“God 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
One thing we have all learned from this current state of uncertainty is the difference between the things we can and cannot change. After witnessing the effects of lockdown in overpopulated countries like India it has become obvious that for the poor and disenfranchised there are things they cannot change.
Having been told to stay in their homes, millions of Indians started to walk to their homes in villages hundreds of kilometres away. Having lost their income and temporary housing provided by employers in big cities, they believed that their families in rural villages would at least provide them with food and shelter. It was a journey fraught with hardships one can only imagine.
For those more fortunate we have become aware of the things we can change. We are now programmed to wash our hands regularly, wear masks and keep social distance to prevent spreading the virus. We have apps on our phones which record our contact with infected people. Blessed with wide open spaces we can safely stay in our homes.
But there are also things we can change as to how we handle stressful situations. Despite their suffering, people are demonstrating community spirit by sharing courage and compassion. Stress resilience is one way that we can respond to stress by being mindfully aware of our thoughts and actions. This includes making sure that we get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
Another thing we can control is our breath and we can do this by meditating or remembering to breathe deeply in stressful situations. If we are constantly fighting against stress, the resistance is exhausting and adds to our suffering. Breathing deeply calms the body and mind.
An alternative to resistance is acceptance. You may question why would I want to accept a situation instead of fighting against it or trying to find a solution? Acceptance is not simply passive resignation. It is acknowledging that things are as they are without making judgement. As we have seen from recent events with the pandemic, we are often powerless to do anything. Some things are outside our control. Although it is sometimes difficult, acceptance is our best option.
One of the most popular poems of the Sufi poet, Rumi is titled “The Guest House” and he uses it as an analogy for the Mystery of Life. In his poem he describes the unexpected daily happenings at the guest house and the strange behaviour of unwanted guests. He asks us not to question but to simply accept and welcome these strangers with their many flaws into our lives.
He writes, “Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still treat each guest honourably. They may be clearing you out for some new delight.”
We do not know how these people, or their actions will influence the bigger picture of our lives. Rumi encourages us to be grateful for whatever comes as they have been sent as a guide from beyond. Such is the Mystery of Life.
As we move towards our new future, let us hope that we will maintain our serenity, use our wisdom to make the right decisions and have the courage to cope with whatever challenge await us. But above all let’s embrace this brave new world by acknowledging and accepting what is already there.