“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”
—Henry David Thoreau
It’s the middle of our SA lockdown, and I’ve got extra energy to burn. So I wash the windows, inside and out.
I have a lot of windows, and it takes me a couple of hours. Then, admiring my shiny clear handiwork I hear the rumble of thunder. My dog quivers and huddles beside my leg. And a great swathe of torrential rain and hail flung by a blasting wind batters against those newly cleaned and dried windows.
Arrggh! After the rain passes, I determinedly go out with the squeegee and wipe down the outside windows again, dry the sills and come back inside.
An hour later, the same thing happens again. And I hear myself say, with a frustrated tightening of my shoulders, “It Is What It Is. I’m not doing those windows again!”
I suddenly flash back to just a few weeks earlier, sitting in a café with a friend discussing a difficult situation in her family that was using up emotional resources, time and energy. At a certain point she leaned in to me and said, “but… It Is What It Is’.
She looked a bit quizzical then, and asked me what I thought about this phrase. Was it just the proverbial wiping of the hands, a dismissal of a situation too difficult to handle? And I had to acknowledge that sometimes it’s the only response to a situation that has no obvious solution.
Sometimes it’s the only response to the weather of our lives.
Yet this acceptance of ‘what is’ doesn’t have to be with resignation – acknowledging ‘what is’ can be a great liberator of energy. Really admitting to how things are can allow a letting go of wanting them to be different, because after all, things are the way they are.
Imperfect one day. Difficult the next. How human it is to feel frustration and annoyance.
What Mindfulness Teaches Me
These days when I feel frustration and annoyance, I know this is like a big neon sign saying ‘pay attention’. Oh, I’m tightening up here. My jaw is clenched. Suddenly I’m feeling like saying something really nasty. I know from practice that the first sign of wanting things to be different ALWAYS shows up in my body.
As I pause long enough to recognise the sensations in my body, and the whirl of thoughts, and the feeling of frustration I have a chance to question – what is it I’m expecting here? For the rain to stop because I’ve washed the windows? For the wind not to blow? Is what’s happening outside of me causing this frustration, or am I? within myself?
This may seem like small stuff when it comes to the really difficult issues that life throws our way, especially those that seem to have no resolve. There are a lot of those going around right now in this mid-pandemic world. And I’m definitely not advocating NOT doing anything, or giving up in resignation and that familiar tired phrase, “It is what it is…”.
I believe there is a chance to co-operate with ‘what is’ in a far more creative way than the big sigh and heave of shoulders. There’s action to be taken, for sure! But more from a place of responding to how things actually are, rather than with reaction and manipulation to try and get them to go my way.
So I take every opportunity I can to practice on the ‘small’ stuff. Mindfulness in the day-to-day of life to recognise the ‘is-ness’ of this moment, and then get on board with it.
For me, this is a meaty and fulfilling way to live my life and offers so much. It’s like food.
Recognising our Humanness
We all have a tendency to want the outside world to change to suit our desires, to expect that happiness comes from things going a particular way, a way that I want or can accept. I realise, on a regular basis, that the world around me reflects my expectation of it – good or bad experience comes from my ideas of ‘how things should be’.
And I’ve noticed how the seemingly unresolvable situation seems to have a way of working out when I let go my hold on it. This doesn’t mean that the windows don’t get dirty again, but hey, at least for the moment they’re clearer than they used to be. I can enjoy the better view with this perspective.
I’ve written many times about the value of building the skill of mindfulness into the moment-by-moment play of life – and it’s exactly for this reason. Life is as it is, not as how we see it or want it to be. It takes knowing how to ‘tune in’ in the midst of frustration, or panic, or disappointment, to sense the nature of our expectations, and to let go of them.
Then life has a chance to do what it does – come rain or shine. The unsolvable, it turns out, often doesn’t need to be solved.
Practice builds competence. Competence brings delight. The story goes: I washed the windows. The rain came and they got wet again. It is what it is, in all its glorious changeability.
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