Lately, I’m experiencing a different kind of happiness. One that does not depend on external circumstances but more so on my inner spaciousness. I arrive at this inner happiness, over and over again, by getting curious and asking a simple question: “What else is here?” This happiness feels quite different from the sudden burst of joy in my heart at the sight of a loved one, the jumpy excitement when I get good news, or a cheerfulness when the weather seems just perfect. It does not depend on things going my way. This is a calm happiness that comes from seeing clearly, seeing the whole of a moment, rather than parts of it.
It goes something like this:
I feel worried when I think about job searching. Thoughts like “Will I find something good? Will I like it? Will life bring me what I need?” make me sink into myself as if I’m slowly disappearing into my center. I allow these thoughts. I stay with them. I let them take up as much space as they want to. Then, maybe in that moment or maybe in the next, I get curious. “What else is here?” I ask. I invite any other emotions to come forward. To my surprise, I find that I am hopeful that my next job might be better, I am excited for the unknown, I feel energized by the winds of change, I have a sense of being called to action like someone is pulling me forward from my belly by a thin and gentle thread.
I go numb when I read about the war crimes in Bucha. Maybe my entire experience of reading the news these days is numbness, so much so that I don’t read the news much, unless I am in a really comforting space and time, such as reading a nicely printed news magazine in a cafe on a Saturday afternoon while drinking tea. I stay with the numbness. It is bizarre to stay with the lack of something, and yet I just allow my nervous system to turn off, to go into self-protection mode. A few moments later, in the same news article, I am inspired by Zelensky’s immense fortitude and resilience in asking the peace process to continue despite there being maybe only a 1% chance of success. I get curious again. “What else is here for me at this moment?” I ask, and I find an interesting sense of faith in my heart because again and again, we have been led by incredible people like Zelensky, or the Ukrainian lawyer Lauterpacht who grew up in Lviv in the early 20th century, lost both parents in the Holocaust, and came up with the concept of “crimes against humanity” later in life, or the Polish lawyer Lemkin who studied in Ukraine and who coined the term “genocide”. Over and over again, I find the healing in the pain, the lotus in the mud, the pearl in the sand. It seems that one does not come without the other.
To be clear: this practice is not at all about fabricating good emotion or manifesting nice and pleasant things. After all, we don’t really choose what we feel in a moment. Sometimes all we feel is difficulty. This practice is about noticing where our attention is. And realizing that sometimes our attention gets hyper-focused on the negative. Maybe more so for me than the average human being subjected to the negativity bias because I have heard this feedback many times over the years: “Zeynep, sometimes, you only see the negative.” These days, as I sit through the many negatives, I am asking more than ever before, “What else is here for me to notice?”
This simple question has been allowing me to get more curious, to discover that in the very same moment there may be a sense of nourishment just as much as a sense of deep despair, and to sense how emotions are almost always layered up onto one another. This simple question has been showing me that my moment-to-moment experience is not as negative as I think it is. I am indeed more often than not, innately at a balance between what’s immensely challenging and immensely beautiful. Right next to the sorrows of life, there are a few joys.
If you’d like to reflect on this, here are a few questions you can ask yourself.
What has been a slightly difficult experience for you lately? What felt most difficult or challenging about it?
Would it be possible, even if for a moment, to allow it to be difficult? To allow these unpleasant emotions to belong? You might whisper to yourself, with self-compassion, “This feels difficult because it is difficult. Let me sit with this for a moment and be kind to myself.”
After this compassionate allowing, would you be able to get a little curious? What else is here at this moment, if anything? When you open up your awareness, do you notice anything else that seems to be a part of or somehow linked to this experience? Remember, we are not consciously looking for positive emotion here. Only getting curious.
Take note of any other present moment experiences that might be surprising. Then, open up your awareness one more time, and see if there’s anything else that calls your attention in this wider space.