I’ve had three hours of sleep, and today I’m thinking about bliss. I even looked up the word to be sure I knew its correct definition: complete happiness or a state of spiritual joy, according to the dictionary that accompanies the Word program.
I’m thinking about “following your bliss,” a phrase coined by myth master Joseph Campbell as he discussed mythology and the hero’s journey with PBS journalist Bill Moyers in a series aired in the late 1980s. It means something like discovering you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be in this life, doing exactly the right thing for you to be doing, and finding fulfillment in it.
I’ve had about eight hours’ of sleep in three days; yesterday began for me at 6 a.m. and ended around 3 this morning. I was doing the work needed to compete in the final floral competition at our local fair. I signed up to do two separate, complete wedding flower displays. I don’t know what I was thinking. At 2:30 this morning, the work still wasn’t finished, but my body made me give up.
This morning I wrapped up the last bits at 7 a.m. and my husband helped me haul the pickup-load to the fair. I was content with the work I’d done and immensely grateful for many things. Friends let me harvest flowers from their gardens because my main bloom is still a few weeks off. The strength to work on my feet all day and all night was there. The inspiration was there, and the problems I encountered had simple solutions. Mostly, I was grateful to have found the desire to do a thing I love to do and follow it through all the friggin’ way, even when the work was hard.
Someone asked me at the flower building this morning if I would give her some tips on floral design. All of a sudden, the years fell away and I was 16 years old, living in a small desert town. My brief stint at McDonald’s hamburger joint had come to an ignominious end. My spirits couldn’t keep up with the busloads of tourists on their way to Las Vegas wanting burgers their way right now. I promptly went across the street to the town’s flower shop and offered to work for free if they would teach me how to arrange flowers. The owner looked at my little application, lifting her glasses off her face, and then she put them back on and looked at me. “Come back Monday morning,” she said. “We’ll pay you minimum wage to start.”
That was my first "jumping-off place." For the next five years I worked for her after school and during summers while in college, learning how to arrange flowers for every occasion. I went to college in the first place to study floral design and horticulture, which I promptly abandoned after the first semester to become an English Lit. major. English Lit. gave me a wonderful career in magazines, but I worked in flower shops off and on over the years between jobs. What’s not to love about working with flowers?
I’ve been blessed over and over throughout this summer’s floral competition by the awareness that I’m exactly where I should be, at this stage in my life. I’ve received bountiful gifts from my Higher Power, in the form of joy, ideas, flowers, weather, prizes, love, and memories. It’s been a spiritual experience, leading me to the discovery that joy has returned. Another "jumping-off place" has happened.
This is what Joseph Campbell says about bliss: “I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: Sat-Chit-Ananda. The word ‘Sat’ means being. ‘Chit’ means consciousness. "Ananda’ means bliss or rapture. I thought, ‘I don't know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don't know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.’ I think it worked.
“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. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”
The judges liked my wedding work, pictured here. Now I’m going to enjoy the refreshment of a nap and say another prayer of thanks.
Several hours later….
Couldn’t sleep, so I got up and cruised around on low speed, cleaning up here and there after the explosion of floral detritus over the past 10 days. My house looks like a tired flower shop on Mother’s Day: stems, leaves, vases and buckets of aging greenery and unused flowers everywhere. I even swiped the vase that normally sits on the corner of my desk with something in it all seasons, and the blank hole there bugs me. So I arranged yet another vase of flowers, which I later took to an AA meeting tonight and gave to my sponsor in thanks for letting me have trimmings from her redwood, eucalyptus, Japanese maple and pine trees for my greenery. Can’t bring myself to put another vase together tonight. A nice chore to look forward to in the morning.
The AA meeting got me thinking about the tie between a couple of my life’s jumping-off places and being sober. “We stood at the turning point,” the Alcoholics Anonymous text says of that moment when a person is suddenly driven to ask for help with her drinking problem. There’s a willingness at that moment to surrender to anything that promises an iota of relief from the misery of drinking oneself to death.
I drank to change how I felt, to feel more of something, to feel less of something. I did that from the time I had my first drink. When alcohol hit my bloodstream, something inside said, “Oh, yes!” It never stopped saying yes with an exclamation point. I couldn’t picture my life without it. But some mysterious awareness had bloomed in my brain, which told me that alcohol might be the source of my misery instead of being the solution for it. I discovered I wanted to live, and I found myself seeking out Alcoholics Anonymous and teetering on the brink. I can’t live with booze, and I can’t live without it, I metaphorically said. The people in the AA meetings said, “We know how you feel and we have a solution that allows us to live sober, happy lives.”
I took that leap of hope. Today I can do all the things I thought I’d never be able to do without at least a little buzz. AA saved my life and gave me a life, as I’ve heard said in meetings, a gift I didn’t foresee when I stood at that jumping-off place in the doorway of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in May 1990.
And I’ve found that it’s true what I heard said in those early meetings: You walk in the door with a little list of hopes—just to stop drinking yourself into misery, stop being so very ill from alcohol poisoning, stop losing parts of your life like your job, your spouse, your self-respect. You think that’s all you want. But you’d shortchange yourself if you settled just for that little list, because sobriety brings with it an enormous list of miracles. People are reborn.