Back to the Contents Page

It Is What It Is

By Judith Gayle

As if we needed another reminder of our human vulnerability, the photojournalism coming to us from Haiti after the earthquake of January 12th has moved even the hardest heart both to pity and fear. Only the insane could look at such without thinking, There but for the Grace of God go I. Which aptly describes the Reverend Pat Robertson, and his contention that the Haitians sold their soul to Satan in Voodoo practices a few hundred years ago, prior to their successful revolution against their French occupiers. I’m satisfied that the public response to his remarks has been as critical and as disgusted as my own, reflecting our hard-earned disenchantment with religious hypocrisy. The difference between Toussaint L’OuvertureВ invoking his god of choice to give him victory over his white oppressors, and Robertson doing the same against Islam is moot. If there’s any part of the Old Paradigm I’m anxious to put behind me, it is the closed heart and political clout of Christian paternalism. We simply don’t have time for such nonsense.

Spine. Photo by Scott Irvine.

Spine. Photo by Scott Irvine.

We are, more than we understand, one organism on this planet. When some of us are wounded anywhere on its skin, we all bleed a bit. I often wonder what goes through the minds of reporters and photographers who witness and record horror such as this. I don’t think I’d have the capacity to keep on task, faced with so many people in that level of horrific need. Emergencies flood us with adrenalin, we have a fight-or-flight response, and our minds quickly choose whether to run to safety or stay to help. It takes a practiced strength of mind simply to observe and assess, rather than plunging in to act. Gratefully, few of us are required to makeВ life-or-death choices, and those who are become forever changed by their experience, for good or ill.

Which is not to say that our daily life isn’t filled with similar anxiety these days. We often feel that our only choice is simply to put our heads down and survive as best we can. We have entered a window of history when all that we knew to be solid and stable has become shaky and undependable. Humans go to extraordinary lengths to see to it that their lives are safe and secure, their survival ensured, but our traditional methods don’t seem to work so well now. Until our experience of Hurricane Katrina, it didn’t occur to us that everything could change in an eye blink, that as bad as something might be there would not be adequate assistance on the other side of it. We faced some ugly truths about ourselves: the national ‘village’ did not pull together to provide the rescue we anticipated, and the great outpouring of goods and money that we sent was not enough, once it arrived, to effect assistance that we could approve. We learned that our dependence on technology is not nearly as effective as that of human hands and hearts, and that no amount of bureaucracy is sufficient to mend a broken life. Although the conversation ultimately devolved into “us/them,” we faced the nagging reality that if it could happen to them, “we” might be next. New Orleans has not recovered, and now other cities –В Detroit,В for instance — have joined it in decline. On a psychic level, Katrina was the straw that broke the camel’s back of our confidence, a shot across the bow of our crumbling infrastructure and flailing sociopolitical systems.

It’s been a while since Americans had to deal with those kinds of systemic problems. Our amount of anxiety is due not only to our lack of preparedness to handle trouble, but also to the inadequate skills we bring to the moment. In good times we have a linear outlook that keeps our activity moving: go, do, get, have. When bad news arrives, that forward motion is disrupted as we adjust to new facts. Pragmatically, we’re less well prepared to handle these kinds of events than we used to be. The progress we’ve made in the last decades has depended on our being a mobile society. When trouble comes, those who are dedicated to our health and happiness are no longer gathered in the same little hamlet, available to help with willing hands and comforting hearts. We used to know our neighbors, pulling together during times of crisis; now few of us know the last name, if indeed we know the first, of those clustered around us.

Too many of us have designed our lives — including our diets, entertainment and transportation — around mere convenience, justifying expense for the reward of optimized time. When we focus on convenience, we sweep common sense, introspection and growth under the rug, along with a lot of mindful consumerism we’ve long ignored. As someone who has lived on little for many years, convenience is a concept that I’ve had to learn to do without. I can safely testify that money gives you options; lack of money makes you reconfigure your needs around what you are able to do, forcing you to draw on your immense reservoir of creativity and imagination. These are skills many of us have forgotten. It’s a jolt of realism in a disposable society, a Petri dish in which we can grow our consciousness, break old habits and discover our inner resources. It’s akin to being pushed out of the nest and having to learn to use our wings again.

As we face the coming months of 2010, I think it’s pretty apparent we will continue to be challenged on many levels and need to call upon our own internal clarity and intelligence, rather than our underlying sense of panic at changing realities. With unemployment currently at a virtual 20%В  — that’s one in five of usВ without work — and the big corporations in overdrive to keep us ground under their heel, Obama faces presidential challenges that only the Roosevelts, Teddy and FDR, might be able to commiserate with, and neither are available for a chat. Many say the economy is still far from stable and has farther to fall. The good news is that we can’t fix it until we acknowledge that it’s broken, and we’re almost there; the bad news is that some of us still think unfettered capitalism will save us.

Back in 2006, Time magazine’s Person of the Year was “You.” I think in 2010, the Entity of the Year should be “The Times.”В It’s The Times that are showing usВ theВ tears in our social fabric, the fissures in our systems and institutions, and the glossy snapshot of our disillusionment — and I would like to thank them personally for making so much apparent. The perfect storm of circumstance in which we find ourselvesВ can be tracked by astrologers, even anticipated, but ultimately The Times have a mind of their own. I still think Obama is a man able to cope with them and turn them into positive movement, but that is a daily exercise in making difficult and often unpopularВ adjustments until we turn the tide. With only a year under his belt, this President continues to seem mild-mannered and not the Liberal firebrand many progressives had hoped for, yet because we’re wired to see things as either/or, we might miss a few interesting facts about Obama’s first year.

Photo by Paule Saviano.

Photo by Paule Saviano.

Obama has put more progressive change in place than any president since FDR — certainly in funding and promoting liberal programs, and in environmental and educational policy, as well as international relations — even though he’s spent the majority of his time in the thankless job of disaster management. He has been given credit, even on the Right, for stabilizing the global economy, yet few of us can wrap our minds around what that means, and if that seems a waste of the talent we elected him for, I suspect it’s his karmic load and ours as well. If we’re better off today because he slowed the collapse of the economic system, we don’t see it, and he seldom gets a high-five for it. As often as we see him capitulate to Wall Street, refusing a blatant head butt of Corporate America — quite literally, theВ entrenched and ruthless signature energy of the Old Paradigm — we shouldn’t discount his frequent national appeals for ethics and fairness and responsibility.

On a metaphysical level, he’sВ inoculating American consciousness with the truth that we can and will make a better nation and world, working together in harmony not just to shore things up, but to create a new way forward. He’s stripping away the veneer of complacency to corporate demands we’ve developed these last decades, while the quiet machinations of his Justice Department are investigating economic corruption and fraud. He is recreating government as a benefit to the commonwealth, putting to sleep the old Republican saw that it is neither good for the public, nor effective. And while it’s harder to assess what’s been averted than what hasn’t been pushed through, I don’t think we can underestimate the calm with which Obama both took on these problems and infused the public. He inherited a historical period when everything hit critical mass and even the most secure of us started to feel the pain. Although he’s caught hell from every side, heВ hasn’t turned into a despot or a scold. That’s quite an achievement.

It would be rash to consider this man an ineffective president simply because the high-wattage changes he was determined to make have been moving slowly. In his first year, when Obama took a strong position with members of Congress, his success in pushing legislation hit 96.7%, higher than even infamous arm-twister Lyndon Johnson. To put that in perspective, George Bush hit the high-80s only once in 2001 when he rode his apex of popularity after 9/11. Don’t think for a minute the Democratic Party wouldn’t have backed out of health care reform as too politically loaded if it hadn’t been for Obama’s expectation that it would be done, and done first. The complexity of the times contributes to the slow going in progressive change; ourВ desire for instant gratification cannot be met on the political stage, nor can the ship of state be turned with the ease we would wish. As a political observer, I think Obama’s most ignored achievement is the reintroduction of nuance into the political conversation: read that “intelligence.” If any of you have seen Oliver Stone’s movie, W, you know exactly what I mean. Barack Obama has set a specific tone for intellect and reason, for responsibility and reassessment, that can no longer be ignored. Nothing ahead of us is ‘as usual.’ the timesВ have broughtВ usВ a Game Change, and even if we can’t see it clearly yet,В Obama hasВ succeeded in changing The Game.В I trust his innate compassion and decency for what comes next.

I will not blow smoke and tell you I think 2010 will be easy. I think that what we’re witnessing in Haiti is a template for the changes ahead, a hologram of the collapse and rebuild that awaits us. A recent headline had it that ‘From Haiti’s Ruins, A Chance To Rebuild A Nation’ — is there any doubt that we can share this sentiment for our own democracy? This nation won’t be rubble anytime soon, butВ many of itsВ institutions might as well be, no longer configured to work in the public good and sinking into the mire of theirВ own greedy footprint. It would be useless and cruel to remind the people of Haiti that they’ve known for decades that their infrastructure would not survive an earthquake, and similarly it does little good to remind ourselves that this meltdown in institutional structure has been long coming. It does point to our apparent inability to address our actual needs, however, and illuminates how oftenВ the American publicВ argues over who gets to control the remote while systemic Elephants continuously soil our living room rug, unnoticed. If this period of history is about anything at all, it’s about turning a skeptical eye toward the Elephants. It’s about taking charge of our own choices and cutting the leash with which Corporate America constantly tugs at us. It’s about courageously embracing our reality and allowing delusion and distortion to fade away. It’s about demanding the better future we all hold in hope and prayer, and as that begins with us, it’s about stepping up to the moment and taking responsibility for it.

Because we’ve been taught to rely on things of so little actual substance, we may feel that we have few resources to bring to this challenging period. The circumstances of our lives will continue to shift in the coming year, but we’ll navigate this period successfully if we, ourselves, are centered in spiritual practice of some sort, aware that we are more than the story we tell about ourselves, and rely on the gifts of the Spirit thatВ can lead us through this narrow passage. We will live to tell. This tidbit came to my attention recently: “Worry looks around, Sorry looks back, Faith looks up.” We know what looking around or looking back willВ provideВ us — more of the same — but if we are to look up with confidence, we need to adopt a potent mantra, a reminder that brings us to a point of perspective and power when we summon it. Perhaps you have one that works for you. For me, that mantra is, ‘It Is What It Is.’

We must begin to witness our life, much as the focused and professional reporters document what they find in places like Haiti and New Orleans. We need that detached perspective. Remember, first and foremost, that whatever you face is simply what it is — nothing more, nothing less. Defang it, break it down into the facts, explore your options and accept the apparent limitations of the moment. Don’t add dramatic coloration to what’s happening with that tendency toward near-hysteria that dominates our culture; recognize that tendency, rightly, as a way to remove ourselves from ourselves. Life is dramatic enough all by itself, it doesn’t need our embellishment. If we can make a storyline out of our troubles, often about our victimization, we’ll be tempted to self-define without taking responsibility for our portion of it. The facts of the dayВ do notВ defineВ who we areВ unless we insist they do, nursingВ our experiences like permanent wounds. Tomorrow is as new asВ weВ allow it to be, and whoВ we are is not the story of our activity. Get the larger perspective; tell yourself the new and improved story of who you’re becoming, and see your challenges as how you’re getting there.

Photo by Eric Francis.

Photo by Eric Francis.

When weВ read the headlines,В our courage can fail us. When we get bad news, our hearts can close. Please take me at my word when I say that if your life is difficult, your heart discouraged, your path seemingly all uphill and your sensibilities overwhelmed by what you’re seeing around you — I know. If the times appear very scary and you thinkВ they may get worse before they get better — I know. If your ego is giving you a hard time, if your guilt is driving you, your mind-chatter ceaseless — I know. If you wonder if you’ve got the juice for all this, if you can let go of the illusions you’ve used to comfort yourself without shattering into a gazillion pieces — I know.

But let me stop you there and tell you what I see in these struggles of yours. You’re not aware of it yet, but you’re bigger than they are. You have wisdom and skill within you that couldn’t come awake unless you faced such problems, so stop thinking of them as punishment and begin to see them as opportunities. This is that rareВ window ofВ time/space that allows us to choose our future path, change our probable courseВ — we either remain tossed in the turmoil or lift ourselves out of it by choosing to focus on the transcendence available to us. We’re in the flow of a cosmic Shift that requires our attention, our opening heart, and our faith thatВ we are loved by the Universe, our gifts equal to the whole of this grand experiment. If you are seeking yours, keeping faith that the way forward is ready to open up before you, you will be led to solutions appropriate to your growth and purpose.

There is a time and place for the great emotional reservoir within to release in tears or shouts, explosions of anger or howls of frustration. They will come, unstoppable,В and so it goes for each of us. Express whatever comes up in harmlessness to self or others. Allow whatever you feel to move through you, but don’t makeВ it part of your rationale to deal with your problem. Emotional charge clouds the issues and influences outcomes. Been evicted? Kid on drugs? Job eliminated in the last cut? Trust me, I know. But becoming a deer in the headlight of Fate’s cruelties won’t help change the dynamic playing in our lives. Whatever our challenge, it is what it is. Difficult circumstances, no matter how much we spin ourselves up about them, are simply a collection of decisions we need to make. If we become lost in an emotional storm, decisions may be delayed and no decision IS a decision, with results that we don’t intend. Quickly coming to terms with what we can influence, as opposed to what is out of our hands, will allow us to stop quivering in our boots and take necessary action. If we allow our decisions to be led by Spirit, whispering in our ear and resulting in intuition and synchronicity,В a seemingly impossible way forward can quicklyВ become possible. That’s called a miracle, by the way. Miracles are not only available, they’re a natural expression of our higher potential.

Learn when and how to express your emotions, when and how to deal with the pragmatics, but do not allow yourself to become dispassionate. I’m not talking about compassionate detachment, much as Buddhists aspire to. We get into trouble when we remove ourselves from heart to protect it, and cripple ourselves when we dwell in mental abstracts. When our hearts close in fear, we cannot receive. Remove the blockage of old wounds as best you can by allowing them their natural expression, but don’t hug them close to embellish your story. Whatever you felt was justified at the time, but it’s old news now. Just validate that such emotions were useful to your process, that they brought you to who you are today, and were necessary to your evolvement. Don’t clutch at new ones to define yourself by; try to take yourself lightly.

Next, stop trying to judge the right or wrong of your experience — you don’t have the capacity. If I had judged myself harshly for all that has brought me to this place in time, I would not be here sharing what I’ve learnedВ with you.В Love and forgiveness go hand in hand, especially as concerns self. We are creation itself, we are creating our future every day, and weВ are also the ceaseless process of creation. Learn how to enter your process without grabbing at judgments that would skew the natural flow of self-discovery. Everything you need, you’ve already got. Once, in dire emotional straits, I went to see a truth-movement Minister seeking counsel. He was a great academic, producing mounds of good literature, but not much of a counselor. He told me all I needed was God, which is Truth — he forgot to tell me that God could be found within me.

When we can’t seem to find our Inner Guide, we need a trusted friend to remind us where to look. My last bit of advice on transitioning thisВ evocative year is to gather your friends around you. Provide for them as you would for yourself. Make sure they’re not the kind of people who will sink with you into the dark emotions of a pity party; select them for their ability to lovingly and compassionately call you on your bullshit. These are people with whom you can process your life, reflecting your truth back to you. I recently thanked, again, a friend of nearly 40 years for the great service she provided me 25 years ago when I couldn’t find that Inner Guide, when the turmoil of my life had come close to snuffing out my will to continue. I could not be here now if she hadn’t been there then. When you think that the kindnesses you do don’t count for much, remember that. Offer one another solace and tenderness and encouragement; share what you have to give, knowing it will return to you tenfold. We cannot arrive at the destination that awaits us unless we take hands, lift one another and embrace the mutual resource of compassion and generosity and service to the whole that only community can provide.

Many have said this is a time of purge. That sounds pretty dire. Think of it, instead, as a correction in course. The Piscean Age has played out, it has shown us everything it had to offer. Its decay had been apparent for centuries. That we could come to so brilliant a standard of living as many of us have enjoyed, but turn a blind eye to war and brutality and injustice points to the limitations of Patriarchy. Goddess has found Her feet now, and She is speaking loudly about what the future must include. She has our attention. I know you hear Her. Trust Her, and yourself.

We have only scratched the surface of the amount of heart-activity of which we’re capable, the good that we can create from our willingness and fearlessness to welcome in a New Era. With 5,000 years of the old behind us, we’re a blessedВ world population to participate in this moment of renewal and reconfiguration. This is ours to do. And, believe it, you are ready to do this mighty thing,В ready to grow into that one who makes all the difference in your own life and those around you. Just believe in the Self that wasВ deemed strong enough andВ talented enough to incarnate at this remarkable moment, ushering in a new age, and allow the times to reveal your gift to you. We need it, now. We need YOU — your passion, your bliss, your gift. Because it is what it is: a new creative beginning for us all.

3 Responses to “It Is What It Is”

  1. Pam Crosset says:

    Great essay! Very much appreciated analogies of Katrina, Haiti and Detroit to reflect not only social, economic and political realities but as a kind of transcendent “stimulus package” for the further awaking of a conscious self aligned with Soul. Thank you!

  2. char says:

    Power to the peaceful…Your perspectives, resonates with my acceptance, enthusiasm and enjoyment. Dont want to make unreasonable demands…upon the world,like fulfill me…make me happy,feel safe,,tell me who Iam…no expectation for sanity to return to our planet.

  3. MJ says:

    I wish Judith Gayle was my next door neighbor. Her trenchant insights and obvious compassion make her posts some of the best stuff out there – period. I don’t know anything about her other than the fleeting references to the Pea Patch she makes in her postings, and I guess it’s refreshing in this age of self-promotion that someone’s not keen on needing to be noticed, but her words are too important not to be reaching a wider audience. The fact that she pulls off these epistolary miracles weekly is truly awesome. Thank you Judith!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.