I’ve been doing a very deep spiritual practice. It’s very much like when you go on a spartan Buddhist meditation retreat and sleep on hard boards and eat only green things and the monks come around and whack you on the shoulders with a stick while you meditate.
Except the opposite.
I’ve been conspiring, celebrating, and savoring BLISS. Joy. Pleasure. Beauty. Connection. Laughter. Ecstasy. #blissconspiracy
I’m not being coy or cute when I say that bliss is an important spiritual practice for me. In fact, this week I posted something on Instagram that’s such an integrated and ongoing part of my life that sometimes I forget to say it out loud.
I shared that on a particular morning, I woke up full of dread and panic– just like I do every morning.
I’ve always woken up like this, and so I just assumed that this is how it was for everyone else too. I just figured that this is simply what it means to Wake Up Each Morning, that everyone does desperate battle with terror and doom when the alarm clock goes off, and I felt sheepish and ashamed that other people seemed to be so much better at dealing with it.
It blew my mind when I discovered that in fact when most people said the words “wake up each morning” they did not feel a corresponding shudder of dread.
We all have things that come easily to us, and things that are harder. For me, some of the “difficult” things are actually kind of fun, while the basics of adulting are the most grueling part. The good news is that because I am so daunted by so many ordinary everyday things, I’ve had a lot of practice at being mightily brave. (Like locking up the house at night! And calling the insurance company! And filling out paperwork!)
And one of the ways I get myself to do those terribly hard things is by balancing them out with liberal doses of beauty and bliss.
That’s why the #blissconspiracy isn’t frivolous for me. It’s part of how I lovingly urge my scared clingy self to do really terrifying and brave things…like get out of bed each morning and face another day, yes, but also to move to a new country, follow my heart, start a business, write books, tell intimate truths to the internet, and open my chest 4 sizes larger than I thought it could get in order to make room for true love and my new family.
For me, deliberately focusing on beauty and bliss and joy is an absolutely necessary counterbalance to the darkness in my head and out in the world. I truly believe that it is sacred and healing work, because if nothing else, it is sacred and healing for ME.
There was a time in my early twenties when I was coming out of a dark depression after a messy divorce where I left not only my husband but my job and my religion and the only community I’d ever known. Therapy was a very important part of my journey, and month after month I’d drag my sad bedraggled self into my therapist’s office, hide behind my long ragged hair, and cry on her couch. It was fantastic.
Then at one point near the end of our work together she asked me to stand up and look in a mirror and tell her what I saw. I looked at myself and couldn’t stop grinning. The ragged long church hair had been cut into a wispy champagne blonde bob. The droopy sweater had been replaced by a crimson tank top that hugged my curves and popped with color. I was wearing cherry red high-heeled slingbacks.
“I look like someone who’s ready to go kick some ass,” I said.
And she said, “When you cut your hair I knew big things had shifted inside you, and in my professional opinion, I do believe that those fabulous shoes mean our work here is almost done.”
While you might debate my fashion choices (this was the early 2000s), my therapist was correct. Those physical changes were powerful symbols of who I was becoming. Someone with optimism, hope, sass, and moxie. Someone who wore bright red shoes just because they sang with joy. Someone who believed that there could be brighter days ahead of her.
We are spiritual beings but we are physical ones, too, with our roots in the ground and our arms stretching waaaaay up to the ether. The way we move through the physical world has a powerful effect on how we think and feel.
My serene desk setup isn’t just pretty, it reminds me that there is work to do that I care about, with and for people I love. When my nails are done, I am 800% more likely to feel like a polished and put-together human and act accordingly. When I have flowers in my sightline, it reminds me that there is immense courage and strength in utmost tenderness and vulnerability.
This is why I LOVE to take people through programs that help them beautify their physical world (like the Queen Sweep and the Cathedral program) because I know that they’re going to experience more strength, clarity, and beautousness in their insides, too. When you’re brave enough to change something in your physical world (even if it’s as simple as throwing away something that’s ugly), it can make you brave in other areas of your life as well.
So I’m going to keep doing the #blissconspiracy. I invite you to join me, and please do keep tagging me and hashtagging your posts because I will celebrate right along with you.
In a big of poignant timing for me personally, the great poet Mary Oliver died this week, and I am mourning her loss. She was one of my true teachers, and what she taught me more than anything is that the antidote to despair (for me) is curiosity and wonder. (Which is not to diminish the importance of medication and therapy when helpful.)
She famously wrote,
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world in my arms.
Mary Oliver found the entire cosmos revealed to her in her solitary walks among her beloved grasses and woods and reeds. She created who she wanted to be out of her own heart and imagination and the things she felt in her body when she pressed it to the earth.
With my personal bliss practice, I am trying to do the same thing, even if my materials are more domestic. I help create the world my mind and spirit will live in through humble materials like a beautiful rug, fresh mint on a bowl of yogurt and granola, daffodils, and paintings. When I look at these things with open eyes of gratitude and wonder, they can reveal as much magic to me as any ancient forest. They’re the simple poetry of the life I’m living one physical moment at a time.
Let yourself savor something this week that your “soft animal of your body” loves. Let yourself soak up the comfort of a soft blanket, release the wild exuberance that flows when you dance as hard as you can, or tap into the deep magic of holding a beloved being in your arms. Life is messy and complicated, but it’s also stunningly simple. These are the moments we came for. These are the ones we’re pressing into our memories, the experiences our souls decided were worth having bodies for.
Anne Shirley knew what it meant to experience “the depths of despair.” But who would we be if we became just as acquainted with “the depths of bliss”? What new superpowers will unfurl inside us? What new revelations does our world hold for us when we can see it with eyes wide open to its glory as well as its hurts?
I don’t know yet. But I can’t wait to find out.