**If you missed the introduction to this post, click here**
3) Cosmic Perspective
Are negativity, ignorance, and suffering necessary?Or can we eliminate them if we just fight hard enough?
The other day, when thinking about all the years I spent chasing pleasure, I caught myself judging this period as ‘wasted.’ How could I have been so foolish and selfish to invest myself in activities that created so much suffering for others and myself? I regretted my actions, but then reminded myself that I wouldn’t have been motivated to find the sources of true happiness if I hadn’t exhausted myself following paths that lead nowhere.
Since I’ve seriously dedicated myself to following and practicing the path, my ignorance and bad habits haven’t disappeared. In fact, the deeper I dig, the more I realize how much I don’t know about myself. I can’t envision a time when all the ‘obscurities’ will be ‘illuminated,’ nor would I necessarily wish for such a time.
And yet, I get frustrated that I keep making the same mistakes over and over again, that I can’t seem to shake bad habits, that ignorance is an implacable foe. I sometimes feel that walking the spiritual path is like building a sand castle in a rising tide. This can be disheartening, and make me question whether it’s worth it to make any effort at all. But perhaps just building the sand castle is its own reward. Perhaps the true challenge is to continue loving, despite everything, and know that there is no other way to live. Perhaps it’s impossible to banish ignorance once and for all. Perhaps this existence is a dynamic interplay between the forces of ignorance and Truth, in which each creates and sustains the other.
Is there really such a thing as a mistake?
4) Societal Perspective
I’m a big fan of Joseph Campbell (he is one of the main inspirations for Choose Your Metaphor!). Probably his most quoted phrase is “follow your bliss”: do what you love with sincerity and dedication, and invisible hands will come to guide you. Doors will open where you thought there were none. I was re-watching some of his interviews and he spoke about this in the context of creating a “living world.”
Campbell mentioned, “People have the notion of saving the world by shifting things around, changing the rules, and who’s on top, and so forth. No, no! Any world is a valid world if it’s alive. The thing to do is to bring life to it, and the only way to do that is to find in your own case where the life is and become alive yourself.”
It took me awhile to accept that I could not change the world, and that I could only change myself. When I was younger, however, I spent a lot of energy fighting against everything I thought was wrong with the world (and in particular, America), only to find myself perpetually angry, exhausted, and frustrated that things would not conform to the way I wanted them.
By contrast, the things that made me feel alive (like traveling or contemplating philosophy) gave me energy that then radiated outward to those around me. Inspiration builds on itself; passion is contagious. As Campbell says, “the influence of a vital person vitalizes.” If we’re really serious about improving the world, this is the point we most often forget: when you become truly alive, vital, and authentic, the world automatically changes, because you are a part of the world after all! It might not be as sexy, or garner recognition like being on the front lines of a revolution, but in the end, finding what gives you true peace and happiness is the only way to birth a more peaceful and happy world.
I’ve repeatedly seen this happen with my students. When I get all worked up and excited about a topic, they do too. Some have taken the inspiration to follow their bliss into auto mechanics, others into theoretical physics. It doesn’t matter the activity, as long as it’s what they really feel called to do.
For me, when I teach and write, I feel like I’m expressing some deep drive of the universe. I feel like I’m giving voice to what the Greeks called the daimon- the inspirational spirit or muse behind all creative activity. I have no idea what the long-term effects of this for myself and those around me will be. But I sense that following my bliss is its own reward, for when I do, my contentment and wonder expands from within to radiate outward in a virtuous circle of inspiration.
Find a sympathetic ear and speak to them for five minutes about something you’re truly passionate about. Observe their reaction and ask them to respond with something that drives them.