The Student of Bliss

one-love-bob-shepherdSasha considered the many options, the programs and catalogs of the various schools, those close to home, and those far away, and decided to become a student of bliss.

Bright girl, she could have taken most any course of study. Her parents weren’t happy, of course, that she spent their hard-earned money on something so frivolous.

“There’s no future in it,” they insisted. “Look, you could be studying Christian Denial, Unbridled Acquisitiveness, Blind Obedience to the State, Home Economics.”

But Sasha was headstrong and would not be deterred. “Bliss,” she entered, during her sophomore year, into the online application to degree programs.

She was incorrigible.

I know what you are thinking, if, that is, you were brought up on American movies and pulpit wisdom: Her story doesn’t end well.

Everyone knows that those who follow bliss end up addicted and overweight, dissipated, derelict, in the gutter or hospital or jail, broke and broken, battered and bitter, all blood and spittle, backaches and bile.

And so it could have been for Sasha had she followed the standard program of the four-year American colleges. You know the routine: the mandatory tailgate parties and X in the clubs, all jackass-do-you-dare and the little black dress.

Of course, various educational reformers, as far back as Guatama and Lao-tze, Al Ghazali and Rumi, Nasreddin and the Baal Shem Tov, argued that students should move quickly through those elementary studies so they can get to the real thing. But it takes millennia for such critiques to bring about changes in the Standard Curriculum, and most students only minor in bliss, anyway, so no harm done, some say. Good enough for government work and government schools.

But Sasha wanted not only the Minor, the Associate Degree, the B.A. in Bliss. She was after the Ph.D.,  and that’s why she transferred, in her junior year, to the Alternative Program, where she finally got what she was looking for—classes in the iridescence of pigeons’ wings; in the smell of hot sidewalks at dusk; in the sensitivities of earlobes, which are so various (who knew?); in whirling, of course; in the languages of birds; in waking dreaming; in stillness at the center; in liquid repose; in the disrobing of fruits; in the monkey dance.

She’s now an acknowledged master, so much so that a great tycoon came to her, one who had EVERYTHING: the hedge fund Senior Partnership AND the prized collection of local, state, and federal legislative and judicial wind-up toys and action figures. He wanted the one thing he didn’t have, to be her student. In truth, he was smitten.

In her presence, who wouldn’t be?

She told him what Yeshua told the rich young man who wanted to become His disciple: Go sell everything and give it to the poor. Then come back to me, for we have work to do.

He was smitten, but stupid. He declined.


Copyright, 2011, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

Art: “One Love,” by Bob Shepherd; “Har and Heva bathing,” by William Blake (illustration for the narrative poem Tieriel)

For more poetry by Bob Shepherd (and for essays on the reading and writing of poetry), go here: