Weekly Work-In: Week 7 - Following Your Bliss
The oft-quoted philosophy of American writer Joseph Campbell reads, "If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn't have opened for anyone else.” In fact, all of Campbell's work can be summed up in the statement, "Follow your bliss.”
This idea is now an instruction manual for those of us turning away from 401K stability to take the road less traveled. But, really, what does it mean to follow your bliss, and how do you know when you're doing it?
What Does "Follow Your Bliss" Really Mean?
In yoga, the bliss body is known as anandamaya kosha, and it lies at the heart of the embodied self, just outside of the soul. It is important to note the bliss body can also be known as the spiritual body or the enlightened body, which brings a different connotation.
There are many ways to reach a state of bliss. Yogi Bhajan, who is credited for bringing Kundalini yoga to the West, realized many people were seeking bliss in the sixties and seventies by using drugs. I may be four years sober, but I'm not beyond admitting drugs and alcohol can be really, really fun. This, though, is not what yogis mean by bliss. Rather, they mean a spiritual practice of remaining so deeply centered that nothing can destroy your peace of mind. This takes a lot of work and a lot of discipline.
My definition of "follow your bliss" is found in Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements. In this simple manual for happiness, Ruiz suggests four rules to live by. The Fourth Agreement is, "Always do your best." He wrote:
Doing your best, you are going to live your life intensely. You are going to be productive, you are going to be good to yourself, because you will be giving yourself to your partner, your family, your community, to everything. But it is this action that will make you intensely happy.1
This is a long way of saying follow your bliss.
It is not in endlessly pursuing pleasurable experiences and turning away from painful ones that we discover fullness in the bliss body. Instead, we give ourselves intensely in pursuit of those things that matter most. It should be noted, then, that you can very much follow your bliss behind the desk at your corporate job.
Writing Exercise to Help You Follow Your Bliss
For this first exercise, all you need is a piece of scratch paper, a pen and about ten minutes of time:
- On your paper, draw a big circle.
- Set a clock or timer for five minutes, and start writing. Write down every thing you do not want in your life outside of the circle. Keep going, don't prioritize, and don't over think things. Just write.
- Next, set a clock or timer for five minutes, and start writing again. This time, write down everything you do want in your life inside of the circle. Write, write, write.2
- Keep this paper. Maybe hang it on the wall by your bed. Each day, try to bring as much of your good stuff as possible into the circle of your life. When you find things from the outside trying to make their way in, see if you can let them pass by. For example, you may have written "health" inside your circle and "injury" outside of it. When you are at the gym, remember what you are there for to push yourself to be healthier, but also remember pushing too much may invite injury in.
Hopefully, you are gaining many tools for meditation through our weekly work-ins. There is not one meditation that works for every person, but there is at least one meditation that will work for you. Many people find this meditation to be joyful, easy to follow, and uplifting. I am one of them. This is known as the Happiness Meditation.
- Come to a comfortable seated position, either with your legs folded on the floor or sitting tall in a chair. All that is required is a tall spine.
- Draw your hands into a prayer at the center of your chest. Leave all of your fingers as they are except your middle fingers. Fold these down on each other, forming what is known as ananda (happiness or bliss) mudra. (See photo above.)
- As you are ready, begin to chant "Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam - Wahe Guru!" This is the happiness chant. Sat Nam means, "Truth is Your Name" or "There is One Truth." This is repeated six times. Wahe Guru is said to be so pure it has no translation. It means something like, "Ah, how great You are!" This chant is intended to refer to a higher power, but that can be any power of your understanding.
- Keep chanting! You will find your tongue may get tied, and you may even begin to laugh. Try to repeat the chant for up to five minutes. If possible, you can do this chant in a circle with friends, and you may find the result is a giant laugh fest. Even if you are able to maintain composure and keep the chant going, your smile muscles will begin to ache. This is a good thing.
If you have a hard time just laughing, smiling and enjoying bliss, do this meditation often. This is the perfect balance of the philosophy of follow your bliss. It requires discipline to keep meditating, every day, even when things are not going your way. It takes discipline to keep chanting, even when it feels funny. But, in the end, you will be drawing happiness into your heart with every meditation.
One of my friends recently shared an experience she had with the Dalai Lama. She listened to a talk he gave on great souls who have abandoned their material pursuits in order to go out into the world and help others. One of the attendees raised a hand and asked, "But what can I do? I'm not a philanthropist. I don't think it's realistic for me to leave my life behind." The Dalai Lama laughed and said, "Smile at people like you really mean it."
So often we go through our lives, and especially our workouts, with a game face on. This week, see if your game face can be a big, bright smile. If you're participating in a group workout, cheer for other athletes like you mean it. In my race packet for a half-marathon this year, one of the race tips was, "If you're really feeling like you can't make it, smile."
This is not a nonsense tip. A smile, especially when you're exerting effort, signals to your body that everything is okay. Take every chance you get this week to send out a smile like you really mean it. You will brighten the bliss of others, and in doing so, you will inevitably brighten your own bliss as well.
In case you missed it:
1. Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements (Amber-Allen Publishing, 1997), 75-83.
2. This practice was shared with me by lululemon athletica's goal setting strategies. You can walk into any lululemon store and ask for goal setting worksheets, and the staff will happily get some for you.
Photo 1 courtesy of Shutterstock.
Photo 2 courtesy of Tai Kerbs.