I am supposed to be in Europe right now, filling in for the soprano of a jazz trio that does back up vocals for a main performing act who has had her European tour canceled twice in three months. I have been wanting to sing in this group for years now and the Europe stops were all places I haven’t been to – Zurich, Milan, Barcelona, Madrid. The tour was canceled by the producer the day before we were set to leave, after I had taught myself to sight read scores and studied all new materials. At the same time, for the last two months, I have been struggling to move on from a relationship that so abruptly ended and turned its back on me at a time that I had thought I was being most present in it for it to be good enough. So I am needing all the traveling I could get, not just because I need the escape but because I do love going to new places.
Meanwhile, here at home, I have been writing, reading, and spending time with family more, all of which are activities I value equally and each even more than traveling. I have also recently been getting more offers to sing for something outside my usual work and to audition for musical lead roles but these, as with anything in show business, hold no special promises of a lasting commitment for me at this point, as I have been standing at the crossroads of all aspects of my life in the past years and had already briefed my mind and heart on leaving many things I have always known and loved, including performing. Although I am starting to realize that the more you make the decision to leave alone things you love, the more they grow and root themselves inside you, demanding that you pay attention.
Do I feel confused? Not as much as I used to be.
Do I feel frustrated? Hardly.
Am I happy? Suprisingly, yes. Sometimes, I notice, more than I have ever been.
Let me pause for a moment and take that in. I should give myself credit, this is an important part of my current self-love practice (which has contributed a lot in having me wake up in the morning happy) – this learning to recognize right in the moment when I am getting better at something because of my own personal efforts. So yes, give me a moment to tell myself, “Good job, Celine. Good job on being able to claim your happiness for yourself.”
All my life, I would hold on to guilt and regrets and mistakes far in the past and get anxious about how bright or dim the future might be if this or that happens. I am sentimental so, even with good feelings like happiness, I hold on to what it was in the past and, with my abundant enthusiasm, look forward to how it could be with great things ahead. I have also always concerned myself with other people’s happiness and pain. Always. Too constantly and too much. I have personally had a fantastic and well supported life but have always felt exposed and oversensitive to the misery and actions of many. All these external forces – a big event, a new role, a relationship, how a parent feels, how a producer acts, what loved ones say, climate change, playing with doggies – would direct my days, my life, my emotions, my mental state. And obviously, these are all forces that come and go outside of me. And they fluctuate in their very presence in my life, much in indefinite force, means, and consistency. An occasion, no matter how much I’ve looked forward to or prepared for it, or a relationship, no matter how much I thought I had devoted myself into caring for it, never came into existence built or designed to be within my full control. And yet I have placed my happiness in their fates, in their outcomes.
Why are we sourcing our happiness, or even our pain and our fears, from outside forces – from other people, from a big life event, from the future and from the past? When I finally saw what I was doing, I began to take witness of how I would constantly create my own unnecessary suffering; and that’s when I learned, very slowly, to try to find my happiness inwards. To not depend on a happiness that I cannot control. To find a way to become happiness itself.
It was a journey that was far from easy or quick or simple. It took all my recent months of one-hour mediations, relevant reading, and Sadhguru talks. (Ah yes, Sadhguru, my master at the moment. Next to myself, of course.) It took years of unknowingly traversing an entire landscape of happiness movements – from my life-changing read of “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle a few years ago that got me out of my mental health issues to the “The Book of Secrets” by Deepak Chopra in these past months that encouraged a life of proactive co-creation; from my early exploration into a personal chakra meditation practice to a random stay with Buddhist monks for over a week at a forest monastery in Northern Thailand. I have explored mountains before even beginning to touch on this flower of delicateness which is my own personal happiness. As it happens, happiness has turned out to become nothing more than a bewildering byproduct of this serious search for meaning and peace, and not really a category on its own. Who knew?
Nowadays, listening to the gift that is Sadhguru (literally meaning Uneducated Guru) on YouTube has been my go-to maintenance for the meaningful life that I have been so set on seeking. Two months ago, when I was in a desperate search for inspiration, I looked up his talks and found him saying something that has, so far, become my life maxim: “If your life becomes an expression of your joy, not in pursuit of happiness, then relationships will be naturally wonderful.” I felt floored hearing this and realized right away the mistakes I’ve been making. I kept pursuing an imaginary happiness instead of simply expressing my existing joy. If you live a life of sweetness and happiness is something that is your own nature, then the world will become the means for you to express your happiness instead of being a mere container in which you perpetually try to find it.
Making the decision that happiness comes from within me and not from outside has done wonders that I had never predicted. Maybe “making the decision” is not the right definition for it. Making the practice. I am aware that this is not a new concept and we have all heard this advice many times – “Happiness is a choice,” everyone says. But saying something is different from acting on something with full commitment. Even believing in something is not enough. Believing in something is still pursuing a truth outside yourself. You must live it. You must be living it. Living it is being in a state of total control and alertness within a practice, like an athlete in training. Being in awareness with a presence. In this case, the awareness that the presence of happiness is in every part of your life and being – even in its persistent quietness and unevolved possibilities.
I still hurt. I still get angry over the past and afraid of the future when I allow myself to get carried away thinking and feeling. But I have been finding it easier to keep returning to the present and looking harder for the small bright things I initially fail to see. I find small ways to be happy, just small enough to make that quick minor shift, and a world turns up as if at the snap of my fingers. I find ways to be grateful by reaching out to a stranger, a book, a song, my arms to the sky for yoga practice, and again, I am able to create the shift. All by myself, in no more than two seconds. It will never be a permanent state, and because of this you might call it as mere distraction in its smallness; but it’s definitely more than that.
It’s openness. It’s making yourself available to be touched by the life that surrounds you. It’s reminding yourself constantly that you are an active participant and a co-creator of the life you are moving in and you have the choice to change directions in however way you can at any given point in time and space. You must come to realize that you alone can give yourself that power and also take it away. When happiness becomes internal work, you begin to strive to see beauty in everything that already is and not dwell on what it could be, whether it is in situations or in people. You completely let go of control and cultivate gratitude with whatever or whoever comes your way. It’s openness to connection. It’s learning the power of new perception. It’s non-discrimination.
I used to have strong opinions about situations and people, but I’ve learned to see that everyone is just trying to work out their own happiness, just in different ways, and my happiness and growth should never be above or before anyone else’s. When I started seeing that, I learned to share in a happiness that was much, much bigger than the kind of happiness I used to always find myself running after only for myself.
We are all navigating, and the navigation is what gives our collective lives meaning. We all take turns to reach out, retreat, help, surrender, love, fail, succeed in this whole intricate mess that we create and destroy and create again. What is most important is that we move, we act, we flow. Sometimes we get so stubborn with what we want and where we want to be that we get stuck and refuse to budge and forget that it is the most wonderful gift to be able to move with life. Life is movement. Embracing movement is embracing nature and your place in it. You have a place in creation, so take part. Create your life and create life for others.
Create for others, this is important. Happiness is not supposed to become one form of creation after another for yourself alone. Happiness is the tool you use to create the many forms of happiness for everyone, and everyone happens to include yourself. When you have happiness working for you and with you in a very big space – moving instead of being restricted and boxed in as one product – all these new and different dimensions open up. If you make happiness your working space, markers and opportunities for it will show up everywhere and in multiple forms.
When I started building on happiness as a platform rather than chasing it like a permanent faraway destination, I found myself co-existing with it. I am now in its constant embrace and possibility. I am permanently included. I have stopped pursuing my life and my life has started pursuing me. My life, no matter the circumstance, has become my constant expression of joy. And from this becoming, I find, happiness is everywhere.