The quote “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek” is attributed to Joseph Campbell. It means that one of the paths you see before you but are afraid to take ultimately leads to self-actualization, even if you have to leave the ordinary world behind.
While this quotation does not seem to appear in any of Joseph Campbell’s writing in this exact form, it certainly sounds like something he would have said. And there are other quotations that can be summed up like this, if taken together.
Whether or not Campbell uttered or stated it in this exact form is really irrelevant because it happens to be a powerful statement that rings true. Let’s take a closer look at it, at its deeper meaning, and at some of the implications for you and your life right now.
Why “The Cave?”
A cave represents several things. First, it signals danger because you don’t know what awaits inside. It could be a predator or another human being protective of his territory. It could be a metaphorical dragon.
Second, a cave is usually dark. It is no accident that people are generally afraid of the dark. Why is that? Well, that’s most likely because, from the standpoint of evolutionary biology, our predators tend to hunt at night, and our vision is not as good as theirs.
And darkness has important deeper implications for human beings. It’s a shadow side of our psyche – something we are not comfortable facing and usually have to go to a therapist or a mentor to deal with and sort out.
Third, a cave is a confining environment. The term “caveman” comes from the idea that our ancestors used to live in caves. One fact that is rarely mentioned is that some of these caves were very narrow – barely big enough to fit a human being. I guess claustrophobia was not a thing back then.
A cave naturally narrows down your options, your focus, your allocation of resources. In other words, by saying Yes to the cave, you’re saying No to the rest of the world, at least for a while.
And making such a focused commitment is scary because you feel that you will miss out on something else. You could also get stuck and find no way back. These are some real possibilities. But there are also amazing benefits, as I’ll explain in a minute.
What about the “fear to enter?”
Given what the cave means to us humans on the subconscious level, it is no wonder that we have the fear of entering it.
If this place could house a bear, that’s a legitimate fear. We’ve been afraid of the dark since we were little. And to be confined or stuck is scary for a good reason.
And now, we must take action and go boldly into such a seemingly unwelcome place. Let’s not forget that the shadow aspect of this entrance could make us deal with issues buried deep in our unconscious. And they may not be pretty.
Given all these dangers – real, probable, or unlikely – there has to be a potential payoff for making this bold move. I mean, if you knew that only something bad could happen to you there, what would be the point of even considering entering the cave!
Is it possible that it really “holds the treasure?”
Joseph Campbell was a mythologist. He was more than that, for sure, but the collective human myth (the “monomyth”) was his element. He lived and breathed it.
It is no wonder, then, that the cave he refers to is special. It is no regular cave. If you have been looking at it for a while, wondering if you should enter or not, then it is a cave that has something in store for you.
Why is it a treasure that you “seek?”
What are you seeking? Even better – what are you seeking that has been elusive for so long? Why haven’t you found it yet?
Perhaps you haven’t found it yet because it’s hidden in the cave, cloaked in danger, darkness, and fear. Could that be? What is your intuitive answer?
If you are searching for answers about this “cave that you fear to enter but that holds a treasure that you seek,” then you must be in a special place and time in your life. In this video, I explain how your mind and body guide you towards your special cave:
And to further help you make sense of your inquiry, let me give you three examples of the “caves” and the “treasures” found within them.
Example #1. College Major and Vocation
A perfect example of such a cave and the treasure that it held is Joseph Campbell himself and his work.
Campbell became fascinated with mythology as a young man when Native American narratives captured his imagination. He had initially studied biology and mathematics, but the cave of literature and mythology was just too enticing. So, he entered it.
Once you’ve made the decision and entered the cave, all kinds of opportunities begin to show up on your journey. Interestingly, on his family trip to Europe in 1924, he met Jiddu Krishnamurti, one of the enlightened beings and most significant people of the 20th century.
That was an amazing encounter. It was probably something like meeting Eckhart Tolle on your fishing trip. Of course, the encounter influenced him. Campbell became one of the greatest integrators of ideas in history. Entering the cave definitely worked out for him. He collected his treasure in the form of his theories, lectures, and books.
Example #2. Health and Healing
I’ll give you an example from my own life. When I was 30 years old, I sprained a knee and tore my Anterior Cruciate Ligament. This is a nasty injury, if you ask any athlete who’s ever had one.
After the injury, I couldn’t extend my leg fully, I walked with a limp, and had major pain. This went on for a few months during which I tried every conservative method available in New York – massage, physical therapy, and even a folk healer. Nothing worked.
Doctors told me that reconstructive surgery was the way to go. One of them said I did not need anything at all, and the knee would resolve by itself. But months went by, and it was not resolving.
I certainly didn’t want to go for the surgery because it seemed worse than the actual injury. They would have to slice up my perfectly good ligament, drill holes in my bones, and affix the ligament slice in place with screws. No thank you.
So, the ordinary methods were out the door. I knew I needed a unique solution – one that would not involve surgery. And after an intensely mysterious experience (of which I’ll talk in another blog), it looked like I found the solution.
It was a sort of a cave. I had to travel to Russia, pay a doctor I had never heard of, and expect a miraculous healing. It definitely raised some eyebrows on my friends, several of whom admonished me to perish the thought.
They warned me that I’d probably encounter a charlatan, that they’d just take my money, and I’d come home empty-handed, if not worse off than before. And you know what – they probably had a point.
However, something within me told me to enter that cave in spite of everything. My only evidence was the doctor’s tone of voice which conveyed clearly that he knew what he was talking about. After a 3-minute phone conversation with Moscow, three days later I was on a plane to Russia.
To make a long story short, within three months I was fully healed – without surgery. I could extend my leg fully, I was no longer limping, and I had no pain walking, running, or even doing heavy squats. I actually tell the story in more detail in this podcast.
Yes, the cave was real, but so was the treasure. And I got it.
Example #3. Business Success
Jeff Bezos is a great example of a man who abandoned the ordinary world to enter the cave of uncertainty and collected his treasure as a result.
He made the decision in 1993, and in 1994 he left his high-paying job at D. E. Shaw to start Amazon in his garage.
The job he left was very comfortable and lucrative. He was making great money and had his vacations and retirement all figured out. It was a great comfort zone.
But the cave of Amazon allured, and he made the decision and entered it. He had to leave the ordinary world of job security behind. There is no other way when entering the cave – you must say goodbye to the status quo. The rest is history.
I hope I helped you in your search in one way or another.
To your freedom,