By Paul Dunion | February 1, 2017

Is what flows in the name of acceptance ever pure?  Acceptance is a welcome. At its best, we receive someone or something into our neighborhoods, our homes, our bodies, minds and hearts.  Uncle Fred arrives for Thanksgiving dinner, and our welcome is mitigated by the expectation that he will be obnoxious, drink too much and offer a lengthy itinerary of his upcoming achievements.  Life is constantly presenting us with the opportunity to decide whether we should deepen our capacity to accept what’s coming at us or exercise our wills, enacting some form of change.

The will is either like a warm spring breeze, softening and calming what it touches or cold Artic blast jolting what’s in its way. Our challenge is continue to craft the kind of discernment that tells us how much will to put forward. When life acts in direct contrast to what we want, a tension that will typically have our wills recoiling at some unwanted piece of life.  It could be something said or something done that rubs us wrong.  The ego is convinced it knows better and may be able to summon some tolerance at best.

Pride quickly joins forces with the will, helping it to feel good about itself. Pride then proceeds to offer arguments demonstrating why and how life went astray.  The prideful will stands strong, indignant about life forgetting its mandate to serve my revered life. How could life forget its purpose!

As waves of defeat crash over our wills again and again, eroding the thinking that life is in our employ.  We may gradually come to notice and then accept that life does not appear to be in the business of serving our lives. Yet, there may be a place for our wills to participate, to live some desire.  It may take awhile for the dizziness to subside, as we gain some understanding of how small that place may be.  Life does appear to want our participation, rather than contracting into depression and cynicism because we became so disillusioned about the reduced size of our participation.  Life welcomes our joining.  We can notice small expressions of life’s invitation when we are acknowledged by others, seen and appreciated by them.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” This simple prayer helps to remind us about how to renew our relationships to life. The request  for “serenity” comes about as we hold our hopes for life’s cooperation with more suppleness.  We gradually shift away from the view that life is either helping or not helping us.  Such a shift suggests the ego is willing to reconcile with life’s inevitable dominance. In that reconciliation, tolerance morphs into welcome.

It doesn’t mean we always like how life impacts us. The ego may need time to lick its wounds, gradually returning to accessing enough courage to attend to what is in its control. The wisdom needed to distinguish what is in and out of our control deepens as we protest less about life’s challenges and losses. Curiosity replaces protest and yields more clarity about what we can actually control.  However, the appropriateness of acting courageously may not yield the immediate satisfaction that complaining does.

Wisdom about what is in and what is out of our control has a double edge. On the one hand, it allows us to let go of fruitless efforts directed at people and situations where we are powerless. On the other hand, we are left with the task of attending to our own lives and finding the courage to ask the questions that matter. What am I being asked to learn? What do I need to let go of? What is difficult for me to admit? Where do I come from? Where am I going? Who is coming with me?  What do I love? To whom or what am I devoted? What are my gifts? What are my wounds? What healing is my life asking for? How effective am I at allowing love in?

Ultimately, allowing ourselves to be increasingly guided by the serenity prayer happens as we decide we are here to serve life and not for life to serve us. An old definition of the word serve is “to meet the needs of”.  We can move our lives to a new level by being guided by the question: “What is life needing from me?”  This question greatly helps the ego to find its rightful place and surrender claims to supremacy.  Also, the question “What is life needing from me”? Is different from “What is my life needing from me”? The former question is somewhat more ego reducing.

There are endless ways to respond to the question, “What does life need from me?” I’ve come to believe that I typically do not need to ponder the question endlessly. Life has a way of getting my attention when it comes to what it needs.  Over 30 years ago, my spouse at the time and I were in a Couples Counseling session and I was courageously admitting my feelings for another woman.  The Counselor quickly mitigated the potency of my courage and said, “I think the real lady you’re into is in a bottle”, referring to my relationship with alcohol.

Some thirty days later, wrestling vehemently with my pride, I acknowledged my drinking problem and committed to sobriety a day at a time. One week later I accompanied my 12-year-old son Jason to his postseason basketball banquet.  The event was held at a local VFW and it became quickly obvious that the fathers in the room were making sure that there were constant pitchers of beer on their tables.  My battle with the aroma of brew filling the room commenced. I ingested one ginger ale after another, determined to take in enough liquids to meet my oral needs as well as bloat me beyond any desire for a beer.

During the meal, a table with numerous trophies continued to get my attention as I assumed that Jason was hopeful of acquiring one of those desirous awards.  As the meal came to a close, presentation of the trophies began.  I watched one kid after another step forward to claim his award as my anxiety built, worrying that Jason would not receive one.  As I gulped my twelfth ginger ale, I felt the loss of an alcoholic beverage that might help anesthetize the pain of witnessing my son go unacknowledged.  There was only one trophy left, the biggest one. I was preparing myself for the worse as the presenter announced that the last award was for the best player in the league who also displayed the greatest amount of sportsmanship.

“This years recipient is Jason Dunion!”

Well, there I sat overwhelmed with joy that could not be numbed by excessive ginger ales.  I decided that life needed my sobriety and my recovery.  It felt bigger than my life. It was about Jason’s life, his son’s life and his son’s son.  And maybe even my ancestors, those who came before me. There was a powerful legacy begging for interruption. For weeks I would stand in front of a picture of Jason and say, “It ends with me”.  Maybe one of the best endings we can have to our life stories is to be able to say at the last hour, “I served life well”.

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