“Follow your bliss.”
It’s a piece of advice liberally used but very difficult to personally figure out. What does it really mean? What is “your bliss?” How does the term truly apply to you?
The first time I gave any real thought to that statement was about 4 years ago when I came across it in Anderson Cooper’s autobiography, “Dispatches From The Edge”. Now it wasn’t the first time I heard/read “follow your bliss.” But it was perhaps the first time I had enough life experience and wisdom (just barely) to begin to understand what such a statement could/should mean to me.
“Do what makes you happy.” I believe that was the way I originally oriented my life compass in my early 20′s. It was about a year after I graduated from college. I was very unhappy with my current life path and surprised that after diligently sticking to a success script of hard work, dedication, study, and achievement, that my current state of affairs was riddled with such glum and my outlook on my future seemed so uninspired. What was born from this “early 20′s crisis” was a massive gear shift and a reorientation of my life and career. I abandoned everything that I knew and understood to pursue something I knew nothing about but found myself interested in. I decided to try my hand in the acting profession. At that time, I didn’t know if I was truly following my bliss or just reacting to the fact that I was bored and looking for something new to do. Still to this day, I don’t know if it was the “right” decision. It was just a decision…
I liken the search for one’s bliss/happiness in life to a three dimensional, 360 degree shooting gallery. You’re plopped into the middle of this space blindfolded with bow in hand, and somewhere, out there, is a tiny, tiny floating target which represents your bliss, your happiness. No one tells you where it is and you have no idea where it may be. You just have to aim your bow out there and fire your arrow of hope into the arena of life’s paths, journeys, possibilities, and options. You hit something. What is it? Luckily for you, your arrow has a string attached to your self. So your reel it in and hold it in your grasp. You touch it, smell it, taste it, and perhaps peek at it from the crack of your blindfold. All this takes time. Do you like it? Does it feel right? No? Do a 180 and shoot again. Yes? OK, you’re in the ballpark. It’s time to fire another arrow into the unknown. But this time, aim just a little to the left or right or up or down from the original target. Again, you hit some thing. Reel it in. Inspect it. Hotter or colder? Adjust. Repeat actions until it suits your taste. This process can take years. Maybe even a lifetime. Some people seem to hit it on their first shot. But for most (and I’m in this boat), it’s a long process of trial and error. Searching for your bliss through deduction. By trying all sorts of stuff you don’t like, perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to stumble upon the things that you do.
But here’s the tricky thing. That tiny, tiny target you’re firing at blindfolded? It moves. Perhaps imperceptibly at first. But as you get older and as time passes, your definition of bliss/happiness changes. Sometimes just a little. Sometimes a lot. What was wrong for you yesterday could become a great fit today (and vice versa). When you finally think you’ve got it right, after a long period of firing into a more specific space, that same space may become way off. Why? Your target moved. Or, more precisely, you’ve changed. And with that, so do your desires, dreams, and expectations.
Enter your life partner (significant other, husband, wife, lover). Now things get even more interesting and challenging. Both of you are in this three dimensional, 360 degree shooting gallery, side by side. Both of you are blindfolded and each of you have a bow and arrow. What was already a complex task of bliss/happiness hunting has now become much more difficult. Not only are each of you shooting into the unknown at personal targets that are always moving, but now, both of you have to hit the same target. Instead of finding your bliss, your happiness, the term changes into “finding our bliss, our happiness.” I imagine the key to hitting the same target is patience and unconditional love for the other. For if anything, this process can take an even longer time than the solo effort. If you do not take the harder path and continually exercise patience, unconditional love, and forgiveness and continue to encourage your opposite to keep trying, eventually you’ll just turn toward your most loved and fire your arrow straight through his/her skull. Divorce, break up, reboot – an option that has become more and more convenient and casual in this day and age.
So what is my bliss/happiness, you may ask? Earlier in life it was something very exciting, very noisy, very glamorous, and very enviable. It was defined with many terms such as status, net worth, power, fame, leverage, influence, admired achievements, etc. It looked very much like music videos and award shows and the highlighted biographies found in books and lauded magazines. But over time, through many failures and not succeeding at success, my definition of bliss/happiness has changed greatly. It’s rather mundane and boring. In many ways, everything is coming full circle. The boringness and mundaneness of the life I ran away from 15 years ago is becoming the life I so dearly wish to settle into, root down, and grow out of. 15 years ago I couldn’t see the beauty in my boring. I had not lived enough, long enough, and failed enough to cut through the noise of entitlement, bling, music video expectations, and life’s superficial temptations to truly appreciate the beauty and excitement of life’s simplicities. So what is my bliss, my happiness? In a nutshell, it is shockingly mundane (especially from an outside observer’s pov). In fact, it is quite boring. But for me, this is a good thing. It is a great thing. I love my boring. I just had to learn how to recognize it, hence giving me a chance to love it. But have I truly found it? Have I found my bliss, my happiness? To be honest, I don’t really know. Probably not. All I can do is keep striving, keep listening to my heart, and keep refining towards what works best for me and my family all while trying to be a good person to those around me, familiar and unknown.
Everyone’s definition of bliss/happiness is different. I suppose it’s our job to go out, find, and refine the definition that works best for each of us. But the journey is definitely not an easy one. Pay too little attention to it and one may never live into one’s truest potential. Go too far and that definition may unknowingly morph into selfishness disguised as bliss/happiness. It’s a fine line indeed, requiring patience and the courage to keep trying even when things seem most difficult, confusing, or hopeless.
May you find yours…