I was in an enormous torch-lit cavern surrounded by people all dressed in brown hooded robes. I was standing in front of a stone alter with my infant son laid out in front of me on the alter. We had always called him our “joy boy” because his happiness and vitality lit up our whole house. I had a ceremonial knife in my hand and my mother-in-law was beside me telling me that I had to sacrifice my precious son. I asked her if there was any other way and she assured me I had to do this. Like God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son in the old biblical story, I was feeling such a profound grief and kept on asking if there was any other way and why I had to do this and I could not stop crying. The next thing I knew I woke up in a cold sweat at three AM in the morning with the feeling of deep grief that stayed with me for hours and clung to me for quite some time.
This dream was over 16 years ago and it has haunted me for many years afterward. It was one of those dreams that I came back to repeatedly over the decades and it always brought me back to a fundamental dilemma in my life. Do I have to sacrifice my joy to take care of my family and manage all the details of life and make it in society? Is it possible to be successful in a complicated world and still be true to myself? The fears of my unconscious mind clearly seemed to be telling me it was not possible, but my inner knowing told me it had to be achievable.
At that time in my life, Liz and I were raising three small and impossibly cute boys and I was finally entering the adult world and beginning a career and supporting a family. I had resisted adult responsibilities, partly because all the adults in my life seemed stressed out, busy and unhappy and I didn’t want to become like them. I was afraid of releasing Peter Pan and was unwilling to sacrifice my joy in order to grow up and I thought I had to choose between being happy and being a responsible adult.
Looking back it seems that to keep my childlike joy I have had to sacrifice some illusions, some fears and some character defects that I never needed in the first place. I have had to use the difficulties and challenges of life to burn away some of the ego-based fears of my personality, but in the big picture, this has only made me more aware of the profound joy of being alive. I find I am more committed to supporting my family and I am more focused on helping others find healing in their lives, and in the process I am continually finding a deeper connection with God.
The author and teacher Joseph Campbell says to “follow your bliss” and this has been a consistent mantra and a “North Star” in my choices. Following your bliss can impact many levels of your decision making process and can influence not only the big decisions, like who to be with, what career path or jobs you will have and where to live, but also all the little decisions you have to make. For example, do these particular daily activities or this furniture, this relationship or these choices being me joy on a daily basis? Drilling down even deeper, you can also decide if your current thoughts or perceptions bring you joy. Ask yourself, “Do my thoughts about this person, my partner, this challenge or situation in my life or our current political outlook bring me joy or do I sacrifice my happiness on the altar of my fears?”
Some people might say “If I choose my thoughts, my perceptions or my interpretations of a situation then aren’t I just deluding myself and living in a fantasy land of rainbows and ponies with false rose colored glasses?” Absolutely not. Your fear does not make you more insightful and does not bring clarity to your life. Choosing to release fear does not mean being in denial or being naive or unrealistic about any given situation. Facing and releasing your fear actually removes the filters that blind you to the unfolding of reality around you in the here and now. Addressing and releasing your fears empowers you to see yourself and others and your life challenges more clearly and it creates the conditions where you can more effectively tune into your intuition and higher wisdom and see the possibilities in any situation where your fears would have only shown you dead ends. Simply put, embracing, facing and releasing your fear allows you to tune into the true nature of the divine presence within you and trust that a higher good is unfolding even if your ego cannot currently see the plan. Releasing your fear empowers you to make better and more enlightened decisions that will lead you to the highest good in your life in any given situation.
The real sacrifice is to hide from your fears and by avoiding them, allow your fears to stay unconscious and consequently destroy the quality of your life. The real sacrifice is being willing to live with depression, anxiety and resignation and give up on following your dreams. The real sacrifice is forgetting the profound goodness of your divine nature and living a life where you think you are less than you are and only live half a life.
Here’s a few steps to follow your bliss and live true to your purpose in life and support you in making better decisions in any life situation:
1. Question everything in your life to see if it brings you joy
a. Am I allowing my fears to run my decision making process in this situation?
b. Does this activity, this job or career, this possession, this relationship or this situation bring joy in my life?
2. Either keep it, release it or transform your consciousness about it so it brings you joy
a. Ask yourself, “What do I need to release to find happiness in this situation or relationship?”
b. Sometimes this means changing some external situation and sometimes this means changing your mind. Trust yourself that you will know the difference.
3. Live fully in the Now to the Best of your Ability
a. Respond to the needs of the present situation rather than allowing the ghosts of your past to rule your consciousness.
b. Consider that all suffering is either remembered or anticipated, never experienced in the present moment. The more grounded you are in the current moment, the happier you will be.
c. Make a practice of mindfulness and self-reflection to constantly be aware of any fear-based thinking that will steal your happiness and make a daily practice of looking deeper within to find your clarity and your joy.