I love Joseph Campbell. I think his writings and his philosophies were and continue to be brilliant and thought-provoking, and when I read his works it is clear to me that he was tapping into a deeper, ancient fountain of wisdom. “Follow Your Bliss” is one of his most famous statements. We all know what that means: follow what it is that brings you true joy, and you will find true happiness at the other end. While I agree with that in part, the problem is that we humans tend to take it too literally. What do I mean by that? Well, here’s the thing: if you are living a full life, there will be dozens if not tens of dozens of things (hobbies, activities, careers, etc) that bring you Bliss. So how do you know if you are following the right one?
When I was a kid, like many little girls I dreamed of being a dancer. If I had followed that Bliss, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have turned out very fruitful for me. But would it be because I didn’t try hard enough or that I didn’t set a strong enough intention and stick with it? Nope. Not at all. It would in fact be because I don’t believe I was good enough. I loved to dance, but truthfully I was only an average dancer. And as I watched the top students go on to be stars in the Nutcracker, I knew they had something that I didn’t. They were born with a talent that I knew I did not possess. Was I being too hard on myself and giving up too easily? Nope. Even as a child I had enough wisdom to know that not all dreams are meant for all people. Since moving to San Francisco, I’ve met a woman who is one of the soloist ballerinas for the San Francisco Ballet. When I watch this woman move, it is clear to me that she was born with a true gift: she was born with this special talent, but she was also born with the perfect stature and grace to be a ballerina. I was not. I believe this was her Calling. And I know that it was not mine.
Later on in life, in my late 20’s I found myself writing an extensive thesis to President Bush about all that was wrong with our foreign policy. Even as I wrote it, I found myself wondering “Wow, where is THIS coming from?” I was passionate about foreign affairs. So following that Bliss, I quit my job in Boston and moved to Washington, DC where I enrolled in a Master’s program in International Affairs at George Washington University. I was going to solve the Middle East Crisis, that was my goal. I was following my passion, my Bliss, so surely I was on the correct track. Right? Wrong. It didn’t take me more than one semester in Washington, DC to realize that I was NOT a bureaucrat, that the life of a government employee would not in fact bring me Bliss, that it would instead bring me soul-numbing frustration. So I left graduate school and gave up on that dream and went on to another. One could read that and tell me that I had simply quit, that I had given up. But here’s where they’d be wrong: one major mistake that we make as stubborn human beings is not knowing WHEN to give up, when to change gears. I did not quit. I simply was aware of the sign posts, and when the sign said “turn here” I paid attention and turned instead of wasting more time on what I knew was the wrong path. I had followed Bliss, but it was the wrong Bliss.
That experience of dropping out of graduate school was a perfect example of trial and error and this is what I think is so important with helping us to truly find the Bliss that we are meant to find. Many of the things that we LOVE to do, that truly bring us Bliss, are not in fact our true Calling and would actually be better simply as hobbies. This is what I realized about foreign affairs. I realized that I could simply read The Economist weekly and engage in intellectual debates with my like-minded friends. But it didn’t have to be my career, my livelihood. It could instead simply be a hobby. Years prior when I had been a Zoology major and was determined to fulfill my childhood dream of going to Africa to save all of the endangered species, I was disappointed to find myself earning C’s and D’s in the challenging science classes: chemistry, physics, etc. This brought me the same realization. I could love animals, and I could volunteer my time and donate money to animal charities (which I do), but it did not need to be my career. I knew that that path was met with too much challenge for it to be my true Bliss.
As we are such a stubborn race, so many of us foolishly cling to false ideas of what we think is our Bliss, and instead we lose the opportunity to be open to something that we never might have imagined. Several days ago someone told me that they had followed their Bliss to be a musician, but that it had only led to a life of pain. I would then argue that that was the wrong Bliss, and not the one that was truly that person’s Calling. When you’ve found your true Calling, it is true that the Universe conspires to help you: doors that were previously shut tight suddenly blow open for you, the right people show up into your life to help you at exactly the right moment, and magic happens. I know this because this has happened to me since I started writing. And here’s the beauty in this statement: I never in my life wanted to be a writer. Looking back, it would never have been my Bliss. So how can I then say that I support the idea, even somewhat of “Follow Your Bliss“. Because writing actually IS my Bliss, I just hadn’t yet discovered it. There was a whole path out there that I never would have considered for myself, one that I never would have imagined would bring me Bliss. So how could I have found it? I couldn’t have. I had to be OPEN to IT finding me. And once it did, that’s when I knew this was a Bliss I could follow. And just as with the trial and error that I had tried previously, I tried this path. And that’s when the doors started blowing wide open.
Life is not meant to be difficult, and so often we waste so much time swimming upstream, and we fail to recognize that the fact that we are being met with nothing but obstacle, challenge and uphill battles is actually the Universe trying to hit us over the head and tell us that we are on the WRONG path. And if we would just let go, and let the current take us downstream, we would find that life can be so much easier, and beauty that we never would have imagined will come to us. So many of us are clinging to ideas that we THINK are right, but we are too afraid to let go and surrender to the idea that there may be something entirely different meant for us. What about that person who had followed their Bliss into a life of pain as a musician? Perhaps, their TRUE Bliss would have been not in being a performing musician, but rather as a teacher, bringing the magic of music to others? I was blessed with an incredible music teacher and band director in high school. This man had gone to school for music and I’m sure at one time or another thought that his Bliss was to be a professional musician. But I can tell you that from the 1,000s of students lives he has impacted, and the beautiful and life-changing lessons that he instilled in all of us, that this man had found his Calling as a teacher.
What about the person who is clinging to the idea that they are meant to be an artist, they are trying to follow their Bliss, but instead it has led to a life of struggle and destitution? That is not true Bliss. Perhaps if this person opened themselves up to other ideas, they might find their true magic in doing art therapy with disabled children. Perhaps the person who is certain that they are supposed to be a famous, published author, is actually instead meant to be the one-of-a-kind, special teacher who nurtures and mentors the NEXT Nobel Laureate. Or perhaps it’s something entirely different than what we want and imagine for ourselves. Perhaps the person who insists that their Bliss is to be a filmmaker is actually meant to be an internationally-renowned Yoga teacher? This one is actually a real-life example of which I just learned. When I was living in Los Angeles, one of my earliest yoga teachers who inspired me onto the path of yoga was this fabulous teacher named Tara Judelle. She is an internationally-renowned Anusara yoga teacher who travels the world leading workshops and now lives in Bali teaching yoga in paradise. I did not know this about Tara, but just the other day she posted this message: “9/11 marks the 10 year anniversary of my decision to stop making films and start making change as a yoga facilitator- be the change.” I was shocked because I had never known that she had previously been a filmmaker. All I knew of her was that she made magic on the mat as a yoga teacher. It is clear to me now that by releasing her career as a filmmaker, she was able to find what I believe is her true Bliss, her true Calling: to be a soulful, beautifully impactful yoga teacher who spreads light, and Bliss, all around the world.
So how do you find YOUR Bliss? Trial and error. Try lots of different things, explore all of the different activities and adventures that bring you Bliss. BE OPEN: Be open to the idea that any one of those examples of Bliss may in fact be better meant as a hobby and not actually as your Calling. BE ATTENTIVE: If life is too difficult and wrought with challenge, and is not simply flowing, the Universe is trying to tell you something. Listen. BE FLEXIBLE: When you get these blaring sign-posts from the Universe be willing to change gears, be willing to give up what you are doing and turn to the right and try something else. Be like the water and go with the flow. BE BRAVE: Be willing to try something completely new, something you never would have imagined. You just never know what Calling may find YOU.