Discovering my Bliss
Updated: Mar 28, 2021
When I first heard the phrase “Follow Your Bliss,” I thought it was a current catch phrase that meant to do what makes you happy. But there’s much more to it than that.
The American writer and teacher Joseph Campbell coined the phrase in the 1980’s. He defined bliss as a burning need you feel compelled to fulfill. He said that if you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a path that has been there all along, waiting for you, and you will live the life you were born to live. When you discover your bliss and follow it, he said, unexpected doors open because your life becomes aligned with the universe.
I didn’t discover my bliss until my later 30’s.
I grew up on a small dairy farm in Northern New York State. As a young child, I didn’t know we were poor, and happily wandered the countryside. During my turbulent teenage years, I couldn’t wait to leave that farm and start living. I had goals: go to college, get a job, find the perfect man, marry, and have children. I was sure those things would complete my life.
I did all that. Nursing school in Syracuse was followed by a job in the Neonatal ICU in the same city. At 29, I happily married, we settled in Fulton, and went on to have two boys.
My husband and I both worked shift-work, with weekend and holiday rotations. We had no family in the area. Daycare struggles and juggling children and employment became difficult. Though always stressed and exhausted, I was reluctant to give up my career. Who would I be without my profession to define me? Would I be wasting my education? Could I be content at home raising children? After much soul searching, I made the difficult decision to quit my job.
We built a big, beautiful house and moved out into the country. A year later we added a longed for daughter to the family.
Caring for an infant, toddler, and preschooler, along with all the mundane tasks required to keep a household running smoothly, became my life. Each day began to blend into the next until I could read bedtime stories with my eyes shut.
I had everything I had worked so hard for and ever dreamed of having. But a disquieting restlessness emerged, deepened, and spread inside me. I thought something must be fundamentally wrong with me to feel that way because I knew I was leading a privileged and blessed life.
Looking back, I now realize I merely hadn’t found my bliss, and I discovered it in the strangest of places.
When we moved into our beautiful new house, piles of construction dirt and weeds surrounded it. When it rained, that dirt became a mud pit. This thrilled my oldest son, who spent hours playing in it. At least someone was happy.
Before we eventually put in a lawn, I was out running errands at a home improvement store that no longer exists. On a whim I wandered through the gardening section, and spotted a variety of perennial flower seedlings for $1.49 each. Thinking of all that dirt at home, I splurged and bought 10 of them. Upon returning home, I pulled the weeds from a little corner by the back garage door, loosened up the dirt with a shovel, and planted those seedlings. Standing back to look, instead of brown dirt and small green shoots, I saw hope and possibility. I was overtaken by a burning need to plant more flowers.
Planting that small flowerbed awoke something buried inside me. On that small dairy farm back in my hometown, my mother had tended a beautiful perennial flower garden. It was her private domain, and her rambunctious children were forbidden to enter it because we might trample the delicate plants. However, I was given free rein in Mother Nature’s garden, and I spent hours outside. There, no one told me to hurry up or slow down, to be more careful or be quiet. I picked handfuls of wildflowers. Adorned by dandelion necklaces, with daisies and buttercups decorating my hair, I was certain I had the secret ability to fly. I jumped off tall rocks and from the lower limbs of trees, and flapped my arms in various ways, attempting to unlock that hidden gift.
Thirty years later, planting those flowers took me back to my country childhood days.
Returning to the fresh air and sunshine, I rediscovered carefree joy and reconnected with the natural world. I discovered I did have the secret ability to fly, not physically of course, but more of a soaring of the soul. Creating beauty where only dirt and weeds had existed began to transform both my yard and me. I had discovered my bliss, and started following its meandering path. As the kids grew, so did my gardens.