The roles we play: mindfulness and the wisdom of Joseph Campbell

We all adopt different masks depending on where we are and who we’re with. Behind them all is an individual who can observe each of the different roles we play.

The roles we play: mindfulness and the wisdom of Joseph Campbell

photo credit: Alaskan Dude via photopin cc

To become—in Jung’s terms—individuated, to live as a released individual, one has to know how and when to put on and put off the masks of one’s various life roles. ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do,’ and when at home, do not keep on the mask of the role you play in the Senate. But this, finally, is not easy, since some of the masks cut deep. They include judgement and moral values. They include one’s pride, ambition, and achievement. They include one’s infatuations. It is a common thing to be overly impressed by and attached to masks either some mask of one’s own or the mana-masks of others. The work of individuation, however, demands that one should not be compulsively affected in this way. The aim of individuation requires that one should find and then learn to live out of one’s own center, in control of one’s own for an against. And this cannot be achieved by enacting and responding to any general masquerade of fixed roles.”

Joseph Campbell. Myths to Live By (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)

‘The practice of personal development usually focuses on changing your thinking. You’re told to think positively, optimistically, bigger and differently; to let go of negative thoughts and think yourself happy. The belief is that if you change your thoughts you change yourself, implying that you are your thoughts. Mindfulness offers a different perspective. Note that the word ‘personal’ comes from the Latin persona, meaning ‘mask’ (referring to the masks actors used in theatre to represent different characters) and ‘development’ comes from the old French word desveloper, meaning ‘to unveil’. So, interestingly, personal development is about unveiling your mask to reveal your true self. You wear different masks every day: mother or father, husband or wife, teacher or writer, footballer or driver. But underneath all that is another dimension that’s easily missed – the fact that you’re able to observe all these different roles implies that you’re separate from them. We call this the observer self.’

Shamash Alidina and Joelle Jane Marshall. Mindfulness Workbook For Dummies

* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

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