Defining Serenity

I’ve always loved the Serenity Prayer. Its short version goes like this: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It’s profoundly powerful in its simplicity and I’ve been reflecting on it lately in the context of worry, anxiety and future tripping. I feel like there is so much wisdom in this short prayer/meditation on how to manage anxiety and develop more peace and equanimity in your life without being passive.

1) Befriend change on whatever side of the coin it’s on. Whether it’s on the side of accepting the things you cannot change or having the courage to change the things you can, it starts with befriending change. Leaning into it instead of shying away. And, yes, I’m really speaking to myself here as change has never been something I’ve been particularly fond of (just ask my parents about the tantrums I threw as a child when they dared to rearrange a few pieces of furniture – the horror!). Change is frightening and it can be all too easy for our anxious “monkey” minds to jump to a worst-case scenario, a likely side effect of our biological hard wiring for survival. Here’s the thing though …whether an upcoming change is something you can or cannot change, worrying about it really doesn’t help much. Of course, there’s the obvious serenity to having the serenity to accept the things you can’t change, but there’s also a serenity to be had in having the courage to change the things you can. Notice how it says have courage not have fear or worry … hah! I’ll let you in on a little secret about courage though ….

2) Courage isn’t the absence of fear or anxiety. Yes, I did already write a blog post about courage a few years back; however, it’s such a good topic that it just begs to be included here. When we ask or pray to be brave, to have courage, our secret hope may be to be a fearless warrior charging into the battle of whatever change it is that we need to face. The thing is though the best warriors, the heart warriors, they’re not fearless. If they were, they actually wouldn’t be brave, they wouldn’t be courageous. Heart warriors are courageous because they face the fear, the anxiety, the worry, the panic in their hearts and they take that next step anyway, with courage, with serenity, because it’s their calling, their duty to change whatever it is they are called to change and know they can change, or at least try to change.

3) Oh yeah, the wisdom bit… It’s easy to spend time either worrying about the things you can’t change or the things you can (without actually trying to change them) or better yet confusing the two altogether and trying to change the things you can’t and worrying and not changing the things you actually could change. Fun right! Say that five times fast. The wisdom of knowing the difference one could say is the key to it all (well, really, they’re all key but you know what I mean, hah, I hope). The serenity prayer as a whole and the wisdom bit is for many (including yours truly) a lifelong practice. Of returning to attempted gratitude, perspective, courage and serenity when our minds do that anxious “monkey” mind thing, of knowing that it is something we can change, one small moment of change at a time.

The Guest House by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

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