At a yoga class one day, my teacher read a simple quote, which is a spin on the Serenity Prayer. It goes like this:
God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change,
The courage to change the one I can,
And the wisdom to know it’s me.
The quote, like the prayer itself, is profound in its simplicity, but so difficult to practice sometimes. Most of us know we cannot change others; we can only change ourselves. But knowing something is different from living with acceptance of it.
Serenity and Acceptance
Thanks to my yoga practice, which has taught me how to let go, I see things a lot differently now than I did before yoga. I once stressed over the way others reacted to things I did (or didn’t do) and felt it was my responsibility to be sure everyone close to me was always happy. I cut myself a lot more slack now. That doesn’t mean I go out of my way to disappoint people, of course. But when I’ve done my best and they’re still not happy, or when they take things way too personally, I don’t spend hours obsessing over how I can change their minds about the role I play in their misery.
It makes me think, though. While I’m busy changing myself and accepting the people I cannot change, how many people are struggling to accept me? How much effort should we make to get along with those who challenge us while accepting them at the same time? After all, relationships take work, and really good relationships are few and far between. It’s hard to let people go just because we can’t change them.
Sometimes even changing ourselves won’t help
Let’s be honest, we all have people in our lives we wish would change. When those people are our siblings or spouses or children, it’s very difficult to just say, “Here is a person I love and a person I cannot change.” What does that mean for the day-to-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute interactions we have with these people we care deeply about but don’t always get along with comfortably?
I’m not talking about simply acknowledging that we can’t change another person. We can’t. I know. I accept that. Problems arise, though, when we struggle to cope with who that person is at this moment. After all, they always have the option to change if they want to.
But for now, if we want to get along, our only option may be to change ourselves. We can change the way we react to them. We can change our minds about them, and we can change our belief that we are solely responsible for the success or failure of the relationship. Perhaps we can even rethink the need to be in the relationship in the first place.
The Serenity Prayer Does Not Ask Us to Go It Alone
I sometimes fantasize about being completely independent. It seems as if there would be so much freedom and ease in that. I would need no one and no one would need me. Then I could surrender to the powers that be—go with the flow as it were—with complete ease.
Needless to say, the universe is on to my fantasies of independence. I know in reality no one is completely independent, but for some, it’s easy to think that’s the case, especially if one is financially independent. But perhaps those who believe they are independent are the ones who suffer most. They can lock themselves away and take care of their day to day needs, acting as if they don’t need anyone.
But what happens when one day they realize they do need some help after all?
Serenity is possible when we surrender to connection.
I suspect we will all learn in the end that what matters most are our relationships. I don’t only mean our relationships with those we are close to, but the way we relate to everyone around us—to the universe itself. No matter how independent we think we are, we all depend on others. You can buy a nice house and nourishing meals, but that home and food did not get to you without the hard work of others.
One With All
For some, accepting that we are all connected is a hard lesson to learn. Taking care of business is not the same as relating well and understanding that none of us can accomplish much on our own. I’m not minimizing the value of financial success. Having creature comforts and providing for those around us is an important part of life. We should be grateful for and value what we have.
But we must also understand that no amount of success or money can separate us from our need for connection.
We cannot get along with everyone, and we cannot be close to everyone. No matter how good we get at serenity, though—at changing ourselves or accepting that we cannot change others—we still need others.
Now you may wonder what all of this has to do with serenity, acceptance, and focusing on changing ourselves, not others. The answer is as we move through life and adjust how we relate and react, we need to be careful not to equate serenity with indifference or the belief that we don’t need others. Our goal as yogis is union; we cannot do this alone! We can, however, choose our connections wisely. And we can to accept and let go when we need to.