“Follow your bliss,” advised the late great Joseph Campbell. Au contraire, “Follow your heartache,” insists Andrew Harvey. Don’t know that one of these bits of advice is more right than the other. But I do know that bliss signifies nothing I’ve experienced that can actually be followed. If we take its definition seriously, and consider it a sort of divine ecstasy or extreme happiness, then bliss is something I’ve encountered in a handful of inexplicable and fleeting moments that I do not feel qualified to conjure at will.

Heartache, however, comes easily. Almost too easily. If bliss is hard to follow due to scantiness, then heartache is hard to follow due to ubiquity. Yet, most of us can name something that seems to test our compassion muscles more than anything else… The thing that makes us want to turn our heads so we can pretend it isn’t happening, because it’s just so god-awful, so hugely horrible…

What happens if we don’t turn our head? What if we turn that thing into our life’s work?

I’ve been having these moments lately, indicative of what might be called a quarter-life crisis, in which I stop in the middle of whatever I may be doing and slightly panic if it isn’t aligned with the things I feel are most important to attend to in this life. And the things that feel most important are the things that happen to break my heart. By attending to them I get the curious sensation of usefulness, of a woman on a mission.

What I love about the Vipassana practice is that it teaches me to look suffering straight in the eye; to observe it deeply, allow myself to laugh angrily at it, cry despairingly because of it, without judgment, and then get to work eradicating it.

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