“Follow Your Bliss”

Yesterday’s post was about one of two bits of advice that I find myself regularly dispensing whenever I do readings (Tarot and Runes, mainly) for people.  That first one consisted of the phrase that author Pema Chodron used as the title for one of her books: “Start Where You Are.”  I won’t rehash any of that here, as yesterday’s post is fresh enough to still be cooling off as I write today’s…but today’s will finish off that one-two punch of regular advice.  This second bit is taken from another quote by another author.  This time, we’ll look for a moment at the words of famed mythologian, Joseph Campbell, and his suggestion to us all: “Follow Your Bliss.”

This is what one photographer's bliss looks like...  How about yours...?
This is what one photographer’s bliss looks like… How about yours…?

The idea is pretty simple: we each have things that so resonate with us, that to pursue them, to experience them, gives rise within us to that special, intense — and intensely positive — pleasurable emotional response that we call bliss.  Now bliss is pretty strong stuff, not to be confused with garden variety pleasure of a smaller scale or a more fleeting nature.  Bliss is something more profound.  It means we’re “walking on air,” and it means our hearts are singing.  It’s the kind of thing that can color an entire worldview, that can transform us, or transform the world around us.  And the magical part of bliss is that it’s different for each one of us.  For some people, bliss might come in some form of physical sensation or activity: the screaming velocity of skydiving, or the meticulous focus and methodical creation of knitting, or the reckless abandon of ecstatic dancing.  For others, it might be a more mental or intellectual pursuit, such as swimming in the tactical waves of a chess match or roaming the informational data-fields of pure math.  For some people, it’s emotional interactions, and for some, it’s spiritual exploration.  And there’s no right or wrong here, despite what notions we might buy into as adolescents who are just learning about how society can and will apply labels to things along the lines of “cool” and “hip” versus “square” and “lame.”  Our bliss is our bliss, and a big chunk of becoming an adult is often simply coming to terms with what forms the basis of our own individual bliss.

Sometimes the harshest sorrows come when we let other people convince us that our own personal bliss...shouldn't be blissful...
Sometimes the harshest sorrows come when we let other people convince us that our own personal bliss…shouldn’t be blissful…

Here’s my own personal rule about bliss: if it doesn’t involve non-consensual harm to someone or something else, then it’s almost certainly okay (and if it does involve non-consensual harm, then it’s almost certainly not okay).

That’s it.  Other than that — if engaging in whatever truly equals your bliss doesn’t involve you harming some other person or animal or plant or property — then worrying about what’s “cool” needn’t factor into the mix.  If you’re not harming anyone or anything without consent, then follow that bliss, period, and this is, by definition, cool.

What do I mean by consent…?  Well, sometimes people enjoy stimuli that others would deem painful or unpleasant.  The first example that comes to mind for me would be activities such as you’d find in the realm of BDSM (this is a sort of hybrid acronym, whose sub-parts stand for “Bondage & Discipline,” “Dominance & submission,” and “sadomasochism”).  Most people don’t like pain, or being restrained, and in fact, will often go to great lengths to avoid such brands of input.  There are, however, some people who are wired such that they do derive gratification from such sensations and experiences.  Someone kinked in this fashion might find it pleasurable to be bound and then flogged, for instance, and might give someone else their consent to do these things to them, even though these things involve pain, loss of freedom, and an overall air of what society at large might otherwise deem “harmful.”  Here, though, in this case, there’s real consent…so if our hypothetical person’s bliss involves being bound and flogged after giving consent to another specific person to administer such treatment, then both the giving and the receiving would qualify as totally fabulous examples of real bliss.  The consent element is extremely critical, though!

As long as everyone in this tableau is sincerely and explicitly consenting to these dynamics, then this can be seen as a true bliss for them that's every bit as valid as anything that society might deem kind, gentle, soothing, or otherwise typically "pleasurable."  There's a subjective element in bliss, and other people shouldn't get to define what yours is for you!
As long as everyone in this tableau is sincerely and explicitly consenting to these dynamics, then this can be seen as a true bliss for them that’s every bit as valid as anything that society might deem kind, gentle, soothing, or otherwise typically “pleasurable.” There’s a subjective element in bliss, and other people shouldn’t get to define what yours is for you! (public domain imagery by Gregor)

So then assuming that we’re not talking about things that do involve a lack of proper consent (such as things like actual abuse), it would seem like our individual varieties of bliss should be obvious to each of us…but this isn’t always the case.  Some people are conditioned from a very young age by very influential figures — parents, siblings, teachers, neighbors, society at large — that what brings them true happiness is for some reason not acceptable, maybe because it’s “frivolous” or “isn’t sensible” or some such.  Guilt, shame, doubt, and repression are immensely powerful forces, and can blind a person to some of their own inner truths.  If you’re not certain what would qualify as your own personal bliss, I’d suggest a simple sort of pseudo-meditation exercise…

Find a nice, quiet place where you can sit and be still without interruption for a decent interval of time — five minutes is probably not enough, but half an hour is possibly plenty.  Minimize your distractions if you can: no TV running in the room, maybe no music, no smart-phones beeping and telling you that “You’ve got mail!” in whatever form…  Get quiet, and take easy, slow, semi-deep breaths.  The object is to just relax.  Close your eyes…  Breathe in…pause for a moment…breathe out…pause again…repeat…

Once you feel yourself starting to unclench from the stresses of your everyday life, try to picture yourself…but the happiest version of yourself there ever was.  This would be a you that’s grinning from ear to ear and back again, all but giddy with delight.  A you that’s pulsing with waves of joy because all is as right with the world as it can possibly be.  Feel on your own face what that utterly natural grin would feel like.  Feel in the muscles of your neck and your shoulders and your back how that absolute lack of tension feels, that lightness and freedom in your frame.  Hear and feel the sounds you’d make in such a joyous state: the laughter, the sighs…

And then without consciously trying to “make” your mental image into any one thing, ask yourself: “What am I doing here and now in this vision that I feel such bliss…?

And before your conscious mind can interfere by furnishing things you believe you “should” like, things that “make sense” for you to like…just see if anything pops into your head.  Some image, some word or phrase, some concept.

Just try to be still...and then after imagining what bliss feels like, open yourself up to whatever might inspire you to feel that way.  Work backwards, in a sense -- back into knowing your bliss!  (photo by Nicolas Tacchi)
Just try to be still…and then after imagining what bliss feels like, open yourself up to whatever might inspire you to feel that way. Work backwards, in a sense — back into knowing your bliss! (photo by Nicolas Tacchi)

And nothing may present itself…or maybe not the first one, or two, or dozen times you attempt this.  But then again, something may.  And it may be something quite surprising to you.  Or it may seem like something odd and isolated — like, maybe you flash on yourself doing something as simple as building a sandcastle at the shore, but with tears of joy streaming from your eyes.  What do you do with that…?  Well, you examine it for possible meanings, and for ways it can be translated into your own life.  Maybe it means you need to visit the ocean more often in order to connect with your bliss.  Or maybe it means you had a love for building things as a young child, but that love was squelched and left unaddressed over long years for various reasons, and you’d do very well to dust it off and get busy with it again.  Or maybe it means you need to visit old ruins and study history.  Isolated visions can baffle, but they can also be loaded with multiple possible meanings if you start to look at their component parts and then relate them to your own life…

And then once you land on a viable interpretation of what “bliss” means for you…I believe we each owe it to ourselves and to the Universe to explore that bliss (or those blisses, plural, as we often have more than just one), and to experience it many times over.  In fact, I sometimes wonder if maybe the Universe exists in great part just so its inhabitants can experience as much bliss as possible.  I can imagine the world replaying itself over and over and over again, with all beings making all possible choices at all the junctures of their lives, until we happen upon that one replay in which everyone and everything experiences their maximum possible bliss, every step of the way, from one end of time to the other.  And what would come next, if that were to happen…?  I’m not sure about that.  Maybe the Universe itself would ascend to some higher state that we can’t really even comprehend.  I just know that it seems like a viable possibility, and I’m on board to do my part by experiencing as much of my own bliss as I can, and by helping other people to experience theirs along the way…

“Follow Your Bliss!”

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