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We are the people of quotes.

at the edge of the abyss

It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”

Josesph Campbell

I can’t say that I’m actually familiar with that quote. I mean, I’ve read it before, sure, but I haven’t read what he wrote before or after those lines. Or I have and I’ve forgotten.

Either way, I’m not going to look it up right now. I will later. Really, I will. I just want to get my thoughts out in my words before they are influenced by his words.

We, humans that is, all of us, love quoting other people. A lot. We hear or see something that is, in our minds, witty or wise or true and we repeat it as if we are the ones who first proclaimed it. Like we really know what it means. Like they are our thoughts. Something to live by.

I once had a t-shirt that said “looking out for number one”. Yes, it was in the late 1970’s. I thought it was cool then. I wouldn’t wipe my ass with it now. Before that, in the ’60s, when I was very young, I had a prison-themed t-shirt that had the inmate number “IM69RU12” (say it out loud if you don’t get it). I had absolutely no idea what that meant back then. Nor would I for many years. But my Grandmother gave it to me (I am certain she didn’t get it either) and I loved my Grandmother and thought the t-shirt said everything I wanted to say and looked cool so I believed it made me look cool and so I wore it proudly.

Which makes me think that we are something of a culture of t-shirt slang. We are the people of quotes.

There’s a theory of evolution based on memetics that backs this up. I’ll tell you about it some time.

All of us do it. I am no different there. I find myself using colloquialisms and reposting quotes and coming up with witty one liners far too often. Say things like “I am grateful” or “Live Now“. Sometimes without having done the back work to find the understanding of those statements. They slide up my throat as easilly as a jello shot slides down.


Other times, not so much. Sometimes I choke on them a little.

This is one of those times.

I have been to the abyss, and maybe I’ll tell you about that some time too. It’s a place that I am quite familiar with. When I say “I am grateful” for the experience, as well as for leaving that place in one piece I am speaking an intimate truth.

But I have to disagree with Mr. Campbell on this one so I’m going to try rephrasing him. I’ll likely regret doing so without doing the research but, hey, I’m just into the quote right now.

There is nothing to recover in that dark place except who we were meant to be. You can lose sight of that person but once you’ve found them they are always there, sometimes waiting to be reclaimed, but always there.


It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the greatest treasure that is our self.


The greatest treasures are discovered in the abyss.

That first try is okay but that second one is a crappy t-shirt slogan with like a dragon guarding a golden urn or some shit.

The problem with either of those claims is that people who have already found themselves rarely fall into the abyss. The abyss is a place for the lost and the seeking.

Stumbling there is guaranteed. The things we stumble over are placed there by our self. Are our self. I think Mr. Campbell was simply trying to give us a hint. Like, “Yo dude, when you trip in the dark the thing you trip on is a part of you that you haven’t seen so it’s kinda cool that you discovered (and/or recovered) that part. Lucky!”

While that’s undeniably optimistic, it isn’t always true that we find treasure when we stumble in the abyss. Sometimes we just superman into the ground and get up cursing and bleeding. So when we stumble there we either fall deeper (not so much a treasure) or see, clearly, that part of our self that was misplaced or missing (and there’s the treasure!).

So I’m going to misappropriate Joseph’s statement and rephrase it with the following:

It is by going down into the abyss that we discover that the greatest treasures in our exploration of self may be found when we stumble.

j m greff

Yeah, that would make a stupid t-shirt, but it’s how I decided to interpret that quote at this moment in time. Feel free to misquote me to your hearts content. Maybe adding, “Or not” to the end would make it more accurate.

Anyway, it’s all yours now. Have fun with it.

Now I’ll read what Joseph wrote before and after those lines. Or, I will as soon as the book I ordered arrives. If you’re wondering, the quote is from Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion. I won’t be writing an essay on it so if you want to know if I got it right you’ll just have to read his work for yourself.

Image by Juan Davila

Let me know what you think

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