©J.J. Joyce – Serenity
God(dess) grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
courage to change the things we can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
— attributed to Dr. Rheinhold Niebuhr
How do we begin to understand the difference? The idea of surrender and acceptance is difficult for most people in our culture. This is not only because of our innate ego-driven attachments, I think, but because our own highest nature resonates with the ideal of the hero who overcomes difficulty by persevering. Will power vs. surrender. How do you know which one is the right choice?
Dennis Diehl, a former Christian pastor, writes, “Happiness is often confused for inner peace. The two are not the same. One can be having a miserable experience and still be at the core ‘at peace.’ You can be suffering through the loss of a loved one, career, belief or be in a health crisis and still have an inner peace. When you meet these unusual people, you remember them.
“The bottom line is tied directly to how one graciously accepts what is as opposed to demanding life be some other way for happiness to be. Happiness is that shallow and temporary fix one gets from stuff, position and comfort, while peace is that deep ability to not define the real self by such elusive qualities.”
It would seem, then, that the first step in cultivating the “wisdom to know the difference” is a full recognition of the situation. This means that you are willing to see what is true, despite your wishes that things be otherwise. Denial, self-delusion, clinging to cherished (or toxic) assumptions – all have to be examined and discarded. Eyes wide open, you begin to understand. Understanding deeply brings acceptance.
Acceptance is not automatically agreeing that the status quo should remain in place. It is simply agreeing to know, as fully as possible, what is true. It is coming to a state of deep acknowledgement of the reality of a given situation. From that foundation of awareness, then you are then in a position to surrender, and allow change to occur; or else push back, and be the catalyst of change yourself.
In fact, that agreement to being fully aware, to seek the deep truth of matters, and to accept what you know in a conscious manner is the very thing that leads to inner peace. Inner peace begins with clarity and acceptance. Although on the surface it may seem similar to keeping your eyes closed, or carefully editing your experiences, the choice to do that is rooted in fear, and fear will never give you peace. And conversely, no matter how painful or difficult a life circumstance may be, by acceptance and openness, your basic serenity remains undisturbed.