Bliss ~ what it feels like and perhaps where it comes from.
It might be because I was reading through some of my notebooks of poetry I’ve never typed up or shared, but I started thinking about bliss. Not that my poetry is filled with bliss. Most of the time it is filled with the total, diametric opposite which is why a fair amount never gets shared. The process of writing it down seems to act as some sort of catharsis and once achieved, I often never look at it again.
But I remembered I’d written one eight years ago that was completely different and I hunted it down to show to Jane Alexander and reading it again, I started to think about the whole idea of bliss.
We grossly over-use the word, to be honest. Hot chocolate is nice, but it does not truly induce bliss. Same can be said for a whole host of activities. But what is bliss? Is it the same as joy, or contentment or happiness?
My own encounters with true bliss have been so memorable and so distinct that I can picture the exact circumstances like a cameo, intricately detailed and exquisite.
Sitting on a train platform, knowing I had made the right decision to end a toxic relationship.
Early morning, outside my tent at Glastonbury, feeling as if I simply could not ever feel better than this moment.
Alone in my study one Christmas eve, overwhelmed suddenly by a feeling I knew but found hard to explain.
Each of these moments had little or no external cause. Indeed, circumstances at the times were a long way from ideal. In the first case, I was leaving behind painful issues that would not be solved merely by me walking away from them and I knew I would have hard times to face and indeed, I did. In the second case, while we were on holiday, it wasn’t going especially well, and I was having to make constant compromises to keep things on an even keel. And in the final instance, I’d had several rejections for a treasured novel that week and had little to keep me hopeful that it would ever make it through that dreadful process.
The feeling came from somewhere other than circumstances. It was a completely different feeling to physical bliss, like sexual ecstasy or that intense well-being you get from exercise or a really excellent massage. It was unrelated to that feeling of achievement you get when you’ve finally accomplished something you are proud of. It was nothing at all like the drowsy oxytocin high you get from breastfeeding (though I can’t say I ever felt that even once in eight months of breastfeeding!) In a lot of ways, it totally defied description, which is why the final time, I had to write a poem about it:
Deep bliss, a feeling of velvet inside
An inarticulate rightness of being,
brightness of being right
And I cannot tell why or how
This feeling comes:
A simple certainty that all shall be well,
Now and always.
I cannot capture this feeling, pin down
And dissect it, tear its secrets apart
To reveal the truth I already know.
An image of bright butterflies,
The lark rising with its song,
A moment of purest knowing
Beyond that of intellect
And I sit here now,
Christmas Eve 2003
Now, having failed to describe the indescribable, I would like to speculate about where this feeling originates, at least for myself. Each of us is different, after all. It took me a long while of thinking to start to understand what was so important about each of those occasions (and there have been more) when externally there was little of no stimulus for such a feeling.
I believe that each of those moments was a nexus point for where time-lines change in a powerful way. I’ve often seen that life is like a constantly changing flowchart, where each decision we make opens up more options and closes completely certain others. Some people believe that myriad universes exist and in those, where a different decision was made, a whole new time-line opened and this became a radically different life to that lived by the other YOU in other universes. It’s the subject of much science fiction and even genuine research. We don’t often recognise the crucial points in our lives, not only because we are understandably busy living, but also because sometimes the turning points seem externally trivial. Nonetheless, they are all moments where turning back becomes either impossible or very difficult; we are somehow committed to going forward in that direction.
Now, in the first case, I had made very sure that there could be no going back, no resumption of the relationship, and while things got VERY difficult not long afterwards, it began something that led to me and my now husband getting to know each other(and the rest, as they say, is history). In the second case, this was the trip when I had the experience of walking through the mists at the foot of the Tor, that inspired Ginny’s tale in Strangers and Pilgrims. I cannot, alas remember whether this was before or after this!
The final instance is stranger yet. The book I’d written the previous month is one I consider to be the finest novel I have ever written(along with two sequels written since). Starting the process of sending work to publishers again was something I’d once said I’d never do again. Unlike many wiser folks, I take rejection of my work very hard and really quite personally, and putting myself once more in the firing line was taking a massive risk with my sanity and my physical health. I’d been laid low by a cerebral event before because of a novel so I knew how hard it was going to be. That evening, that Christmas eve, I felt a sense of assurance that it was going to be OK, and that it would work out, somehow. That week I’d had two letters back from publishers saying no. I had no reason to think (except for that indestructible optimism that afflicts most writers) that I’d get through the process and finally have a book accepted for publication. Yet, I felt sure that everything would be fine.
That was eight years ago. That novel still remains on my hard drive, unpublished. I still believe it’s my best work. But it also feels as though so many things had to change before there was any chance of it(and many others) being released. Eight years ago, the Kindle was probably still just on the drawing board, for a start. The changes in eight years both to my own life and to the world outside my windows have been immense. On a personal level, this year has seen some wildly contrasting experiences of life, bouncing between deepest despair, wild, barely-contained fury, intense joy and powerful satisfaction.
I think that these moments of bliss, which sometimes last for days or longer are a way our souls somehow recognise and dance with times when strange and marvellous conjunctions are taking place beyond the physical world we can see, and we join with that unearthly, perhaps heavenly harmony with every shred of our being. For a short time, we are one with those celestial movements.
And right now, I feel I may be coming close to another of these nexus points. Watch this space. (this turns out to be my 600th post. Significant? Maybe.)