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Why ‘following your bliss’ won’t help you find your true purpose

It sounds like a nice idea, but once you understand what 'follow your bliss' really means, you'll see it's not all about the fun stuff.

I’ve always found the idea of following your bliss unhelpful, especially as an instruction for finding our life purpose. It’s caught on in spiritual circles, though, and it’s a common idea among coaches. 

I get it. It sounds like a pretty fun way to live.

But here’s why ‘following your bliss’ isn’t half as fun as it sounds

If you insist only on following the light and avoiding your darkness, there’s no way you can live an authentic life. You will always feel like you are running from something.

To be whole, and to build a solid foundation for your life, you need to get to know and befriend all of yourself. 

Is that always blissful? Hell, no! 

I didn’t know until recently that the phrase ‘follow your bliss’ was coined by Joseph Campbell – respected mythologist and spiritual teacher – in his 1985 book The Power of Myth (written with Bill Moyers).

This is what he said:

‘If you 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.’

The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers.

Hmm. It seemed strange to me that Campbell would say that the way to find our real lives is simply to follow what feels good (that’s what ‘bliss’ means … right?) After all, he created the concept of the Hero’s Journey, where the principal character in any story (and in life) must overcome obstacles in order to receive his gifts. The Hero’s Journey – which is also the story of finding our power and purpose – is not an easy one.

What did Campbell really mean by ‘bliss?’ Maybe there was more to it.

And without too much digging required, I discovered what Joseph Campbell actually meant by ‘bliss’. In his words:

‘If your bliss is just your fun and your excitement, you’re on the wrong track.’

‘I mean, you need instruction. Know where your bliss is. And that involves coming down to a deep place in yourself.

When you follow your bliss, and by bliss I mean the deep sense of being in it, and doing what the push is out of your own existence—it may not be fun, but it’s your bliss and there’s bliss behind pain too.

‘You follow that and doors will open where there were no doors before, where you would not have thought there’d be doors, and where there wouldn’t be a door for anybody else.

The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers.

Phew! 

Your bliss is your pain as well as your joy

Now that matches with the spiritual path as I’ve experienced it. Your ‘bliss’ isn’t just your joy, but your pain, too. It’s your shadow. It’s going out of your comfort zone. It’s what you want to avoid, but know you need to face.

For many years now, I’ve consistently followed my inner guidance, and it has led me to people, places, healing and experiences I never could have imagined for myself.

It certainly hasn’t been blissful much of the time, in the conventional sense of the word. But as Joseph Campbell used the word, yes, I have followed my bliss.

It’s not always easy. But once you start living this way, you’ll never want to go back.

Our real lives can only begin when we have the courage to listen to something within – an inner knowing, our soul, God or our intuition – rather than letting our lives be decided by our fears, our perceived need for financial security, or our desire to fit in. 

Sometimes, in order to get to our real lives, we have to go through difficult, painful experiences.

The deepest desire of your soul is to evolve

Your soul – that deep part of you that is both human and divine – wants you to evolve and to learn, so that you can contribute in some way to the evolution of humanity.

So it brings you the lessons and experiences you need to do that.

As a result of growing up in a society that doesn’t honour or even really recognize the soul, most of us are completely disconnected from our authentic selves. 

We have developed defences and unhelpful beliefs about ourselves and life, which have become part of the lens through which we see the world. 

We have been taught to work hard and build security, when what that involves may run directly counter to our deepest truth. Probably we have lost touch with who we really are – so completely that we no longer know what our deepest truth is. 

All of this needs to be made conscious and healed in order for us to live our real lives. We have much to unlearn, as well as much to learn.

Healing our wounds is the way to a truly blissful life

When we do that deep work we are more empowered, more compassionate, more self-aware and more loving. We can be of more help to those around us and to the world.

Your soul contains the unique blueprint for your life on Earth. It knows what will give your life meaning. But if all you do is follow what feels fun and joyful, you may never access the rich depths of our soul’s deepest longings – the treasures and the wisdom that lie within. 

Until you heal and befriend your wounded ego, it will get in the way of you becoming who you really are and who you are meant to be in the world. 

And if you follow your inner guidance – yes, when it feels blissful, but especially when where it’s leading you doesn’t –  you can’t fail to live the life that is uniquely yours.

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