Follow Your Bliss

Somebody I know recently made an investment into some adult toys and playthings. I was puzzled as to how he managed this, in light of other responsibilities pursuing his wallet. My friend responded, as justification ... “I’m pursuing my bliss.” He looked at me, anticipating my nod of understanding. I remained puzzled, and answered, “You mean like what Joseph Campbell said?” He affirmed with a nod.

“But that’s not what he meant!”, I reacted.

My friend elaborated, “How so? I’ve listened to him many times, and the message was clear to me. I’m supposed to enjoy life, not suffer through it, aren’t I?”

Ah yes.  Subtle distinctions, therein lies the rub!

The Choice

I might be wrong about this but for me, the American mythologist and philosopher Campbell was talking about moving toward what gives you joy, fulfillment and expression. This pursuit manifested in nothing less than a hero’s journey, an actualization of the true self, without compromise.

In association with this path, emerged the phrase, to “follow your bliss.”

In life there is ultimately one choice, to move away from pain, and toward bliss, or not to.

This isn’t a recipe for titillation. It's not about doing whatever it is you want to do, nor is it a self serving rational for hedonistic pursuits. It's about a disciplined, considered interface with reality.

In the constellation of factors which constitute your existence, you have the option of stagnating, becoming victimized by your surrounds and circumstances, or taking charge. Taking charge means you learn to identify and understand where you are in the moment, and what it takes to make the moment more to your fit and liking. If effect, you identify that which actualizes who you are and what you aspire to be, and you steer that way. You follow your bliss.

Again, in case it hasn’t yet registered, it's not about getting stoned out of your head, screwing yourself silly, winning the lottery or owning a Lamborghini. It's about you, and personal liberation. It’s never about irresponsibility, and getting yours at the expense of or on the shoulders of others.

We aren't all blessed with wealth, health, looks, or talent. While we all have the potential to be happy with ourselves, and to be blissful and content with who we are, we live in a world which makes it very difficult to do so. We are programed from birth to strive to be something other than what we are. As we grow, and are exposed to peer influence, media, and broad social contact, our prime focus becomes how to get more of "it." "It" being of course whatever the dominant influence of the moment is trying to ram into our heads by way of our desires.

We're bombarded with images of perfect people, leading perfect lives. We're lead to believe the right car, or makeup, or exercise program, or philosophy, or religion, job, clothing, insurance, or plastic surgery, will get us there. In other words, we are impelled to move away from who we are within our own skins, and to lust after whatever is dangled before our noses by those holding the strings. Follow this thread. See where it leads. Who benefits from our insecurities? Why must we be this way? Is insecurity and desire integral to our actualized self? For me, that was the issue of my friend’s “pursuing his bliss”, rather than looking deeper into Campbell’s true intent.

Following your bliss is more subtle. It requires a full assessment of who you are, and asks that you target what you have to do to actualize what you wish to become. It's about change, the kind that comes from within. It's not something you can purchase. It's not an adventure trip to the Amazon, skiing downhill off some Canadian cliff, or participating in mixed martial arts competition. It's about you finding out what's getting in the way of experiencing the moment, without judging it, or turning it into something negative or abhorrent.

Now that's not to say there is anything wrong with having fun, or being titillated. Understand those are transient experiences, ultimately of no consequence over the marathon of your time on earth, or in orientating you to a blissful path.

Integrating with this process means being liberated. Being liberated means freeing yourself from external influences. Freeing yourself from external circumstances means becoming aware of who you are, and finding the inherent value in that. Following your bliss is about taking that awareness to the bank and earning interest from it.

If you drive cabs, you can follow your bliss. If you're wealthy beyond measure, you can follow your bliss. If you're healthy, or sick, Christian or Muslim, you can follow your bliss, just as you can if you're homeless, or in the last stages of cancer. It may be hard, but the message in "follow your bliss" is that there is bliss to be had. If you're not finding it, the fault is not in the circumstances, or the situation. Look inward to yourself. Actualize your bliss! Now! Whether you understand it as the thread of a divine plan, the presence of God within, or Satori, you have the inherent potential to actualize bliss. Put yourself in the moment, identify where there is pain, and move away from that spot. Bliss is everythere but there!

Joseph Campbell put the phrase "follow you bliss" into our collective awarness. In his televised series with Bill Moyers he explains the concept was inspired by the Upanishads and the referenced springboards to transcendance. These were consciousness, being, and bliss. He explained that though he did not know with confidence whether his consciousness or his being were proper, he did know where his bliss was, and in pursuing his bliss his consciousness and being were actualized.1

As he described it:

    If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.2

It would be worthwhile to consider Campbell's life and identify what following bliss signified within the context of the life of the man who popularized the phrase.

For some, this was taken to be a license to run, or abandonment of responsibilities. For Campbell, it was never about putting "me" first. It was about rooting in what was real, and then learning to clear the fog induced by life and society, until seeing and recognizing that a path toward bliss is one’s birthright, no matter what one’s station.

Campbell lived a life of extraordinary focus, discipline and commitment. Among other things, he was a track star, and comfortably mixed and mingled with prominent personalities, philosophers, artists, authors, and enlightened beings. Following his bliss took him through cultures, across the barriers of language, and into the direct acquaintance of the greatest minds of his age. This was not the accomplishment of a laggard or opportunist, or someone looking for the easy way out. Look as his personal sacrifice and commitment over years of his life, one example being fulfillment of his commitment to bring the works of Heinrich Zimmer into English (it took a decade). By personal example, Campbell has shown that following one's bliss is about a path of full immersion and focus, rather than one of selfishness and abandonment.

As I understand, toward the end, Campbell was sometimes confronted with contentions that his “follow your bliss” was nothing less than the clarion call of the hedons.

He is said to have retorted, "I should have said follow your blisters."3


1. Campbell, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, edited by Betty Sue Flowers. Doubleday and Co, 1988, p. 120.

2. Op. cit., p. 113


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