The Serenity Prayer, “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.”
This is the bedrock of all Twelve-Step programs. It’s also the bedrock of yoga. If yoga has a goal – not something we often think of when we think of yoga – but if there is a goal, we might say that it’s to develop this ability. The witness. The part of us that can get enough distance from our current situation and ask the question, “Is this situation optional?” Once we determine that, yoga invites us to dive into the complexity of the question: “What does it mean to ‘accept’ and what does it mean to exercise ‘courage’?” Yoga teaches us that the answer to both questions often overlaps in a rich place of letting go.
Every time we find ourselves in an uncomfortable yoga posture – one that isn’t our favorite, one at which we don’t particularly excel, one that produces intense bodily sensations – we get to ask the question, “Is this optional?” The length of our hamstrings at that moment is usually not optional. That may be the thing that needs to be accepted. But the level of discomfort we feel is always optional. We can come out of a pose entirely. We can also recognize that we’ve made a choice to be in that posture and that it’s up to us to create more ease by deepening the breath, or relaxing a muscle, or adding a tiny bit of movement, etc… But getting to the place where we’re willing to see that there are choices sometimes takes a great deal of courage. And then, to make a decision that creates less harm and more ease can take so much more courage! A little surrender, a little letting go is often the healthiest, most difficult, most courageous thing we can do.
Yoga invites us to take these same questions off the mat and into our lives. We can ask of any difficult situation, Is this optional? Am I willing to see what part of this equation is out of my control and where, in fact, I can make another, perhaps healthier, choice?
The job or relationship or situation that is causing harm to my body, my heart or my soul – Is it true that there truly is no other option for me right now? Possible. If so, What could I do to make it more easeful?” Or is the really courageous act to see where I have more control than I’ve previously allowed myself to imagine?
The person who doesn’t see things as I do – can I accept that I may not change his/her mind?
And then, am I willing to see that my response to that is something I can control? My anger or frustration or hurt – that’s my choice. Instead of caving in on myself or fuming or retaliating or lashing out I can write a song, draft a poem, create a piece of art, dance, go to yoga, take a walk, cook a wonderful meal, do something that makes me laugh and remember all the beautiful, joyful people and experiences of this life. I can choose to let go of my reaction. AND keep on speaking my truth and doing what I believe is right. THAT takes courage. Grant me the serenity to do THAT.