Joseph Campbell popularized this phrase in his interviews with Bill Moyers in the early 1980's (I think). Here's the quote from the Joseph Campbell Foundation:
If you ... follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.
My general formula for my students is "Follow your bliss." Find where it is, and don't be afraid to follow it.
I always hated it.
I mean, the sentiment was all well and good, but like Karin Kinsella's reaction to the voices her husband hears in Field of Dreams, my reaction was "I hate it when they talk like that." In other words, what does this mean? And like so much else having to do with enlightenment, the answer was right in front of me, and I never saw it. Right now, I'm going with:
How did I come to this conclusion? It's the "place" where I go when I'm tired, or when I need to recharge. It's the place that I'm almost never too tired to think about or pursue.
It also reminds me that "your bliss" is often not something that's comfortable or something that fits in to your life, or that fits in to the conception of who you think you are. Often it requires giving something up. So the only question I have is, "How does this differ from an obession?" Or a compulsion? Or an addiction?
Over on "Candace's" blog she's been doing an interesting inquiry into the limits of dominance and submission. Along with that came an inquiry into dignity and trust. Buried deep in the comments to that post was my first attempt at setting out some thoughts on this: that the same act can be functional or dysfunctional, loving or abusive, depending on how it plays out in the psychies of the people participating. So it's really much less about the behavior than about how the behavior plays out for those involved.
Back in prehistory I did a modest (I think - by the standards of these things) amount of therapy with a guy I really liked, about my interest in femdom. I think he liked it enough to put me in one of his books; I'm not sure what kind of flattery that was! Through whatever process, we ended up at an "addiction" metaphor for this interest, and it's one I've carried around for about 6 or 7 years. It gave a special sense of immediacy to those I know who are dealing with alchohol addictions, and I've seen what it's done to their lives. It wasn't something I was happy carrying around, but also wasn't something I was ready to address - as in going to "Sex/Love Addicts Anonymous" - yes the 12-step model for "sexual addiction."
As a result of reading the blogs I've come across (mostly, but not all yet linked over on the right) I think I'm changing that metaphor. The reason I'm so reluctant to take so much of this at face value is because it challenges that metaphor. If you really can have a loving, caring, functional relationship that strongly explores power exchange, dominance and submission, then the addiction model becomes much less relevant. And what does that say about me and having had an unfulfilled life not "following my bliss?"