Follow Your Bliss!

Follow Your Bliss!

This is the advice that Joseph Campbell, who was perhaps the world’s foremost expert on mythology, gave after a lifetime of studying the world’s major religions & ancient tribal rituals & symbols. I first stumbled upon Joseph Campbell through the PBS series The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. And what I got out of this fascinating & inspiring introduction to world mythology was a glimpse of the interconnectedness of all the world’s people because of the common rituals of sacred worship as revealed in both ancient mythology & the origins of the world’s major religions. Joseph Campbell was an inspiring teacher because he continually sought to simplify & show the interconnections between what appeared on the surface to be a myriad of diverse cultures and peoples. I have felt like an isolated loner for most of my life, disconnected from even those closest to me. And scholars like Joseph Campbell gave me a glimpse into the unity of all of us not only physically but also spiritually. It appears to me that it was with the advent of organized religions & political systems, that mankind lost his way and these artificial divisions have been responsible for much of mankind’s inhumanity towards one another?

In any case, I went to sleep around two in the morning last night but my subconscious woke me around five in the morning. It was like an epiphany. I stumbled upon this website a few weeks back which is called Global Freeloaders when I was trying to find a former website called the Hitch-hiker’s Registry. And a member of the Global Freeloaders site mentioned another site called Couch Surfing. Coming across this website was like a godsend because it was like a ray of light for this old fart who has been fumbling in the darkness for quite some time. What’s more, the irony couldn’t have been more poignant. You see, just before Christmas 2006, I was staying with some friends on the coast of Oregon & working as a part-time teaching assistant in an elementary school classroom with severely emotionally disturbed kids. And on top of the stress from my job, my roommates’ eleven year old son was causing so much stress & tension at home that you could’ve cut it with a knife. So, once again I quit a job with no idea of where I was going to go or how I was going to get by. I say that coming across the Couch Surfers website was a very poignant irony because I returned to Portland & asked everybody I could think of if I could crash on their couch for a few weeks until I could find some work but was turned down by everyone. It had been quite some time since I had felt so low. I was sleeping in my old Ford Econoline van outside my ex-wife’s house so the cops wouldn’t screw with me & because the neighbors knew me & hopefully wouldn’t report me to the cops.

Although my ex-wife and I argued almost nonstop for the entire twenty years of our marriage & had separated many times, she was always there for me when I needed a helping hand & I tried to reciprocate in whatever ways I could. For example, our son has asthma and has spent many nights in the hospital. And I’m not saying this to make myself sound like some sort of hero because he is my son also & I love him. But, most of the times when our son had to stay over in a hospital, we figured it was more logical that I stay with him because my wife made three times the money that I did & if anyone had to lose their job, it was better that I did. We had a mortgage to worry about. In fact, one year our son missed over 65 days of school due to his asthma & luckily, I wasn’t working but had my inheritance from my mom which I was living on. Anyway, after I had spent a couple of nights sleeping in my van, my ex-wife invited me to crash on her couch. As I mentioned earlier, it was Christmas & all my beer-drinking buddies who often would tell me how much they loved me & that I was like a brother to them when we were getting drunk together, had politely turned me down when I was forced to ask them for a place to crash temporarily. And when I discovered this website with hundreds of thousands of strangers from around the world, offering their couches to fellow travelers—no pun intended—I was touched by the simplicity & the beauty of such an idea.

Unquestionably, the concept of Couch Surfing came along just at the right time in my life. I had been invited to stay/work at a school in England for three months starting in early March & began to formulate a game-plan of Couch Surfing around Europe after I my stay at the school. I began e-mailing members around Europe & if they mentioned an interest in politics in their profiles, I’d send along an essay that I wrote for my son which I titled Reasons Why A Young Person Should Not Join the Military. I got some very positive feedback not only on my essay but in the form of offers to surf peoples’ couches. In fact, I began to become sort of addicted to the site because peoples’ stories were so uplifting. Most of the couch surfers that I’ve checked out, are young & full of optimism and dreams of a better life & a better world. And their positive outlook has rekindled my former idealism & naivete that was perhaps lying dormant?

Subsequently, I was trying to sell my van to raise the money for my airfare to England but having no luck & the few hundred dollars I had left from my teaching assistant position, was going fast. I began to lose hope & feel like an old, Don Quixote chasing windmills when another game plan occurred to me i.e. I would hitch-hike down the coast towards L.A., leave my van with my ex-wife for her to sell to whomever may be interested in it & ask her to wire me the money if/when it came in, & as I was making my way down the coast, I would look for work wherever I was. I thought of trying to get work at the various Labor Ready offices along the way. And in spite of hating with a passion the way they often treat me & the other poor slobs forced to use them, I resigned myself to the fact that they were a necessary evil. I then began e-mailing hundreds of people with couches to offer along the entire thousand miles down the Pacific Coast & received several offers. This may be my mid-life crisis or just another foolish escapade, but as I have tried to explain to ‘friends’ & family over the years who said I was a quitter, a loser, acting irresponsibly, etc., I’m not just running away but I’m also running towards something. That ‘something’ has not always been easy to put into words. When people ask me why I like to travel so much or why I have been to Europe eight times, I now respond with ‘think about it, all your senses are stimulated almost to the point of overload e.g. new sights, new tastes (foods), new sounds (languages), new experiences, etc.’

Moreover, traveling is a very liberating experience & even though this may sound very cliché or trite, it is nonetheless very true. In my early 20s and before I went to Europe for the first time, my friends and I would go out night-clubbing & I used to get really bummed-out because I’d ask girls to dance & they’d say no. In fact, sometimes I’d ask several girls in a row to dance & they’d all turn me down. But when I first went to Europe and spent a week on the Costa Brava with a Swiss friend of mine & out of the blue, he said ‘let’s dance’ and then he, the two other guys at our table, & me all got out on the dance floor, it struck me i.e. hey, I don’t have to put whether I’m going to have a good time or not in the hands of a stranger. And at first it felt very weird but after awhile I was busting up laughing & felt a sense of exhilaration or freedom. When I returned to the U.S., I would still ask girls/women, to dance. But if after asking two or three women to dance, I was still without a partner, I’d go out on the dance floor alone & do my thing. It was quite humorous at times because sometimes the bouncer would approach me and ask me to sit down. They figured I must be too drunk or I wouldn’t be out dancing by myself. I’d politely refuse & sometimes I’d say something like ‘as a matter of fact, you guys should pay me because I’m entertaining your customers.’ And I was entertaining them. People were laughing or smiling often but I just went into my own little world and pretended they didn’t exist & what often happened was that women would join me dancing & were attracted to me because I had the nerve to dance by myself. One night in particular, I was dancing by myself at a club next to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, and there was a live band playing. I had just returned from a trip to Europe and was feeling on top of the world. I danced for hours by myself and women kept joining me on the dance floor. Some would ask if they could join me. And near the end of the evening, one gal said ‘I don’t know what you’re high on but whatever it is, I want some!’ I laughed and told her that I was high on Europe and she gave me a quizzical look like she thought was the name for some new kind of drug or something. What’s more, although I could’ve collected dozens of phone numbers that night, I didn’t ask for a single one. I just reveled in the freedom of the experience however corny that may sound.

Equally important to this type of liberation is the creative liberation that I discovered in Europe. I can remember wanting to be a writer since I was seven years old. I took a writing test in a Reader’s Digest offered by Rod Serling (Twilight Zone) and I scored 85 on the test. And as I was growing up, I would write short stories but as I grew older, my inner critic tore me down more and more, and I wrote less and less. When I was somewhere around twenty-five years old, I came across a book titled Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin. Here is a passage from it that I feel is very important for every aspiring artist to hear:

“The American writer, in Europe, is released, first of all, from the necessity of apologizing for himself. It is not until he is released from the habit of flexing his muscles and proving that he is just a ‘regular guy’ that he realizes how crippling this habit has been. It is not necessary for him, there, to pretend to be something he is not, for the artist does not encounter in Europe the same suspicion he encounters here. Whatever the Europeans may actually think of artists, they have killed enough of them off by now to know that they are as real—and as persistent—as rain, snow, taxes or businessmen.” (pg. 19)

And the next time I was in Europe, I was visiting my friend from Switzerland and each day Ruedi would go off to work and university, I’d sit at his kitchen table drinking beer, smoking his pot, & writing non-stop for anywhere from ten to twelve hours a day. It felt so cathartic. I was pouring my heart out. My brother had died a couple of years earlier from a heroin overdose & I think that this week of just letting everything out and putting it down on paper was very therapeutic for me? Which brings me back to the present. Each time I have hit the road, I have felt an intoxicating freedom but also a tremendous sense of dread or fear. Furthermore, I always slip back into my old patterns of self-doubt especially in regards to whether I have any talent as a writer & begin to wonder if all those who label me as a quitter & etc., aren’t right about me when I return to America. Then when I passed my 50th birthday, something inside me found the courage or conviction to silence my inner critic and I picked up a writing project that I had started when my son was only a year old.

I had spent an entire summer back in 1986 compiling a stack of notes on the Christian fundamentalists attack on secular humanism. But when it came time to organize my notes into an outline for a book, my inner critic said ‘who do you think you’re fooling, you have no talent, & you have no idea of how to organize your notes.’ And my notes sat on my bookshelf for about eighteen years. Maybe it was the fear of old age and wondering how many years I may have left that finally motivated me or gave me the impetus to go for it? Anyway, one day I spread all my notes out on the living room floor and spent a couple of days roughly categorizing them and giving each pile of notes a general heading. I started writing and to my great amazement and satisfaction, the writing kept flowing for months. As I was nearing the end, I began to see interconnections between fundamentalism, anti-intellectualism, our educational system, the corporate media, & the transnational corporations ruling the world at present. And as of this date, I have written over 1,700 pages. The point isn’t how many pages I have written—I’m sure a lot of it is probably crap—no, what’s important is the simple fact that the creative faucet hasn’t stopped flowing for three years & this has given me a new found confidence in myself. People keep giving me advice on what I should do e.g. I should break it up into separate books, I should edit it as I go, etc. But I stubbornly refuse to listen to anyone except myself on the matter. I borrowed a title for my book from one of America’s most famous architects i.e. Frank Lloyd Wright. I was watching a documentary on his life & work and learned that his family’s motto was ‘Truth Against the World,’ and this struck me as the perfect title for my project. I am attracted to this title because to me it says that even if I’m a solitary person or voice in the wilderness, I will be true to myself and speak truth to the world or to power no matter what. In other words, it’s a proclamation of integrity in a world that often seems to be in short supply of personal integrity or moral courage. I know that I probably sound like I’m on a crusade and that’s okay because if this is what’s necessary in order for my pen to keep flowing then so be it.

Indeed, I recall hearing somewhere that ‘fortune favors the bold,’ and while I don’t mind admitting that I’m scared just contemplating the hardships that are ahead of me especially at my age and with my various ‘health issues,’ at the same time, I feel like those young people who’s profiles I have been reading on the Couch Surfer site who are full of confidence & dreams and are setting out on their first journeys. If I had to pick one author who has inspired me more than any other, it’s probably be Hermann Hesse & I bring him up for two reasons. 1)I used to take turns with my ex-wife reading to our son, Ryan, as he was going to sleep at night. I think he was around 7 or 8 years old & I thought I’d read him a short novel by Hesse called Knulp. It is the story of “an amiable vagabond who wanders from town to town, staying with friends who feed and shelter him. Consistently refusing to tie himself down to any trade, place, or person, he even deserts the companion who might be considered Hermann Hesse himself the summer they go tramping together.

Knulp’s exile is blissful, gentle, self-absorbed. But hidden beneath the light surface of these ‘Tales from the Life of Knulp’ is the conscience of an artist who suspects that his liberation is worthless, even immoral. As he lies dying in a snowstorm, Knulp has an interview with God in which he reproaches himself for his wasted life. But it is revealed to Knulp that the whole purpose of his life has been to bring ‘a little homesickness for freedom’ into the lives of ordinary men.”

After reading just a few pages of this book to my son, he said to me ‘that’s you dad!’ I was blown away at my son’s insight but unfortunately, I think my son knew me better then than he does now? One of the persistent arguments between my ex-wife and me was over home-schooling our son. She is a teacher and believes that ‘socialization’ is the main reason why kids should go through our public educational system. I, on the other hand, believe this is nonsense & that our son would’ve had plenty of opportunities to be ‘socialized’ via his playing Little League for 8 years, being on the bowling league, going to Temple, playing with the neighbor kids, etc. Of course, this controversy still rages on but I believe we could’ve educated our son far beyond what he received in public schooling. And now he’s the typical young man mad at the world, excessively materialistic i.e. believes that possessions are the road to happiness, & he could care less about knowledge for knowledge’s sake. I haven’t given up hope though. Perhaps he will learn with time what I consider to be the far more important things in life e.g. travel to broaden your mind, the joys of discovering & understanding the serious issues facing the world today, the thrill of creating, the importance of family & friends, etc.? I did plant the travel bug seed though when he was eleven years old. I took him to Europe for the month of August in 1997 after my mother passed away & left me some money. I know that the seed took hold because a week or two after we returned from Europe, he said to me ‘you know dad, there’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t relive some part of our trip.’ This really warmed my heart.

And the second reason I brought up Hermann Hesse is because this stanza from a poem of his titled “Glorious World,” has at times when I was full of self-doubts, been my saving grace so-to-speak:

“Often I tried the frightening way of ‘reality,’
Where things that count are profession, law, fashion, finance,
But disillusioned and freed I fled away alone
To the other side, the place of dreams and blessed folly.”
(Wandering, translated by James Wright, copyright 1972)

An interesting though maybe somewhat tenuous connection which occurred to me is the fact that Hesse underwent therapy with Carl Jung who developed a theory of universal archetypes. I bring this up because I see a connection between Jung’s universal archetypes & Joseph Campbell’s work which showed the commonality of rituals & symbols in world religions & mythologies. Summing up, the epiphany that woke me from my sleep last night was that I should follow Joseph Campbell’s advice & follow my bliss (A condition of supreme well-being and good spirits: beatitude, blessedness, cheer, cheerfulness, felicity, gladness, happiness, joy, joyfulness). And the two things that have always brought me the greatest joy are traveling and learning. So I asked myself how I could do this? And it came to me i.e. I’ve always wanted to be able to say that I’ve been around the world; sailed the South Pacific; climbed the trail to Machu Pichu; seen the Pyramids of Egypt, etc., so why not go for it? I have always prided myself on being resourceful so why not attempt to work my way around the world & just follow my nose or go with whatever opportunities present themselves? I have learned from each trip I’ve made over the course of my life. I’ve read of some Couch Surfers recording their experiences on video or digital cameras & posting them to the Internet, so I’m going to record my travel experiences in words & pictures & this will be project for my heart & spirit and my legacy for my son. In addition, I will continue working on my book whenever I have the opportunity to do so along the way. I’m not going to set any deadline or timeline because I prefer to go where my heart leads me & to stay or go as circumstances dictate. My overall goal is to become physically healthier, spiritually grounded, & intellectually enlightened! My ex-wife has suggested to me repeatedly that I should write about my life experiences & especially what I have learned while on the road. Perhaps she is right? Today is my son’s 21st birthday and of course, a person’s 21st birthday holds special significance because it is when we are ‘legal’ in the eyes of the law or ‘liberated’ so-to-speak. And it strikes me as a strange coincidence in that I feel like I’m the one being ‘liberated’ today or like its my birthday but birthday in the sense of being reborn? I dream that someday my son & I will go on another great adventure like our trip to Europe when he was eleven years old. This journey is dedicated to my son!
—Rob DeLoss, Valentine’s Day, 2007

24 replies
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