Becoming Worthy of Bliss

Joseph Campbell formulated what became his most quoted dictum, "Follow your bliss" in the decade before his death. Join this conversation to explore this idea and share stories.

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CarmelaBear
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Post by CarmelaBear » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I'm of the opinion that bliss is not about feeling good or self-actualization. I think the cornerstone of following bliss is found in the word compassion.

I enjoy a lot of bliss, but only after the work of understanding how I can serve another human being who needs my help. It's not clear that the bliss of serving society or the world will ever become part of my personal experience. I haven't begun to prove by my actions that I am worthy to serve others outside my own immediate bear's den.

For example, on these forums, I doubt I'm as worthy as I could be of receiving emotional support or other kinds of assistance. My score is probably somewhere close to zero right now. I'm working on becoming worthy of bliss, love, and a long life. Most of the time, I know bliss when I'm applying myself to the task at hand and when I'm taking my time to do things (including thinking and resting).

I'm doing well on learning new things and discovering my strengths, and now I am working on being a better associate, being a better personal care attendant, being a better friend, etc. It's a worthwhile area of concentration and focused effort, and it beats trying to feel good or be positive or like myself more. I like myself too much. I need to come down a few notches before I will see the light (so to speak).

Here's a little quiz that I've adapted to test whether a person is worthy of bliss through real service to others, rather than always trying to acquire what feels good just to pile it up in the corner of our dragon's cave:

Answer "Yes" or "No" to each of these statements. When you've completed this, add up the "Yes" answers and by private message, I will be happy to let you know how well you scored. IMO, there is no free lunch. You have to earn bliss, just like you have to earn love and long life.

1. Are you clear about how much appreciation others need you to show, and do you keep working to show it even if you don't understand why others need it so much?

2. Do you defer to the criteria others use for the help they require by doing more even when you think you do more than your fair share?

3. Do you "stifle yourself" by not saying what you feel like saying, because you think it might hurt other people's feelings?

4. Do you acknowledge and try to live up to the ideas other people have about acceptable conduct, even though they are not the same as your own and even seem unnecessary or silly?

5. Are you willing to communicate in other people's terms by listening and reading and understanding as long as others want and discussing what others want to discuss, even if it requires you to draw on your entire store of energy, attention, and ability to mask boredom?

6. Do you do things just because others enjoy doing them and do you try to enjoy them more when you do them with others?

7. Do you avoid correcting others even when you easily and rightly could do so?

8. Do you know what makes other people laugh, try to cheer them up when you can, and laugh with real enthusiasm when you may have heard the same joke many times before?

9. Are you cautious with your comments and jokes even though you think other people are being hypersensitive on some issues? (Rule of humor: Is it appropriate, timely, and tasteful by other people's standards, not your own?)

10. Do you think most people would want to go out and vote for you in a general election?



Remember, the person who is proposing this test currently sports an abysmal score, so I'm not offering myself as a role model here. I'm working on this, and when I have come close to the mark, I'm going to run for president.

Thank you and good night.


<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: CarmelaBear on 2005-10-30 10:17 ]</font>
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Post by A J » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

CarmelaBear,

These are valuable queations to consider. Thank you for posting them. Just remember as you read over them, to save some of that compassion for yourself.


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Post by jess » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hi CarmelaBear!

I agree with what you said about bliss not being about just doing what feels good to you. It is beyond that for sure.

Bliss is about finding what opens me to transcendence. True, we cannot be open to transcendence until we experience compassion, but we can experience compassion and still not be open to transcendence. It is not a direct relationship.

Compassion is about identification with others, which is what drives us to want to help them. However, I think your questions and answers are based on “dualistic” measures, not therefore not about transcendence or bliss.

I think that service can be a natural outflow of finding one’s bliss, but it is not required to experience bliss. If being of service opens you to that transendence, then it’s your bliss. It may not be someone else’s.

I think we are all worthy of bliss and nothing is “required” of us in order to experience it. It is the feeling of unworthiness (perhaps unconsciously stemming from the metaphorical exile from the garden) that keeps us from bliss. Remember, Joe said it is we who shut ourselves off from bliss – not the other way around.

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Post by CarmelaBear » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Thank you, A J. Good to hear from you.

I assure you that every ounce of compassion and altruism is basically selfish and self-centered. It is intended to achieve what other forms of selfishness and self-centeredness cannot. It brings real bliss, the kind that does not require rules and becomes an art.

I am compassionate for others, and through that compassion, I transcend suffering. Ironic, isn't it? It's not about embracing suffering or surrendering to it as much as it is about turning my attention away from my grief and loss and pain long enough to realize that by relieving the suffering of even one other person, I no longer feel my own pain. Nothing is more exhilerating than helping other people! It's a rush.
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Hi jess,

Your comments are insightful and thought-provoking. I have to agree about the service issue, for example. It's not for everyone. There are obviously other ways to be compassionate.

In everyone's life, there are other people and there is an awareness of the wider social environment. If one's attitude toward others is hostile, it can be a "service" not to act upon that attitude, but to stifle it somehow. The opportunity to relate to others in a compassionate way is pervasive, because we are social creatures.

If one never sought or experienced transcendence, he or she would be whole and complete, given a compassionate approach to others. To achieve "transcendence" and do so without regard for others, or in opposition to the interests of others (hogging resources or failing to take needed action, etc.), then the experience is empty.

Mindfulness requires, at a minimum, that one does no harm. To turn away from some kinds of suffering is to do harm. Therefore, nothing of any significance is "transcended" in the face of the kind of suffering that requires one's understanding and involvement.

Let me give you a "for instance". Suppose a holy person is communicating with the spirit, and in his transcendent state, is rudely interupted by the overwhelming sound of the cries of a stranger in distress and in need of immediate attention. Do you think a genuinely holy person would ignore the needs of others in favor of going on to the next level of "transcendence"?

I can't imagine anything that needs to be transcended more than one's own over-attention to transcendence.

When the two values are not in conflict, there is no issue. Both compassion and transcendence are of great value. When there is direct conflict, compassion represents the more important form of transcendence. As for service, it is not simply a career choice, it is a way of life. As such, it forms the attitudinal basis for any experience in life, transcendent or not-so-transcendent.

I'm making an assumption here. I'm assuming that service and compassion are not identical. I think life is replete with instances when it's not clear what would be "compassionate" and what would be neglectful or harmful. In that respect, the beauty of compassion is in the eye of the beholder, and reasonable people may differ.

Your references to experience are interesting, because we're not shooting for the "experience" of compassion so much as the adoption of a compassionate way of living and relating to all experience, including the experience of transcendence.

We may all be worthy of long life, but those who choose to smoke or walk over the edges of cliffs are far more likely to die young. In like measure, we may all be worthy of bliss, but those who fail to recognize the relationship between one's own personal bliss experience and the interconnectedness of everything are far more likely to find that experience fleeting and empty.

To live, we must consume food and drink. There may be bliss in consuming a slow poison, but it's not clear that the experience such a subjective encounter with one's own "bliss" is worthwhile. Again, I don't think all bliss is equal. Some bliss is better than others, and we need mythology to guide us in our choices.

I think the smoker who feels worthy is risking lung cancer and heart disease. I think the non-smoker who feels unworthy will live longer.

I've known bliss most of my life, but I'm finding that bliss that is blind to the damage I've done to myself and others is not helping me much. It's actually a kind of "false bliss".
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Post by Siddha » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I have a working hypothesis that "bliss" always is connected to a greater good in one form or another. I also believe that to "joyfully participate in the sorrows of life" one has to be kind (compassionate) with oneself.
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Post by CarmelaBear » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

On 2005-11-02 21:18, cliff w wrote:
I have a working hypothesis that "bliss" always is connected to a greater good in one form or another. I also believe that to "joyfully participate in the sorrows of life" one has to be kind (compassionate) with oneself.
Hello, Cliff.

Life is such that while bliss is connected to a greater good, so is the opposite of bliss. All that is and all that is not can be said to be "connected to the greater good". That's why they call it the greater good. It represents the flip side of all things, which is universal, timeless and too general to be of much use in a pinch.

In the industrialized world, compassion towards the self is easy to achieve. Nearly everything is aimed at making life's resources accessible to anyone who is able and willing to find a niche in the infrastructure and the system and within prevailing assumptions. Most people in our developed societies love themselves with great enthusiasm, resulting in a kind of blind ambition, without regard for untoward consequences, not only to others, but to themselves.

What we take for "bliss" and "compassion" is not as blissful as we would like and not nearly as compassionate as we were led to believe. Those who say that in compassion for others one can find the deepest form of bliss understand that what we are following is not the bliss we find within the individual experience, but the bliss we discover outside our overprivileged selves in the interdependencies that keep us challenged and thriving.

If it's a piece of cake, then it's boring.
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Post by nandu » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

On 2005-11-04 14:13, CarmelaBear wrote:
What we take for "bliss" and "compassion" is not as blissful as we would like and not nearly as compassionate as we were led to believe. Those who say that in compassion for others one can find the deepest form of bliss understand that what we are following is not the bliss we find within the individual experience, but the bliss we discover outside our overprivileged selves in the interdependencies that keep us challenged and thriving.
Carmela,

As I understand it, all bliss is individual experience, as we cannot have any other experience. We experience the other person's feelings through ourselves: the self is the medium. That is why, the pursuit of bliss is always an inward journey.

That said, I believe that the self will totally disappear at the point of enlightenment.

We cannot say with certainty what the prescribed path to enlightenment is. It is different for different people.

Keep on following your bliss, Carmela! Good luck on your journey!

Nandu.
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Post by jess » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

This post is long, sorry I don't mean to ramble! There seemed to be no short response for me.

Carmela (or anyone else),

I tend to use the word “experience” to describe entirely different states. Confusing indeed for anyone not in my head, but it’s such a great word. So all-encompassing!

On one version of "experience compassion", I meant that a person could be a compassionate person and still not be “open to transcendence.” Being “open” to it does not mean that one is simply open to the idea. I think a lot of people confuse the two. People assume they know what transcendence is and then think, “I am open to it.” There’s a yoga scripture that references that as “ignorant of our ignorance.” That condition definitely shuts us off to bliss. (Joe used yogic references a lot, which is why I mention it here.)

Your example of a holy man where you described him in a “state of transcendence” with a “rude interruption,” as well as your comments about being overly concerned with transcendence imply to me that you see “transcendence” as “out there” somewhere – like it’s a place we go to and come back from. Transcendence is not “out there”. Transcendence is a reference to a perspective that is beyond dualistic measure, and it is always accessible right here and now. To quote Joe (and indirectly William Blake), “eternity is now.” We do not always have this perspective because we are not always “open” to it – even though we insist we are. We are often trapped in measuring what is happening in terms of “good” or “bad,” rather than looking at how a particular life experience can transform us. As Blake said, “if the doors of perception were cleansed, man would see every thing as it is: infinite.”

We can be introduced to a transcendent state (the oneness) through a number of means (meditation, shamanic drumming, a sunset, walking, etc), but to be “transcended” means that we allow a “space of infinitude” to “inform” our daily lives – it is not a “state” we shift in and out of. I know many people who have dissolved into oneness during meditation or in other ways, but who have still not “transcended” their dualistic mindset; they have simply had transcendental encounters. I don’t mean that self-righteously or judgmentally; it is just discernment in terms of the definition of “transcendence” referenced in Joe’s work (and many others for that matter).

Now, for my other use of the word, “experience.” When I said we must “experience compassion” before we are open to transcendence, I meant “experience” as an apprehension of the concept (compassion) in the sense that it informs you always - when it has become an immeasurable, non-measuring aspect of your totality, i.e., when you transcend dualistic categories of truth (e.g. the tendency to dole out compassion to only those we think “deserve” it). Joe has referenced this notion of compassion and transcendence through examples of the rise of the kundalini through the chakras. You have to realize compassion before you can truly transcend duality (occurring in the heart chakra). There are two “lines” associated with the heart chakra, one represents compassion and the other transcendence. Until you “cross” the second line, you have not transcended duality. This second crossing is representative of the spiritual, virgin birth - a metaphor for an archetypical, psychological transformation in the individual.

Again, referencing specifically Joe’s work: Bliss is what opens you personally to transcendence; it is a channel to our eternal nature (undifferentiated consciousness). It is not an action that just makes us feel good. It is beyond “categories of experience” or what you do. Bliss is not specifically about smoking or not smoking, what you do or don’t eat, walking on the edge of a cliff, how long you live or what age you die – those are categories of experience. (Although any of the aforementioned could very well open someone to transcendence and thus be someone’s bliss. The line is fine, but the difference is great.) Joe said this over and over in everything he’s written or said about it: measures close you off to transcendence/bliss. When you make reference to bliss and any measure, you are confining an infinite experience to boundaries that don’t apply to it, i.e. dualistic standards. Dualistic here means more than the existence of opposites – it means any measure. This does not mean that we do not discern, but that we do not “enclose” the world in categories. This is what Joe referred to as being closed to transcendence. Your categories of bliss (good bliss, bad bliss) are shutting you off from bliss and seating you on a judgment bench, so to speak (now I am making reference to your statement that you would determine who was worthy of bliss based on your questions).

How do we transcend the categorical nature of life here? Take an experience you find “damaging” or “bad bliss.” Put aside your judgment of it for a moment; remove it like a pair of sunglasses. There you have just the pure experience. What did you learn from it? How can it foster your transformation? The answer is in there somewhere. Even if your answer is only, “to not do that anymore,” and you honor that lesson, you have transformed yourself – you then begin from a new space. You have moved beyond your measure of good or bad, and hence, transcended a categorical experience in duality. That is opening a channel to bliss through a “bad” experience. That is a very simplistic example, but I think it makes the point.

You said we need a mythology to guide our choices. A working mythology (whether personal or otherwise) helps us reconcile choices (the psychological function of myth), it does not tell us what is right or wrong as you implied (or I am assuming you implied) – the latter is the definition of a religion. The lessons we learn can guide us in our future choices. Some choices evolve us, others don’t. We can make a choice that does not necessarily evolve us - like eat a hotdog or smoke a cigarette - and still be transcended. One really has nothing to do with the other.

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Post by CarmelaBear » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hi Nandu and Jess! Thank you for your thoughtful, careful replies.

I would like to expand more on the specifics, but for now, I have this one image rattling around within my brain:

When life grabs a person by the ankles and spins one around in circles, there is no other experience than being spun around and around. Perhaps, if it continues long enough, thoughts and decisions begin to intrude, but even then, the stomach is turning and the brain doesn't work properly.

This is what individual experience is like for most people, most of the time. Life is a crisis. There is neither dualism nor judgment, moment nor infinitude. There is only the sensation of being removed by circumstances beyond our control into a field of experience so severely sensory that thought is reduced to either panic or prioritizing. Most of the time, the living organism is drowning in sensory overload and there is only "self" in that there is only the experience itself.

Life happens. Bliss is an afterthought.

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Post by jess » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

“Life is only crisis.” This is what I think Joe was saying was the problem with our lack of a working mythology. We are do not feel connected to that which happens around us – even though we are. It feels like the world is just happening to us, hence, the sense of it happening beyond our control.


You see the “interconnectedness of everything”. (What does that mean to you in relation to what happens in your life?) From that perspective we can go a step further: crisis happens for us – not to us. If we are truly interconnected with everything, then every thing that happens is a part of who we are. We can choose how to respond to it. It is just as easy to adopt that perspective as it is say life happens, bliss is an afterthought. One places you in the driver’s seat, the other places you in the back seat. I don’t know about you, but I am driving my life story now (and I have seen some pretty horrific things in my life that I used to allow to victimize me).


Dualism is not a conscious perspective when you are caught up in it. (You are not saying to yourself, “now this is very dualistic of me.”) From that place, life is indeed sensory overload. You transcend duality when you realize your perspective is really your choice. That realization comes along with overcoming pure sensory experience. Eventually you do have to catch yourself in the act, so to speak.

Our perspective is the only thing we do have control of in a world that is constantly tossing us challenges. An example: 2 women being interviewed after hurricane Katrina – both lost their homes, both poor. One says, “This was a terrible affair I will never, ever get over. My life is ruined.” The other says, “This is a personal challenge for me to meet. I will move forward and be stronger.” Same affair, different perspectives. One trapped in Duality (I lost my home - of course I will never get over it) the other not (I will move forward). Let’s even go a step further in this game – how do you think each of their children will likely respond to personal challenge in their futures? Victims or warriors? (just to pick two random archetypes)

Back to 2 of the functions of mythology (myth does not have to be a ready-made story we plug into – it can be our personal myth): to connect us to the sense of awe of being here (e.g. that hurricane happened and it was part of my personal transformation. That is an example of connecting to the sense of awe in this universe) and to reconcile the psyche to what happens while we are here (Katrina was not personal, it was transpersonal. How can we move forward from crisis stronger rather than damaged).

Crisis can also be your bliss.

(what’s the quote, btw?)

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Post by Ken O'Neill » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Bliss? Worthiness? It seems to me that "worthiness" is a unique artefact of Western European culture. Maybe of monotheism itself? I'm not sure of the latter.

Now bliss has a different referent when we go Eastward to the yoga psychologies. Bliss refers to quite a few words in Sanskrit and Chinese. More words in those languages than we have corresponding words for in European languages. What does that suggest? A bliss deficiency disorder in the West? hmmmm. What yoga's do we have?


I know from having worked with Western students of meditation for more than thirty years that feeling worthy is often the BIG obstacle. It occured to me that we have a sort of cult of meaning and guilt working in our culture. Feeling unworthy seems to go with feeling guilty. That's not a genetic condition, but surely one culturally conditioned by religion. Original sin translates as original guilt it would seem.

Asian cultures aren't based on a division of body and mind or body and spirit. Second, they aim toward being pleasure cultures rather than guilt based cultures. That in itself makes the approach to yogas different. Except when folks from the guilt/worth culture project those sentiments on yoga, then start talking about Purity and a rash of disorders not found there.

Ananda and sukha are two bliss words. They reger minimally to bodymind states - embodiments - which arise all by themselves once we begin to learn to deeply relax and settle into abiding peace (shamatha). That bliss comes about when we get the burden of meaning and obligation off our backs, just aking life for what it is without loading it with meaning.

Campbell's "living your bliss" always seemed, to me, to come right out of this work with Upanishads and Buddhism. Accepting your nature rather than having it prescribed for you attunes with that inner order. Perhaps it's what Hillman means in his book The Code of the Soul.

Since our eductional systems don't teach inward arts, and since societies socialize us for conformity, it's no wonder we don't live our bliss. Isn't the hero's journey that inward movement to owning your nature, hence your bliss?


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Post by Martin_Weyers » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

On 2005-12-03 18:05, Ken O'Neill wrote:
It occured to me that we have a sort of cult of meaning and guilt working in our culture. Feeling unworthy seems to go with feeling guilty. That's not a genetic condition, but surely one culturally conditioned by religion. Original sin translates as original guilt it would seem.
That's an interesting observation. Since I don't know anybody personally who seriously believes in original sin, I'm wondering if our Western valuation of individuality, maybe, is making demands on people, that some are experiencing as too high. Matching with all those heroes and saints may help some people to bring out the best in themselves; Some other might be intimated.

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Post by Ken O'Neill » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Have you read in the literature of Existentialism? Original sin still occupies some folks, while for others a pervasive sense of Angst or existential anxiety floods them.

I've found it interesting that many of those who developed existentialism had a similar experience: once they'd deconstructed the world, getting down to that bare bones sense of "nothingness" and the rootless foundation of life (absurd, without roots), they panicked, seemingly overcome by a sense that the other shoe was about to drop. I've theorized that we in the West are conditioned from early on to have meaning, to not enjoy nothingness - guilt in the time of modernity.

In India and China, that same feeling of nothingness is IT - and is bliss rather than dread, fear and trembling. The existentialists all plunged into one totalitarism or another, while the daoists, buddhists and hindus are delighted in the bliss without obligation, guilt, etc.

the only "original sin" I've heard of other than televangelists is Willie Nelson singing that song about "The Most Unoriginal Sin".
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Post by Martin_Weyers » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I don't know the Willie Nelson song, but I too prefer unoriginal sins. "Original sin", to me, means to be called to account for a sin without having the fun of committing it.

As for the existentalists: Somehow I was never interested in these realms of modern philosophy. I prefer Heidegger, and maybe rather Camus than Sartre. However, your depiction of the (certainly unintended) results of existentialist thinking makes me curious.

I feel reminded on Alan Watt's suggestions to let go all cognitive securities. I'm referring here to his book Weisheit des ungesicherten Lebens - I guess the original title is The Wisdom of Insecurity.

Now, Joe Campbell was not just saying "Follow your bliss!", rather he used to suggest also, that following one's bliss means not to care too much about civil securities. I thought he was talking about earnings and insurances. I was not aware that this implies also mental securities (conditioned ideas and beliefs), but it's an interesting viewpoint.

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Post by CarmelaBear » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

People within the U.S. are culturally immersed in worries that don't seem to bother people in other areas, and I must say that the same may be said of others.

What makes our culture unique is that we are such traditionalists. It's not the same as conservatism. It has to do with our devotion to ideals that really don't make it onto the radar screens of other cultures, and in our enthusiasm for such high standards, we fall apart in other ways.

Example: Americans take more anti-depressants and give their children more behavior-suppressing drugs than any other people on the planet. We are worried about our anxieties. We are depressed about our moods. We are prepared to drug the kids to keep them from upsetting any apple carts.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
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