ego

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. 

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!