lives. So it’s important to grab the calling of opportunity.

A gentle shout-out to Shakti – she left us in November 2018. And a huge thank you to Joe, who left us in 1987, and whose work continues through this new book.

You can buy Correspondence here.

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Author, Blogger, Contributor to Thrive Global, The Good Men Project, InspireMore and HuffPost