Follow your bliss
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it"....... Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
If you're into reading the self-improvement /self-development stuff then you probably won't want to read this post (or perhaps this blog) because what you'll find here is the antithesis of all that. If anything, this weblog is about a radical Self-acceptance.
Have you noticed that there seems to be an ever increasing number of self help gurus appearing on the web and in print? There's probably not a 'nice' way to say this, but I think the idea of self-development is probably the most insidiously disempowering concept we have ever created. The notion and pursuit of self-improvement in its many forms is the single mad idea that cements our belief that we are somehow created less than perfect. Where else in the natural world you ever find such a crazy notion. Does a rose, a bear or a butterfly strive to better itself? No they don't. They play and just enjoying doing what they do..... and as they do, they naturally learn, grow and blossom.
The central premise behind all the self improvement stuff (although often unseen as it can be oh so subtle) is that there is something wrong with us, something flawed that needs to be improved, something we need to do in order to be happy, healthy, successful and fulfilled. It is this unexamined assumption, that we can be improved and therefore must be less than perfect, that keeps us in chains ... that reinforces this illusion of brokenness, powerlessness and being a victim-of-circumstances-beyond-our-control, which we see reflected back to us in the world we perceive around us.
The only help that's really useful is help in seeing through our illusory beliefs in limitation, in order to recognise our already perfect true nature. 'Enlightenment', 'self-realisation', 'self-actualisation, call it what we will..... is not a change at all, but simply a recognition of who we already perfectly are. This is all we need do to achieve anything we want in this life with both easy and joy.
So how do we realise this?
Well, the path for each of us is different, but our path is always played out in the events and circumstances of our own life. Life itself teaches us to remember our Self, to recognise the power and Love is are already within us. Our part is simply to choose to let this happen and we do that when we make the conscious decision to follow our bliss. Not to search for a path, or vocation, or cause, or look for our 'unique gift', but to simply follow our bliss now.
So here is an alternative to self-improvement, a spiritual path or another kind of seeking.... Vow to do what makes you happy right now and see where that takes you. 
Before we take a look at the practical application of the 'follow your bliss' principle let's first look a little closer at what happens when we seek for something and see if we can put this 'seeking' myth to bed.
Calling off the search
You've probably read of the importance of finding our niche, our gift or 'the intersection of what we excel at / what is needed / what we care about' (Ouch, it makes my head hurt just typing those words). All these things that have to be figured-out or found. But what if you never discover your 'thing', or you do discover it and then when you dive into it you find it's not as good as you thought, or find it's something beyond your reach. What then? Are we really willing to make our happiness dependant or something that may or may not happen at some point in the future?
Attempting to seek in another place, time or circumstance is a pursuit that both not worthy of us and certain to fail. Why not choose to be happy in the only time that happiness ever occurs.... in the present.... right now. Following our bliss doesn't mean searching for anything that's not available to us in this instant, it is simply turning to that spark within us that knows in each moment what we want, what is best for us, and following that.... and then just enjoying the ride. It's a process not an discovery or an accomplishment. It's turning to that past of us that already knows what makes us happy and trusting, as Blaise Pascal said, that, "The heart hath reasons which reason knoweth not.”
When you follow your bliss.... doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors, and where there wouldn't be a door for anyone else."...... Joseph Campbell
Our unique gift to the world is the gift of our Self, and we express that best in each moment that we choose to be happy. The form of that expression is whatever it is that we enjoy doing. As we live through the experience and accept the gift of learning that the path of our passion has to give us, then what we enjoy will change and leads us quite naturally to where we need to be and what we need to learn next. Our part is simply to follow whatever it is that gives us joy...... the rest just happens. Effortless success on any level has just one requirement - that we be happy.
Choosing to follow our bliss is probably the most unselfish act we can do because it impossible to be happy alone. It is only by being happy that we dissolve our anxieties, the 'human condition' if you like, that we now see reflected in the world around us and played out each night on the TV news. At a conscious level we are not separate, and so when we make a commitment to let our lives by directed by our present love instead of by past conditioning or future imaginings, we quite literally raise the consciousness of the whole planet. Our choice will be felt in untold places. Maybe someone on Capitol Hill will feel something stir within them and have the courage speak out against retaliation or someone look into the eyes of a terrorist and recognise their own Self reflected there and both be healed.
'Follow your bliss'.... putting it into practice.
- Recognising our bliss.
There are many things in life that will catch your eye but only a few that will catch your heart....... pursue those."
How often do we do 'what we want' and have felt somehow less than satisfied afterwards? What we think we want is so rarely what we really want.
Most of us spend our lives in an illusion of free will - spending our time following a mind that conjures up an endless list of desires, plans, and things-I-ought-to-do without ever questioning the source of these thoughts and feelings. These scripts have become so familiar and comfortable to us that we call this 'free will'. When we do examine them though, they seem to just appear by themselves. But how can we be exercising choice when we follow a mind that seems to tell us what to think? As they say, 'the mind is great servant but a terrible master'. We are so trapped by our conditioned thinking that any way we imagine to break free of this thinking would be part of the same conditioning. Anything we think we want, we have been conditioned to want.
This conditioning is so insidious it can be incredibly difficult to recognise. Perhaps we can trace it back to a frightened part of ourselves that would rather dumb down our life experiences than face the immense reality of all that is; or that would rather seek solace and comfort from past troubles and in children's toys; or would find a way to prove to a misguided parent that we are worthy of their love; or perhaps wants to atone for some long buried feeling of guilt. Where our conditioned and habitual thoughts and feelings come from doesn't really matter, but what does matter is to see that our old ways no longer serve us and that we do have a choice to follow a radically different path.
The way out is to withdraw our trust from what we think is best for us. For that we must turn within.... to our intuition and what our heart is leading us to know.
So the trick to knowing what we really want is to take the quiet time to listen to and get to know our heart's desire. Many spend their whole life following the thinking mind's wild goose chases, but if we are honest, we see that none of these ever really satisfy. All we need do is take some quiet time in whatever form suits us best (a long bike ride, soaky bath, glass of wine in a quiet corner of your garden.... you know what does it for you) to get in touch with our innate knowing, that part of us that desperately wants to come out and play and for us to have fun, and listen to what it has to tell us.
- Learning to receive instead of plan
We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us."...... Joseph Campbell
Life delights for us to be free of our past conditioning so that we can follow our bliss and be truly happy. We can see that this is true as soon as we make the commitment. Doors start opening where once there was only walls and countless little blessing and miracles start appearing in our life. Serendipity is probably the word that best describes this. But for this to benefit us we must be open to receive these gifts.
To be open to receive is to stop judging and resisting those things that are happening in our lives and let our intuition show us the gift in each one of them. The inner knowing that knows what makes us happy also knows how to see everything in it's true light and use everything for our benefit.
How do we resist? By planning and organising our day the way we think would serve us best. By judging things that happen in our day as unwanted, and by distancing ourselves from those who 'happen' to cross our path. It's taken me the longest time to learn that truly no-one meets by chance and no-one comes without a gift for both of us. If there are plans to be made we are told, but there is actually far less planning involved than we imagine, because when we a make the commitment to follow our free will, our inner knowing, it has a way of meeting us wherever we are.
How do we be open to receive? Simply by turning to that feeling that is growing within us, the part of us that wants to come out and play, and allowing that to nourish us, move us and shine upon our day.
This is the basic decision we must make to simply be happy - to be open to recognising and receiving the gifts that we bring into our lives.
There's more on this in this post --> Finding flow by Letting Go
- Dealing with resistance
This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."....... William Shakespeare
Those words from the great Bard ring so true - our only obligation in this lifetime is to be true to ourselves, but we all know how difficult it is to put this into practice. I think we all secretly know that the best way to avoid responsibilities is to say, 'I've got responsibilities' but we still use this excuse all the time. We habitually put our 'commitments' and 'responsibilities' to our family, our parents (even though we are grown up), our lovers, our clients, our employers or our community before those of our own.
We think that if we committed to only doing what we love, then life would be chaos and full of conflict with those who have other expectations of us. If truth be told, if we truly committed to doing only what we love, then 'love' is all we would see reflected back to you in the relationships, the events and circumstances of our life. It is us that determines these things, not another. Although very few recognise it as yet, we do have this power of choice. But we will never believe this until we experience it for ourselves and we have to start somewhere. Trust builds as we start along the path to following our bliss and as we become willing to choose more and more, moment by moment, to follow our bliss wherever it takes you.
The problem is that whenever we forsake what we really want (for whatever reason) there is a part of us that knows this need not be, and then we get a subtle feeling of guilt and sadness that we have let ourselves down.... the opposite of those feelings of freedom, love and joy that we wanted in the first place. We more often than not drown out this repressed but pervasive angst with our opiate of choice - TV, the fridge, retail therapy, relationships that feed of our needyness etc. But the unfortunate part is that we often then shy away from further attempts to pursue our passion for fear of failing again and re-experiencing those 'bad' feelings..... a viscous circle that chains us to a life of mediocrity and cheap thrills instead of genuine joy and fulfilment.
So what to do?
The answer is to be very gentle with ourselves. Choose to follow whatever it is we really want wherever we feel able, but whenever we find resistance strong and willingness weak, do not fight yourself. Instead, just take a few moments to think about what you really want and recognise the power of your decision to have a happy day. If you still feel unwilling to do what you really want then say to yourself, "I know I'm doing this and I know it doesn't make me happy, and for whatever reason, I'm going to do it anyway, and it's OK." 
My hope is that you call off the search for what it is you 'were meant to do', 'how you best can serve' or what 'your special gift' is, and vow to do right now what makes you happy. The term 'self-development' is a debilitating oxymoron. Like the misguided gardener who tries to pull up on seedlings to make them grow, it thwarts the very development that happens naturally, easily and beautifully when we relax and learn to embrace each day, when we pursue whatever we enjoy without anticipation, defence or striving.
There's often great temptation to hang on to our past loves and past successes stories but all we are doing is resisting the greater gifts that life has in store for us. We end up getting get stuck on a local maxima and life will have to push a little harder to get you to move on. Getting comfortable or bored are pretty good indicators that it's time to move on. We need to let go of the idea of our 'one thing' because our 'thing' that will change each time we receive the gift of learning that each step on the path of our bliss has to teach us.
So the next time someone attempts to sell us some self-improvement snake oil or doctrine, let's remember to smile and ask, "but how could I possibly improve on perfection" and then do whatever comes to mind to help them remember this for themselves, because in doing that we strengthen the recognition in both of us. What is shared can only ever grow stronger.
 We are of course, free to try as many journeys as we can choose but eventually, no matter how much 'success' or 'failure' we manage to create, we end up saying to ourselves, "There has to be something better than this".
 We are only ever happy when we are present in the moment... not when are wistfully pondering what was, or might have been, or might be in the future. Seeking, planning, remembering, judging, in fact all mind activity.... takes us away from the simple awareness of what is here right now, and the happiness that is always present when we let the mind relax and gaps appear between our thoughts. Rather than take my word for this, think back to all the moments in your own life when you were truly happy or when you experienced Flow (same thing really).... these were all times when the thinking dropped away leaving more space for our natural happy state to shine through.
 What we find is that by giving ourselves permission like this, then yo and behold, we actually start enjoying the thing that we thought would not make us happy. The reason for this is nothing mysterious: We have simply brought something that has been a past 'negative' into our present awareness; and whenever we operate from the present moment we are always happy.... as this is our natural (not 'normal' unfortunately) state.
This is the second of three posts that look at a more serendipitous and effective way of being in this world. The first post, "Finding Flow by Letting Go" looked at the flow state, this one at how to 'follow our bliss' and not let the idea of self-improvemnet disempower us, and the third looks at an effortless way of 'problem solving'. I've put these together because the three ideas are inextricably linked.