Follow Your Bliss
When you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a path that has been waiting for you all the while. You open the door for your life to begin -- the life you were meant to be living.
Once you've started down that path, your "bliss" is with you every step of the way, wherever you are, in whatever direction that path may take you.
I first heard the expression "Follow your bliss" as an undergraduate in college, while being advised by my university mentor and counselor in Cultural Anthropology, Dr. Lisa Long. Then again one evening while listening to the brilliant Mythologist Joseph Campbell as he was being interviewed on PBS by Bill Moyers. Campbell used the poetic expression “Follow Your Bliss” to describe the notion of following your own spiritual calling. Campbell aptly made the assertion that people were not really looking for meaning in their lives, but were actually wanting to feel the experience of truly living. When I heard him say that my heart leaped with excitement! It was then that I understood what Dr. Long was trying to encourage me to do.
Follow your bliss. Joseph Campbell coined the phrase, and it means following the yearnings of your heart, your heart's desire. Following your bliss is not about finding meaning in your life, it is about finding your life. It is about living an authentic life. It also means listening to and following your intuition, the voice of your heart. This is the voice of your "Inner Guru” your inner spiritual guide. Oftentimes we are conditioned to ignore that inner calling, as though it were imaginary, idealistic, not practical or perhaps just plain foolish. I say that it is impractical and foolish to ignore it! That is why it is never too late to take to heart your inner calling. It doesn't matter how old or young you are. All that matters is that at some point in the course of your lifetime you listen to yourself, to your own inner voice, the voice of your heart, to listen to your intuition and have the courage to follow it.
To follow your bliss is to follow your life's calling and that is to follow what Joseph Campbell described as "The Hero's Journey”. It is called the hero’s journey because it demands that we become the hero of our own story, that we confront our fears and insecurities and do what we must to live an authentic life. It means that we must courageously rescue ourselves from an unfulfilled life, from a life never really lived, from a self never fully realized. An example of this sad experience is exemplified in the novel “A Half Life" by VS NaiPaul. It is the story of a man who spends his entire life selling himself short, compromising himself, his abilities and his opportunities in order to play it safe. He unfortunately realizes his great misfortune at his life's conclusion. In the end he realizes that he has only lived half of the life he could have had.
HOW DO I FOLLOW MY BLISS?
We begin to follow our bliss by taking the time right here, right now to be completely honest with ourselves. We confront ourselves with the question, am I truly happy with the way I am living my life? Am I living authentically? What is my heart telling me? What is my heart's desire? At this point, we must see the connection between meditation and the following of one's bliss. Stopping, being still and listening to the voice of the heart is the work of meditation.In an analytical meditation practice we are moved to confront ourselves in this way. Meditation moves us to confront the reality that the true nature of our bliss is inside us and not outside ourselves. Meditation is the art of self reflection, self confrontation.
Our bliss is what we dream about; it is what we wish we could do or achieve with our life. It is that which we wish we could experience. That is our bliss, and to follow it we must first realize it within ourselves. We must take the time to come to terms with this ultimate reality. It is our bliss, and ours alone, so we must then muster up the courage to follow it! In this respect the Buddha tells us, "The truth that you seek is not up in the clouds - but in your own heart.” In like manner the ancient mystics tell us, "Thou art that!".
The notion of following your bliss is the mystical experience that leaves all of theology behind. It is the experience of being one with yourself and your own ground of being -- one with your own spiritual energy or spiritual destiny. It is sometimes described as a oneness with God or the divine. It is what Christ meant when he said, "I and the Father are one". Christ continually encouraged others to pray (contemplate) and seek the glory of God within their own hearts.
Listening to the voice of the heart has historically been considered a natural and profoundly spiritual experience, even religious, but it is an experience humanity has, for the most, part lost touch with. Religious concepts, like religious symbols have often been perverted or confused culturally in an effort to promote religious ideals and particular belief systems and it is for this reason that we are led astray from ourselves, from our own divine nature, our ground of being.
Let's look at some examples. Consider the symbol of the cross itself, a spiritual symbol and actually a symbolic archetype. It is known in our lifetime as a symbol of the Christian faith, but in fact it existed long before Christ did as a spiritual symbol -- for centuries before Jesus Christ lived and breathed on this earth. We have been conditioned to see the symbol of the cross as Christian symbol of sacrifice. And it can be, although the cross as a spiritual symbol existed in ancient mythology as a symbol of eternal affirmation, affirmation of the spiritual or higher self with all there ever was or will be. It symbolizes ones personal affirmation toward one's own life. It symbolizes the spiritual presence of divine energy in all life with no end or beginning.Thus we see the cross with a circle of unity as we see it in the Celtic tradition, as well as with images of saints with circular halos.
Similarly the swastika, the symbol of Nazi terror was perverted by Hitler's propaganda minister Gerbils. It was actually an ancient religious Hindu symbol and later adopted by Buddhists. You may have seen swastikas on images of Hindu deities as well as on the Buddha. Up until the time of Nazi terror, the swastika symbolized the power and unity of the Universe, whereas the reverse swastika is a symbol for the universe in chaos. I make this point to emphasize that we live in conditioning social orders where majority rule dictates not only how we live, but also how we think about ourselves. To follow your bliss is to recognize that we can break away from conditioning of any kind. We can liberate ourselves from everything that is an assumed way of thinking and believing.
We can step back from what everyone expects, and follow the path of our own perceptions and heartfelt desire and as long as we are not being injurious to others we can choose our own life path. That is living authentically. That is following your bliss. The person we must be most concerned with letting down in this process is ourselves. That is the path of the spirit, that is what Joseph Campbell called "The Hero's Journey”. To go where your body and soul want to go. To follow your heart and not let anyone throw you off course. That is the journey of "Passion" which transforms into “Compassion”.
In our purest form; in our deepest humanity, we are all "anti-heroes". We all must defy so that we may ultimately accept. The true spirit of Christianity as taught by Jesus himself recognizes this important spiritual principle. We become "apostate" so that we may become "apostles", we become "radical" so that we can truly conform to the love that exists within our own divine spirit. "For God has consigned all men to disobedience; that he may show his mercy.” Romans 11:32.
You have to find your bliss inside you. One way or another, we all have to connect and cultivate what's inside ourselves in order to grow the flower of our own humanity. We do this by practicing our own wisdom tradition whatever that may be. We do this by practicing the spiritual arts of prayer, meditation, yoga, analytical meditation and/or spiritual study. These practices help us to realize the possibilities of our perfection and the spiritual strength we all possess to realize that perfection. They enable us to overcome what we refer to in the Buddhist tradition as "Klesas", our own imperfections that continually hold us back, that keep us from following our bliss.
When we begin the journey with the intent not to save the world, but to save ourselves,
All else will fall into place. In Tibet & Bhutan, meditation Buddhas appear in two images or aspects. One is wrathful, the other is peaceful or in the "bliss" state. If you are clinging to the temporal world of the ego, everything becomes frightening -- from your own inner imperfections, to all that is going on in the world around you. It is a world of sorrows and suffering, and we are all clinging tenaciously to it to try to get by. The moment we let go of attachment and clinging to the temporal world of the ego, bliss arrives. That same image of the Buddha transforms into the Buddha of peace and bliss.
In the Hindu world we see the same transformation of the Goddesses Kali and Durga.
One is the fearsome image of a defender, the other a Goddess of peace. In Islam, the demon of death transforms into an angel of light at death. The German Philosopher Mistier Eckhart once said that all the demons of fear transform to angels of light when we at death, stop grasping and attaching and let ourselves go into the divine.
I believe that when we cast aside the demons of fear, and find the courage to follow our bliss, we align ourselves with those angels of light that lead us to the path of our own divine destiny. For this reason we live in a world of gods and monsters, and therefore following our bliss becomes the “Hero's Journey”.
The philosopher Schopenhauer tells us that just as our dreams are created by aspects of ourselves, so to our entire lives are composed by the inner will. Somehow, we ourselves know internally what we need more than anyone else, more than any school or institution. Others can only aid us in the endeavors that we choose for ourselves.
It is our individual responsibilities to listen to the voice of our own hearts and heed the wise instruction to "Follow Your Bliss".