The Serenity Prayer known to all encapsulates the way to overcome adversity. It simply requires us to accept what we cannot change, find the courage to change what we can and pray for the wisdom to know the difference.
Simple but oh so difficult. How do we accept what is painful and debilitating in our lives? How do we face the suffering that is inherent in being a human being? How do we not feel the pain of those we love and care about?
No one is espousing not feeling. No one advocates hiding or denying the reality of adversity. The challenge is how to feel and move on. The analogy of fishing may be of some relevance–"catch and release". Recognize the emotional source of our pain, do not attempt to suppress it, the release it. Holding on will only bring us unnecessary suffering.
My favorite analogy is the flight attendants admonition–in case of a drop in oxygen pressure, place your mask over your nose BEFORE attempting to assist someone else.
This is not a call for being self-centered at the expense of others. It is a pragmatic realization that if we are hurt or incapacitated, we cannot help others.
I have witnessed first hand, in my practice and in my personal life, the damaging power of sadness and empathy. Literally our immune systems become so weakened, we become victims rather than saviors.
The Buddhists describe mastering the notion of nonattachment. We feel the suffering but recognize its transitory nature. We do not become entrapped in its web. We recognize that suffering is made worse when we remain attached to our mind's interpretation of life's events. Easier said than done.
So what can we possibly do to find some semblance of serenity—the way of gratitude.
Becoming aware of every small gift we experience is the way to move on. Go through the trouble of making a list–write it out–all in your life you are grateful for.
Now this list may be long, it may be short. It might pale in comparison to a list of what is troubling you. But stay away from that list. It is already overwhelming to you. You need to give the shorter list its due. Pay attention, meditate on the list of gratitude.
You all know what should be on that list and it is completely unique to you. But there will be universals–you are alive. You have an opportunity to change in every moment. All things change over time.
What we have is the capacity to change our way of thinking about what we experience. We can find the ray of light that penetrates the darkness. We can find meaning in the emerging bud on a small branch, in the rays of the dawning sun.
We are blessed with the type of mind which can hold only one thought at a time.
When we substitute worry and fear with gratitude, our entire body responds with healing neurotransmitters. We may once more smile which is the outward manifestations of real healing.
This is the challenge we accepted when we chose to incarnate. We are not programmed to fail. We are not doomed to sadness.
The way of gratitude will be the path from darkness to light.