Accepting our reality, the present moment, is often difficult. Acceptance takes great effort. Acceptance requires great patience. Acceptance becomes our practice, the practice of Zen. Sometimes we never accept aspects of our reality. We are annoyed and irritated by a condition or situation. This is stress. This is suffering. There will always be stress. There will always be suffering. This is the first truth the Buddha taught. To hope for a life where there is so stress or suffering is unrealistic and impossible. However, how we react to that stress and suffering is why we practice Zen meditation and mindfulness. This is not to say we should be able to transcend our reality and accept all stress and suffering and reach a state of constant state of peace and contentment. Rather, what we do is work with our thoughts and emotions and accept those circumstances that stress us. We do our best to accept our thoughts and emotions and when we can’t, we accept that we can’t.
I was recently in a store and saw the famous Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr and was struck by the “zen” of its first line: “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.” Reading it, I thought this simple sentence is all we need to know in life; is the dharma in a nutshell. When we contemplate its meaning, however, we realize it isn’t that simple.
God. In Zen, we might call God Nothingness, Emptiness, the Universe, our Original Nature, Interbeing, Impermanence.
The serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Can we reach that serenity in our fast paced, technology driven twenty first century society? If so, how? Zen would offer that acceptance is through meditation and mindfulness in everything we do. We must give ourselves the time to do. this We must make meditation and mindfulness a permanent fixture of our practice.
To accept the things I cannot change. That’s hard to do under any circumstances. And yet, we must accept life as it is and not as it was or as we wish it would be. We do this one breath at t a time, one step as time. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Peace is every step of the way.”
The courage to change. To change does take courage. To change means feeling the fear and doing it anyway. To change means taking a leap of faith and trusting that the net will appear. What is that net? Or friends, our family, the new people and opportunities that come into our lives to give us what we need to find contentment and confidence—our sangha, the universe unfolding itself.
To change the things I can. Knowing what to change, what we can change means thinking critically and contemplatively and creativity about our lives. Again, we must find time and make time to do this. This thinking is not monkey mind thinking, not inactive, not paralysis by analysis. Rather, it is dynamic. It is a mindfulness that comes from a combination of introspection, intuition and instinct.
The wisdom to know the difference. Wisdom is the knowledge of the heart and mind after years of experience and contemplation. Wisdom is awareness that all is impermanence and that this impermanence is interdependent. Wisdom is to know the difference between what we can change and what we can’t change. Not always easy to do, and yet, if we can know the difference then we get closer to accepting our reality.
The Dalai Lama has often states that the purpose of life is to be happy. Happiness is our awakened nature. We strive toward happiness, always remembering that happiness isn’t the destination, it is the journey, just like we always remember that acceptance isn’t the destination; acceptance is the journey. Serenity is what we do and think and feel right now and right here as we accept our reality, one breath at a time, one step at a time, in the midst of life as it is, whatever it is, because it is our one and only reality.