The Bliss Behind Pain
Like many who studied the underlying connections between various world cultures in the twentieth century, The Hero With a Thousand Faces was a pivotal text in the development of my thinking. During and after college I devoured every piece of Joseph Campbell’s work that I could find; he was a catalyst in my decision to study religion while at Rutgers University. And while sadly his career never reached broad attention until shortly after his death, his influence left huge imprints on our culture, namely in the form of the Star Wars trilogy and countless other movies and books leading back to him.
Campbell is perhaps most famously known for three words, however. I see them all the time on Facebook posts and tweets, in people’s personal declarations and on vision boards: Follow Your Bliss. It’s a beautiful concept—foundational in my own career, playing heavily into my decision to work for myself eight-and-a-half years ago—yet too often I see it used out of context…or rather, I never see it in its full context. The way it comes across is ‘go after only what makes you happy’ or ‘things should be great if you’re on your path,’ which, as you will see below, is antithetical to the meaning of the full text.
There is always danger in truncating quotes from their source. This is not dissimilar to the constant GOP agenda of presenting Barack Obama’s economic plans out of context, flipping the intention to make it seem its opposite. In a quick information society in which readers click away from a story more than one paragraph long, the headlines have become the meaning. (As a former news reporter, I can tell you that headlines are supposed to draw you in, never reveal the entirety of the piece.) ‘Follow Your Bliss’ becomes whatever the reader wants it to mean, whether or not it has anything to do with the actual meaning.
When the Joseph Campbell Foundation Facebook page recently posted the entire piece, taken from The Hero’s Journey, I was thrilled. Reading it again after all these years reminded me of what I have known and experienced in my decade of pursuing my bliss: that it’s not always—not ever, really—easy, and a lot of pain will be experienced in the process. That pain is a gift; it humanizes us, reminds us that anything worth attaining is worth suffering for, and that attainment is not even the point—the journey is.
Following your bliss is an ideal way to live, bearing all the marks of the warrior: wounds and scars and everything else that makes us human. It reminds us that pain and suffering are universal, and helps us empathize with others who are on their own paths so that we don’t get caught up believing that our path is the only one that should be walked. It makes us tender and gentle, strong and confident. That said, enjoy the full context in which the quote arises. It could just change your life, or, at the very least, inspire you to keep pursuing it.
I have a firm belief in this now, not only in terms of my own experience, but in knowing the experiences of other people. 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. There’s something about the integrity of a life. And the world moves in and helps. It really does.
And I think the best thing I can say is to follow your bliss. 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.