Now that you’ve arrived here, I want to you take a moment to close your eyes (well, close them after you read this paragraph 😉), take a deep breath, and notice what you’re doing. And then ask yourself, “What happens next?”
This question… “What happens next?” … is one of the two most important questions we can ask ourselves!
In his masterful work, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk describes the therapies he has used over the decades to treat his trauma patients. He asserts that “at the core of recovery is self-awareness.” To this end, “the most important phrases in trauma therapy are ‘Notice that’ and ‘What happens next?’”
In truth, the core of everyone’s mental health is self-awareness and understanding. So perhaps we all should ask ourselves…
What do I notice?
What is here right now? What can I see, smell, feel, taste, and hear right now? What is the story I’m making up, and what is actually happening? Just notice that.
And then you can ask…
What happens next?
I remember one of my teachers asking us this same question on a retreat a few summers ago. What happens next?
It’s such a simple question, but asking it can powerfully transform your experience of the present moment.
Merely asking the question brings you to the NOW. You cannot ask what happens next if your mind is stuck somewhere in the past or is already 83 moves ahead of what happens next.
Asking What happens next? will help you discover a few important things:
1. You have NO IDEA what happens next.
Oh, you probably think you know. We’re pretty good at “knowing” exactly what our spouse is going to say, exactly how our supervisor will approach the next project, and exactly how our children will react to the healthy and organic meal we are making.
But as predictable as the people in our lives may be, we have NO IDEA what’s about to happen. Because IT HASN’T HAPPENED.
Even so, we are REALLY GOOD at making assumptions and getting offended and preparing counter-arguments and dreading the inevitable crisis we “know” is coming but hasn’t actually occurred.
As Mark Twain supposedly quipped, “I’ve been through a lot of terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”
Sometime today, stop, NOTICE what’s happening, and ask yourself,
What happens next?
This is about being curious. What happens when you simply pause, and breathe, and observe what’s happening right now?
You might discover…
2. This moment is fleeting and transitory.
The more you cultivate your mindful awareness of the present moment, the more you understand the transitory nature of your experiences. In the next moment, the thought you had just been thinking will have already changed. The sensations you had just been noticing will shift and ebb and flow.
When you ask, what happens next?, you acknowledge that this moment will end, and that the next moment will arrive. You realize that you can stand this moment, as unpleasant and as uncomfortable as it may be, because it’s not permanent.
And then, you’ll likely discover…
3. You play a BIG ROLE in what happens next.
You don’t know what happens next, but when you take that gorgeous pause to notice what’s happening now, you create space. In that space, a whole world of options opens up for you. You don’t have to react in your automatic, habitual way.
You can respond to this person, to this crisis, on this day, in this moment, instead of resorting to knee-jerk reactions based on faulty assumptions and incomplete information.
When you pause, remind yourself to “notice that,” and ask, “What happens next?”, you realize…
You get to choose what happens next.
So what happens next?