There is a well known quote by Reinhold Niebuhr; “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.” What he is saying is there are some things in life that we just can’t change and of course some that we can. The difficult part of this is knowing which is which. By studying ourselves and the world around us we can start to appreciate that we don’t always have control over our world and we are not masters of our destiny as much as we would like to think.
1) Things don’t always go to plan and sometimes the more you try to make things go to plan, the less likely it will go that way. The things that you least think about are more likely to happen than the things that you worry about. My daughter had her final leaver’s ball. Preparations had been going on for months. She was worried about so many aspects of it and so had planned it to the minute. Tell that to the earthquake that came the day before, closed all the shops, left her stranded and without half of the plans on her list accomplished.
2) Everything ends or dies. This is a basic law of nature that humans somehow think they can escape. They try to escape it by clinging. Clinging to the present, then the past. Grabbing onto people and situations that please them. Then someone leaves you, dies, you lose your job, your house, your money, your looks and finally your body but we still don’t quite believe it can happen to us.
3) Life is not always fair. Did someone tell you life would be fair? We seem to think it should be. We want it to be fair if we play by the rules. Well, things happen. Things happen to good people, bad people get away with something they shouldn’t. Your friend gets the promotion when you have been working all hours, and someone takes that last piece of cake. People don’t love you as much as you love them. It’s the same for everyone. One day we might just wake up and see that we are not the center of the universe like we had thought.
4) Pain is part of life. Emotional, physical and mental. However we can alleviate our pain and suffering by remembering that how we react to pain is one thing we can have some control over. The Buddhist tale of the first arrow being shot is the pain and the second arrow is the one we shoot back towards ourselves, creating more pain, is a great reminder.
Practice for today: When something crosses your path today that is one of the above, gauge your reaction to that event. The situation is just a situation. The situation is probably something that is not within your control to change. Your reaction to this is what causes the stress. Be real with yourself today. Is that situation something that you can change or something you should accept?