Find Your Bliss - from Van Gogh to Joseph Campbell

In 1879 Vincent Van Gogh took a position as a preacher in a poor mining village in Belgium, Borinage.  

That didn’t go so well, he didn’t last long as a preacher. 

Not because he didn’t want to.  He tried, just maybe too hard.  He gave up his possessions and lived humbly.  He took seriously his vows of poverty and his responsibility to help and support. 

He thought he was doing what was expected. The evangelical committee who hired him did not appreciate his efforts, he made them look bad. 

He lasted six months. 

His uncle admonished him to go to university and take up a proper occupation, to get a real job.  

But Van Gogh wasn’t interested.  He knew that he was different: 

“One of the reasons why I’m now without a position, why I’ve been without a position for years, it’s quite simply because I have different ideas from these gentlemen who give positions to individuals who think like them.”

(Quoted from Brain Pickings, a great source for interesting and inspiring ideas)

Which is pretty much how the world works today as well. 

I, myself, have struggled because of the different ideas and ways of thinking that I have brought to businesses.  

It would seem to be a good fit for someone working in innovation and finding novel solutions to problems.  But it turns out that there is , and there is too innovative. 

Just like with Van Gogh, who did too much as a pastor.  

He actually lived what he preached, he took his vows too seriously. 

He had a passion for expressing, connecting and serving the members of the community he worked in.  He wanted to mean something.   

So, he served how he could.  He dedicated himself to writing and art; he gave the community a voice, and he became a creative legend.  

It has been said that he was better able to describe nature through his art than science was able to explain it through science. 

Throughout his life, he struggled with mental illness, and this is eventually what (probably) led to his death.  

But despite the demons he faced, he wrote extensively about the joy and purpose he found in art.  Without art his life would have been shorter, more miserable and creative culture would have suffered a significant loss.   

Finding Our Bliss

It was not easy for Van Gogh to take the path he chose.  It was a struggle to find a space for himself.  It was hard was hard to lose his job.  

And it was probably not easy to stand against the wishes of his family. 

Yet, he followed his internal guide, he found his place in the world. 

Joseph Campbell calls this finding your bliss. Finding that in life which inspires you and drives you.  Something that you enjoy – so that you enjoy the journey as much as the destination. 

The problem with “finding your bliss” is that you have to get around all of the voices and opinions and beliefs about you that exist all around you.  

You have to find a way to not listen to the uncle who wants you to conform.  

The world will conspire to keep you in a box, in its version of what you should be.   

So, how do we find it?

Paraphrasing from Campbell: 

To find your bliss start by finding a sacred space. 

This can be a physical space, a room, or a mental space, a time of day, where you don’t know the headlines, you don’t know who your friends are you don’t know what your obligations are.  

It is a space where you can just be, where you can experience and imagine what might be.  Through finding stillness, through letting go of the thoughts you give yourself permission to find something new. 

This is a space of creativity.  At first, nothing may happen, but if you use your sacred space, eventually something will happen.

I find this in practicing meditation or yin yoga. Or even in the moments after a tough Vinyasa class where the sweat and effort drive away the thoughts and my mind is open.  

Wherever you find it, create your sacred space and explore.  I can’t say that I have found my bliss yet, but I continue to learn and discover.   

Do you know your bliss?  

JourneyJeff LoehrComment