Ok, so follow your damm bliss if you want to


In my previous essay I made a rather savage critique of the new age ‘mantra’: follow your bliss — I said that this was a half baked idea. I pointed out that for every hippy ‘following their bliss’ there is counterpoint Charlie Manson — that maybe this was a liberating statement in the 1960’s, but today, it is more a marketing strategy for spiritual consumerism.

However, in this essay I will contradict the former claim, and argue that, yes, we should follow our bliss. How dare I be so logically inconsistent, you might object! But why shouldn’t two contradictory claims be true, in different experimental contexts? To get the whole story, it’s best be able to articulate both sides. It’s not a question of any fixed truth, but dynamic exploration. At least that’s my bliss.

So what really happens if you do follow your bliss? A good example is falling in love for the first time. There is a glimpse of potential union, an intimation. If we are a man, our bliss might be a woman. If we are a woman our bliss might be a man. If we are a gay man, it might be another man … you get the idea. Our deepest desire sounds like little bells ringing in our ears, and we follow that sound, because, in the beginning, we have no choice.

The trouble is that when we actually do get what we want, we find that bliss comes with a nest of snakes. Our beloved ideal doesn’t correspond at all to our hopes: she turns out to be a total bitch, as much as a goddess. And even worse, we find the bitchy aspects of our own nature emerge, and the well meaning lamb we though we were turns out to be a fraud. Following our bliss leads to all kinds of dark encounters with the monsters of our psyche, aspects of ourselves that are almost unbearable to look at. Doesn’t everybody have that experience in one way or another? But does that we shouldn’t follow our bliss then? Absolutely not. Such experiences are invaluable, if we survive them, that is.

Someone on Facebook recently shared a nice description of this process from the gnostic tradition (if anybody knows it’s source please let me know). The first stage is innocence, and our innocence always gets us burned. After putting ourselves back together we reach the second stage: experience. At this point we know what we want and have learned some street smarts. And yet that isn’t enough. In the 3rd stage, rebellion, we find ourselves impelled to undo the structures we have created, because they have become too limiting and claustrophobic. The last stage is wisdom, which could be described as finding a world that is liveable, and a relationship that doesn’t destroy us.

If we follow this whole movement to the end, over and over again, we emerge from each journey into the underworld stronger and smarter, and we gain magic powers along the way. We find ourselves able move back and forth between chaos and order, innocence and experience — to know what contexts to embrace and when to destroy the false games.

So go ahead. Follow your damm bliss. Just don’t expect an easy ride. You are going to fall into a pit of snakes and get eaten. Eventually you become a snake charmer, after many lives. But that is sometime in the distant future.