Sunday, November 3, 2013

Grant Me The Serenity, Om Shanti

I find that lean more and more heavily towards agnosticism these days.  I feel there is a holiness in life sometimes that I label as "god" for ease of understanding and passing without questions in conversation, but in terms of a holy being or a higher power, I'm not so sure.  I believe that the universe (in its core) and most people (in their core) are good, and I believe this is holy in the sense of being beautiful and pure.  I believe that this world and the people in it are divine in the sense that we are deeply connected in humanity and shared being-ness, and I believe this is good, and beautiful, and pure, and holy, and divine.  This love and respect for the world and for my fellow humans and other beings is my religion.  I believe there are some things in life that we can't explain (yet), and I believe these can and have been called miracles -- and I also believe that one day, we'll be able to explain them, but its fun when we can't, so why not make up great stories about it, you know?  Religion and mysticism and mythology and esoteric woowoo-ness are all fun things, and I believe your particular combination of these 4 things should be personally developed, respected by everyone, public if you feel like sharing, and they should be yours.  We've all gotta get through this life somehow and, contrary to popular Facebook memes and meaningful sayings by people more enlightened than myself, a little help from your friends is not enough to help you get by.  You need to have a meaning-making system, whether that be Christianity as you believe was outlined by Jesus and written in the Bible, or science as outlined in your textbook.  If it works for you and helps you to live a life of compassion (defined here as doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, empathy, and a desire to alleviate the suffering of others), I'm all about it.

I set out to write about something different tonight, but that's what wanted to be written first.  So there you have it.

What I was initially going to write about was the Serenity Prayer.  You know the one that has been popularized by AA and other 12-step programs, as well as by magnets at the bookstore and mugs at every tchotchke shop you pass:

I love this prayer.  In fact, I say it all the freaking time pretty frequently.  In my personal life, I find it helps me get through difficult moments and conversations.  It gives me perspective to step back and ask myself, "is this something I can change?  Is this something I should change?  Is this even about me?"  If the answer to any of those questions is "no," I ask "what CAN I change?  What SHOULD I change?  What is about me?  Why is it important that I change this thing?  How can I hear this and live with this, exactly as it is right now?"

...and then I typically just keep saying the prayer over and over (sometimes with expletives or angry thoughts in between) until the moment passes.  I've been saying this prayer for the past two days.

I say it at work, too.  In my head, of course, but I say it.  There are things that I can change: I can help that kid to stop banging her head.  I can help that boy focus on his homework.  I can help that teenager to worry less.  I can help that parent respond more appropriately to her daughter's aggression.  There are things with which I can help to be an agent of change: I can refer for medications, or social work services, or neurology appointments, or speech therapy.  I can help parents fill out paperwork for HeadStart services.  I can call pediatricians.  I can give phone numbers for local domestic violence shelters, food pantries, and holiday assistance programs.  And there are some things I can't change.  There are some horrible things that I can't change.  There are sometimes situations that I see and hear about that are so god-awful, there aren't even any good options left for me, and I am forced to choose the least worst option...and then I go home, and I stand in my kitchen and chop potatoes or boil water and I ask for the wisdom to know the difference between what I can change and what I cannot, and I let it go.  I have to, at least, until I see them again.

The other prayer I say frequently is this one: Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu (Om Shanti)

(Listen to this -- seriously. You won't regret it).

The translation that I like is this one (that has slightly different wording than the one used in the beginning of the Deva Primal video above): May all beings everywhere be happy and free and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.

This is another one that I sing over and over in my head (or aloud....).  I sing it when I am angry.  I sing it when I am thinking unkind thoughts towards someone else.  I sing it when I feel hopeless about our world, and about how small my impact is in it.  I don't know that I really believe that it creates positive intentions that ripple out into the world that make changes...that spikes a little higher on the woowoo scale than I am willing to go.

What I do know is that I feel better when I sing it.  I feel calmer.  I feel more peaceful.  I feel more hopeful.  So I keep singing.

There was some interesting research done on using mindfulness interventions with individuals with intellectual disabilities living in group homes.  The target was to decrease aggression in individuals with mild to profound intellectual disabilities by teaching them mindfulness based interventions (namely, a walking meditation in which the individual was instructed to focus on the soles of their feet).  It's a fascinating idea and really interesting research that I'd love to share if you're interested...but that's not my point here.  The researchers did another study in which they taught the care staff at the facility mindfulness based interventions.  Through only teaching the care staff these interventions (only the people taking care of the individuals with disabilities), they were able to reduce the frequency of aggression.  Fascinating, right?  Through teaching staff to be more mindfully aware, they were able to decrease the aggression of the people in their care.

I bring this up because, while I don't know about the whole ripple of positive intention thing, I do believe that if I have a loving intention mindfully in my awareness, I may be able to make my tiny corner of the world a better place to live.

I have to end with this video, because it's Amma, who just embodies love:

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