“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change those things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.”
I’ve heard of and read the Serenity Prayer many times in my life. As one who can have a tendency to be anxious and worrisome, my dad has often said to me, “Rachel, remember what the Serenity Prayer says. Only focus on what you can change.” He’d ask me if I really understood what it meant and I would answer affirmatively because in theory, I did understand it. But as I spent a few moments in quiet reflection in front of my meditation altar this morning, the words really hit me. I have my beloved Grandmother Ruby’s framed copy of the Serenity Prayer in the center of my altar. She passed away seven years ago, and of all her possessions, this was one of the things I really wanted. I remember exactly where she hung it in her bedroom. She lived to be 101 years-old, and I imagine that the Serenity Prayer played a key role in her living such a long and fulfilling life. I look at the words every day, but this morning I felt them sink in and touch a place deep in my spirit. I read the words over and over to myself until I was brought to tears. In my mind’s eye, I saw a parenthesis behind “cannot change” that included the word, “people.” I saw another parenthesis behind “those things I can” that included the word, “me.” I already knew that we cannot change people, but sometimes there can be a gap between what we know and really making an attempt to apply the concept to our lives. I acknowledge there is a gap within me.
I came to my meditation altar this morning heavily contemplating a certain relationship in my life. This person has been in my world for 15 years and as such, there have been plenty of ups and downs. We were friends, we were married and we now share custody of a beautiful 7 year-old little boy. I’m only one child in, but my experience so far has shown me that co-parenting can be one of the toughest relationships to navigate. I often find myself challenged by the way I do things as a parent vs. the way my ex-husband does things. Like my knowledge of the Serenity Prayer in theory, I have been aware that I can place high expectations on my ex-husband, but it wasn’t until this morning that I allowed myself to feel it. As I read the words over and over, I fully acknowledged that I can’t change him. I can’t make him be the parent or person I think he should be. I can only change myself and how I allow our relationship to affect me. I see clearly now why my dad always said that my life would be so much easier if I truly lived with the Serenity Prayer as my guiding principle.
As I went into meditation, my mind being what it is had a million thoughts running through it. I’ve learned that as thoughts arise in meditation, we should acknowledge them and then simply let them go. Yet one thought in particular just kept popping up. And oddly enough, it was a thought about a phone cord on the telephone I use at work. Strange, I know. But instead of trying to force the thought out of my mind, I allowed it to pass through. Once it did, it made total sense.
When my company moved offices a few years ago, we received new telephones. Over time, the cord on the phone I’d gotten became tangled and gnarled. It was a pesky little annoyance, because it prevented my phone from hanging up properly on the receiver. At times, I’d try to untangle it but then would become frustrated and just left it as it was. The company eventually moved offices again and the tangled cord came with me. We moved from a space where I had my own office, to a location where many of the employees, myself included, were collapsed into an open workspace. “Cubicle World,” as many of us call it. As such, a co-worker who has become a good friend was stationed behind me and had a bird’s-eye view of my telephone cord. She saw me fussing with it a few months back and asked if I ever put in a request to have it changed. When I told her I hadn’t, she said, “Here, let’s try something,” and she proceeded to go to another workspace that wasn’t being used, took the handle off a phone with a perfectly fine cord and replaced my handle with the new one. Then laughing she said, “See? Isn’t that better?” We shared a few jokes about it and moved on. What I didn’t realize at the time was how profound that gesture was.
By allowing the thought of the phone with the tangled cord to pass through my mind during meditation this morning, it landed with an eye-opening realization for me. Just as I replaced the handle with the tangled cord, I can apply the same concept to relationships in my life that have become tangled or convoluted. I can either keep fussing with trying to detangle things, or I can simply stop and replace the frustration with an untangled state of mind. Replacing the telephone cord on my relationships, if you will. It can be as simple as it was when my co-worker/friend replaced the handle and cord on my phone at work.
When I came out of meditation with that thought in mind, I read today’s reflection from “The Book of Awakening” by Mark Nepo. It’s about allowing to come to surface all of what’s growing underneath the “stuff” that we’ve always known, been or done. We have to learn to let the old skin shed so a new and refreshed approach to life can make its way through. In Nepo’s words, “Little deaths prevent big deaths.” I do understand that. And not just in theory. Peeling back layers, acknowledging our egos and admitting to ourselves that perhaps we are not always right is not an easy thing. It’s downright vulnerable and scary. But it’s so necessary if we are to move into higher levels of consciousness and bring ease into the journey of our daily lives.
It was after my meditation and reading Nepo’s reflection, that my eyes fell on my Grandmother’s framed Serenity Prayer. Then I looked at her picture that’s just off to the side of it, and I said out loud to her, “I’m trying, Grandmother.” I can only hope to be as wise as she was.
Wisdom is best derived from experience. I cannot change my past or the decisions that led me to where I am today. I cannot change the people in my life who I love or who I’m tied to by circumstance. But I can make the choice to have a more peaceful coexistence with it all from here on out. I now better understand the difference.