Is

There is a colleague of mine who, at the end of lengthy animated discussions (some people would refer to it as "griping") often brushes the top of his jacket and in a dispassionate declaration, announces that "it is what it is". And we all usually nod and stand there for a heartbeat and then break out of our huddle and get onto the next task at hand.  

"It is what it is" is an expression that I hear often. It's tossed about in conversations with ease because of its adaptability. At its most basic, it's tautology - the same thing said twice using different words, like "frozen ice" or "close proximity". But the expression can convey many things, depending on how it's used. It can be used as a punctuated "amen", or a emotionless observation, or left as an almost philosophical open ending. 

I used to bristle when I heard this statement. It felt like a defeatist comment, a conversation ending phrase. I always pictured a dowdy aunt, taking a sip of tea, leaning and forward and announcing that all men only want one thing. As if it were law. I mean, what's the perfect retort to "it is what it is"? 

Now look, if I check outside and see it's pouring rain, I can shrug my shoulders for a moment, then make the decision to get an umbrella. Sure, I can't control what the weather does (or people, for that matter), but I can control my reactions or responses.  Same as if I'm complaining about how my whites aren't coming out sparkling white like the commercial says they should, or that my boss is a bit of a jerk. I can accept those things, and move on and make different choices in how I proceed.

And that's really what it's all about - acceptance.  It may be a twee phrase and all, but "it is what it is" often anchors me in the principle of acceptance. Because really, what is in that moment is. There is nothing else but that moment. As Eckhart Tolle says, there is no conflict in The Now. It's only that moment. No past, no future. Just here at this moment. Like the rain situation I described, one can say that yes, it is raining right now. It just is. No judgement. You see, the farmer may see the rain as an ally, the parade organizer may see it as a catastrophe. It's all about perspective and attachment to putting a label on it.

I often think about this kind of thing, especially when I am struggling with inner turmoil. Just the other day, in the spirit of acceptance, I did what I do whenever I'm in a situation that disagrees with me, or churns me up, and that is I act as if I wanted that moment to happen. Strange, I know, but stay with me. When I act as if, it changes my whole experience of what is going on. It lands me at the big clown shoes of acceptance. I have no choice. I mean, I supposedly asked for this, so who am I to complain? It's like ordering a banquet burger then getting upset when they hand it to you, dripping with bacon goodness. I learn to accept the situation as it is, and to garner all the positives from it. It puts me on the branch line away from the line of victimhood and self-pity and onto the rails of empowerment. 

So if my boss really is a big jerk (my perspective, by the way), then instead of just tossing my hands in the air and giving up, I look at it as if I were meant to have that kind of boss, and then I ask myself - what do I do? Well, I still do the best I can. I don't take things personally or have my day ruined every time I go to work. I look for ways to find value in my work. I accept the situation and move on. (As an aside, accepting things is different from condoning or agreeing with them. I can accept something but still find it very disturbing or painful.)

I would be lying if I said I practiced acceptance all the time. I get caught up in my ego and my judgements and I can play the self-pity card quickly. But the more I catch myself getting caught up in all that, and turn it around as fast as I can, the better off I am. It's something I need to practice, but the more I do it the better I get at it. Another tool in Ye Olde Tool Belte, I suppose.

Now, frankly, I don't know how to end this post, so you can ignore this or you can just accept it, because in the end, it is- well you know what I'm going to say. 

Flame

"Sexual Misconduct"

That was what popped out at me as I read the email.  

The school sent all the parents a note regarding the arrest of a young man who worked at the school as a lunch supervisor.  He had allegedly sexually interfered with a 6-yr-old boy while babysitting him.  

I visited the police website and it was mentioned that the man worked exclusively with children and police believe there were more victims. They showed his picture. There he was - practically a kid himself, with that kind of scraggly facial hair young teen boys have when they try to grow a beard. His eyes were a distant blue, and medium length red hair partially covered his flushed cheeks. 

He didn't look like what you consider a sexual predator. Alleged sexual predator. 

Then again, what does a predator look like?

I looked into this kid's face, into his eyes. I tried to find the humanity in that mug shot. I searched the picture as if to coax out his pain, to source out why he would do the things he did. And this is something I do this all the time - whether it's a petty thief or a serial killer. I try to find that little nugget of compassion for them, something that I can nestle in my hand and try to grow into something deeper and wider.

It's not easy. Sometimes I wonder what the point of that spiritual exercise is. Maybe I am trying to relate too much. Maybe I hoping that the person has a second shot at life. Maybe I just want reassurance that we're not a bunch of neanderthals. I know that people make bad decisions.  There is a scale, of course, of what "bad decisions" stretches upon. Having that second slice of cake can be seen as a poor choice, but molesting a child? Stabbing someone?

It's a stretch.

There are many people who would easily throw the match to the pyre in a public square and think nothing of it. Let the bastards burn, they'd say. But I have a soft spot for those who are maladjusted to living. I made many bad decisions in my active drinking days. I made questionable choices and had many unacceptable behaviours.  Criminal behaviours. Was I a bad man? Should I be heaped onto the pile of wood and flesh and flame?

I too have a mug shot.

It's perception, I suppose. If that 6-yr-old was mine, all my spiritual nature may go out the window and folks would have to stop me from clubbing that babysitter with a shovel. What's to say that people didn't want to do the same when I drove drunk with my own 3 1/2 yr old in the car? Is it pointless to try to find that glow of good in others? I know it exists, even in the most evil of people. It may be a dying ember, but it's there. It gives me hope, even in the face of tragedy.

People ask why Bad Things happen to Good People. Where is God when those poor children are being hurt, when those people are being victimized by horrid crimes?  Free will. We were given free will.  People do things propelled by ego and pride and rage and the myriad of things that fall under Free Will. My understanding is that God is in the healing, not the crimes. God is there when people rally around someone.  God is there when we rise above our pain and help others. God is there when we rise above the dirt. 

I'd like to think that God was there when people reached out to me and helped me in my darkest days. Even with the weight of my history and actions resting hard on my shoulders. People still saw that light of good in me. 

So that is why I always seek that in others. I know it's there. And of course, some folks need to be taken away from the rest of society for good. Some people are beyond help or rehabilitation. But that doesn't mean there isn't that little spark inside, underneath all the pain, anger and misery. 

What I find is that it's in my best emotional and spiritual health to see the flame of good in everyone. It doesn't absolve people of their misdeeds, but it gives me pause to reflect on our humanity, our frailties, our weakness. But in the face of these things, I see the resiliency in others, the faith, the merciless kindness. This is what lights my spirit. This is the human condition in its entirety.

I feel sad for that boy and his family. I also feel sad for a young man who could have given so much to the young children in his charge. Somewhere in those mug shot eyes, there is a flame. 

I know there is. 

 

 

 

Trudge

It started with a near panic attack.

I have been working on a personal project as of late. It's something that I have struggled with in the past, in terms of whether or not I've wanted to do it in the first place.  After thinking about it, it's now something that I have committed to see through, and it's fraught with emotional and mental landmines.  It's something that really digs at me, and has brought me relief in some ways, but mainly it brings me tears almost every time. So I have been in a perma-vulnerable state as of late, and like Cape Gannets, I have a whole flock of character defects that have been dive bombing into that state and pecking away at me. 

Comparing myself to others has been causing me the most damage in those fly-by's. I look at all the things that I have been doing, and when I place them against what others have achieved or are achieving now, I wilt. I feel corroded. I wonder why I even bother. I look at social media, I look at where people's attention lies, I look at numbers, I look at qualitative stats. And I tremble. I get resentful. I get angry. And I also realize that once again, I am getting duped, but I still buy into it all.  

Last night I was feeling weak from my back and hip issues.  I was feeling overwhelmed by my fragile mental and emotional state, and when all of those start to combine, I often feel that I am going into an anxiety attack. I know the feeling well, having had many in my drinking days, either brought on by the physical symptoms of withdrawal, or by the crushing mental and emotional strain I had in living the life of an alcoholic in denial.  

So last night I took a bath. Then I needed to get fresh air. I prayed. I then wandered about the house and decided I needed to meditate.  I could feel all my muscles aching, tensing. My mind was adrift and my heart pounding away. So I sat in my basement, lit my incense, and started to cry.  That was all that I could do.  That was my body's response to it all.  Just have an ugly cry. And then when that was done, I meditated.

When I meditate, I am fortunate enough to tap into my Authentic Self, that God-driven state that represents my "best". It's that voice that tells me what is and what isn't. It guides me well, that is, when I decide to heed its advice. Last night, I asked my Authentic Self many questions - panicked questions.

 It told me many things, one of which was to "keep carrying the message, even when you don't want to.  It's the most important thing you can do." I hated that. I didn't want to do it. What's the point? Other people do it better, get more attention and have people really listen to them.

"You make people feel good, that is what you do." Big deal, I replied. The crossing guard at my kids school does that, and so does the guy who owns the ice cream truck. What kind of good is that? 

Whenever my Authentic Self answered, I tried to deflect, parry, and challenge.  But it persisted in a serene and gentle way.

"Why do I have to keep doing this?" I asked.

"Because once you start seeking, you can't stop. It's part of your fabric now."

"But everyone does it better. I just want to be normal."

"You have your path. Listen to the heart within your heart."

"What the hell does that mean? That makes no sense."  I paused. Then I asked "Are you the truth?"

"No - I am the light."

I sat there, more tears running down my face. This was it. As much as I want to take my ball and go home, I am constantly brought back to the whole trudging thing. There is a line in 12-step recovery literature that mentions we "trudge The Road of Happy Destiny". It doesn't say "to" Happy Destiny. It says "of".  That single word shows that it's the journey, not the destination that is most important.  So there is no end zone.  There is no medal waiting for me at the finish line. It just is. So while there is still a part of me that want to recede and concede, I know that it's very difficult for me to go against my Authentic Self.  

So, I guess for now I trudge. I may not enjoy it at times. I may even resent it and have hissy fits over it, but I trudge. I may not trudge the way others do, but I have the Road to travel.  I may not go as quickly and as flashy as others, but I go on.  

Travel well, friends.  

Less

"I simply felt alone, one leaf sitting miles away from a giant, communal pile"                                                                                            - Dan Wells

It's one of those days. I get them. The "less-than" day. Wearing the  '<' symbol as a crown and knighting all my issues and fears with greater importance than they deserve. I start to wonder if what I am doing here, there and everywhere is worth it. I start to compare (uh oh) myself to others. I start to line up the cosmic scales and measure out my meagre pebbles against mighty boulders. I look at the what I consider mansions in the sky and stare down at the crumbling sand castles at my feet.

I know this is a façade. A mental and spiritual swindle. A bait-and-switch that my ego uses to make me kick myself in the teeth for its own amusement. Knowing this all doesn't always make that feeling dissipate. Sometimes the thoughts, which control emotions, which intensifies further thoughts, just win out. I am not a spiritual giant. I don't always come out on top. But at least I know what I'm up against. It's a riptide that I just ride out.  I have been here before and I will be here again. No indictment, just fact. 

I know, I know. I have my toolkit. I have all those things that I tell others they should use. I can do this and I can do that. Sometimes I just sit with it. Get real uncomfortable-like. Why? Why not? It's not debilitating. I am getting much done today. I am forging ahead with what I need to do. I am still looking at the big picture and still praying and still folding laundry and working on my projects and taking in the mail. Life doesn't stand still for the less-than days. The days just have a bit of a dullness to them. A rough edge. A dimmer hue. And I am okay with that. I can't ride unicorns all day, every day.

What's the point of all this, Mr. Doom and Gloom? 

Well, the point is that days like this don't define me or my journey. It's a few sentences of a chapter of an entire book that is still being written. In writing, we talk about our books or projects as our WIP - work-in-progress. And I am a walking WIP. I can state with fairness and matter-of-factness that I am feeling less-than or down or unfulfilled or whatever it is, and claim it. Not as a brick of self-pity to toss at myself, but as a simple statement. And then move on. It's like telling you that I had a BLT for lunch. No judgement. Just fact. So today I feel less-than. Tomorrow I probably won't feel that way. Maybe I will. But what remains is that I stay honest and remember that I have come a long way since the days of my active alcoholism. I have come a long way since I started to repair the damage of my past. I have come a long way since I thought putting myself under the wheels of a train would be a good idea (hint: it isn't.) 

Other people have their own paths and journeys. I have to remind myself of that daily. Several times a day, in fact. I can't compare my behind-the-scenes to their highlight reel, as they say. But sometimes I do. I have to concentrate on my own scenes. Let them play out, and remember that gratitude goes a long way.  That, and unicorns. 

 

 

 

Fears

It seems that so many folks I know are crippled by different fears these days.  Big ones.  That includes me as well.  Marriage issues, relationships, work problems, money...these seem to be some large issues at play, and fear is at the root of all of them.  Of course, fear is often in the driver's seat when we are feeling stuck, angry or not fully centered.  At least it is for me. 

Fear paralyzes me.  It truly does.  It feeds me lies.  It does its best to keep me in my comfort zone, away from any and all growth opportunities.  It keeps me locked into short-changing myself, my goals, my entire life.  Fears will always tell me that I should stay under the covers and to not bother to engage in life.  Fear is a bully.

There is a great passage in the book "Twelves Steps and Twelve Traditions" which describes fear accurately:

"The chief activator of our defects has been self-centered fear — primarily fear that we would lose something we already possessed or would fail to get something we demanded.  Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands, we were in a state of continual disturbance and frustration.  Therefore, no peace was to be had unless we could find a means of reducing these demands.  The difference between a demand and a simple request is plain to anyone."

And that is what it comes down to always - fear of not getting what we want, or fear of losing what we already have.  All fears boil down to these two.  To boil things down even further, the feeling that we have, egotistically, is that we will die (or at least not survive) if we don't get what we want or lose what we already have.  The ego, like any other "living" organism, fights for its life.  Daily.  So it creates fears, resentments, self-pity, anger and a whole slew of winged monkeys to get us to do its bidding.  Fear is the granddaddy of them all.

The idea of being held hostage in unsatisfied demands, as the above quote states, lines up with the Buddhist idea that suffering is caused by desire or attachment.  And what is the difference between a demand and a simple request?  

For me, the difference is that a demand has attachment to it - an expected outcome.  It's a mandate.  Another word for demand is "expectation", and as we have heard many times, an expectation is a pre-meditated resentment. We make demands all the time without even knowing it!  I know that I have unwritten or unspoken demands of others, and when (not if) they let me down, I get disturbed. Fears underpin all of this - fear of being rejected; of not being seen; of being abandoned, etc. 

A simple request is an invitation of sorts.  An open-handed and even loving attempt to petitions someone to be a part of something.  There are no expectations.  I can ask someone to do something or invite them into something, but I don't hold a grudge if there isn't compliance.  I don't bear the fear of being rejected; of not being seen; of being abandoned, etc.

What works for me, when it comes to overcoming fear, is action.  I can find my faith and pray and meditate over it, I can talk to friends and colleagues and those who have walked the path before me, but in the end action is what breaks down the fear barrier.  As I have been learning, on the other side of the "terror barrier" is freedom.  I have walked through many fears, and am attempting to walk through big one - a new career doing something I haven't done before and not sure if i can support myself let alone my family with it.  To be honest, there are lots of smaller fears that I am walking through to work up to that big fear. It's like working a muscle - the more I build it up, the more I can bear.  

When I look back at my life and see when I've had my most marked growth spurts, it's always been when I've moved past my old stories and old fears and just hammered something out against all preconceived notions.  Action, action, action.  It's my mantra for breaking down that terror barrier.  

I hope and pray you all find ways to break down those barriers and find the freedom you deserve!