Last week, I noted that three simple things are necessary to be in relationship with one another:
Working with what is
Being willing to change, move, shift and transform my part of whatever isn’t working.
We explored self-connection last week; today let’s talk about working with what is.
Why is working with reality as it is, so difficult?
Because often we don’t want it to be that way. We have a vision for a better way that the world could work, the relationship could work, or how someone could be, and then we get attached to trying to “make it so” as Captain Picard used to say.
Anytime I bump up against something that I don’t like, my mind whips me off to how it “should be” instead.
Let’s say I haven’t heard from my partner for a week since an argument we had. I’m feeling vulnerable and longing for connection with them. But do I stay there? No, of course not. Instead of being with “what is” (I don’t LIKE “what is”) my mind generates a long list of how things “should be” or “shouldn’t be” instead:
First, about them: They shouldn’t be giving me the silent treatment, they shouldn’t punishing me like this, they shouldn’t be so withdrawn and avoidant, they should do their inner work, they shouldn’t be so disengaged and unaware …
Then, about me: I shouldn’t be so needy, so emotional, so dependent, so much in general. I am too reactive, too un-empathic, not understanding enough, not patient enough, not independent enough.
This focus on meaning-making as the initial “fix” tend to be seriously self-sabotaging. Trust me, I’ve blown up many relationships from this place. This kind of thinking simply keeps us focused on what we see as “wrong” with others or ourselves, and this in turn keeps us in a perpetual power-struggle, resisting the way thing currently are.
It’s about as effective as trying to swim against a riptide. If you try to swim against the current towards the shore, you will get exhausted and drown. Wise people know that if you caught in a rip tide, you have only two good options:
1. Float. Literally go with the flow, letting the current move you back to the shore on its own
2. Swim parallel to the shore, perpendicular to the tide until you’re out the current and then swim at an angle to the beach, following the breaking waves.
In the same way, the more I argue against reality, the more burned out and exhausted I become, and the less energy I have to actually invest in meaningful changes and to transform things into what they could be.
And, as Carl Jung famously said, “What you resist, persists.”
To break my habit of resisting the world as it is, I’ve learned to sit with myself and to settle in to “What Is,” first. (And, for what it’s worth, this isn’t easy when my feelings are particularly strong)
Here’s how it sometimes looks:
I go inward, not outward. What is arising in me as I sit with this longing? Where is the longing in my body? As I watch the longing within me what do I notice next? Does it intensify? Change into a different feeling? Move around my body? Disappear? Do memories come up? Do videos begin playing in my head? What happens to my feelings next? What sensations are arising? And subsiding?
I notice. I be. As I sit and notice everything that is arising inside of me I practice allowing it all to be there, without judging it. When I notice my mind beginning to comment and judge and evaluate, I witness it but don’t attach to it: I might say, “and the next thing I notice is how often my mind wants to evaluate, to judge, how constricted my body gets as my mind kicks in with these habitual ways of seeing and perceiving.” I stay there, I watch. I focus on just being there.
I relax. As I watch the tension patterns in my body, I practice breathing more deeply and relaxing into them. I do this by reminding myself that I am safe in the moment: no dragons are breathing fire on me in this moment, no-one is attacking me in this moment, no demons are sidling out the closest to grab me from behind in the this moment. I repeat a soothing mantra to myself: Accept, Allow, Embrace. Accept, Allow, Embrace.
I write. And burn. I grab loose leaf paper and my favorite pen and let my thoughts wander around on paper. I allow my feelings to splatter themselves all over the pages and squirm around freely. I emote and judge, uncensored. And then depending upon what emerged, I do one of two things: I either file them away to harvest golden nuggets later, or I slowly and intentionally burn each sheet of paper in my fireplace as I release everything that was previously bottled up inside of me. A symbolic purification ritual.
As I practice, a few things happen. I find out that …
I can sit with my imperfect self, with imperfect other people, and with imperfect situations without getting hijacked by all of it.
I can tolerate the way something is feeling and that the act of getting present to what I am feeling is a step in the direction of metabolizing, processing and integrating it.
My survival mind is generating many worst-case possibilities, and that unexamined and unchallenged, these possibilities will become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Deep self-connection and self-soothing helps me re-regulate and connect with more thriving needs – not only survival needs.
Accepting something as it is, does not mean I like it, agree with it or want it to be the way it is.
It simply means that I work on making peace with the way things are, so that I am able to focus my energies on those things that are actually in my power to change and transform.
It simply means that I manage my energy, intention and attention more strategically so that my ability to make a real positive difference is enhanced.
It is an act of power, faith and love to honor things as they are. When you do, however, you affirm a belief that whatever comes your way is for your betterment and has the potential to help you achieve your highest potential – if you will let it work it’s magic in your life. Every experience can support your highest good and deeper potential. Sometimes we just need to get our own narrow and limited agenda out of the way first.
Finally, when you truly practice entering the moment, on its own terms, you will discover a profound sense of inner peace.
Once you settle into making peace with the world as it is, you are able to access love. Once you settle into loving the world as it is, you access clarity.
And with loving clarity, you can often see a way of transforming things into something even better by joining the natural flow of the tide and getting to the beach with loads of floating and enjoyment, instead of panicking, getting attached to the beach and swimming against the riptide until you drown with exhaustion.
Finding the purpose, deeper meaning or lesson behind every event will help you to embrace and transform it, instead of fighting it, and lies at the essence of learning how to work with life on its own terms.
I’d love to hear from you –
What things are you having the most trouble accepting in your life right now?
What gets in the way of working with “what is” for you?
Continue the conversation with me and leave a story, comment or question below 🙂
This was written to me today, thank you. Thank you. On the money, widened space for me, hurray.
Again, words I find so helpful to better understand my inner dynamics. The lightness of touch so typical of your pages helps remind me to look at the world as it is. To discover the true and the good, is how I conceptualize a life long journey.
What I find difficult to understand are the other posts recently which I understand to say: "the good is that which is outside yourself". True, such ideas are repeated everywhere. For example, Mother Teresa we revere. Bill Gates gets, at best, an "oh hum" from a moral perspective for his contribution to society. Though he lifted more out of poverty that Mother Teresa ever did.
My purpose isn’t to disparage Mother Teresa. While the evidence of her diaries suggests she was not as happy and fulfilled as she might have been, she pursued her life whole-heartedly. I know two individuals who actually knew her. Both reported her advise on career and "helping the poor" stress that they focus on their own lives and desires first. When they have extra … then.
But this isn’t the message we think of, nor my understanding of your posts about "something greater than yourself". If the message truly is that others are the value, then why the concern for self investigation?
I doubt you think this, but a conclusion could be that self improvement is like sleep – without it we can’t have the energy to do what is really valuable – which is to help others.
I’d value any feelings, insights or further discussion you might have on this dilemma I face.
Hi Harry … I’m not sure I am completely tracking, so for sure re-direct me if this isn’t getting at what you’re pondering: I don’t mean to imply that all things that are "good" are outside of ourselves, or that the only "good" things are when we are serving others … if anything, I deeply believe that self-awareness, self-insight, self-understanding help to illuminate all the "good" that is at the core of our very being-ness … as I understand it anyway. When I talk about reaching for something "greater than yourself" I am not intending to imply that "yourself" is bad or suspect in any way … more like … let’s see, more like a drop of water finding its way back to the lake or the river. The essential nature is the same … does this clarify or am I misunderstanding?
When I think of reaching for something "greater than myself" I mean it more as an invitation or a stretch to fulfill my highest potential, my expanded capacity … and, I inherently see myself as "one-with" all that appears to be "outside" … how is this landing on you?