How to Follow your Bliss

Jun 5, 2020 / The Twelve Mysteries / Joseph Campbell quotes

surreal image of Man lying on ottoman with leaves overlooking him. follow your bliss metaphor of walking through life
The Weight Off My Feet. Collaged Cyanotype Print with Drawing, 2020. 6 x4.8 inches (variable). © Jonah Calinawan

When are you most alive?

That is the one deep question to ask yourself before the pandemic ends.

This week, I want to answer that question by exploring a Joseph Campbell quote:

“Follow Your Bliss.”

I’m sure you’ve heard that saying before. The full quote:

Follow your bliss. 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 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.

Joseph Campbell

The Origin of Follow Your Bliss: “Sat Chit Ananda”

Campbell faced three choices on how to live his life. He arrived at his answer by the process of elimination. 

Now, I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: sat-chit-ananda. The word “Sat” means being. “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means bliss or rapture. I thought, “I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.” I think it worked.

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth pp. 113, 120

Just like how the meaning of soul is unclear, sat and chit were also unclear. Therefore, Campbell chose ananda as a way to live his life and find his bliss.

What Does Bliss Mean?

Some consider “follow your bliss” to be the same as “follow your passion.” I don’t think so.

Others see bliss as literal happiness. In my opinion, that is incorrect as well.

“Following your heart” or “listening to your authentic inner voice” is closer in terms of meaning, but I want to add something else to that.

To me, bliss has the quality of infinite faith and stillness (or silence) to it. It is not the boisterous hedonism of passion nor is it the naive self-centeredness of happiness.

I base my view on the entire context:

  • Sat refers to the eternal, which to me, equates to infinity.
  • Chit sounds like the Western notion of soul.
  • Ananda is bliss, rapture, or joy. It is also referred to as universal energy.
  • Campbell refers to sat-chit-ananda as a “jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence.” 

Taken in its entirety, these abstract concepts are not about having a good time.

Steps to Follow Your Bliss

Look for specific advice on how to follow your bliss on the web, and you won’t find many. That’s because it will be different for each person.  Despite this, I think it’s worthwhile to recommend tools and methods as a starting point in your own journey. Here’s how I’m doing it starting with Joseph Campbell’s advice.

Read a Lot

Right around the Great Depression in the 1930s, Joseph Campbell essentially read all day for five years straight!

“Reading what you want, and having one book lead to the next, is the way I found my discipline…When you find a writer who really is saying something to you, read everything that writer has written…Then go to people who influenced that writer, or those who were related to him, and your world builds together in an organic way that is really marvelous.”

Joseph Campbell

Most people can’t read all day, so progress will be slower. For example, I’ve been reading on and off for about a decade. I regard the start of my MFA as the time I really got into this (more about my ongoing journey below). Reading in a circular manner, like a spider spinning its web, is a powerful approach. One thing leads to another in an ever-growing personal library. 

Watch Your Overreactions

Who are you jealous of? Who do you dislike? I’m not talking about being jealous of someone who’s rich, beautiful, or famous. Most people are jealous of those uber-rich and beautiful people. I wrote about Dealing with Jealousy, and the advice in that post might help.

No, I’m talking about irrational jealousy focused on a regular person. For example, who are you jealous of on Facebook? Such overreactions might mean that your bliss is in the same vicinity as this person’s. There is one person I’m FB friends with who writes amazing short stories in only 3-4 sentences! She writes them off-the-cuff (as a response to other people’s posts). I read her posts with great envy. To me, this points to some hunger within me to improve my writing or become a storyteller.

Keep a Journal

When you hear yourself say any of these while reading or being jealous:

  • “That’s interesting.”
  • “I want to do that.”
  • “You have to do this.”

This is your inner artist speaking.

Write it down fast! These thoughts can come anytime anywhere, and you need to write them down when it happens. Otherwise, this inner guidance will disappear into the ether. They’re like dreams. You swear you won’t forget them just as you wake up. A few seconds later, they’re gone.

Keeping a journal helps in remembering. It could be paper-based or electronic. I have both. I write on the paper one every morning when I’m having breakfast, and when one of these thoughts come up throughout the day, I make sure to take 5-10 seconds to capture them in my electronic journal. A phone app is best for the electronic journal because it’s always with you. All these mobile apps are free I recommended Evernote Premium before. Since I slashed all my expenses when I discovered FIRE, I downgraded to the free version. to use and available for iPhone and Android:

  • Evernote
  • Google Keep
  • Apple Notes
  • TiddlyWiki

Because keeping a paper or electronic journal is so important for following your bliss and developing a creative mindset, I will write about these apps and paper journals in future blog posts. Subscribe here.

Summarize Your Bliss 30,000 Feet in the Air

Once you’ve read things, watched your overreactions, and written them all down, pretend you’re high up in the sky. You can see your entire life below.

Do you see repeating topics, themes, and patterns? Do you have any epiphanies? These would be good to write about in your journal.

It should be obvious by now that following your bliss is a long-term project. Repeat as often as you want. Over time, you will see patterns. Synchronicity will start to occur.

An Illustrative Example

Now, I want to show you how this method of reading, watching overreactions, and keeping a journal has played out in my life so far. A simplified chain of events over the past 18 years:

2002Bought first camera on a whim
 Studied photography on the side
2010Started a Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
2011Fell in love with Cyanotype. Why?
2012Because of the color blue = concept of infinity
 This led to an interest in collage (layering paper = layering time)
 Which led to David Hockney joiners/collage
 Which led to an interest in storytelling
2013Joseph Campbell’s story structure of the hero’s journey & mythology
NowCarl Jung and synchronicity (Campbell refers to Jung a lot).

Do you see how one thing led to another? The commonalities are storytelling, time, layering, infinity, consciousness, and spirituality.

I don’t know what any of these means or where this will end up, but I’m following my bliss.

Take Your First Steps

What will your bliss look like? The first step doesn’t have to be drastic. Read something, watch your overreactions, and write them all down.

If you don’t like reading books, then read blogs or newspapers. What section of the paper do you always read first? Why?

Do yoga or meditate as some people recommend. Play your favorite songs or learn to play an instrument. Go on an Artist Date.

Remember, the cross-out-the-word approach? That works here too. Cross out the word “book” above and replace it with “people.” What groups of people do you gravitate to? Where do you volunteer? Who are you jealous of? Write them all down in your journal.

Sometime in the future, when stillness descends upon you, and you feel that it could continue like that to eternity, that’s when you’ll know. You are following your bliss.

Influence of a Vital person Vitalizes [the World]

Origin of Joseph Campbell Bliss Quote

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