All That We Owe is Our Joy
It's all I can think about these days. It's summer in New York and I live in the cutest, most neighborhoody neighborhood in Brooklyn with the cutest dog and the best flatmate, and beautiful light that daily pours through my high up treehouse windows. I've never been quite this happy or healthy. Suddenly, having sort of unexpectedly arrived here, nothing else matters but continuing to live this well.
I want to live a life of joy with you.
Recently I had the pleasure of being interviewed by my dear friend Lauren Marie Fleming, author and revolutionary in the art of decadence and #bawdylove. She's working on her second season of podcasts and we talked about following our bliss.
A yoga teacher at some point may have told you to Follow Your Bliss, and even if you're not particularly salty or jaded, you may have wondered exactly how one accomplishes this. Where is My Bliss going? Will it leave a trail of breadcrumbs to follow? As with many meant-to-be-inspiring statements issued by yoga teachers with breathy zen, I honestly find this directive nauseating. First, because it doesn't really *mean* anything all on its own. Without substantive discussion, it's grossly trite. Second, because it's too prone to leading people to the misconception that spiritual practice is meant to be a constant state of nirvana. Anyone who's "doing the work" can tell you that that is so often so far from the truth.
The truth is, if you use your spiritual practice to mask, suppress or otherwise ignore your pain, you're partaking in spiritual bypassing. You may have stopped drowning yourself in liquor or snorting cocaine up your nose, but "getting saved" or going to yoga everyday doesn't mean you are somehow magically healed of the wounds that lead you to use in the first place. Modern neuroscience has taught us that we can change and heal our brains, but repatterning our thinking takes time and discipline. Even antidepressants can only take us so far. There is no substitute for sitting still as you let your pain out of the dark and ask it how you can help. It needs room to breathe and if you ignore it, it will rot you from the inside out.
Following Your Bliss may not always feel blissful. It may mean having to cut off people who take life from you, quitting jobs or habits, and leaving behind all manner of comfort and familiarity. Those who have come to know you in a specific way may resist. You may lose quite a bit in the process of following your bliss. It might be very high stakes. Those who feel they cannot follow their own bliss may become jealous and angry as they watch you shine brighter. If they cannot live better, neither can you. Your ascent will only serve to highlight how trapped they feel. In your bliss, you may suddenly feel like a stranger. In our world it seems as though struggle and dissatisfaction are expected, while joy and pleasure are somehow sinful and suspect. We trust our pain but not our joy. I blame the Christian idea that Jesus suffered and so should you. Bollocks. Let's consult the source: Galatians 5:1 "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."
But what of those who we leave behind, still slaving in the salt mines of misery? If you have chosen to divest from your suffering, there will be people who cannot go where you're going. It's not because they aren't *allowed* but because they're not yet ready to suffer productively. When it comes to suffering, I'm with the Buddha; I do believe that human life presents inevitable suffering to varying degrees. Much depends on how we choose to respond to the stimuli of life, how much we resist or embrace. When we choose to unburden ourselves of the yoke of slavery, it's not that we don't suffer anymore, it's that we've decided to only suffer in ways which will ultimately lead to more freedom.
For example: it's an uncomfortable exercise to sit with my pain. I have suffered mightily in this excavation and rebuilding of my heart and mind. It's required courage of which I didn't even know I was capable. However, I am now living with the highest degree of joy I can recall. I have suffered, but as a result, I now suffer much less. This work has been productive.
Which is not to say that I'm immune to numbing. I don't drink a lot anymore, largely because I recognize my alcoholic leanings. However, I do scroll the internet in a zombie-like trance, which distances me from my pain, but also doesn't bring me much pleasure. That's the problem with emotional anesthesia; it's not localized. The loss of feeling in one place spreads. I might also achieve this with sex/relationships, shopping, food, or even, yes, seemingly healthy things like yoga and spirituality. Whatever I reach for when I recoil from my pain is symptomatic of and complicit to my avoidance. The path that ultimately leads to the alleviation of my pain is challenging, though, while so many quick fix distractions are easily available and socially acceptable. It's much easier to keep our pain tucked away than it is to address it...until it's not anymore. Everyone has a rock bottom to hit. It's just a matter of when.
When we do make a bid for our freedom (a.k.a. follow our bliss), there will be people who won't be able to come with us. As we do the work to transform our experience of life, the people we left behind may continue to suffer as we once did. Witnessing this may cause a sort of survivor's guilt because you got out. This is especially difficult if they agree with you; in their estimation, you abandoned them. Misery does love company and how dare you leave them to be miserable on their own. Perhaps by now you've learned the secret, though:
Avoidable suffering is slavery, and we are meant to be free.
When you gently, directly address your pain, you begin to cut the miserable chains that bind you. This is right and good. You're not a defecting traitor. You're breaking unhealthy cycles and patterning in order to pioneer a new way of living. Your individual choice radically alters the future. What caused hurt before will not be passed down in you. Your individual choice gives permission to others to do the same. Not everyone will warmly welcome this empowerment. Without their pain, they have no idea who they are. Their pain is a badge of honor, proof of what they've been through. Questions of identity are never not weighty. The resistance to them is understandable.
But you're ready.
You've suffered enough. You've hit your rock bottom, and are ready to break the cycle and claim your freedom. Those who find this confrontational believe that you owe them your continued allegiance in misery. They are mistaken. What the world needs from you is your joy. It is, in fact, all that you owe anyone. This following of your bliss will perhaps not always feel blissful, but it is the productive sort of suffering that will set you free...and you are made for freedom.
I want to live a life of joy with you. Please join me.