Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Serenity Prayer: Dharma in a Nutshell

How do we remain calm as we accept the reality of continual change? How do we remain relaxed in the midst of stress? How do we remain happy even when we see or feel suffering? James Eich of the Cedar Rapids Zen Center reflected on this exact topic in a recent newsletter. His discussion revolved around Reinhold Niebuhr's "Serenity Prayer." Eich's writing as a Buddhist is illuminating. It adds depth to the simple-yet-profound prayer. Here are his reflections:

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 zazen and mindfulness in everything we do. We must give ourselves the time to do this. We must make zazen 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 a time, one step at a 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? Our 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 creatively about our lives. Again, we must find time and make time to do this. This thinking is not monkey-mind thinking, now 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.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful meditation from the Buddhist perspective. The prayer has become more real to me during the stress of starting a new life in South America. It's a prayer one needs to memorize and rehearse often, so that when it's needed in a crisis, it's there.