To ‘follow one’s bliss’ as the new age cliché has it, might be the activity of Jellyfish: a somewhat poisonous and spineless creature, that just floats around, stinging people like trolls on the internet — because it enjoys doing that. It’s the kind of phrase that is true, but not true enough. We have to actually act against our impulsive desire for immediate gratification, to eat a lot of cake, for instance. Many a Charlie Manson was brought up on the the maxim: follow your bliss.
The other problem with this new age ‘mantra’ is that it presents a one-sided version of life — negating the art of creative struggle for just ‘doing what we want to in the moment’. We deny the tragic element of life, the death and decay of the body, the inevitable end of our world, the fact of suffering — by putting it off. It’s a recipe for disappointment and a childish ideology.
Even though Joseph Campbell coined this term, actually his mentor Carl Jung told us to do the opposite: to look down into the abyss, into the places where we definitely don’t want to look — that a hero is born through travelling though the underworld to meet the monster that is trying to consuming his soul. The idea ‘follow your bliss’ has an intense kind of ‘shadow’. Its stinks of a sort of greedy spiritual consumerism. Of course, this is not to disparage Campbell or his massive contribution to popularizing Jung’s ideas, only to show how a half-baked good-idea becomes ideology pretty quickly. Especially if the idea is attractive and helps ‘sell things’.
Follow your bliss is a perfect marketing slogan, which means just consuming whatever is close by, without though for the morrow. It means to become a giant mouth, which ravenously eats whatever form of food or information comes in its wake. That doesn’t lead to happiness or a dignified life, but rather hysteria. That is why no serious perennial tradition ever had a maxim ‘follow your bliss’ — instead the better message is: ‘always keep death near’. Or in Jungian terms: get to know the shadow of your bliss.
The paradox is that real bliss is more likely to descend if we do not try to hunt it down or fence it in; if it is earned through creative struggle, often by going into the places we fear the most. Knowing the shadow of our existence creates depth and contrast, and makes the light more intense and meaningful. If you are always chasing after happiness, you become a pretty dull person, addicted to sensation, like a junkie with a needle: each time you get your rush of bliss it becomes less blissful.
The thing about being an adult is being able to accommodate both bliss and agony, without being led around by the nose. Therefore, don’t follow your bliss. Don’t be a cow, chewing on the grass of your bliss. Rather be a warrior, welcoming both pleasure and pain.