Find your Bliss (and Other Life Lessons from The Hero’s Journey)
My day job as an English adjunct includes teaching students how to write a great research paper, or sometimes more mundanely, how to fix grammar errors.
But now more than ever — perhaps due to the increasing chaotic and tumultuous plurality of our world — I’m finding that my real responsibility (and passion) has become encouraging and motivating students towards making impactful, meaningful changes in their lives. Because at the end of the day, we are all trying hard not only to survive, but thrive in this funny little thing we called life.
So when I had the chance to teach the many nuggets of wisdom in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I embraced the opportunity— and so did my students.
They were starved for it — and so was I. Beneath the facade of academic pursuit, we were a bunch of tender, vulnerable, hurting, and lost human beings who went through the motions of school, work, and life while searching for answers to the biggest questions in our hearts: What gives me meaning? How do I navigate this? Where do I put the pieces of my broken heart? When should I let go? Who am I?
Ah, the basic human condition.
After we pummeled through The Hero’s Journey and dissected our own life journey through that lens, my students and I put our heads together and brainstormed the best life lessons á la Campbell.
Follow your Bliss. Easier said than done, right? If you haven’t found your bliss yet, think back to the thing the other kids teased you about — the thing that made you different. Often your bliss is not what others are doing, or what others tell you to do. It’s individual to you. It’s your path, not anyone else’s.
What if time and money were limitless? What would you do then? Your bliss doesn’t have to be profitable to be worth doing. Part of the journey is exploration. Something that starts as a hobby could turn into a career, but you don’t have to know where it’s leading if you’re just doing something that makes your heart feel good.
Be willing to let go of the life you planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for you. What if you climb the corporate ladder, but find that it is propped against the wrong wall? What if you get security, but bargain away your bliss for it? Living in fear of failure or fear of what people might think keeps you from your bliss. Even Nietzsche once said, “The snake that cannot shed its skin perishes.”
The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. On every hero’s journey, there is a dragon you must slay. Campbell said the dragon is often covered in scales that say “you must” or “you must not” — these are the social obligations, the ego, and the fears that keep you from your bliss.
You don’t always need to slay the dragon, but you do need to face down the dragon — you can’t let it defeat you. Face it in love and courage, and it will give you what you want.
Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s moving forward feeling the fear. And that can be learned. It’s like going to the gym; practice feeling and tolerating fear, and it will become more and more familiar. Use courage to propel yourself into that cave — only there will you find the greatest reward.
The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. Some 800 years ago in the ancient capital of Thailand, it is believed that the world’s largest solid gold Buddha was created. When the Siamese monks got word that their neighboring Burmese army was planning to invade, they set out to protect the golden Buddha by masking it in clay to conceal its true value.
Hundreds of years later in the 20th century, a monk noticed a shimmer of light from the Buddha’s cracks. Chipping away at the thick clay, he discovered that beneath these layers of this undistinguished Buddha lay its true nature: solid gold.
Author Carolyn Tate described it best:
Just as the truth, the value, and the essence of the Buddha was covered up with clay to be protected from invasion, so too do we cover our true nature, our true gold, masking and covering ourselves up in order to survive and belong in our environments and with the people around us.
From an early age, we begin to cover ourselves up to please others, to conform to our parent’s desires, our friend’s expectations, society’s limitations and government demands or anything or anyone who seems to threaten our truth, our gold.
We then forget about the layers we have put on ourselves and our true rich nature remains hidden, even from ourselves. It is not until we are shaken up, when we are “moved,” that cracks begin to appear letting our light shine through, revealing who we really are.
Once we remember our light — our gold — we cannot help but to continually remove the layers we have masked ourselves with in order to get back to our true essence and the wealth and magnificence of all that we are.
By unmasking ourselves, we gain the freedom to celebrate all of ourselves and remember our true nature and our true value. When we reveal our true selves, we are able to see the unique gift we are and the unique gifts we have to bring to the world.
The protagonist Ponyboy — the hero of his own journey — realizes he doesn’t have to be sullied by the harsh realities of life; he doesn’t have to succumb to the hoodlum, greaser label given to him by the world. Remain true to his golden qualities, his friend Johnny urges.
Because gold is Ponyboy’s true identity, just as it is the Golden Buddha’s…and just as it is ours.
Perhaps this is what we need more of in our lives — more opportunity for spiritual practice, more inner growth, more…woo-woo. For only when we feel and surrender our fears, find our bliss, and embrace the treasure that is us can we thrive in this funny little thing we call life.