God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference. -The We Version of the Serenity Prayer
Sometimes I Can Change Myself, Except When I Can’t
Recently a friend shared how he had been taught to think of his ability to change. First, he’d been encouraged to embrace the idea that much of the world was going to need to be accepted as it is, that it was unlikely to be changeable. Second, to realize that large aspects of himself were likewise not changeable by his own will and effort. Finally, to look honestly at his own experience with himself and acknowledge that even the things he seemed to be able to change in himself would sometimes be unchangeable.
Then he laughed at himself and admitted, “So sometimes I can change things, except when I can’t!”
These observations allowed me to think more deeply about this strange paradox of change.
Apparently, we must first accept that life and the world largely unfold according to their own terms without regard to our plans or desires. For the most part, we are powerless to change reality.
Harder to accept is the evidence that suggests large parts of ourselves are not necessarily malleable. We so want to believe we can choose to be different, yet looking at our personalities and tendencies, clearly large aspects of ourselves just don’t readily change if at all. Rightly, wrongly, good or bad, some part of wisdom comes in accepting ourselves as we are and as we are not, and not as we wish to be.
Even more disquieting can be the awareness that what comes to pass in our lives is often largely beyond our control as well. In the end, each of us must necessarily reconcile to the path that life offers us. Of course, at this point one could experience a great deal of angst, since things could sound pretty hopeless. Therein lies the beauty.
When we accept all the things and ways that appear to be impervious to our ability to change them, there comes a deep grounding which some would call humility. In that moment, we really can see what we can and cannot do.
Then the magic reveals itself. Through acceptance that comes with awareness we have the option of how to engage reality. Not from illusion or delusion, but from clarity.
In Al-Anon, the family groups for support of friends and loved ones dealing with the addict, we are pointed to the narrow way: I didn’t cause the problem, and I can’t cure it. But if am not aware, I will contribute to it in most unfortunate ways.
In that moment it becomes possible to know that much of what we attempt may prove to be futile, and yet we must do it. In the doing, we learn and grow and discover. That development and the awareness it brings with it allows change to become possible.
We may not be able to say we can change, but we find that we can be changed. That’s the magic. Change is possible. Indeed, change may be inevitable. What a remarkable reality.
While we may not be responsible for anything that may come, we are wholly responsible for what it makes of us. Deciding we will be true to our own selves and our path takes a deep and enduring courage. It is here that we do find the power to be changed.