Following one’s bliss sets one on a course from which, once begun, there is no turning back. The trek is usually started on after a soulful review and finding one’s life wanting or disappointing. In “Masks We Wear,” I write about identifying roles one has adopted and played and the need to rip off those masks to set forth on a new or altered course. But unless one totally understands and accepts the reality of his past, he is in danger of repeating it.
The first practice I list in my essay “My Thirteen Daily Practices” is to accept reality. That is easier said than done for a number of reasons. One is because a person needs to be most honest about her truth, but most are not comfortable with being confronted by it. Hence, they opt to live in denial. Another is getting honest feedback from those who love and know us intimately is not easy. Many are reticent to tell another their honest opinions. Notice how we look away rather than in the eye when trying to say something hard to one we love.
A question one should ask upon venturing forth in the pursuit of his life’s bliss is why he hadn’t done so previously. More than a mental exercise, it’s requisite. Beyond the enlightenment and revelation gained by identifying the reasons he held back, one begins to get at the root of his angst. An exercise to conduct is to think back, reflect, and meditate on moments in life when opportunities presented themselves to move in another direction, but you chose, found reason not to. Journal about them.
The process of self-questioning ought to include the full scope of one’s life’s practices and beliefs: customs, traditions, religious/spiritual values, and so on. That is not to say one should chuck them wholesale and start anew. Quite the contrary. The values-clarification process might result in the individual holding onto a sizeable portion of his psychological/spiritual makeup, but in the process of doing so, she will have solid footing for her beliefs, values, practices, and purpose. Rather than living according to learned behaviors, she will have taken responsibility for her life’s course.
A caveat or two: One needs to be careful not to justify, rationalize, or blame outside forces—e.g., parents, society, peers—for prior intransigence, but to begin with “Because I chose to…” Further, one needs to do it from a compassionate analytical—yes, analysis need not always be a cold, frosty endeavor—perspective without judgment. If so, it is at that moment one take ownership of her life’s path not only from the start but hereon. While it might entail an exercise in preparing and consuming a personal dish of crow, it is, nevertheless, the start of “This is my life and I make the calls!”
In the end, one might discover the reason he hadn’t heretofore followed his bliss or refuses to venture forth is due to resistance arising from a fear of going to where he hasn’t gone before…and never will if he insists on sticking to the safe route. The resistance could also be the result of societal acculturation, an in-grained programming, from his immediate family or the broader society and church.
Conformity is a most powerful controller. Marching to the beat of your own drum is a marvelous ideal to strive for, but to do it amid the steady beat of the societal drum can be quite a feat. Picture a school marching band or soldiers stepping with precision and how people marvel at their skill. Don’t. Group walk is like group think: easy to fall into, difficult to extricate from. Marvel, rather, at the one who isn’t keeping time in cadence, walking, rather, to the beat of her drum despite the cacophony besetting her, telling her she will be damned, ruined, whatever. That’s the challenge.
Opening stanzas of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself:
I Celebrate myself, and sing myself, / And what I assume you shall assume, / For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul, / I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air, / Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same, / I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin, / Hoping to cease not till death.
Creeds and schools in abeyance, / Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten, / I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard, / Nature without check with original energy.