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Fundamentals - Part #1 (and Happy New Year! 🎉)

Dear friends, I’m writing these lines from one of my favorite places on Earth: Autrans. The mountains

Letters from Zeynep

December 31 · Issue #28 · View online
Weekly letters that nurture you to find everyday wellness.

Dear friends,
I’m writing these lines from one of my favorite places on Earth: Autrans. The mountains and the valleys are covered with snow; the peace outside inspires me to find more within. To rest. To sleep. To hug. To cook. To eat. To really taste each bite. To curiously observe how soft the snow can be and how snowflakes stick to each other. I slowed down gradually the past week and I’m happy I will be on holiday for another few days. 
I’ve been reflecting back on this year, 2020. The word that came to me as an umbrella of all my reflections was: fundamentals. In many ways, in its joys and sorrows, this year was about going back to fundamentals for me. Going back to those basic, essential things that make a life, or making progress on some journeys I’ve already been on.
We like to divide time up into chunks: a year, a month, a day, a moment. Internal journeys don’t happen in this timeframe. Something I notice in 2017 solidifies in 2020. Something that emerges in 2016 takes shape in 2019. The end of the year is a chance to look at what’s continuing to change, rather than what’s starting and stopping. 
This year I will share with you where I am on 8 multi-decade journeys I deeply care about: Reading, Community, Trust, Home, Family, Burnout, Multi-Passionate Life, and Joy. With the intention of not overwhelming you with a long piece and trying out a new form, I’ve set it up so that you’ll receive a couple of journeys from me every 4-5 days.
I would love to hear from you about your journeys and reflections. The conversations we have via this newsletter always feel so precious and magical. We may be needing a togetherness in reflection now more than ever.
Hope you enjoy it, reflect, write back to me, get some rest, and find some joy as 2020 ends and 2021 begins!
Happy New Year! 🎉
And thank you for being on this journey with me! Your presence gives me joy, inspiration, and strength! 💟

Autrans, France
Autrans, France
What I’m most proud of this year is completing my 2020 reading challenge on Goodreads. If you feel an aversion to the concept of reading as a “challenge”, that’s fine, I felt it too at first. What got me into it was a conversation I had with my friends Ece and Nazlı at the end of 2019, where I heard myself telling them how much I miss reading, how I used to love reading as a child, how my mom would yell at me almost every night from her bedroom: “Zeynep, it’s late, turn off your lights now.”
That kid who devoured books stopped reading for joy.
Reading slows me down, grounds me, and connects me. My guess as to why I wasn’t reading so much anymore is the rush of life, the demands of work, the information overflow, the books I “had” to read for school or for work. In that conversation with Nazlı and Ece, I noticed that the reasons why didn’t matter - I simply wanted to go back to that joy. 
We do more of what we pay attention to. “Energy flows where attention goes”, is the saying. I knew deep inside that I needed to pay attention to how much I was reading, what I was reading, and to my experience of reading, if I wanted to read more. 
Tracking books on Goodreads was one of my greatest joys this year. No moment of it felt like a “challenge”. It wasn’t pressuring or stressful. I deeply enjoyed marking that I read another 20 pages of a book, seeing what my Goodreads friends were reading, noting all the books I’d like to read in the future, organizing my virtual bookshelves, and giving ratings to my books. The application helped me spend more time on the topic of reading, pay more attention to it, and get more out of it.
The result was that I smelled, touched, read, and lived with these 25 books this year - THAT feels amazing. The number of books doesn’t matter. What matters is how much my horizon expanded, how deeply I felt when I read poetry, how seen I felt in a mindfulness book, how captured I was in the storyline of a novel. Thanks to these books, I cherished the Turkish language again, I reconnected with fiction, I read some classics, I discovered innovative ways of writing prose, I had new materials for my classes, I had new things to think and write about, and I spent less time on screens. None of this can be measured. There is just a sense of being fulfilled. 
This year I also had the pleasure of constructing a big new library at our new home in the South of France. My partner and I spent hours dusting, caressing, flipping through, organizing, reorganizing our books. We embellished the shelves with family photos and souvenirs. We agonized over which books were going to be front-facing so that their covers could be seen from afar. Having a big library in my living room was a dream of mine. I now have a lovely sense of home when I sit on our couch. It feels like the books, their wisdom and their memories welcome me. 
Reading was always a fundamental part of my life, and I’m so happy to have reconnected with the joys of reading this year. I look forward to setting my 2021 reading challenge on Goodreads and spending more time in the wonderful world of books. A challenge is just a means to an end. It gets you going when you’re trying to build up a habit. I’m confident that tracking won’t be necessary after having done it for a while. I will simply find myself reading, maybe a little too much, and telling my inner child, “Zeynep, it’s late, turn off your lights now.”
My 2020 books
My 2020 books
I was lucky to start 2020 with a 10-day silent retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in San Francisco, where I had a touching experience of silent community. It was eye-opening; I realized that to connect and to feel part of a group, we don’t have to talk. In fact, the sense of love, community and belonging is even greater in silence. 
These 10 days gave me a chance to think about how much I care about community and belonging, and how much more of it I want to cultivate in my life. My intention grew through out the year, as I completed the second year of my Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program, and at almost every module, we talked about community as an integral part of a happy and balanced life. Community seems to be the fundamental piece of life. We are alive when we are connected.
2020 was a first for my generation - we suffered together, globally, at a scale we had not experienced before. Yes, we suffered differently. Some of us just had to stay at home and be bored, while others lost jobs and income, felt hungry, invisible, and depressed. Some of us felt we could go on, while others felt they absolutely could not go on anymore. Alongside these differences, there was an understanding that everyone in every part of the world was affected to some extent. When we spoke with people in remote corners of the world (and we definitely did more of that!), COVID was the first thing we asked about. We wondered about their health, we asked about their families, we donated more, we spoke more about those things that really matter in life: safety, equity, justice, giving. Even if we ourselves weren’t in a tight spot at that exact moment, our nervous systems remained attuned to those around the globe. In limbic resonance, we suffered together. In my life of 32 years, 2020 was the year I felt a global sense of community with all inhabitants of the world. I felt like we were all on the same page. There was a deeper sense of solidarity. And while I wish this pandemic to be gone as soon as possible, I will continue to sense and appreciate this global community as we move into 2021.
During my 10 silent days at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in January, I also became very attuned to the nature around me. I sat on a bench outside the main meditation hall for hours, taking in the sun, the hills, the grass, the sky and the trees. I walked around the grounds, alongside creeks, through the woods, paying attention to my body and breath, loving the uniqueness and wonders of each living creature.
Before 2020, my definition of community was focused on human beings. This year, my definition of community expanded to nature and all its inhabitants: animals, trees, plants, forms, emptiness. Contrary to human beings, who were disregulated for the most part of this year, these non-human living beings regulated and relaxed me.
One week, as Mudita Mindfulness Community, we were doing an informal practice of noticing trees as friendly beings around us. That happened to be the week we drove down south and during that 6 hour drive, I saw millions of trees on both sides of the highway. I had such a high from feeling interconnected with them and feeling their presence persistently for that long of a duration. I wasn’t traveling south just with my partner. I was traveling with millions of trees!
In all those moments of 2020 when I felt alone and disconnected from humans, I connected myself to the countless non-human beings around me: the rare trees on the Parisian streets, the clouds in the sky, the grass in parks, the southern seas, the beaches, the mountains, the snow. I watched my plants at home budding with new leaves and flowers, I watched the landing of a butterfly, I became friends with a baby cat named Elizabeth outside our apartment in Istanbul who lived happily in her loving community of cats and humans.
With so much time in quarantine, the rare times I could walk or simple things like going out to buy bread felt more important. I discovered parts of my neighborhood in Paris that I had not noticed before, I remembered the beauty of the Bosphorus, I walked in parts of the French countryside I had never seen before. Putting on a jacket, pausing my day for an hour, and going outside to take in whatever I could from the outside world with my five senses replenished me when I was most restless, tired or agitated.
“Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t crowded with ten thousand things,
this is the best season of your life.”
Our minds have a tendency to get small and fixated in the humdrum of daily life. We lose the larger sense of who we are - part of this expanding universe and complex nature. With so much time indoors this year, I cherished the outside and the expansive even more.
The learnings I want to remember in 2021 are to look for more community and belonging, and to notice those contexts that strengthen it: silence, nature, and maybe others I am yet to discover. 
From one of our hikes this summer
From one of our hikes this summer
For Your Reflections
  • If you were to pick 5-10 different themes for 2020 as your “fundamentals”, what would they be?
  • What are some multi-year or multi-decade journeys you are on?
  • What progress did you make on them this year?

  • Did you read any of my 2020 books? What did you think of them?
  • Does reading matter to you, and if yes, why?
  • What was your relationship with reading as a child? What is your relationship with reading today?
  • What wonderful books, articles, magazines did you read this year?
  • What are some new ideas or concepts you started considering thanks to your reading?
  • How do you pay attention to reading?

  • Does community matter to you, and if yes, why?
  • Did you have a stronger sense of community and belonging this year? Or maybe a weaker sense of it?
  • What communities support and nourish you?
  • What communities do you notice around you, even if you are not part of them?  
Thank You ❤️
Thank you for reading! Don’t hesitate to write back and share your reflections.
Stay tuned for Fundamentals Part #2 (Trust and Home)! It will arrive in your inbox in a few days. 💌
With love and care,
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Paris, France