Serenity, Courage & Wisdom

2014 started with some challenging news. There is a 5% margin that I could prevent the worst outcome from happening. However, the disproportionately higher likelihood that it will come to pass—and the pain it will bring me—has been weighing heavily on my mind and in my heart.

serenityWhen I meditated on the situation over the weekend, I was guided to release control and to trust in Divine Order and the Divinity within each person involved. It’s a reminder that every event is but one thread in the grand tapestry of life; this situation is no exception. Before my time in this human life is over, many hands will have woven threads into this tapestry. Ultimately, I don’t have full control over whose hands will have touched the tapestry, what they will have woven or when. Nonetheless, they will have contributed to my human experience, whether or not I liked it at the time.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

~Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971)

Appropriately, the above prayer, commonly known as “the Serenity Prayer,” came to mind when I was on a nature walk over the weekend. That inspired this post, as I contemplate how the three parts of this prayer apply to the situation at hand. As you read along, you may think about how the wisdom in this prayer may help put in perspective any challenging situation in your life, past or present.

Serenity to Accept What I Cannot Change

When I reflected on the gnawing angst I’ve been feeling around the present situation, much of it stems from helplessness. A huge part of how things may play out ultimately rides on the decisions and actions of others, even though the negative consequences will directly affect me greatly. I can participate in discussions about options and offer my suggestions and opinions—even preferences. But, in the end, what others decide to do is beyond my control.

There is no question that I will suffer from what I cannot change in this situation. However, I can save myself from an additional layer of suffering by resisting that which I cannot change. The less I fight and resist the conditions that are out of my hands and beyond my control, the less I hold tightly to my expectations of how this situation must play out, the less incremental suffering I court.

ocean wavesCourage to Change What I Can

Even while preparing myself to accept with equanimity the worst-case scenario coming to pass, I’ve also been trying to summon the strength and clarity to do what I can in two areas—and to take guided action from love, not force things to happen from fear. First of all, narrow as it is, 5% chance that I may salvage the situation is not 0%. So, I’m working to find a solution that could fit this margin. Secondly, I’m also trying to rise above my fear of the imminent pain associated with the short-term crisis to take action toward realizing a blessing in disguise.

To have the courage to change what I can is to have no regrets. It’s one thing to have no control, it’s quite another to be challenged to summon the requisite courage to do something that may or may not pan out. But at the minimum, if I could be brave and strong enough to act in the midst of fear, I could save myself from the regret of not doing something that might lead to a better future than trying to preserve the status quo in order to avoid short-term pain.

Wisdom to Know the Difference

Upon hearing the news, my immediate reaction was to remain calm and centered in order to assess what could be salvaged. I was very conscious of my strong personal preferences for how the situation should be resolved. It came from the fearful part of me that wanted to resist what I needed to accept and didn’t want to face what I would need to do. In other words, my fear-based response was the exact opposite of what the first two parts of the Serenity Prayer would recommend.

This third, critical part of the prayer underscores the importance of being grounded in my higher self in order to recognize what to accept and what to change. I’m learning that life is a series of choices to ride a fine balance between acceptance and courage to act. It really does take wisdom—and heart—to know the difference between what to accept and what to change.

With the above reflections in my consciousness, I intend to continue navigating this situation with the serenity, courage and wisdom to take right action on conditions that need to change and to surrender resistance and control on the parts I need to accept.

So, what do you think? Do you agree with the essence of the Serenity Prayer? Which of the three parts, if any, particularly resonates with you?

___________________

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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14 comments
ThinDifference
ThinDifference

Alice, You hit it solidly. It is knowing what we cannot change but also the courage to do what we can. This is the balance that can be very tough at times. Great wisdom and wishing you strength in your courage as you navigate through the situation. Jon

AlliPolin
AlliPolin

I feel your struggle and pain, Alice and I'm thinking about you.  Taking action from love, and not fear is the path to find your way to that 5%.  Thank you for sharing your insights on the serenity prayer... truly words of wisdom. 

JoyChristin
JoyChristin

The timing of this is wonderful. I manifested in an experience I now title "shadow work" - the external is less than lovely but the internal openings are marvelous. So I can't wish it away, although moving forward I can (and will be) affirming that learning is delightful and fun.  As I read your words I realize that although my focus and essence is trust in unfolding and energetic movement, in my current situation, I am attempting to manipulate external so perhaps it might "hurt less", instead of feeling the joy and freedom of trusting in the unfolding - which includes possibility I can't currently see, know or fathom.

All three parts of the Serenity Prayer speak to me and are essential to all of us whom lead heart-based lives. As you share your current experience, you are reminding us all of the power of presence and intention and I thank you for that. It is choice to continue to guide even as you are finding your way. I appreciate your choice. 

Casey Fleming
Casey Fleming

Hi Alice, I have said the Serenity Prayer literally thousands of times, both as group prayer and on my own.  It is the most profound reminder I've ever known that while difficult situations happen in our lives, suffering is optional.  


Whatever your challenge today, I know you are strong enough and wise enough to meet it with dignity and grace.  Nevertheless, I also suspect you have many admirers who, like me, would make it better with the wave of a magic wand if only we could.  May your path lead you to the best possible outcome, whether you see the path clearly today or not.


Casey

scott_elumn8
scott_elumn8

"... to know the difference between what to accept and what to change." This has always been the challenge for me and I have found it easy to get stuck in that place. It's not always easy to discern. Just because I can change it doesn't mean I should change it. Having said that I have always felt there is great wisdom in the serenity prayer. Hoping for the 5%. Thanks for sharing from your hear Alice.

Lori
Lori

Hi Alice,

I'm pulling for you in this! Would focusing extensively on the outcome you want to experience and feeling those feelings help? It has helped me in the past - even when I had no control and it all felt said and done.


I resonate most with  "changing what I can" and find that easier than accepting what I can't (though I am learning to let go more and more - such freedom in that!). I remember once pointing to the poem and claiming that changing was easier than accepting, of course and a young fellow there said no, accepting was much easier than changing. Go figure! I had thought everyone saw it the way I did LOL


All the best as you work your way through this situation!

Lori

Latest blog post: What’s Your Prime Directive?

Samantha_S_Hall
Samantha_S_Hall

((Alice)) I'm so glad I was able to catch this one in my inbox this morning my friend.  I don't know what's going on for you yet it certainly sounds like a major challenge, whatever it is.  Sending you as much extra love and good vibes your way as I can muster.  


Yes, I agree with the essence of the Serenity Prayer.  My husband even bought me a print of one of Thomas Kinkade paintings with the Serenity Prayer quoted underneath the image. I also wrote a post on the Serenity prayer called The Courage to Change on my first website back in 2007.  I just re-read it and will republish on my current blog with a link to your post here so you'll know when it's up. 


To this day I refer to the wisdom in the serenity prayer because it can be so easy to forget when faced with the challenges of daily life.  It's a life long lesson in learning the difference between what we can and cannot change. 


My heart goes out to you in your time of need.  xoxo 


~Samantha

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@ThinDifferenceMany thanks for the support, Jon! That balance is indeed tough, but that's the only way to live fearlessly, which doesn't mean not feeling fear but rather being able to act in spite of it.

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@AlliPolinMany thanks for your kindness and support, Alli. Thank you also for validating my central focus to stay grounded in love and act from that place.

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@JoyChristinThank you for your words of affirmation, Joy! It's not easy at all to be able to feel joy in the midst of challenging experiences. Even if we intellectually know that happiness and joy emanate from within and are not tied to circumstances, it's a very basic human reaction to focus on the experience itself. I really appreciate what you shared about your own dance with challenges and being conscious of not trying to manipulate circumstances in order to hurt less. Takes a very evolved person to do that. Grateful to you for sharing that here. To leading heart-based lives!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Casey FlemingThanks for your very kind words, Casey. I appreciate your reminder that suffering is optional. Not going to deny that pain is imminent, but once I accept that, the suffering can be released. While I still can't quite see my way out, yet, like you said, I know what's unseen is just right. It always is in the grand scheme of things. Thank you again for stopping by to lend your support and share your wisdom!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@scott_elumn8Thanks, Scott, for rooting for the minor miracle scenario. I'm sure lots would agree with you that discernment is the hardest part. Usually, when we need to discern, that's when fear is rampant. When fear gets the best of us, we either run or become paralyzed. It really takes courage, wisdom and heart to be still for the right reason and to act for the right reason. Thanks again!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@LoriMany thanks, Lori! I do know how to manifest what I know quite well. In this situation, what I want in the short run isn't necessarily for the highest good of all involved. So, I'm choosing to accept that, while trying to stay grounded in clarity to do the right thing, even if it may not be what's easy for me in the short run. Thanks also for sharing your preference for the second part of the prayer. That's always easier for the "doer" type like us. :-) But, it really is all about perspective. I'm less prone to doing out of fear of standing still or being stuck than in my younger, less conscious days. Now, while the whole prayer resonates with me, the last part about cultivating wisdom to know the difference is the most meaningful to me. Thanks again, Lori!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Samantha_S_HallMany thanks, my friend! Yes, this isn't an easy time right now, but I'm making progress on the equanimity front. Really appreciate your jumping in with support and love. Yes, please do let me know when your post is up. You always write with such depth; I'm sure I'll enjoy reading it. On a separate note, I've been thinking a lot about you lately, as my book group is reading and discussing "Daring Greatly" by Brene Brown. It's all about vulnerability and shame, topics I know are near and dear to your heart. Anyway, thanks again for your words of support, and its not a surprise that the Serenity Prayer resonates with you.

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