Finding Wisdom on the El


There is a neon sign near the Chicago Brown Line stop that brightly declares “It Is What It Is.” It stares me in the face as I cross Wells Street and instead of snapping a photo for Instagram (hello, siren song of social media), all I can think when I see this pink light humming its message is that I don’t get it, that I don’t have anything in common with this sign. I have never, ever thought something “is what it is”. Things are bad or good, right or wrong. I find comfort in categories. I assign feelings to experiences as a way to navigate my way through choices, to make sure I am working toward the good and the right and away from the bad and the wrong. To ever face something with a neutral feeling, to declare it is what it is, blows my mind. I spend a lot of time and energy wrangling feelings and outcomes to land on what I have deemed the good, positive side of my emotional life- surely, I would never just settle for it is what it is because what I want it to be is good, happy...perfect.

But here’s the thing: good and bad are not feelings. Neither are right or wrong. They’re judgments. I’ve long believed in the health benefits of meditating and after years of claiming I was going to start (because meditating is falls in the good category, right?), I realized why I never have: judgment.

Mindfulness is thought free from judgment so you can focus your awareness on being present. I can’t be mindful and reap any benefits from meditation because I am so busy judging the thoughts going through my mind, placing them in their respective categories, their nicely packaged homes inside my head. It’s a lot of work and, quite frankly, it is not serving me anymore.

So instead of judgment, I’m choosing presence. I am choosing experience. Instead of "good", I’m exploring joy, pleasure, fulfillment, satisfaction, happiness- real, live feelings. "Bad" might actually be fear, pain, confusion, or grief.  Those feelings are okay.  On my journey to mindfulness, in my quest for meditation to have a place in my daily life, I want to be open to feeling the feelings for what they are so I can actually show up to my practice of mindfulness. I want to be present for the experience that is my life, and I have a feeling that the neon sign by the El is going to continue to serve as an unavoidable, bright reminder.

Because it is what it is.

Guest contributor Nina Foley is the owner of the Gardner Media Collective, a boutique marketing, branding and public relations agency based in Chicago.  She's an avid runner, yogi, enthusiastic home cook and proud new puppy mom to Franklin.

Editor's note:  We couldn't think of a better way to kick off our Wise Words Wednesday than with a message from our beloved Nina, who finds wisdom on Chicago's El.  She is leading our launch plans as we prepare for our soon-to-be announced Grand Opening. Stay tuned! In the meantime, we're headed back for Round 2 at the wonderful Kit and Ace.  Come meditate with us at their Fulton Market location 9:30-10:30am on Saturday, 3/18.  
RSVP by 3/15: