Tuesday, March 15, 2011

...the Things I Cannot Change

What are the things we cannot change? Most everything, except ourselves. And yet, when I am stressed or angry or afraid, when I am feeling out of control on the inside, my first instinct is to seek relief by trying to exert control on what is outside myself. Predictably, those efforts meet with little success, which in turn fuels my own suffering.

Sometimes I think I am accepting something, but I don’t feel serene. It’s more like grumpy resignation. In the prayer, however, the serenity comes first. It is the serenity that leads to acceptance, just as courage leads to change, and wisdom leads to discernment. So the question is, how do I attain serenity?

In the last post, I observed that my serenity is often blocked by fear, fear which I try to escape by futile efforts to control things I can’t control, like circumstances and especially other people. I need to understand my fear before I can release it and attain serenity, serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

When I look at the fear, I see stories. My stories. I see that I tell myself stories about what is happening. These are not happy stories. I see that I am judging my circumstances as bad. I’m playing the “what if” game by spinning out imagined scenarios of disaster, shame, disappointment, helplessness. As someone told me years ago, my brain is a scary place. And for most of my life, it was.

Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so. –Shakespeare

Once I understood that my suffering was of my own creation, that I was choosing to tell myself these stories, choosing to play the what if game, I realized that I had the power to make a different choice. Telling myself these stories, playing the what if game was a habit, a habit that could be changed like any other habit.

Here are some of ideas to help us change that habit that came up in our discussion group last week. The key is to find what works for you.

Change the story. If you are telling yourself a story full of dire scenarios, recognize that it is just a story. Ask yourself if you know for a fact that it is true. What other story could you tell yourself? Or could you suspend all stories and just be with what is?

Question your judgment. I sometimes remind myself that I don’t know if a particular event is good or bad. What looks like a tragedy to me right now might turn out to be a magnificent blessing.

Look for inspiration. Many people in the group shared poems, quotations, stories, verses from the Bible or from other faith traditions, that inspired trust – trust in God, in ourselves, in the universe.

Make friends with fear. We fuel our fear by being afraid of it, by fighting it, by denying it. We can invite our demons to tea, engage our fear in conversation, be curious about it, get to know it, have compassion for it and for ourselves. Shine a light in the darkness. The unknown is much scarier than the known.

Take a nap! Along the lines of the bear story in the last post, we can put aside our concerns and take a break. This is not the same as denial, which will never work (take my word for it!). But we can refresh ourselves with exercise, belly breathing, meditation, prayer, or whatever else you can do to rejuvenate your spirit.

If we can make peace with our fear, that urge to control will loosen its grip. Serenity is freed to well up like a still pond. Acceptance flows naturally.

Don’t push the river; it flows by itself. –Fritz Perls


  1. I am so enjoying and taking note of this post you have gifted us with today. So many circles of truth here, and good steps to avoid tragic mistakes in life. The quotes are spot on, especially don't ush the river, it brings the idea of why can't people drive like birds fly in such perfect order like the v, being kind and considerate, which brings another famous special quote, (aren't quotes just giving?) Henry James when he says, "Three things in human life are important, the first to be kind, the second is to be kind and the third is to be kind!" if we lived in kindness we would be wallowing in kindness....fear would be crushed.

  2. Hi Galen,

    I love Shakespeare's quote. It is so true...it is thinking that makes things good or bad. Life is really a matter of perception and how we perceive events can affect our ability to cope. I like the ideas that you have shared with us.

    Changing the story and questioning our judgment is in line with my views on perception. Instead of looking at a thing as good or bad, we might as well find a way to resolve the issue. Doing so removes the problem and uses our energy in a productive manner.

    Looking for inspiration has always been a favourite of mine. Whenever we are down, finding the right inspiration can give us renewed zest once more. I have found that it helps to have many sources of inspiration. This way, if one happens to fail to inspire us at the moment, we have many others to fall back on.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! I see you have changed your writing style as well. ;)

  3. Thank you so much for this. Just reading this gives me a sense of calm and the inspiration to move past my blocks and fears. I see myself constantly falling into those mental traps and stories that only cause more anxiety and internal hurt. It can be hard to pull my mind out of that, and it's wonderful to be reminded that it is absolutely possible to change this.

  4. Karen--Love the Henry James quote. Reminds me of the Dalai Lama describing his religion as "kindness." Thank you for your comment.

    Irving--I like your observation about removing the problem. That is indeed more productive than battling in an adversarial mode. And I love the phrase "renewed zest." In fact that is going to be my new favorite phrase. You have such a gift with words. Thank you.

    HavenNyx--Stories are so powerful, aren't they? And we are our own favorite story tellers! Thank you for your comment.

  5. Galen: Fear is such a good thing. It keeps us safe. It prevents us from acting foolishly. Enjoy it.

  6. Galen, I am drawn to the message you are giving here. I so appreciate your spirit and the time you give to share. I am looking forward to following and thank you so much for your message on my post today. Take care!

  7. I feel sorry for people who fear. It must be a heavy burden. I am sooo grateful that I was a depression baby. I think we were too busy eking out the creature necessities to be afraid. I think JJ gave some good advice.... enjoy it.

  8. JJ--I think perhaps you and I are using the word fear in different ways. I would call your use of fear being alert and using good judgment. Fear does have a place in keeping us safe--triggering the fight of flight response. But in today's world that response is often triggered by stress rather than actual threat. The fear I'm speaking of is the fear that separates us from others, that creates needless anxiety and stress, that paralyzes us rather than empowers us. Interesting that a word can have so many connotations! In any event, I agree that enjoying our fear relaxes its grip and allows us to feel all our feelings with compassion and acceptance. Thank you for your comment.

    PAMO--Thanks for following and welcome. I'm pleased that anything I have to say is meaningful to someone else. I look forward to reading more on your blog, too.

    Manzanita--Fear was indeed a heavy burden for me for a long time, although I didn't know it. I can only see it now in retrospect compared to how I live now. I appreciate your perspective on the priority of getting necessities taken care of. And yes, JJ always has good advice!! Thanks for your comment.

  9. Looks like I may need to read a few of your posts daily! LOL
    I've popped over from the Blog Hop and am following you now.
    I hope you'll pop over and follow me too!

  10. Hi, Denise, and welcome! Thanks for following and I look forward to checking out your blog.


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