Embracing Your and Your Kids' Emotional Cosmos

Greg Twemlow
6 min readJan 4, 2024

The Epiphany of Joseph Campbell’s Wisdom

In a profound sentence, Joseph Campbell, famous 20th-century American philosopher, captures a universe of thought: “All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you.”

Campbell’s phrase offers a magical insight into the human condition. For parents seeking to guide their children through the complexities of growing up, this epiphany shines a light on a crucial truth: we are born multifaceted, and throughout life, our personalities embody various shades of ‘hells, heavens, and gods.’ It’s not a concept to shy away from but rather one to embrace and explore.

It’s also likely that periods of emotional turmoil are created by subconscious attempts to suppress our multifaceted personality.

Joseph Campbell, a renowned 20th-century scholar and thinker, significantly contributed to our understanding of human existence and our role on Earth. His work transcends mythological studies and delves into universal aspects of human experience and the shared journey we all make through life. Campbell explored deep narratives that have shaped human societies throughout history, uncovering patterns and themes illuminating the human condition. For teenagers, at a crucial stage of forming their identity, Campbell’s ideas provide a valuable framework for understanding their place in a larger, shared human story.

Example parental dialogue with a teenage daughter or son, “Hey, I just finished reading something that I wish I had come across when I was your age. This one sentence took my breath away: ‘All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you.’ It made me realize how it perfectly captures all the complex feelings I’ve experienced in life. It might resonate with you, too. Can I read you a few paragraphs from this article? I’d love to know what you think.”

DALL·E 2024–01–05 09.30.17 — A young woman sitting in dimly lit library, her eyes closed and a serene expression on her face, as she reflects on Campbell’s profound phrase
DALL·E 2024–01–05 09.30.17 — A young woman sitting in dimly lit library, her eyes closed and a serene expression on her face, as she reflects on Campbell’s profound phrase

Deciphering the Multifaceted Self

Campbell’s words invite us to consider the vast inner landscapes within us. Each person is a tapestry of emotions, thoughts, and experiences. Our inner ‘gods’ represent our highest aspirations and virtues, the ‘heavens’ symbolize our moments of joy and peace, and the ‘hells’ reflect our fears, struggles, and pains. For young individuals, realizing that these elements coexist within them is both enlightening and essential. Parents can assist their teens in recognizing these internal elements as natural and significant parts of their personal growth. Discussions can revolve around personal experiences, emotions, and how these aspects influence their behavior and choices.

Why is Self-Discovery in Youth Important

Adolescence is a transformative time when young people begin to question their identity and place in the world. This period of self-discovery is ripe for introducing Campbell’s concepts. Parents can guide their teens in understanding that exploring their inner world is a journey toward maturity and self-awareness. They can encourage their children to reflect on their experiences, identify their personal ‘gods, heavens, and hells,’ and understand how these elements shape their perceptions and life choices. Activities like reflective writing, artistic expression, and open conversations about characters in literature or media who undergo similar journeys can be instrumental in this process.

The Dangers of Denying Our Inner Diversity

Neglecting or suppressing the multifaceted aspects of our personalities can lead to emotional distress and a lack of authenticity. Teenagers, in particular, are at risk of internalizing societal pressures to conform to a singular, often unrealistic, identity. Parents should emphasize embracing all facets of our personality, including the less comfortable aspects. By acknowledging and exploring these complexities, teens can develop emotional resilience, empathy, and a deeper understanding of themselves and others. Parents can facilitate this by creating an environment where all emotions are acknowledged and discussed openly, without judgment.

Guiding Young Explorers

Introducing Campbell’s concept to young minds should be gradual and thoughtful. Parents can start by discussing how everyone possesses a rich inner world of contrasting emotions and thoughts. They can use examples from their lives or popular culture to illustrate these ideas.

Encouraging teens to express their thoughts and emotions through creative outlets like art, music, or writing can provide them a safe and constructive way to explore their inner worlds. Regular discussions about these explorations can help parents and teens navigate this journey together, deepening their connection.

Emotional Enlightenment

Emotional enlightenment is a critical part of a teenager’s development. Integrating Campbell’s philosophy into this journey can empower young people to understand better and navigate their emotional landscapes. Parents can introduce concepts like emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and self-reflection as tools for this exploration. By sharing their experiences and challenges in understanding their inner worlds, parents can demystify the process and encourage their teens to embark on this journey with confidence and curiosity.

Nurturing the Journey with Your Kids

Embarking on this journey of self-discovery is not a solitary endeavor. It requires support, understanding, and guidance from parents. This shared exploration can strengthen the bond between parent and child, creating a foundation of trust and open communication. Parents should be active listeners, offering empathy and guidance when needed and celebrating their child’s insights and growth. This collaborative approach not only aids the teen’s journey but also allows parents to reflect on and grow in their own understanding of the self.

Life’s Path Toward Fulfillment

Joseph Campbell’s insight provides a powerful lens through which young people can view themselves and their journey through life. Exploring the inner cosmos is not a one-time event but a continuous, evolving process that enriches one’s life in immeasurable ways. For parents and teens alike, embracing this journey can lead to a deeper understanding of oneself, greater emotional fulfillment, and a more authentic life.

Accessible Resources for Young Minds

While Joseph Campbell’s work offers profound insights into the human experience, its depth and academic nature can be daunting for young readers. Here are several resources that distill similar themes in more accessible ways:

  1. “The Hero’s Journey: A Guide to Literature and Life” by Reg Harris and Susan Thompson: This book simplifies Campbell’s concept of the Hero’s Journey, making it more relatable to younger audiences. It uses examples from contemporary literature and films to illustrate these timeless themes.
  2. “Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes” by Edith Hamilton: A classic in its own right, this book offers an engaging introduction to mythology. While not directly related to Campbell’s work, it covers many of the myths that Campbell himself analyzed and is written in an accessible style.
  3. Graphic Novels and Adaptations: Various graphic novels and illustrated guides that explore mythological themes can be great for younger readers. Titles like “The Olympians” series by George O’Connor, which presents Greek myths in a graphic novel format, can be both entertaining and educational.
  4. Documentaries and Video Series: Visual media can be a more engaging way for young people to learn about these concepts. Documentaries like “Finding Joe,” which explores Campbell’s Hero’s Journey in a modern context, can be more accessible than dense texts.
  5. Interactive Websites and Online Courses: Websites like Ted-Ed offer short, animated videos on various topics, including mythology and storytelling, which can be a great starting point for young people. Similarly, online courses or workshops designed for younger audiences can present these ideas interactively and engagingly.
  6. Young Adult Books with Mythological Themes: Reading fiction incorporating mythological themes can subtly introduce Campbell’s ideas. Books like Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson” series, which integrates Greek mythology into a modern setting, can be both enjoyable and enlightening.

By exploring these resources, young readers can embark on a journey to understand the rich tapestry of myth and story that Campbell so eloquently unraveled in an engaging and age-appropriate way.

About the author: Greg Twemlow, Co-Founder of Future Skills Studio.

Future Skills Studio Co-Founder Greg Twemlow

Greg Twemlow: Sharing what I’ve learned from my career of 35 years as a citizen of the world, parent, corporate executive, entrepreneur, and, since 2018, CEO of Future Skills Studio, focused on experiential learning programs for young people.

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Greg Twemlow

Pioneering AI-Enhanced Educational Strategies | Champion of Lifelong Learning & Student Success in the GenAI Era