If I truly understand one moment, I understand myself.
The most profound personal growth comes from a deeper understanding and acceptance of Now, of What Is.
I am a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.
— Byron Katie, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life
For most of my life, I’ve underestimated What Is. On closer inspection, I see that any moment, regardless of its particulars, is dazzling in its completeness. This insight brings a new perspective, which in turn encourages me to relax more frequently into acceptance. My struggle with life eases.
What Is — reality as it is to me in this moment — has an inside and an outside.
What Is includes everything in the external world, whether I think of ‘things’ as physical objects or as the sensory objects — sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches — in my subjective experience.
Here lie the events of the natural and man-made world, including other persons’ words and deeds, as well as the results of my actions.
Each moment also contains the thoughts and body sensations that mix to form my emotions, decisions, desires, aversions, memories, intentions and will — the ‘inner’ components of my experience. My mix of ideas and feelings often includes the sense that it sits in a special vessel (aka ‘me’) that is distinct from What Is.
Despite that impression, the internal bit of experience ‘lives’ right alongside the outer element. In fact, brief consideration reveals they are entangled, inseparable. On reflection, I recognise that whether experiences originate in the external world or within my body, I am aware of them as an orchestral whole.
The symphony of What Is also includes judgements of itself. Some events (whether internal or external) have a positive association while others carry a negative shade. These judging aspects of the symphony sit within the ‘me’ that seems but is not separate from the rest.
What-Is-In-Here is rich ground, so let’s examine a few of its special components.
What-Is-In-Here includes What Was, or at least the only access I now have to What Was. Memories point to What Was, but they only exist in the present. The past is no more. Physical records and artefacts also tell me about days of yore, but I only take this information in through my senses, here and now. In fact, this reasoning applies as much to the memories and records from a few seconds ago as it does to times long past. I only have direct access to the present moment, to What Is. Even the flow of time is really a static feeling embedded in each instant.
Prominent in What-Is-In-Here, I find What-Will-Be. Actually, I realise it is not What-Will-Be but rather what I — right now — think, hope, intend, plan or prefer will be.
I cannot know What-Will-Be, but What Is contains strong hints in simple cases. For instance, if What Is includes a water balloon in mid-air, three feet above my head, then What-Will-Be probably contains me with a wet scalp, unless I move quickly. Even here, I must reason carefully. My wet scalp will be part of a different (future) What Is — nothing ever is in What-Will-Be.
Still, my limited ability to project from What Is to a likely future What Is bestows great value. It enables action now that influences the future.
Although What Is harbours this capacity, it houses no guarantees. This makes uncertainty, encoded in the thoughts and sensations of What-Is-In-Here, a frequent guest of the present moment. When What-Is-In-Here includes the sense of separateness discussed above, uncertainty shows up as an uncomfortable feeling — fear or anxiety.
We now turn to the root of the human condition. The judging weaved throughout What-Is-In-Here is rarely a passive applier of labels. With judgement a major component of What Is, an accompanying echo says, ‘This should not be happening. Things should not be this way.’
We each have an image of ourselves, formed largely without knowing by the norms and emotional energy of our childhood households, plus our reactions to that context. We project this image or its shadow onto the world as our What-Is-Out-There entwines with What-Is-In-Here in every moment.
These images — What-Should-Be — are a part of What Is, but they are confusing because they seem to conflict with the larger reality of What Is. The central image and organiser of all others is our sense of separate self. This brittle self-definition seems to wage battle with the fluidity of What Is. I say ‘seems to’ because the expanse of What Is rests untroubled by What-Should-Be’s tingle.
Seeking (of a spiritual versus a material kind) begins when we get a sense that the solution to our problems lies in What-Is-In-Here rather than What-Is-Out-There. Greater curiosity spurs enhanced awareness and understanding of What Is. But so long as the What-Should-Be remains, seeking continues — ‘I should be enlightened. I shouldn’t be angry.’
Seeking is simply the presence of What-Should-Be within What Is.
Perfection — the ‘So What’ of What Is
What Is includes all perceptions of the world, each sensation of the body, every thought of the mind. It holds in its folds any picture of the past or intent for the future. All I take as mine is sprinkled through it, intermingling with what to me seems other. What Is embraces every contradiction, judgement and dissatisfaction. It contains my frozen self-image and my interpretations of events.
When we see What-Should-Be’s place within What Is, we needn’t do anything about it. Our war with reality abates. The nervous system relaxes. This in turn allows us to see What-Should-Be as it is in a wider range of situations, and the virtuous cycle builds.
Struggle gives way to love of What Is. What-Should-Be dissolves without force, without battle cries of ‘What-Should-Be should not be!’ The self image’s sense of separateness thins.
As the comprehensiveness and profound legitimacy of What Is becomes clearer, seeking ceases. The personal me, the ‘little I,’ recognises itself as a sliver of What Is. Whatever we find in What Is exists as it should be in this moment.
We are human. We struggle to understand, but the struggle thwarts understanding. Yet, only when we understand does struggle cease. From where does understanding come? From any number of directions, but always as part of What Is.
Along the way, What Is often includes practices of acceptance — drawing on faith and learning through the body. I’ve written about that in the articles below.