It is what it is

In my guest post at Karen Maezen Miller’s site, I wrote about the expression it is what it is. I’ve always found the saying annoying, honestly, an oft-repeated hymn to trite capitulation. And then, as seems to happen a lot, I realized the folly of my ways. In a single flash of light, the startle of shook foil in my eyes, I realized the deep wisdom in the phrase. Yes. A lot of the time it would behoove us – me – to recognize what simply is. To accept the fact of what is rather than continuing to chafe against it in some misguided attempt to change it.

I wonder how many oxbow lakes I’ve carved into my soul with my relentless efforts to change the immutable rock of what is, wearing it down, perhaps, infinitessimally, but at what cost?

It isn’t clear to me, still, where the line is between wise acceptance and premature accedance. Surely there are some cases where work is required, merited, even. And yet there are others where the only path is to say, head nodding, a kind of radiant resignation on our faces, yes, it is what it is. The radiance comes from the true and whole-hearted embrace of our lives as they are; it is something I rarely exhibit myself and that I am consistently drawn to in others.

The thing I’ve been thinking about recently – that it is what it is makes me think of – is whether we suffer more because of the things that are fixed and invariable in our lives or because of the things we can change. Different kinds of pain result from each, certainly. There is the frustration and head-banging pain of facing the mute, unalterable truths of reality. And then there is the agony of wondering about choices we make (and made), the haunting way that taking one path shuts off another, the echoing impact of our decisions on other people and on the rest of our lives.

I think, if pressed, there is more suffering from the things we can change, but I still know both kinds of suffering intimately in my own life. I’m curious about what others think about this.

11 thoughts on “It is what it is”

  1. Wonderful, Lindsey… thank you.

    My take on this is that we suffer because of a lack of love, fundamentally, for ourselves, first and foremost. We live in a world that encourages, perhaps requires us to live in our brains, to judge things as good or bad, to proceed at a pace that does not allow for reflection or adequate time to feel what we are feeling in the moment.
    Do be do be do vs be do be do be, so to speak. In the moments when we pause, when we feel safe enough to open our hearts, to love what is without labeling it, the suffering seems to cease and there is often peace.

    It is what it is – the point, for me, is to love what is.

    Kudos to you for opening this can of worms!

    More metta….

  2. I think absolutely things we can change cause more suffering. Death, we can not change. And, yes, we suffer when someone actually dies, but with death comes grieving and then acceptance and then healing. It’s the leading up to death, the knowing that it can happen, that causes up to suffer. We think we can change that, of course, and, of course, we cannot. You have written about this before.

  3. I’m another that thinks without a doubt it’s the things that we can change that cause more grief. The decisions, the choices, the pros and cons.
    And then the process. Change is undoubtedly never easy.

  4. I’ve thought about that phrase. I’ve also wanted some guidance in accepting “it is what it is.” I felt it most when my father was dying. I couldn’t accept it and constantly wanted to change an outcome I know that was coming. I don’t have any answers, but know that sometimes suffering is necessary to move toward an acceptance of reality.

  5. I cannot speak well to un-chosen, fixed suffering. What I can speak to is the suffering I can change, but am convinced I cannot. And that’s where the suffering resides, I think.

    I sat in this in-between space – full of ache and angst – certain that I was stuck. Suffering ensued. But somewhere, deep inside, I knew that I could end it (and subsequently, inevitably know a different kind of suffering). My ambivalence, fear, and guilt blinded me to the true suffering – or at least it’s cause.

    Once I saw that I was choosing my suffering, I chose a new kind: the ache and angst of walking away from something I could not embrace wholeheartedly, no matter how I talked myself around it. It was excruciating to not choose. Excruciating to choose. But “choose” is the operative word.

    Any suffering I “un-choose” is well worth it.

    My two cents.

    Thanks for calling my mind and heart back to a reality I’d lost sight of, Lindsey.

  6. Of course this post made me think of the Serenity Prayer.

    I have to say it a lot. Because I have so little of the wisdom to know the difference.

    It’s somehow easier for me to accept the things I cannot change, but I so often lack the courage to change the things I can and lack even more, the wisdom to know the difference.

    This is the most circular comment I’ve ever left. 🙂

  7. Here love is the answer: nothing is fixed or immutable. Everything changes. The unalterable truth is that everything is alterable. What we hold onto is what we think: our judgments, feelings, preferences, our point of view, having things our way. That’s the source of suffering, but we can change that too. You’ll see it for yourself soon enough. Nothing is lost by letting go. We gain the world.

  8. I think a big part of it is knowing (and accepting) there are some things you just can’t change, just can’t control, just can’t fix. Like death, or chronic illness, or needing to mail a letter on Sunday. Big or small, everything that just “is,” is tough.

  9. Back when I was in my early 30’s a co-worker of mine (in her early 40’s) said to me, “Don’t you ever get tired of fighting, of being angry”? Great question and I have often revisited it. Now I’m in my early 40’s and I agree, there is deep wisdom in “it is what it is”. Obstacles come, things are…and you just have to accept it, deal with it and move on. Every once in a while something will motivate me to make a change, but I think I’ve just gotten wiser and learned to pick my battles (so to speak).

  10. So thought-provoking. I especially love this: “And then there is the agony of wondering about choices we make (and made), the haunting way that taking one path taken shuts off another, the echoing impact of our decisions on other people and on the rest of our lives.”

    Because of this, for me, my suffering falls into more of the struggling/angst variety when it comes to decisions I’ve made or have to make. As I get older, I think I’m more accepting of the things I know I can’t change. That’s not to say I don’t suffer because of them, but I understand there are certain things I just can’t fix, and so I lose less sleep over those.

  11. I realize that I don’t know, but what seems to help is to love, but more the giving than the getting—loving even the unfathomable source of suffering, of impermanence (and cosmic impertinence).

    I’m glad that you are so honest about your suffering, and that you nevertheless craft it into something connective. Maybe suffering is also guidance… toward the spirit in the here and now—and each toward all the others?

    Namaste either way

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