“God grant me serenity to accept things I cannot change.”
When my higher self ponders those words, my lizard brain sometimes yells these: “F-YOU! Shut UP! HIDE!” It feels like a runaway train in my head. How to slow the train and return control to the higher self?
When I first heard about acceptance it seemed to mean changing my thoughts. As in stop thinking negatively about something that’s been bugging me. Early in recovery there was a lot of that. I was broke, anxious, and angry. Sober people told me “acceptance was the key.” So I told myself, “I accept this.” Over and over I tried that. If it’s that simple, why didn’t it work better?
My thinking can easily bounce off acceptance thoughts, and get stuck on unwanted programming. Even after many years in recovery, my thinker still does that. Recently it’s gotten stuck on the Self-Doubt network replaying old episodes of “This will Never Work” and “You Fool!” Change-my-thoughts style acceptance is ineffective. I want my brain screen to play the You-Can-Do-This show instead. What else to do?
Perhaps beginning with forgiveness.
Richard Rohr says “to accept reality is to forgive reality for being what it is, almost day by day and sometimes even hour by hour.”
Ahhh, yes. I forgive my lizard.
My Mind has a Mind of Its Own
So it’s not as quick as flipping a decision switch. Making a decision is necessary, but only the beginning. Experience teaches me that change is a process (not an event). So far, any type of shortcut hack I’ve tried hasn’t worked. And worse, shortcuts only add to my eventual discomfort when life delivers the next repeat assignment of that lesson.
Courage to Change
Maybe an example will illustrate. Lately I’m doing more writing, getting positive feedback, and have begun working on a book idea.
Starting a creative project is fun. An idea sprouts in my mind which turns into an energized tumbling cascade of words, phrases, and chapter skeletons. For this piece the initial flood included stuff like “acceptance IS the key,” “forgive,” “feel it…,” “ACTION,” “your train of thought determines your destination,” and “How to do it?” For a few days I felt buzzing excitement. I love idea beginnings.
Then I started looking at what other people are doing in the same vein. Comparing my little idea sapling to full-grown forest-height beauties. Pretty quickly fear crept in. My thoughts turned to: “They’re so good. What am I thinking? I’m deluding myself. This will suck. Maybe it’s time to quietly quit.” My chest constricted causing my breathing to quicken along with my heart rate. My work slowed down and I started to think of other possible new ideas.
Insomnia and a Dream are my Teachers
Then came troubled sleep. Both going to sleep and staying asleep were problems. My mind raced at bedtime. One night I dreamt I was walking down a city street and saw two guys beating up a third guy. In the dream I felt fearful and walked on hoping not to be noticed by the bullies. As soon as I got past them, shame kicked on. I felt like such a loser-coward! Then I woke up. Ugh.
Except it wasn’t really ugh after all. When I asked my Higher Power for insight and lessons from the dream, I got this answer. All those characters in the dream are representations of my thinking patterns! The vantage point guy is avoid-risk-then-feel cowardly. Bully one is you-don’t-have-a-chance and bully two is just-quit-now. And the poor dude getting pummeled is creative-impulse. Wow.
So what to do with that awareness? First, accept it.
One synonym for accept is receive. Receiving means taking in or being with. One way to do that (and also create courage to change) is with the techniques of EMDR. For those unfamiliar, EMDR is a psycho-therapeutic process used to treat & heal trauma. It’s a kind of reframing that reduces emotionally charged memories. Having done EMDR with a skilled therapist for childhood trauma gave me experience to do this home-cooked version on myself.
Playing the Different Parts Was the Key
So here’s how I did that with this dream. First I replayed the dream in my mind’s eye. While re-seeing the assault, I allowed the fear feeling to rise in my chest. Then I shifted perspective and imagined being each of the bullies, angrily pounding the weakling. Next I imagined myself as the victim. With each shift I cultivated the emotional state of that character. After all that, I froze the scene in place. Then I grounded myself in belly—centered peaceful strength. Next, I pictured walking into the scene as my Enlightened Jedi self. I approached each stock-still player individually. With each one I envisioned silently releasing their conditioned spell. The coward received courage. Both bullies let go of anger. And the victim embraced all, offering forgiveness.
Doing that gave me new energy to write and finish this piece, feeling mostly peaceful.
Wisdom to Know the Difference
That realization gives me gratitude and a bit of pride.
And yet, I realize the whole deal is a big giant gift. Sure, I’ve done some things along the way that enhanced my circumstance or maybe helped someone else. But my very existence, all the people in my life, and everything I’ve learned has been freely given to me by some Divine Something. In my understanding, we’re all children of that Divine Something.
Here’s to remembering that, in good times and bad. That mindset is an antidote to either extreme of taking too much credit or too much blame.
Let’s call that — wisdom to know the difference.