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!
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
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
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
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
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
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