Bliss seems like a tall order. I mean, how can one be blissful when there is so much bad stuff going on in the world, so many people suffering and struggling?! Isn't it selfish and presumptuous to think we can experience bliss, let alone have it be our natural and daily state?
Well, the answer is YES, even if the path there isn't clear to you right now. If we don't make this our goal and claim it we risk wasting our life and lying on our deathbed saying "Wait! I’m not ready to go, I never appreciated what I had!"
In Sanskrit bliss is called Ananda, which translates to "causeless bliss". This is important - that it is causeless. It is a state that is unaffected by external events and arises independent of them. The saints and sages have called it the pulsation of the universe. And the sensation of it is love, or bliss. (Actually it is beyond words but we need words to point to it.)
Usually we feel good when things happen that we like and unhappy when things happen that we don't like. This is the normal approach to happiness in our society and sure, it makes sense: I'd rather explore the beaches of Costa Rica than clean toilets.
The first step is to give yourself permission to enjoy being happy when things are going well, when the externals do line up well. If you are plagued by worry so that happiness seems a distant goal, start with appreciation. If you are in a dark place (and God knows we all have been - let's be honest) then start with doing one thing that feels good, like eating a healthy meal, or taking a walk in nature. If you are so low that any action feels too hard (and God knows that most of us have experienced depression at some time in our life), then list three things that you are grateful for, three things that you have simply because you are alive, like the breath going in and out, the heart beating, being able to see, or hear.
Let it be your your contemplation (dharana), to find ONE thing that you can stand on, a foundation from which to take your next step. You don't have to know where the whole path leads, take a step. If you don't know how to do that, simply say, thank you (God, Universe, Great Spirit, Force of Nature, Allah, etc) for my breath and put your foot forward. We don't even have to know which way to step first - towards this...or that? Just step: get dressed, wash your face, feed yourself, ANY action to get you in motion.
Physical action is the thing that builds the path forward. We can spend our life wondering "What is my purpose? What is the best thing to do? Should I do this... Or that? A wise person once said that if you want to know what your path (dharma) is, look in front of you. Take a step in any direction and then course-correct once you are in motion.
Our constant need to figure things out, to do it "right" is what freezes us in place and robs us of what our life actually is: breathing in, breathing out, be grateful for having a human body with the ability to think, to feel, to see, to connect with others.
I was raised to value alone time and seek it out. There is something sweet and deep about standing in a forest grove with not another soul around. I used to think that this was still true for me but in my path from separation to connection (two essential steps to get to bliss) I have come to value the presence of others in a much deeper way. After all, I am a person too!
What part of me thinks that the experience of happiness is more available when I am alone? That my meditations will be deeper, my connection to God more palpable? Think of a time when you had fun at dinner, or an evening out. Or got lifted up at a full yoga class or exhilarated at a concert? A party is made by many hearts coming together. Don't we limit our own capacity for fun and happiness by holding ourselves too close, for fearing to venture out and risk being exposed, of looking silly, of revealing our foibles and weaknesses?
Risk it because as we take risks (and face it, pretty much everything we do besides just staying in bed is a risk) we discover that our life doesn't implode when we make that social faux pas, we discover that our presence does affect others, that we do have something to contribute just by being ourselves, that our natural self is valuable and appreciated.
We have made a step towards bliss, a step into our natural state. That's right, bliss is our natural state, it is what is left when we peel away all the layers of stuff we've put on top, it's what is left when we have the courage to let go of the illusion of control.
But what if we were established in this state that was unaffected by anything that happened (or didn't) happen in life? This is the path of yoga. To bind together all things until they unite into a single, undivided awareness. Another way to describe it that works for me is to see everything as the dream of God, or the movie of Consciousness - that everything is projected onto the screen of one consciousness, and we continually wake up to the illusion of “other” until all dissolves into the one Self.
This is the path of the warrior and the mystic.
How do we get there?
There are many qualities that we can practice that will take us towards the goal of Ananda, bliss. Patience, concentration, devotion, humility to name a few.
The Practice of Patience:
- Remember that everyone has a story that will break your heart.
- Treat your inner weaknesses and failings as if they were a very young child that was in your loving care.
- Speak kindly to yourself.
- Put your attention on what is happening right now, and do that for the rest of your life.
The Practice of Concentration:
- Realize that everything is meditation: when you are brushing your teeth, brush your teeth, when you make lunch, make lunch, or as the Zen saying goes, "When you walk, don't wobble, but if you wobble then wobble!"
- Spend at least a couple (or even better, a few) minutes every day, simply tracking your breath: this is the breath coming in, this is the breath going out.
- Do things you enjoy, whatever that may be. It is easier to concentrate on things we like to do, and with that practice we can then develop the habit of concentration into things we don't like so much.
- Remember that your breath and your heartbeat are the two constants in life. Whenever you get scattered or stressed, come back to these.
The Practice of Devotion:
- Develop the habit of gratitude. There is always something to be thankful for.
- Recall all the things others did to get you to the here and now: Parents, (they at the very least brought you into the world), family, teachers, mentors, friends, kind strangers.
- Do things that you enjoy and make sure you enjoy them! Make your own experience primary and share it on Instagram later.
- Nurture a conscious connection with the God of your understanding. This could be the force of nature, a deity or religious path, a recognition of your own humanity.
- See yourself and everyone else as actors in a great cosmic play.
The Practice of Humility:
- Not to be confused with dissociation, anava mala ( the essential feeling of unworthiness) or martyrdom.
- The first step is to have a strong and healthy ego, a balanced and integrated third chakra, then we can truly practice humility. Humility is actually a by-product of the spiritual path, not exactly a thing we can practice. Fake humility is really icky. Humility comes about naturally as the sushumna nadi (main line of prana/life force) gets cleared and integrated.
- As we move towards the state where we live in a state of bliss, the less attachment there is to our small personal self. We begin to see that the small self that we have been identifying with isn't really who we are, we are all manifestations of divine energy.
Bliss is both the path and the goal. Let me know how it's going for you and if can assist you in this worthy quest! This is your life - go for it!
With love and deep gratitude to my many teachers.