How to Follow Your Bliss

It is no secret that I am a fan of the late Joseph Campbell. My book adheres closely to his concept of a monomyth. I do not pretend to be an expert on the subject matter that so fascinates me. I consider myself a student and will always be one. Comparative mythology studies the myths that people live by. It is as much concerned with paleolithic cave drawings as it is with modern middle eastern strife. The breadth is staggering. With our big brains and our assorted accoutrements of modern life it is easy to forget how closely linked we are to our rich mythological past.  While there is an anthropological slant to many of the approaches I have studied, Joseph Campbell brings passion and more than a little dramatic flair to his chosen life-work.  We all live by a myth, this is our personal story, our personal narrative. Sometimes this is a part of a larger worldview as in the case of membership in one of the great world religions. Sometimes we try to find our way by other means.

Joseph Campbell used to like to say “mythology is referred to as other peoples religion and that “religion is simply misunderstood or misinterpreted mythology“. He felt that the emphasis on the historicity of religious texts often got in the way of the spiritual message. While many people get caught up on both sides of the fence trying to either prove or disprove a finite act of religion, trying to tie a religious event to a real historic place, date or person, I believe that it is the abiding, guiding message that matters most in our lives. For example, flood myths preceded the Bible by many centuries. Deucalion of Greek myth was the son of Prometheus and Pronoia. Pelasgians were the neolithic culture that preceded the greeks and the story goes that Zeus let loose a heavy rain, the rivers swelled and the seas rose. Deucalion and his dad Prometheus built an ark and was saved from the deluge. Noah and the Sumerian Xisuthros are both heroes of the same myth, the same story. There are strikingly similar stories in the Koran, in China,  in Aboriginal Australia and even with the North American Indian tribe the Menominee. These stories hint at both a universal threat of flood on the ancient world stage and the need for humans to mythologize about it. Our shared stories and ritual bring order out of chaos and help us relate to each other in meaningful ways. We destroy these relationships when we throw out the story and the ritual and instead cling simply to the historical vessel that carried them.

Any of Joseph Campbell’s densely academic books require dedication and commitment to thoroughly absorb. Among his pantheon of wisdom regarding comparative mythology he states that one needs to follow their bliss in order to live a fulfilling life. It is the history of the world as seen through the eyes of the great story tellers that bind us all together and in that vein Campbell drew heavily on the Hindu Upanishads to form his belief on this subject. Earlier, both  Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau espoused transcendentalism as a kind of personal mythology.

I try to view Campbell’s admonition within the scope of his greater body of work. He seemed to firmly believe that we are all intrinsically connected. We all share a common background that reaches back far beyond recorded history might suggest. The roots of the human condition dig deeper than many of feel comfortable admitting. Despite our apparent differences we all share a closely held need to help others. Our bliss is a reflection of that.

Another way of saying follow your bliss could be to follow that which holds you in rapture, that which arrests your soul. It is imperative for us to define our purpose in life and get to the business of following our bliss. Your bliss takes you by the hand and pulls you where you’ve always wanted to go but were afraid to tread there yourself.

What is my bliss?

What draws you forth?

What would you gladly do for free if your bills were paid and you had no obligations?

Imagine that after you die, there is a giant brass plaque erected in your honor…What would you like it to say?

In the ceremony, the great mayor of the city gives a speech in your honor…What does he say about your life, your contribution?

What does your family say?

To follow your bliss is to do what you are.

To follow your bliss is to help others with the gifts you were given, the skills you acquired and all the strength you can summon.

Write a one-page plan on how to follow your own bliss.

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