Beyond following your Bliss


   There are lots of options available to get going on the spiritual path. You can, for example, decide to follow your bliss, or, get in touch with your heart’s desire, or, you can search for your intention, or, pursue your deepest wish, or sweetest dream. You could as well discover your Meyers-Briggs temperament type, and discern the nature of your driving compulsions on the Enneogram. 

 These days, there is no shortage of options in the spiritual supermarket. Your cart can easily be filled up.

 Loaded and ready to go with so many tools, the spiritual quest can then become quite an exhilarating merry-go-round of self discoveries. The possibilities are endless. Just how much more of my self can I get to know! May the wonders never cease! 

 Now, what the spiritual aspirant may be hoping to find is a way to improve his life. And to be sure, such a focus on self-discovery beats being depressed. 

 Motivated to experience a higher quality life, you have perhaps resolved that  you are no longer going to live someone else’s life. You’re now going to live your life, with a view to one day being able to exclaim: 'I did it my way!

 Well, it is to be affirmed that it is crucial to find your particular way - your particular bliss, your particular passion, your own heart’s desire, or your sweetest dream

 And towards that end therefore, it is, I think, wise council for the journey given by a writer who acknowledges that 'in many cases you may not know the exact physical specifics of your vision.’ (The Cause of Feeling Meaningless, by anon, adapted and paraphrased)  

 You may initially have but a vague feeling for it. The vision is barely formed.  It’s going to take time for that mustard seed to develop.  

 Nevertheless, some vague feeling, if followed, may lead to a great possibility. And when sometimes a feeling persists and starts to wake you up at night - well, then, you may really be on to something! 

 The challenge though, as you start out, is to trust that feeling and to stay true to it. Not to shut it off, or shut it down.

 For example, you may have a feeling that you want to do something creative, but you don’t know 'the exact specifics of how to go about it, or even what it is that you want to do.'

 Well, what to do? The advise? ‘Hold on to that feeling,’ and trust that 'the knowing will arise at the right time.'

 Or secondly, 'you may have a feeling for the type of relationship you want to share.'

 The advise? Stay with the feeling. As you do, you may find that with right effort you will eventually become a match for a certain someone. 

 You will, in other words, through time and effort, become capable of attracting a relationship that corresponds to your longing. Your life will catch up to your vision.

 Or it may be thirdly, that you 'have a feeling for a certain lifestyle that you want to lead, but have no idea how to create it.' 

 The advise? 'Stand true to the feeling.' If you do, ‘the required understanding will start coming in.' 

 Now, to stay with the feeling is such simple advise. But, of course, the challenge is to actualize the dream. 

 For as the writer adds, and I think it’s a great point that, in far too many cases, we drop the feeling and act too soon. The result is an unintended life, and what follows - corresponding feelings of meaninglessness.

 A life then has been constructed that bears little relation to what had once been dreamed.

 It’s easy to forget about the dream or vision, and to act out of restlessness, instead of from 'a real sense of inner guidance.’  

 In a state of forgetfulness, we get busy. We are busy because it’s easier to keep moving than to stop to reflect. Busy is easier than awareness.

 Very oftenthe busy bee is effectively blocking self-awareness. There is no serious listening for inner inspiration.’  Instead, one is ruled by various momentary whims and impulses.

 So it is worth everything to earnestly begin the search, or to start it up again.

 I like what Jonathan Sacks says: “Stop looking: listen. Stop speaking: listen. Create a silence in the soul. Still the clamour of instinct, desire, fear, anger. Strive to listen to the still, small voice beneath the noise.” 

 And then, and only then, off you go, motivated by an inner voice, not by societal voices.

 But I want to add this caveat - that, as we follow our bliss, it is not a matter of the will alone.

 The will alone is not everything. There is more

 Raimon Panikkar issues this caution: "Modern pedagogy tells us that we have to have a goal and a strong will, and that we have to use the will for reaching the goal.

 Panikkar’s point is to say that there is "much more in human life than victories.”

 Life is not exclusively about various triumphs and accomplishments.

 As was recognized by television’s radio psychiatrist, Frasier, who, upon being informed that he was to receive an award for lifetime achievement, felt only emptiness in response.

 Frasier, of course - true to form - cared about the award, probably too much, but he also knew that the award was not going to take care of his problem with angst, with his feelings of meaninglessness.  

 His question after receiving the award was: 'And now what?’ 

 The recognition of a need for something more also comes out in the old Bob Newhart comedy routine where the retiring company employee stands before everyone and says: "You put in your fifty years and all they ever give you is this crummy watch.”  

 He, too, was asking, Is there more? Is there more beyond what I’ve tried to do? 

 We therefore can have accomplished all kinds of great things and still feel empty.

 So the question here is whether there a more beyond following your bliss, your dream or intention?

 Well there’s a cynical response to the question and a more hopeful one.

 An answer filled with gloom comes from a dialogue in a book by John Williams called Butcher’s Crossing: "Young people,” McDonald says contemptuously: "You always think there’s something to find out.

 "Yes sir," Andrews says in response. 

 "Well, there’s nothing,” McDonald says. "You get born and you nurse on lies and you get weaned on lies and you learn fancier lies in school.

 "You live all your life on lies, and then maybe when you’re ready to die, it comes to you  - that there’s nothing, nothing but yourself and what you could have done.

 "Only you ain’t done it, because the lies told you there was something else." 

 "Then you know you could have had the world, because you’re the only one who knows the secret; only it’s too lateYou’re too old." 

 "No," Andrews says. A vague terror crept from the darkness that surrounded them and tightened his voice... That’s not the way it is."

 "You ain’t learned, then," McDonald says, "You ain’t learned yet.

 McDonald, the cynic, the nihilist, is saying that all of life moves inexorably towards towards emptiness and the horror of it all.

 From his perspective, life is a gradual fading away until you exit with a whimper, not with a song of praise on your lips.

 A more optimistic answer is given in the story of a university Professor who visited an ashram in India. 

 He was enjoying his stay there but thought after a while that it was time to move on. And so, he went "to the meditation master to politely thank him." 

 “After several weeks, I followed what I perceived to be the tradition of the place: I approached Baba as he sat in the courtyard in the late morning, thanked him for allowing me to stay in his ashram, and told him that I would be leaving the following day."

 "He asked me where I was planning to go, and I replied that I wanted to visit the saints and ashrams and tourist attractions of South India."

 "Baba said, “It’s natural that you want to see so many beautiful things in India. Recently I went to a temple in my native region of Karnataka that I had never seen before. There were many people there taking notes and taking photographs of the beautiful sculptures.”

 "At this, he turned and began speaking to somebody else." 

 "Notes and photographs. For a full minute, I remained standing before Baba, contemplating those words. For some reason, my mind couldn’t seem to wrap itself around the significance of that image.” 

 "And then it came to me - Baba was describing exactly what I had been doing in his ashram: taking photographs and making notes in my journal." 

 "I asked myself what I wanted to gain from this trip to India." 

 "Was I going to temples just to admire the architecture? And why was I in the ashram?"

 "Was I just a tourist, or had I come to some deeper pursuit?"

 "The moment I had that thought, Baba turned back to me. He asked: "Have you observed any difference in the quality of your meditation while you were in the ashram?"

 "Certainly, I have,” was my reply. You have a very nice meditation room…”

 "Baba said: “Why do you want to leave when you are beginning to attain something? It’s better for you to remain here as long as you can so that you can consolidate what you have gained. Then you can leave." (Swami Shantananda, The Splendor of Recognition, p2)

 So the Professor stayed and soon had the spiritual experience, an inner awakening, that changed his life forever.

 His experience has been called the shattering. Which is actually the point of following your bliss. It is the culminating point of your journey. The destination of your intention. 

 The outcome of truly following your bliss, of truly staying with your vision, of truly following your heart’s desire, is to experience the shattering. (Which may not be quite so exciting to hear.)

 The shattering can feel like a dark night of the soul, as in Parker J. Parker’s experience. 

 Immoblized by depression, Parker testified: "In that deadly darkness, the faculties I had always depended on collapsed.

 "My intellect was useless; my emotions were dead; my will was impotent; my ego was shattered.” 

 And yet this shattering was the best experience of his life.

 As he was shattered, Parker says that "deep in the thickets of my inner wilderness, I could sense the presence of something that knew how to stay alive even when the rest of me wanted to die." 

 "That something was my tough and tenacious soul." (Parker J. Palmer Hidden Wholeness

 The shattering enabled him to experience his own Divine core.

 With reference to the New Testament, Romans 8:18, Panikkar calls the experience of the Divine core, the glory. He defines the glory as "the splendor of the true life.” (Raimon Panikkar, Spirituality, The Way of Life p. 429ff) 

 The glory is the true life that erupts when the shattering is experienced.

 The glory is to experience that dimension of soul which Panikkar says is located “far from the kingdom of this world.

 It "resides in another world, (another dimension), above the intellect and the will." 

 'You have not even begun to live, says Panikkar, unless you have had this experience.

 “In the heart of every man there is something - a drive? (a call, a feelinga still, small voice,) which is already there when he is born and will haunt him unremittingly until his last breath.” (Fr Henri Le Saux)

 "It is a mystery which encompasses him on every side, but one which none of his faculties can ever attain to or, still less, lay hold of.”

 "It cannot be located in anything that can be seen, heard, touched or known in this world.”

 To experience it requires a shattering, "a bursting asunder, at the very heart of being."

 The experience is the unique splendour of the Self, but no one is left in its presence to exclaim, “How beautiful it is!” (Fr Henri Le Saux/Abhishiktananda, The Further Shore)

 No one is left as the result of the shattering, says Fr. Henri Le Saux, and yet this is a paradox, for anyone who experiences the shattering will find that he is now more fully and truly himself than he has ever known.

 He is shattered in order to be glorified. 

 In losing his life, he actually finds it.  

 Meditation master, Gurumayi, wrote a poem about looking at a thousand mirrors in order to give herself a sense of identity.

 Each mirror reflected back to her a host of limiting self-definitions.

 These thousand mirrors, says Gurumayiwere her dwelling.

 “It seemed a comfortable way of living.

 "But then God’s grace struck my life."

  "And one by one, each mirror was shattered to pieces.

  Deeply threatened by the shattering she says: "The reality of my existence was at stake.” 

 "As grace continued to strike, each mirror was broken into thousands of fragments."

 "The reflections became innumerable."

 "Now they no longer made sense."

 "Nothing held true meaning anymore."

 "Until only one mirror remained,” that of herself as an ego taking its stand defiantly against the shattering grace.

 “My whole being wept." 

 "My senses abandoned me." 

 "My world crumbled."

 She protested: "People say grace is a shelter." 

 "Why, then, am I losing all I have?"

 And then the breakthrough: “That final mirror exploded and not even a trace remained of that existence which I had once found by looking into a thousand mirrors.

 She had been shattered - burst asunder. Shattered by grace into glory, the splendour of the true life.

 Which means that she’d lost nothing and gained everything.

 "I felt God smile at my non-existent life.

 She had landed in that realm of freedom beyond the intellect and the will. 

 She had experienced that dimension of the more beyond one’s plans and intentions. 

 The pattern is to embark on the spiritual path, to follow your bliss or your heart’s highest intention. This moves towards the shattering. Which opens the human being to the glory

 The Yearning. The Shattering. The Glory. 

 It’s a blessed triad. 

Man at Stormy Sea on Sunset

  The Deer’s Cry, Lisa Kelly