by Catherine Ingram
Dear Catherine, Joseph Campbell says, “Follow your bliss,” but this can render you broke. It seems to be a choice to follow your bliss, heart, truth, etc., or follow dollars, security, and a comfy old age. If I were to do what I really enjoyed, I would be a Japanese ink painter, but I would end up in complete poverty. What advice do you have on this subject? - C.S., Byron Bay, Australia
Dear C.S., If taken too literally, Campbell’s advice could certainly render one broke and would be more appropriately offered to the wealthy leisure class. But another way of understanding his famous dictum is to lean in directions of your own interests in your fields of work. Find a way to engage your most joyful talents in your existing job or have them be foremost in your mind when entering into new endeavors. And be willing to be uncompromising about doing things that are contrary to your nature or integrity, as these activities will harm you in body and mind. Many have to work to support families or loved ones and do not have the luxury of doing exactly what they would have done if money were not an issue. But it is possible to find a middle way in which your work is both engaging and aligned with your own conscience. It is also good to feel grateful for the ability to work at all. - Catherine
Dear Catherine, For all the talk about finding “the beloved” within oneself, I wonder if my yearning to find a mate can actually be fulfilled internally. For me, although finding a soul mate is probably an insecure and seemingly rare circumstance, that instinct just does not abate. Is there a way of existing that somehow fulfills and shortcuts such instincts as the desire to love and seek a beloved in the form of a person? - A.J., Scotland
Dear A.J., Of course, spending one’s life with a loving partner is a happiness that is hard to beat. However, if that is not happening or doesn’t come to be, it is best not to obsess about its being missing or tell ourselves a story that we are not quite living due to its lack. Some people never seem to find a fulfilling relationship, but many relationships that seem fulfilling are not, or don’t work out for long, or any number of things happen that involve parting. Find love with friends, family, and community. Be as loving as possible to all those in your own orbit. It goes a long way to filling those deep yearnings, or at least assuaging them. Let a quiet calm float in your heart around the yearning—a wonderment about whether that kind of relationship is in the cards for you—but not a cry to the heavens that your life is less until it comes. - Love Catherine
Dear Catherine, My dog of 10 years has cancer. I know it sounds like a cliché but she is my best friend. Although she doesn’t seem to be in any great pain, she is dying and I am in what I call a pre-grieving state. I don’t want to be so sad with her while she is still here but I cannot help but think about the fact that she will soon be gone and it breaks my heart every time I look at her. I wish I could just be present with her for whatever time we have left together and save the grieving for after she is gone. Is that possible? - N.W., San Rafael, CA
Dear N.W., Your experience in the dying process is universal, applicable to being with any loved one in a dying process. The grieving starts as soon as it becomes clear that death is relatively imminent. This is natural and is, in its way, a blessing. It is a gentle letting go rather than the shock that comes with a sudden death. It allows a little time for your love to be fully expressed and gives you the opportunity to care for your loved one so that you will feel complete in that love after she has gone. See this phase of your time together as a journey of love and loss and let your feelings of grief flow as needed. - Love, Catherine
Alternatives invites you to send your questions to Catherine. Please email them to: [email protected].
Catherine Ingram is an international dharma teacher and author of Passionate Presence and In the Footsteps of Gandhi. She leads retreats and public events called Dharma Dialogues, which remind us that love is the only power that lasts. See her forthcoming schedule for Portland and other events at www.DharmaDialogues.org.