The scariest thing on Earth: Joy without a reason

I was sitting in a car in Mexico, shortly before I had to leave the people and life I loved so much to start over in France. I was so sad. It wasn’t about life or death; it wasn’t about health or illness either, but it was about my happiness that seemed to run between my fingers like sand, and I didn’t know how to get it back once it would be gone. It’s hard to leave a life you love for the sole reason that you have to. Something died and I was saying goodbye.

Sitting in the back seat of this taxi I silently looked out the window while Jacaranda, Rosa Morada and Lluvia de Oro – the spring trees that line our streets in purple, yellow, and pink and that light Guadalajara brightly – flickered before my eyes like a pastel kaleidoscope. It had something healing, soothing, and made me briefly forget my melancholy. It almost seemed as if the trees were whispering something to me that I knew at the same time and that came from somewhere where countless worlds had already disappeared and reemerged. They whispered: You’ll be ok. You’ll be ok. And I knew while they said it, I’ll be ok.

I knew – despite everything that was waiting to fall apart – there was an unexpected happiness in me that outdid all the nasty cards that life could play against me, and this colorful, bright being OK would not go away, accompany me everywhere, not because I had it with me, but because it was what I was.

There was an unexpected happiness in me that outdid all the nasty cards that life could play against me.

I could have written “I’ll be ok” on a post-it later and stuck it on my bathroom mirror to remind me on future dark days, if something else hadn’t happened in the same moment of my unexpected carelessness, something that really surprised me and that seemed too big for a post-it.

Because the moment my being-ok-no-matter-what was dawning, something else awakened in me that seemed to be in the driver’s seat otherwise, that only had dozed off very briefly, had slept through that one second of my spring fever, but then immediately saw what was going on and got completely upset about it. And because I always feel what everyone else is feeling, I immediately got upset too. From one second to the next I was in complete panic about my possible happiness. During all these weeks when I was afraid of separation, suffering and heartache because I had to leave the place that felt like home to me, I had not once been so afraid of anything as I was now of being well despite everything. Excuse me?

had to suffer. It’s what you do, I thought at home, according to the rules, when you are separated from your beloved – no matter if person, animal, place or thing; if you do not suffer, then you either don’t love, or you’re not apart from your beloved. This has been plausibly demonstrated to me in hundreds of thousands of series, novels, films, fairy tales, plays, coffee breaks, schoolyard chats and social studies classes and successfully established within me as a universal standard. If I didn’t suffer while something that I love was breaking, it would be proof that I had never loved it. Anything else would be odd, almost objectionable, somehow prohibited, basically criminal – in no way safe.

had to suffer. It’s what you do, I thought at home, according to the rules, when you are separated from your beloved.

What was that though, in the car, in this small gap in which my mind slept briefly and in which I thought nothing at all, but only knew something: I’ll be ok. I somehow guessed that I can love, in that unique way that I love Mexico, and be happy even when I’m an ocean apart in gray Paris. It was just a hunch. That I‘m capable, that my joy is so big, so tough that it can do that without batting an eyelid, totally effortless, even though I myself have no idea how it does it.

I wondered if it could be that we’re really afraid of one thing: happiness for no reason, happiness that isn’t plausible and somehow against the rules, happiness that is available even though it shouldn’t be there. It scares us because it gives us an idea that there is something about us that we don‘t know yet. Something that can do cool stuff without our consent. There is something, glistening in its light, that lies outside of what we would have expected from us, outside the circle that we and others have drawn around us, and within whose radius lies what we label “I” – outside of our self-image, which can nod off, startle and be outraged in such taxi moments, feel threatened to death when we suddenly realize that we are bigger than we thought and with which we have to stop mistaking ourselves for.

What if I was fine, I thought, if I was even fulfilled and joyous, the moment I live 6.000 miles away from the place I love so much that I can no longer imagine anything else for myself ? It would mean that I love unconditionally. That I’m free. And that my joy isn‘t a symptom of my circumstances, but inherent. For me, the feeling of tasting that kind of freedom was more than scary. My mind insisted: I can’t, I can’t, completely idiotic, too big, too far, too unknown, nothing to hold on to, what if… And my heart said: Dude, we’re doing it already.

I wondered if it could be that we’re really afraid of one thing: happiness for no reason.

That day, I may have noticed for the first time that there often are two options when something changes, not just one; and it was certainly the first time that I had the courage to at least consider the possibility that felt more dangerous to my mind than relying on the more familiar and controllable, namely on suffering: I left the door a tiny bit ajar to what I didn’t know about myself, to the possibility that I would be fine even though I didn’t see a reason for it.

Strangely, when things collapse it’s often the best thing that can happen to us. Not for the person we were, but for the person who wants to become us. Having confidence in the possibility that the image we have of ourselves is only a fragment, a point of view – sometimes a distortion – of who we really are, and that we have resources that are just waiting to make themselves known: that‘s not fake optimism to escape difficulties, but devotion to and respect for our becoming.

I think not to insist on our ideas takes courage and I try to be more and more brave in this way. It‘s never easy, but always worth the effort. In the midst of change and collapse of securities we look at the only thing we thought was reliable – our identity – and allow it to change, too. Sometimes this means giving up our excuses to make ourselves small and to rest in the safety and comfort of our helplessness. That’s huge, and I don’t think it can come from the mind, but only from the heart. And daring not only to leave the door ajar, but to open it a little wider, to blink at our own light, deserves the utmost care and mindfulness.

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Image: David Clode // Unsplash

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