Follow your bliss, one small desire at a time
In 1988 year, in his PBS interview with Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell said:
“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”
When you follow your bliss, your life will become an endless stream of success. You’ll create, share, uplift, invent and produce more than ever before. You’ll feel joy, abundance and you’ll shine so brightly that others will feel your presence even when their eyes are closed.
Many people feel lost and confused nowadays. They feel unsatisfied with their careers or businesses. They know in their hearts they have more to offer than what is being asked of them on a daily basis. They feel called to do something more fulfilling. But, they often silence their inner voice because they believe they need to take a dramatic leap in order to arrive at their bliss.
In this article I’ll show you a simple way to follow your bliss without making any big changes in your life.
Have you ever seen somebody in a long jump race? They start with one small step. Then, they run faster and faster and faster, until the long jump becomes just another long step, the only, the most natural and most effortless step left to take to get their feet safely and softly on the warm, welcoming sand.
In a similar way, following your bliss starts with following your small, day to day, desires. These desires are clues left for you, so that going in the direction of your bliss feels effortless and joyous, not effortful and scary.
The fastest way to your bliss
Your day to day desires trace the fastest line from where you are to where you want to be. Think about any point A and point B. The fastest way from A to B is a straight line. The slowest way from A to B is zig zagging aimlessly left and right. Most of us are zig zagging this way instead of simply following the fastest route.
We often take the slowest route because we suppress our small desires. A small desire feels natural and effortless. For example, wanting to take a photography class, teaching a class over the weekend, or organizing a dining event feel like small, natural steps for some people. A small desire doesn’t feel like an effortful leap from where you are today. You don’t need to do anything that feels heavy to you. This path is supposed to feel joyous. Small steps are all that it takes to find your bliss.
These small desires are like light bulbs that light up one at a time on the path from A to B. You follow one, then the next one lights up, and so forth, until you’ve arrived. It’s hard to know our final destination, but it’s easy to see one little light bulb at a time. Unfortunately, we often throw a blanket over these little light bulbs and wonder left and right in the darkness.
Our desires are the greatest gift we possess.
Our greatest gift is our ability to desire, to have a natural yearning for and towards something.
When you were little, you were probably gifted in one or more areas, maybe painting, writing, sewing etc. You were good at those things with minimal effort. If you think about something you excelled at when you were a child, you’ll notice it simply came to you naturally. You felt a natural yearning towards it. You didn’t have to read 100 books about how to do something before you were able to do it well. You simply did it well because you were drawn to it. As a child, you trusted your own desires and followed your heart without a shadow of a doubt.
When adults feel lost and want to find their purpose, they often ask themselves “what are my gifts?” They search and search within themselves, holding on tight to the belief that their gifts are there somewhere, buried deep. They then feel even more confused. That’s because our greatest gifts are not skills we possess inside, but desires we feel towards a particular area.
If you don’t know what your greatest skills are, I hope you’ll feel relief knowing that you don’t need to search deep inside to find what you’re the best at to create meaningful work. All you need to do is to simply follow your desires, one at a time.
But, we neglect our desires as if they’re meaningless.
Have you noticed how it seems easier for people to follow their desires in any other area of their life but work? People who want a committed relationship are most likely dating or looking for dates. But people who want a more satisfying work life? It’s common that they’re not doing anything about it until they get a tragic “wake up” call.
Following a career that doesn’t bring joy but that is known to generate a certain paycheck or stability, wanting to be a “boss” even though you don’t enjoy leading people, working from a crowded office space even though you’re the most productive when you’re alone in your home - are examples of how we don’t trust our desires enough to speak up and move along the lighted path.
Unfortunately, our society trains people to not trust their desires.
Most people were taught to think more of what they could lose than of what they could gain. They were also taught to associate suffering with their work life, so any change that calls for increased satisfaction will be ruthlessly scrutinized by our brains. It’s not anybody’s fault that we think this way. We were all born in environments that had their own core beliefs and we simply picked up on some of these surrounding thoughts.
But, our work lives are meant to feel joyous. You are meant to feel energized by your work, inspired, stimulated, alive, creative, smart and free. At the end of each day, you’re meant to feel like you’ve expanded because of the work you’ve done that day. At the end of each day, you’re meant to feel fulfilled, satisfied and peaceful.
“The influence of a vital person vitalizes (...) People have the notion of saving the world by shifting things around, changing the rules, and who’s on top, and so forth. No, no! (...) The thing to do is to bring life to it, and the only way to do that is to find in your own case where the life is and become alive yourself.” (Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth”)
Here’s an example. Briana has been a lawyer for 10 years. Lately she recognizes the simple desire within her to spend more time outdoors. The more she thinks about it, the more constricted she feels spending the majority of her day in her office. Now, she has two choices.
Choice one. If she does follow her desire, perhaps she’ll look for ways to work from home occasionally, go for walks more often and go camping on weekends. These are simple acts, but through this activity, she soon recognizes another desire within her. Spending more time outdoors makes her feel freedom and independence, which makes her realize that what she craves at that moment within her work is more freedom. She now looks for ways to introduce more freedom in her current work projects.
Choice two. If she doesn’t follow her initial desire of spending more time outdoors, she will continue her work the same way as before. Perhaps she’ll work even harder in her current environment, determined to prove to herself that it’s hard work that brings the most joy and that her desire to be outdoors is childish. However, because it’s impossible to negate a desire once it’s born, Briana will now have two opposing forces pulling her, the first one pulling her away from feeling independence and the second one pulling her towards feeling independence. And this is just the beginning of a fragmentation that, if continued, will make her feel uneasy, unhappy and eventually, fatigued and unproductive.
Recognize and trust your desires as soon as you you feel them.
The feeling of wanting something means you’re on the right path. Wanting is living. It’s as natural as breathing air. I encourage you to practice recognizing desires when you feel them. Simply celebrate yourself for feeling any particular want. Identify in your own words whatever it is that you want. Getting into the habit of simply noticing your desires will help you become more aligned with them.
Oftentimes, you may not realize you want something. For instance, let’s say you hear somebody talk about their child’s paints. As you listen to their words, the thought of colorful paints and a blank piece of paper makes you feel excitement and creativity. That’s an indication that you have a desire to explore some form of art that makes you feel creative. Instead of brushing this desire under the rug like most people would, acknowledge it to yourself.
Or, let’s say you feel distress when you listen to the same person’s words about their child’s paints. Perhaps you cringe at the thought of messiness. That’s also an indication of desire. This time though, you most likely desire the opposite of what you thought of when you cringed. Maybe you desire to feel more peace in your physical space, maybe a cleaner home or a more organized office.
Many of us don’t realize it, but we kill desires inadvertently, either by not acknowledging them or by not trusting the fact that our desires are there to serve our best interests. Why else would they show up anyway, if not to serve our highest purpose? Follow your desires and you’ll serve yourself in ways you didn’t even know existed.
“We are having experiences all the time which may on occasion render some sense of (..) a little intuition of where your bliss is. Grab it. No one can tell you what it is going to be. You have to learn to recognize your own depth.” (Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth”)
Desires, not reactions.
As Socrates said in Apology, “an unexamined life is not worth living.” There’s nobody else in the world who can know you better than you. Therefore, it’s your responsibility to examine your own thoughts and to get to know yourself more and more each day.
The reason why knowing yourself matters so much within this context is because when you know yourself, you’ll know to distinguish a true desire from a reaction. For example, wanting to abandon a big project (like a job or a business) might be a true desire, but it might also be a knee jerk reaction to an angry boss, an angry customer or a stressful situation. In this instance, you might be looking for relief, not for fulfillment, and it’s important to not confuse the two.
The more you get acquainted with how your mind reacts in various situations and with how new, successful ideas were born within your mind in the past, the easier you’ll be able to distinguish a true desire from a reaction.
“The way to find out about your happiness is to keep your mind on those moments when you feel most happy - not excited, not just thrilled, but deeply happy. This requires a little bit of self-analysis. What is it that makes you happy? Stay with it, no matter what people tell you. This is what I call following your bliss.” (Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth”)
Following your bliss is like walking in the same direction as the wind. You’ll feel helped and guided as you discover the invisible web that bounces you softly from here to there, to everywhere.