This afternoon, I saw a young woman whom I mentor tweet that she’d like to find her happy place. I asked her where it was. She said it’s where she feels zen most of the time. I asked her where that was.
She couldn’t tell me.
It reminded me of this, written by Oprah:
The question I asked them most frequently was, “What do you really want?” And many times the response was, “I just want to be happy.” But when I would follow up—”What would that look like for you?”—most people had trouble getting past something vague about their children or their income.
Perhaps it is a longed-for place. A place she’s never seen. Somewhere that isn’t here; sometime that isn’t now. It speaks volumes of dissatisfaction with life as it is, of wishing it were different. Maybe it’s a fantasy; maybe it is mythical. Maybe she feels like it’s something she ought to have, a place that she reads about, is passively seeking, but doesn’t understand.
My suggestion to her was that it’s inside her. She asked me then, why can’t I feel it?
Zen. /n/ …ultimately from Sanskrit dhyana “thought, meditation,” from PIE root *dheie- “to see, look”
It’s a good question. It’s a deeper question than it appears. She’s really asking why she can’t see.
If you’re wondering what my response was, it was: It requires training. Training and effort. I absolutely maintain that this is the case. Finding your Zen – your happy place – not something that many in Western cultures are trained in from childhood (or ever!), unless we’re exceptionally lucky.
Yet her question has caused me to reflect on how much of ourselves we allow ourselves to be. At any time. In any moment. How much of the time do we allow our default stories to control our minds? How much do we see (and are we able to see how much) we are affected by externalities?
At its root, this is an issue of insecurity.
The question becomes: How much of yourself do you allow to be traded on by others?
In thinking of the issue of insecurity, Mark Manson wrote this great piece about how your insecurity is being bought and sold, and how many of us aren’t even conscious of it. That insecurity is the root of all advertising, all marketing, all messages.
Insecurity. /n/ Lack of assurance or confidence, from Medieval Latin insecuritas. [Etymology Online]
Insecurity has come to mean lack of safety, lack of sureness. But it really means that you don’t have enough confidence. If you were confident enough in and of yourself, you couldn’t possibly feel insecure about anything. One might even argue that with confidence, you wouldn’t even worry about finding your happiness. You’d already be happy.
The truth, though, is that insecurity isn’t just traded on by marketers. It’s traded on everywhere. It’s 21st century currency.
JD Taylor, a researcher and writer in London, argues that insecurity is the new normal; that Generation Anxiety was born into it, and that its root is neoliberal capitalism. In a well-researched piece, Taylor argues that insecurity is woven into the fabric of 21st century life.
Looking just at social media, there is a huge amount of writing and research into its effects on the human psyche. Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan studied the effects of Facebook on new mothers and concluded that it results in insecure, overwhelmed, and more depressed new mums, as a result of continual comparison and perceived expectations of ‘perfect parenting’. Psychology Behind explains how social media’s net result is that people are more insecure than ever, and so they consume more in order to find their elusive happiness. Author Jon Negroni argues that social media drives insecurity, too: That people (teens, in his specific narrative) are ‘…seeing pictures of people they know doing something that they aren’t.’ And that this is one of the root causes of personal insecurity, and a lack of happiness.
You will find insecurity at the root of your unwillingness to take a jump into the unknown, no matter what that unknown is. You’re not willing to trust that life will help you, or that you’ll find your way, perhaps because of all the negative stories you’ve imbibed over your lifetime.
You will find insecurity at the root of unwillingness to do things like make your life more comfortable. It’s at the root of your fear of missing out, which spikes when you see what other people are doing (and that you are not doing). It is at the root of biting your tongue instead of telling your moaning, negative friend to shut the fuck up.
Insecurity is your own lack of confidence. By allowing yourself to become part of it, you put yourself in the hands of others. Allowing external things to control your emotions is nothing more than you giving your power to other people. When you’re in the hands of others, you give them the power to control you in all sorts of ways, even using just their words.
If you know that you’re susceptible to the actions of others, there is some good news. You can train yourself out of the habit.
One of the ways in which you can reassert your confidence is to pay strong attention to your language. Your language shows you how you put yourself in others’ hands.
Here’s an example from my own life.
By being more mindful in my language, looking at the etymology of more words, and being more aware of their various powers, I found myself asking for permission. Constantly. In every kind of situation. How long had I been doing this? Fuck knows.
Once I noticed this, I wondered, what power does this give other people? What would I do if everybody said no?
I was asking permission by saying, can I… when ordering or requesting things. I was doing it everywhere! The deli, the chippy, the supermarket, the butcher. Changing it took weeks of effort. Now, it’s much more effortless for me to simply state, I want… or I would like… And in the process, I’ve taken my power back to myself. An interesting side-note is that people are much more accurate in weighing product, always get the order right, are always polite. This, too, is a change. Maybe I stand differently, too.
The question of how much we allow ourselves to be ourselves, though, is deep because it affects so many areas of life. If you pay attention to personal branding, then you may only allow a portion of yourself through that window.
You might be worried (insecure, unconfident, feeling unsafe) to be completely yourself because you might not get that job, not get those sales, put people off, not be the person people think you should be, etc. You are imagining all the ways in which other people have power over you, in other words.
I’m guilty of it, too. I censor what I write here on my own site. I talk about aspects of my inner life, but not all of it. But I’m going to point out to you that this is going to change, too. In society’s terms, I’m a weirdo, and by cutting off some of those parts of myself in public, I’m not being honest to myself.
Of course, if I didn’t write such honest essays in a public space, baring all in the cold, harsh light of day, then perhaps it wouldn’t be so much of an issue either. 😉
So what do you do, if you are looking for your zen? If you are yearning for that place where you feel comfortable, peaceful, quiet, and happy?
The first thing is to decide to be that way. Your thoughts do some really fucking remarkable things.
The second thing is to decide to be happy with your life as it is right now. This isn’t some fluffy, bullshit, just-accept-everything sentiment. It’s a decision to find contentment right where you are.
Your body has happiness inside it; I could train you to find it, to use it, to be able to control it to some extent. But you don’t even have to go to that extent; you can just stop comparing your life to others, and start to recognise joy. You can find beauty in the bubbles in your sink; you can snuggle into bed and love how it feels; you can rest on your couch and realise how wonderful it is to sit and do nothing.
It’s as simple as sitting in unexpected traffic, and deciding that it’s out of your control and to listen to some loud music while you’re in the car and have the opportunity to do so. It’s as simple as doing one thing at a time, and noticing the sheer pleasure that rises from your belly when you focus 100% on whatever the task is – whether it’s writing a diary entry, washing the dog, doing the dishes, or emailing someone at work.
It’s having the courage to let go of imagining that you can control your future by thinking about it. If you’re unhappy, chances are your thoughts are, too.
And so. Decide to take your power back, and then to find your happiness right now. If you can see how beautiful life is, you’ve already found your Zen.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Oprah: ‘I know for sure I’ve “made it” ’cause my happiness looks like my life.’