Archive for September, 2009

In Search of Bliss

With the widespread popularity of Joseph Campbell and his appealing fusion of religions, philosophy and folklore, “Follow your Bliss” has become the mantra of millions of modern thinkers in search of a more soulful life experience. But like so many well-meaning mantras, this pithy expression can all too easily be misconstrued or over-simplified. On the surface, for instance, “Follow your Bliss” has a temptingly similar ring to Aleister Crowley’s “Do what thou wilt.” Both axioms encourage the pursuit of that which brings the most joy and satisfaction, with the implication that this will render the world a more joyful and satisfying place. Failure to recognize the difference between self-serving hedonism and the piety of mythological universalism however leads the way down a twisted path of narcissistic anomie.

In the first place, Crowley’s credo seems to call for a surrender to (not of) desire, doing for yourself that which pleases yourself. It resonates like a call to action, to find what you want then reach out and take it. Nothing about “Do what thou wilt” suggests any kind of sensitivity to how one’s actions might affect any else.  Campbell’s bliss, on the other hand, is not something to be simply taken and held by the horns, but rather something to follow. He acknowledges the pursuit of something possibly unattainable, where the journey overshadows the destination, the search eclipses the grail, the quest itself is the treasure.

“Bliss,” furthermore, carries none of the egotistical meanness of “what thou wilt.” Instead, Campbell’s choice of words suggests a kind of joy that transcends fanciful wants and personal desires. Bliss is not something an individual can hold or contain, but a kind of radiant sensation that can only multiply and magnify. When genuine bliss is identified and followed – and not confused with impulsive lust or habitual craving – its follower will glow both inside and out, in a way that will inspire all those around him.

Imagine a string of Christmas lights illuminated by a single current of electricity. Somewhere along the line, a red bulb is glowing bright. In its urge to glow brighter, it draws more and more juice from the current, causing neighboring bulbs to dim and flicker. Elsewhere on another string, a clear bulb from a different brand has been engineered to burn more efficiently; by drawing the exact charge of energy that it needs, it exudes a perfect, warm glow and allows the other bulbs to get the electricity they need. The first string shines unevenly and occasionally even blows a fuse; the imminent risk of fire hangs overhead like fresh reindeer droppings. The second string adorns the tree and provides an even, balanced glow that illuminates every ornament, while also consuming less electricity. With the money the family saves on its PG&E bill, they can afford to stuff another handful of goodies into their stockings.

Show respect for those other luminous being with whom you share the life energy. Take what you need to burn your brightest, serve as a model for others to do the same, and see that your neighbors are able and willing to glow at the fullness of their own potential. Together we reinforce our own brilliance through the awareness of that single current which radiates uniquely through each of us.


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