I love asking our seniors how they’re feeling about graduating. Their responses generally fall into one of two categories: either the senior is thrilled to be moving on, or she’s feeling anxious about losing her college experience. The ensuing conversations are always interesting.
As a twenty-two year old at Fredonia, I was solidly in the anxiety camp.
I don’t know if there’s a cure for the anxiety, but there is solace in ideas from those who have gone before us. An idea that helped me in the months after graduation came from a conversation between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers in The Power of Myth:
“Joseph Campbell: (Arthur) Schopenhauer, in his splendid essay called “On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual”, points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot. So who composed that plot? Schopenhauer suggests that just as your dreams are composed by an aspect of yourself of which your consciousness is unaware, so, too, will you have served unknowingly as an agent, giving meaning to the lives of others. The whole thing gears together like one big symphony, with everything unconsciously structuring everything else. And Schopenhauer concludes that it is as though our lives were the features of the one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too, so that everything links to everything else, moved by the one will to life which is the universal will in nature.
It’s a magnificent idea — an idea that appears in India in the mythic image of the Net of Indra, which is a net of gems, where at every crossing of one thread over another there is a gem reflecting all the other reflective gems. Everything arises in mutual relation to everything else, so you can’t blame anybody for anything. It is even as though there were a single intention behind it all, which always makes some kind of sense, though none of us knows what the sense might be, of has lived the life that he quite intended.
Bill Moyers: And yet we all have lived a life that had a purpose. Do you believe that?
Campbell: I don’t believe life has a purpose. Life is a lot of protoplasm with an urge to reproduce and continue in being.
Moyers: Not true — not true.
Campbell: Wait a minute. Just sheer life cannot be said to have a purpose, because look at all the different purposes it has all over the place. But each incarnation, you might say, has a potentiality, and the mission of life is to live that potentiality. How do you do it? My answer is, “Follow your bliss.” There’s something inside you that knows when you’re in the center, that knows when you’re on the beam or off the beam. And if you get off the beam to earn money, you’ve lost your life. And if you stay in the center and don’t get any money, you still have your bliss.”