“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.” ~Dalai Lama
I’m betting you’ve heard the advice to “follow your bliss.” While I find there to be much value in those words, I submit that this mindset can become a trap.
It’s not the bliss I have an issue with. It’s the part about following.
If you are going to follow your bliss, the supposition is that you already know what it is. Maybe you do, and maybe you don’t. Yet.
When I was in my early twenties, my mother invited me to join her for an evening yoga class she was taking to be followed by dinner. Yoga wasn’t as popular then as it is now so it was something of a mystery to me.
I imagined a half hour of simple stretching. To be honest, I was more interested in the free dinner than I was in “exercise,” but mom had just started a 6-week yoga intensive class and was very enthusiastic about it. Wanting to be supportive, I accepted her invitation.
I met her at the yoga studio, thinking easy stretches would be a good way to work up an appetite, and then off to dinner we would go. We removed our shoes, and I padded after my mom as she handed me a mat and showed me where to spread it out on the floor, next to hers.
The teacher was a pleasant young woman who smiled warmly as she welcomed us and lowered the lights, suggesting we sit quietly and relax. As the last few students straggled in, she walked over to the close the door and invited us to “just let go of the cares of the day for the next two hours.”
Holy Toledo! Two hours! Two HOURS? I hated P.E.—I’d never done any physical activity for two hours. This would never do. Two hours? I panicked.
How to escape? I could excuse myself to the bathroom and wait it out there. Maybe I could feign a stomachache and take a taxi home. I was freaking out inside.
The teacher’s smiling eyes met mine, and I fake-smiled back. Panic turned into paralysis. I froze. It took every ounce of willpower (and a fair amount of respect and love for my mother) to keep me from bolting out that door. I swallowed my panic and got ready to endure the torture.
My fate sealed, I did my best to follow along. Luckily, I had some natural flexibility and was pleased to find I could get into a few of the positions comfortably, even some that experienced students found challenging. Me being good at a “sport”? That was a first. Yes, I even gloated a little.
I did the yoga. Badly. But I did it. Eventually I lost track of time, and somewhere along the way, I actually began to enjoy what I was doing.
Then something miraculous occurred. While I was in a pose, I was startled by the thought, “Oh, this is why people get into those ridiculous pretzel positions.” By the end of the class, I was hooked.
My mother finished her 6-week course and never went to class again. For mom, yoga was just a momentary fascination, but for me it was the beginning of a 40-year love affair that continues to this day.
Yoga has been my joy. It has sustained me through marriage, divorce, childbirth, illness, and health.
I learned that yoga is more than exercise, and certainly not a sport. I learned not to gloat. I learned to breathe, to move with mindfulness, and maybe for the first time, to enjoy having a body. I learned that the body is holy. I became a yoga teacher for eight years and a practitioner of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy for nearly as long.
I’ve loved every bit of my yoga journey.
Yet, if I had followed my bliss, I would never have found my way into that yoga studio.
At the time, I would have much preferred to skip the yoga and simply meet my mom for dinner afterwards. And I would have missed one of the great joys of my life.
How can we find our bliss so that we may follow it?
1. Be open.
If a new opportunity crosses your path, try not to judge it too quickly or too harshly. Be open to new ideas and experiences, maybe even things you hadn’t considered before.
2. Be curious.
If there’s something people enjoy but you can’t imagine why, investigate. Perhaps it’s ballroom dancing, poetry, martial arts, aviation, improv, The Peace Corps. Whatever it is, there may be more to learn in the doing than the observing. There’s often much more than meets the eye. Some things need to be experienced to be appreciated.
3. Be willing.
Give it some time. (I recommend a minimum of two hours!) It helps to get good enough at a new endeavor to appreciate the joy it may bring you once you get the hang of it. Also, be willing to let go of an identity you may have outgrown. I was sure I was not the “physical type.” I hated exercise. I certainly didn’t believe I would or could be able to master something as outrageous as a headstand.
4. Be proactive.
Develop a mindset that is focused on finding and following your bliss. This means allowing time and energy to explore different things. Be willing to step outside your comfort zone. At least a little bit.
5. Be surprised.
You might be amazed at how much you enjoy something you never expected to.
6. Trust Life.
If you find yourself in a situation that isn’t exactly what you had in mind, pay attention. You might be at the beginning of the very path to the bliss you’ve been seeking.
To paraphrase John Lennon: “Bliss may be what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Photo by The Wandering Angel