Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Reinhold Niebuhr - later adopted & popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous & other 12-step programs
The Serenity Prayer (above) is fairly well-known, and takes a simple black-and-white approach, dividing life into controllable vs uncontrollable aspects. We love simplicity so much that we make simple models of even the most complex experiences, then pretend that our simple models are the real deal.
Below are deeper, more nuanced understandings of life's complexities.
The process of maturation or evolution seems to involve a step-wise release / healing of addictions, phobias, traumas, dogmas / exclusivisms, neuroses / hangups, magical thinking, must-haves / must-avoids, prejudices, spiritual bypassing, etc. The most dramatic way we can evolve is from severe trauma that causes collapse of our world as we know it, including our model of it: our self-concept / worldview, forcing some of us to build progressively more inclusive self-concepts / worldviews. Such shifts tend to be from exclusive self-concern (egocentric), towards a balanced concern that increasingly includes others & the environment (allocentric & ecocentric), even according to secular models of wisdom - eg: http://www.robertjsternberg.com/wisdom
In the quote below, "Spirit" is used to point to "something greater" than the individual self - a transpersonal consciousness, Universal Intelligence, "Self", Quantum Field, etc (this includes Christian mysticism but little to do with dogmatic proprietary religious exclusivism).
“When an addict ‘bottoms out,’ what this really means is that his or her personal will has broken down. And when our personal will has broken down, a whole different force comes rushing into our system. It’s the force of Spirit, and it can now become operational, because we are no longer avoiding it through grasping at personal will.”
Adyashanti.“The End of Your World. Uncensored Straight Talk on the Nature of Enlightenment.” Sounds True, 2010.
“The Serenity Prayer rotates around a kind of social convention – the idea that virtually everything answers to the following description: can you control it, or can’t you? That’s the whole axis around which that prayer rotates. Can you control it, or can’t you?
So my simple question is, ‘When did human life – the inner life, the intra-psychic life, the interpersonal life – when did it become a matter of the irreducible constant by which you calculate every move, every decision, every relationship, every self-understanding? How did it come down to, ‘Can I control it, or can’t I?’ Because surely you can hear in there the addiction to control as the principle understanding of why everything happens the way it does, or why it doesn’t. Why you feel this way, or why you don’t.
So what is grief? It’s an antidote to the Serenity Prayer – not methadone, antidote. It doesn’t replace the Serenity Prayer’s function. It doesn’t replace an old understanding of control with a new understanding of control. What grief does, is essentially let you in for this: the world is bigger than you. The ways of the world are bigger than your decisions & belief systems about it. And your proper posture in the face of the world is humility, not control. It’s taking a knee, not taking more of what you need. So that being the case, you know the old adage, 'the best way to make the gods laugh is telling them your plans.'
So grief it seems to me is a kind of skillfulness, not a coping strategy. So you can feel all manner of things in the presence of ‘your grief’ - for example, joy is utterly compatible with this understanding of what it means to grieve. Because when you grieve, some aspect of that action is affirming life. In its most heart-rending appearances, grief still affirms life & the ways of the world.
A formulation that came to me years ago that I’m very fond of & proud of goes something like this: I wondered to myself one day, ‘What is the lived relationship between grief and love? Because oftentimes, people, particularly in the throws of real heartbreak, will understand these things to be absolute & polar opposites, and hostile to each other. And in fact, you craft love so as not to have to grieve. And by the time grief rolls in, it’s because it’s devastated your capacity to love. So these things are implacable adversaries. I don’t think so at all. I think that one is the midwife to the other in fact.
So it could go something like this. Love, you could say, has a relationship to grief that’s unsuspected & unsought. And it might be this, if grief is a way of loving those who have slipped from view. And I think anybody listening to this would say, ‘Well certainly that’s in the mix.’ Grief is a way of loving. It’s an expression of love in a fashion. You wouldn’t grieve over something that you didn’t have a deep-running attachment to in some fashion as it slips away. So grief is a way of loving. Yes. That which has slipped away. Got it. You’re going to turn this on it’s head aren’t you? Yes.
And I’m going to submit to you, ‘Love is a way of grieving that which has not yet slipped from view.’ But love is whispering to you, and grief is whispering to you, ‘That that’s a time-limited arrangement.’ Did you realize that, be you a Buddhist or not a Buddhist, something about grief is teaching you about the impermanence of things. Even grief itself is impermanent. And that impermanence tempers your understanding of love – that love’s not eternal, that the object of your love is not eternal either, and that you’re doing all you can to get your love in order NOW, not only for the heavy weather, but for the end of the weather, for the end of the time that you’re alotted to be able to do it.
So imagine then, that love is an active form of grieving, that doesn’t require sadness or misery, but it stops you from time to time.
And if you have children in the world, I mean anybody who does, knows what I’m going to say next. That you look at them occasionally, and if you can bear the thought, one of the things you realize is, you dragged them into this world to die. That’s what you did to them. You didn’t mean to. You didn’t even think of it at the time. You may not even have thought of deliberately making a child, in the moment that you did. But all of that’s besides the point. And that kid’s over there, making a fool of themselves as an idiot teenager, whatever they’re doing, right? And some part of you is awash in a kind of bottomless sorrow - that’s not sad. It’s somehow deeper than sadness. It’s the most adult version of sad – the realization that you’ve put in motion things that will deliver genuine heartbreak to people that you claim to love. And that’s what you did. And it’s a package deal. And some part of you wants to take them aside and just apologize. And of course they’ll look at you and say, ‘What?’ They have no idea what you’re talking about – right? And you realize that you’re in this alone, for the time being. They’re not old enough to know how sorrowful you’ve become over what you’ve done to them. It’s an amazing stew of impossible-to-resolve things. And if this stuff has its way with you as you age into your days, your capacity to stand & deliver, informed by this kind of understanding, is really one of the most politically, socially & psychically dangerous powers that a human being can have - the understanding that it won’t last.
Don’t get me wrong – it can go dark. Of course it can. You can decide that nothing means anything. That your attachment to people and social institutions & so on, is irrelevant & meaningless, because it’s all going to burn away like chaff. You can do that. But there’s no grief in that. There’s resentment & hostility & grief is gone.
But if grief informs your understanding of the impermanence of life, it deepens your attachment to life. It doesn’t increase it. It doesn’t mean you hold onto it tighter. It means you deepen your capacity to love knowing how, like dust it is. You know Leonard Cohen, my countryman, has a line for everything. He’s got a line for this too. In one of his songs he says,
'Oh my love,
be not afraid,
we are so lightly here,
it is in love that we are made,
in love we disappear.'
You can’t improve on that. It’s all there. ‘Be not afraid’ – that’s the recipe. Not, ‘hold on tighter.’ He was in a Zen monastery in California, and he took his vows & the whole thing. And as he told the story, after he came down from the mountain, his teacher looked at him one day really hard & long – perhaps like a parent looks at a child, the way I described earlier – and he said to him, ‘older you get, lonelier life becomes, greater love you need.’ That was his recipe. If you listen carefully, he didn’t say, ‘lonelier life becomes, greater love you need to get for yourself so you’re not so lonely.’ He didn’t say that. Because this isn’t the solution to loneliness. This is a radical act that comes from an understanding of loneliness. ‘Deeper love you need’ to be, or to do, or to deliver to the world – not to get for yourself. That’s dangerous. In a culture that believes in taking care of yourself & protecting & so on, the notion that your appetite for being able to make love deepens as you realize its impermanence & its limits. That makes you an elder in training. It’s very dangerous to the status quo and my favorite kind of trouble.”
Stephen Jenkinson (part 1 of 7) "Elderhood in a Time of Trouble" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSIlixSuMYQ
We're so used to being stuck in the rut, the echo-chamber of our petty self-concerns. But if we're fortunate, we'll get the opportunity to be able to fully, deeply experience pain of sufficient severity & duration, that we'll know with absolute certainty that this pain is far too great to be one person's, that surely we must be experiencing the collective pain of the entire human race. If at that point we willingly endure & process it for the benefit of all, the crazy intense suffering unexpectedly MIGHT transmute into bliss - little me opens to a mystery that's infinitely greater - the small individual screaming for relief & love becomes, temporarily, the Source of relief & love for all. This is a mysterious alchemical shift between realities - personal to transpersonal / universal? matter to energy? Newtonian to Quantum? physical to spiritual? human to divine? created to co-creator? - all of these?
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us." Marianne Williamson
"Of course, not all people grow from crisis. Some refuse to accept the need for redefinition, and orchestrate their own intellectual and emotional shutdown. Those who do grow manage to stay awake to the anguish, confusion, and self-doubt. This requires a high tolerance for discomfort, as well as the ability to see the world as it is, not as they wish it to be. Over time, the people who continue to struggle emerge wiser, kinder and more resilient. After they have broken & rebuilt themselves, they feel less breakable.
Living is a complicated process, a journey of discovery that never ceases. As I grow older, the basic facts of life seem increasingly simple. The closer we live to our core, the more we realize that we are like other people. My fear and sorrow are yours, as is my harsh self-judgment. My desire to be good and to feel loved is your desire, too. We all seek peace."
Mary Pipher. "Seeking Peace. Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World." Riverhead Books, 2009.
“Mindful awareness is fundamentally a way of being – a way of
inhabiting one’s body, one’s mind, one’s moment-by-moment experience. It
is a natural human capacity. It is a deep awareness; a knowing and
experiencing of life as it arises and passes away each moment. Mindful
awareness is a way of relating to all experience – positive, negative, & neutral – in an open, receptive way.
This awareness involves freedom from grasping and from wanting anything to be different. It simply knows and accepts what is here, now. Mindfulness is about seeing clearly without one’s conditioned patterns of perceiving clouding awareness, and without trying to frame things in a particular way.
It is important to learn to see in this way because how a person perceives & frames the moment generates their reality.” Shauna Shapiro PhD
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