The Downside of Favoring Only the Upside.

Via Brooks Hall
on Nov 14, 2010
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Brooks Hall handstand with doggie

Guilt = the gap between values and behavior. ~Diana Alstad

This was some of the groundwork offered in a recent talk by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad. They shared that from their worldview, they feel that it is unhealthy to have unattainable goals, because they just make us feel bad about ourselves. And to truly form healthy relationships with each other and the planet we need to have a decent sense of self-worth.

Later Diana talked about the breadth of conscious experience.

She talked about how bliss was regularly acknowledged as a spiritual experience, and I could relate with that. Love the bliss!

Then I heard her say something like it was also true that horrible realizations (like a “bad trip”) were also spiritual experiences.


At this point the car of my mind hit a serious road bump.


I was momentarily stalled. So I spoke up and asked the question, “Can you please repeat what you just said?”

I mean, I had come across the general idea in the Bhagavad Gita, for example:

“Who burns with the bliss
And suffers the sorrow
Of every creature
Within his own heart,
Making his own
Each bliss and each sorrow:
Him I hold highest
Of all the yogis.”

From the Bhagavad Gita as translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood.

And more recently Richard Freeman talks about this in The Mirror of Yoga:

“A lack of inquisitiveness can cause you to forget that the very nature of the world is suffering, and that it is a place of fragmentation and death (just as it is a place of bliss).”

But, somehow hearing it coming from Joel and Diana’s pragmatic approach to spirituality got beneath my ordinary guard. My mind went blank. I didn’t know how to process what I was feeling. I was suddenly in a new place, seeing things differently. And Diana very generously said it again.

As she moved on in her talk, I felt gentle tears moving down my cheeks.

I realized that I had been rejecting the horrible dying and decaying side of life in favor of acknowledging the story that I preferred to be true: that life is bliss. Well, that is only half true. And I had been suffering in trying to believe the upsides of life more than the downsides.

“If you treat a partial truth as a total truth you have a total lie”
~ Joel Kramer

So when I was holding the belief that, “life is bliss” in the face of serious difficulty and disappointment in my life, I was inadvertently feeling guilty because of the space between my ideal that life should be bliss and the truth of the difficulty in my experience. And when I went along for the ride with what Diana was saying I felt incredible relief and a softening that resulted in a few sweet tears. It was good.

Brooks Hall headstand


About Brooks Hall

Brooks Hall is a Yogic Muse from Chicago, Illinois. In this capacity she teaches Yoga, writes about Yoga, and generally enjoys it. You can find her at:


11 Responses to “The Downside of Favoring Only the Upside.”

  1. Bob Weisenberg says:

    Beautiful, Brooks. I'm with you all the way. Another way of looking at it is that the philosophy of the Gita takes you to a place where "bliss" is not defined as conventional "overwhelming happiness", but rather "overwhelming wonder and spiritual awareness and compassion and profound connection", which incorporates everything, good and bad, not just the things that conventionally make us happy. Just a different way of saying exactly what you said above.

    Thanks for the great blog. Love the way you worked in the photos!

    Bob W.

  2. Most people I've known who try to keep that "life is bliss" mask on their faces have depression and self-hatred right behind it–because who else are they going to blame for still suffering in the blissful world they keep insisting they're living in?

    Love that headstand photo–kinda reminds me of the lake at Kripalu. Whoever took it must be a totally amazing photographer.

  3. Blake says:

    Great post!

    I believe that every aspect in your life is meant to be lived from roses to shit. And when the roses die, let them die. And when the shit feeds the flowers, right on!

    Perhaps this is bliss?

  4. rachel says:

    fantastic piece from the elephant, now can some of the other writers get this please?

  5. Ben_Ralston says:

    I completely agree with what Bob said… defining bliss is the key here: if you feel that bliss is extreme happiness, then (as 'yoga for cynics' succinctly pointed out) you're in for a surprise!
    However, if you understand that you can feel blissfully sad, blissfully compassionate, blissfully awe-struck at the wonder of the world, blissfully rapt with the mystery of life… then you realize that life is nothing more than an expression of bliss itself.

  6. Brooks Hall says:

    Hi, Readers! Thank you so much for reading! And thank you to those commenting, I appreciate your input!

    Just to clarify: I am using the common definition of “bliss” in the article (this one is from the dictionary from my iPhone:



    1. supreme happiness; utter joy or contentment: wedded bliss.”

    The highly conceptual definition that Bob W. mentioned in the comments includes aspects of experience that I found it useful to separate for the purpose of this article.

    I am saying that bliss is spiritual, and despair and sadness are also spiritual. When I acknowledged the suffering in my human experience—legitimizing it in my personal mythology (instead of continuing to resist it)—I felt a sort of healing.

    Thanks again, everybody! I am so happy to read your thoughts on this.

  7. Charlotte says:

    Very important realization, Brooks. Thank you for offering this. As the Buddha said, our lives are a panoply of qualities: gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disrepute, happiness and unhappiness. Our lives will always reflect all these things, and it's okay to feel anger, love, sadness, happiness, dissatisfaction, discouragement, kindness, generosity—all of it. I think the important thing is to be fully present with whatever emotional or mental state is arising. The distinction between staying stuck on the wheel of samsara or entering into true, lasting happiness is whether or not you choose to identify with what is arising. Pretending these emotions don't arise is a form of identification in the same way that defining ourselves by them is.

  8. Janice says:

    Love this post, Brooks! So thoughtful and REAL — this is what we all suffer with . . . the lack of bliss . . . but I love that you start with the quote about guilt: so true . . . this misalignment of values and behavior. It can be so difficult to modify behavior to ones values, at time, especially if the values are highly idealized and not humanized! I think this is a trap for me, often. Namaste!

  9. candicegarrett says:

    Yes, I can identify with this! It has been, for me, through pain and suffering that I am able to recognize and reach for the light.

  10. David says:

    Guilt: the soul's remembrance that our ignorance is not innocent.

  11. Thank you for sharing about this important leg of your journey, Brooks. Carl Jung once said: “Enlightenment is not imagining figures of light but making the darkness conscious.” He also said, in so many words, that we have to really know our own shadows in order to become whole.