Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ask Gimme Bliss: When to make the leap?

Today's post will be in response to reader Erzsebet's question:
It seems to me that renunciation is an integral and necessary part of following your bliss. I don’t think that everyone has to “go into the woods” in a literal sense, but there has to be some giving up of old ways in order to get to the new. My question is: how do you know how much to leave behind? For example, I really enjoy my job, but it’s not in alignment with my gifts. My husband and I have been discussing our mid-term plans (5-10 yrs) and making financial preparations in expectation that I will take up my avocation full time (or much closer to full time). This has the interesting effect of changing my perspective on my current job. Now it’s not “just work”, but the foundation for a future more in alignment with my bliss. In short, not only do I like my job, I also value it… which makes me question the idea of giving it up all together. The conflict is that I believe that to not follow my bliss cheats not only myself, but also anyone who might benefit from my words. All of which leads me back to my question: How do you know when to say “when”?

I'll start by saying that you're very perceptive to realize that yes, there is always some renunciation, some sacrifice required in order to gain something else. It's kind of like the mystical version of the principle of energy conservation--you simply can't add or subtract in one area without affecting another. Campbell writes about this being the case in every culture's mythic system; to experience a rebirth, there must be a death. Mostly it is a symbolic one, but there is a loss.

So it's good to realize that, because then you can truly evaluate the value of what you will be giving up and what you may be gaining, since you know it will happen. That's an important first step. You know what the stakes are.

Now, you say you enjoy your work and you value it. If this is the case, you are in a good place. This means any decision you make, whether it's to stay or leave, won't be done out of a sense of needing to flee or escape, but instead from a place of exploration, of needing to move forward and experience growth. What's never a good idea is to jump looking back. You must always leap looking forward.

So the question is, what do you see ahead of you when you contemplate these two paths? Good work at a good job that contributes to the world in some way is a very honorable thing. Check in with yourself to see if you may already be utilizing some of your gifts there. If so, in what way can they combine with the gifts you feel are not being utilized? Is there any harmony between the two? Sometimes what you leave behind is a way of doing things, so that it's a new step, yes, but an evolution as opposed to a spontaneous generation. That's something to think about.

You asked when to say when. If you're looking forward and not back, I think you'll know. You'll know when you can see the kind of landing you've prepared for yourself. In other words, do as much preparatory work as you can, and as you do this, you'll know when you're ready, especially if you're able to check in with yourself and stay true to the calling you hear.

If there's significant doubt, find out where that's coming from. Something I'm realizing is that human nature has a tendency to want to concretize things. My bliss is X. My gifts are Y. It's important to stay open to changes in your bliss. You may want to be a writer at one stage of your life, and a yoga instructor in another. Maybe it's because your bliss is primarily about cultivating spirituality or healing.

There are many paths to your bliss, so be aware of the trap that tells you "I can name my bliss and point to it." Just as God is really that which cannot be named, putting a label on your bliss removes the nondualistic, transcendent element that attracted you to it in the first place. Stay open to finding the experience of bliss rather than attaining your bliss. The minute you think you're holding something in your hand is the minute it turns to dust.

I hope this has been helpful! Good luck as you make your decisions, and keep us posted. And the rest of you, feel free to ask your questions!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello, Tiffany -

Thanks for responding to my question. Your thoughts on 'concretization' are especially helpful. You succinctly identified the pitfall in "deciding" I can label and categorize my bliss in advance of the experience. After all, Campbell did not say "Label your bliss!" but rather "Follow your bliss!" Movement and change and fluidity are inherent to the idea of "follow" in a way that concretization disallows. Your answer is a good reminder that Bliss is not just something I can attain, but a state of being that is here to begin with, provided I don't ennervate it by application of hard-and-fast labels.

I agree: knowing the stakes is one key to finding my Bliss as well. You're also right to point out I can't know/plan the exact nature of my path. I think you sum that up with the phrase (which I love!), "You must always leap looking forward." Considerations, planning, and understanding what will be renounced: These are a looking-inward and looking-back. To take the leap has to be a looking-outward, an act beyond self-reflection. It is having faith that utilizing my gifts is a way to realize Bliss in the present. The trick here is the same as with avoiding 'concretization' of my Path to Bliss: I must not pre-judge and categorize what is meant by 'my gifts.'

You broach the idea that perhaps some of my gifts are being utilized in my job. Once I opened to the idea that I should look beyond my own concretized labels, I found you might be onto something. I have not been trained in computer science, yet I manage to operate within that world. Truth be told, I am a Luddite by nature, terrified of the implications of technology uniformed by art. In short, my perspective is different from most other developers, my world view skewed in a different way because I am not a 'numbers and logic' person. I am a 'words' person, existing outside of my comfort zone and being exposed to a different way of seeing. Which, of course, goes both ways. Now the 'numbers' people are being exposed to my artsy-wordy way of seeing. Perhaps this is a gift, too, something which is becoming increasingly rare in this era of hyper-specialization. Maybe, part of my responsibility is to "bear witness," to move at the borders between the two world views?

As it happens, I've just finished reading Margret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. The premise of the book is: What happens when science is divorced from art? And the outcome is horrifying, especially since it doesn't seem all that far-fetched to see a future where artistic endeavors are devalued and scientific ones vaunted. The danger of separating art from science is that art is how our species reflects on what it is doing. Art is where value
judgments are made, where humanity exerts itself as something other than just mechanized laws of nature. If science proceeds uniformed by art, it will be inhuman in the sense that it will happen outside of humanity's judgment. This is where horror is born.

I read Atwood's book as a call to the 'words' people who are yet capable of existing in the 'numbers' world to be little uncomfortable, to seek out those jobs that will allow them to be informed about the advances in their field. I am at the very outpost of technology, but I would like to think there are artists at MIT, in the Space Program, in the medical companies exploring genetics. As long as the divorce is prevented, I think humanity stands a chance of achieving true, compassionate greatness.

Thanks for your answer - as always, reading your thoughts helped me give structure to my intellectual inquiry.