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Quaker Practice This Month's Blog Post

Acceptance

God 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. ~ AA Serenity Prayer

Last year Spirit worked with me on cultivating joy; this year I am led to work on cultivating peace. When I am not at peace, I can’t access my joy. You may recall from my blog on The Book of Joy (https://www.renofriends.org/cultivating-joy/), that one of the pillars is Acceptance. In this blog, I will explore Acceptance through the lens of the AA Serenity Prayer.

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

In my experience, this is actually the first step to serenity. I used to charge into a situation and start doing something, believing that taking action was the most important thing to do. Quakerism has helped me learn to step back, observe, season, sit in silence and seek guidance. Discernment takes time and when I’m overwhelmed and just want a problem solved, I can rush the process and make a bigger mess. If I don’t take time, I can easily take on something that isn’t mine to do or step on someone’s toes who was doing just fine before I came along!

Patience is a word that comes to mind here. It’s important that we be patient and take our time when choosing our words and actions. We can forget how powerful they are. I still have a lot to learn. Being aware of this, I try to ask for time to consider the best course of action from a variety of perspectives, including the “God’s eyes” perspective Desmond Tutu recommends.

I’ve also learned that emotional detachment is essential for me to be able to see a situation from a variety of perspectives. If I am too attached to my way of viewing things and the solution I favor, I can miss important aspects that others see more clearly. When we collaborate from a place of equality, we are more likely to contribute to transformative change.

I am learning that sometimes the most powerful choice is to be still and not act, but allow things to unfold, trusting that if there is something I am led to contribute, it will become clear. Sometimes the most helpful action is non-action and holding someone in the Light, trusting they will be guided and find their way.

The Courage to Change the Things I Can

The next step for me is to assess my Light. Do I have the time, energy and resources to take on what I’ve identified I might help with? As I get older, this becomes more of an issue for me. I must prioritize what I can engage with and what I must leave for others to shine their Light on.

I do recall when I was younger that I lacked courage because I lacked confidence and was afraid of making a mistake. I think these things can hold many of us back from engaging in transformative work. Another aspect of this that I have struggled with is feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of a situation and then becoming paralyzed. With this block, it helps to take one small step at a time.

The Dalai Lama says that he believes much of our stress is caused by having too high expectations. When my expectations are too high, it can lead to exhaustion and despair. Lately, I’ve been working on adjusting my expectations and I find that does help. I can celebrate the small successes and keep on going without burning out.

The Dalai Lama also encourages us not to be attached to the outcome of our efforts as this also causes stress and frustration. Lao Tzu agrees with him, recommending that we give ourselves fully to an action that flows through us and then let go and let the Tao do its work. I remind myself that I cannot see the bigger picture or understand the Mystery and I may never know the ultimate effect of my efforts.

Another skill I have found invaluable is the ability to set clear boundaries with compassion. It is hard to disappoint others and tell them “no” when they ask for our help. I recall reading a chapter in a book by life coach, Cheryl Richardson, entitled “Let me Disappoint You.” She gave wonderful advice on how to sensitively let down others by attending to their feelings, clearly stating our own limits and what we can do, and then offering some options for other resources.

Accepting What I Cannot Change

This final step is the most challenging for me personally. I was raised to be a perfectionist, trained to look at what was awry and get busy fixing it. Accepting something that I thought needed to be changed seemed wrong and lazy. I’ve learned that sometimes things are fine just the way they are and it’s only my judgment that needs changing. Everyone has their own journey, and the world has its own journey, affected by our collective consciousness. We are responsible for our journey and our contributions to others and to the collective, but we are not responsible for others or for the state of the world.

Along the way, I realized that I must first accept a situation, become “fierce with reality”, before I can do transformative work. We must break through our denial and our attachments to what we wish was happening. To develop a clear picture, it helps to listen deeply to others and pay attention to what is going on beneath the surface with a compassionate and open heart and mind.

There are many situations in our lives and in the world that we cannot personally change, or that we can only contribute a small piece to improving. Then we must step back and let it be, trusting that there’s a greater Mystery at work that we don’t understand. We can cultivate serenity, kindness, joy and hope in our own hearts and radiate that out to others and the world around us. This is more helpful than fretting about what we cannot change or getting lost in fear, stress and despair. We can embody the change we would like to see in the world and let our lives speak. Never underestimate how powerful that can be!

Queries:

Which aspect(s) of the Serenity Prayer are the most challenging for you?

What have you learned along the way that has helped you become more accepting of reality and those around you? What do you still need to work on?

How do you decide what to change and then what do you do? Is your process working or do you need to make changes?

By Rhonda Ashurst, RFM Blog Contributor

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

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Quaker Practice

The Case for Words

In a blog a few months ago, I made the Case for Silence in a Quaker Meeting. Today I want to make the Case for Words.

When Quakers worship, the silence inside the Meeting House occasionally is broken by someone who rises to share a message they feel moved to say. These messages are usually simple, and most have a universal element, since messages should be shared only if they offer something to others. So, yes, we Quakers worship in silence, but we also listen – to God, to each other, to our own hearts – and share that with the community around us.

Why allow the silence to be disrupted in this way? Sometimes a Meeting for Worship is silent for the entire hour, leaving a deep sense of fulfillment. Silence is necessary to hear what God might be telling us, or to sift through the whirl of thoughts so we can make sense of our lives or the world. Sometimes, however, the silence is challenging, as we may be inclined to turn away from this inner voice; sometimes we might lose the inner voice in the comfort of the silence. 

Which is why words matter. Quakers call these messages Vocal Ministry, and the words are often what bring us together. We worship together –rather than alone in our homes — in part because the words we share enrich our experience. Some of the most simple and beautiful messages I’ve ever heard were shared at Quaker Meeting. A heartfelt message can open up a whole world in my head. When I am spiritually cold, the messages in Meeting feel like warm mittens handed to me by friends, and the wide range of spiritual insights can feed me for days.

Sometimes messages are shared using words that make some people uncomfortable, as we all have our own experience of God. When that happens, I try to remember this guidance from the British Yearly Meeting: “When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Receive the vocal ministry of others in a tender and creative spirit; reach for the meaning deep within it, recognizing that even if it is not God’s word for you, it may be so for others.”

One of my favorite messages was shared by a Reno Friend who stood up one day to quote from the Quran: “If the day of judgment erupts while you are planting a new tree, carry on and plant it.” She linked these words to her deep concern and love for the natural world. Her message speaks to me still.

Wendy Swallow, RFM Blog Editor

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Categories
Quaker Testimonies

Eating the Climate Elephant: One Bite at a Time

I walk through what was once a lively forest, now reduced to charred standing skeletons devoid of branches, needles, shade. This was once a welcoming vibrant forest retreat, but now I am hypervigilant, watching for a strong wind as swaying snags threaten my head. There is life here—beetles furiously chewing in the snags, woodpeckers hammering to pry them out—but it is hard to focus on these small signs. Surrounded by these visual reminders of forest trauma, I am overwhelmed by the grief and shock of this rapid change to the forest ecosystem—not just the loss of our forest community, but also of homes burned, towns burned. It stirs my memories of people living in tents on the roadside because they had nowhere else to go.

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Quaker Practice

The Magic of Meeting for Business

Few people love a meeting, but most organizations hold meetings because they have essential business to accomplish. Quaker Meetings are no different:  once a month, most Quaker Meetings hold what is formally known as “Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business.” To be honest, a Quaker Meeting for Business is unlike most meetings I’ve had to attend in my life, either for work or with community organizations. And the key to the difference is in the formal name.

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Quaker Practice

The Case for Silence

There is something about the stillness of midwinter that soothes the soul. Much of the natural world sleeps. Though the wind still blows and birds hop about searching for seeds, for the most part the cold and dark confer a deep, healing silence.

Many of us who attend Quaker Meeting on Sundays are drawn by the opportunity to sit in communal silence for an hour. The Quaker silence started, in part, as a reaction to church services of the seventeenth century, which were filled with ritual and liturgy. Early Quakers believed, instead, that each person must come to her or his own understanding and experience of God. The silence is a chance to listen for God – the stillness enables us to quiet the busyness of our brains and discern what God might want us to hear. It requires waiting.

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Quaker Practice

The Dark Side of Gratitude

January, the season of resolutions, is always a time when I vow to do better with my Gratitude Practice. I usually start out strong, listing three things every day that I am grateful for, but – inevitably – sometime in the cold, dark days of February when it looks like winter will never end, I give it up. I’m not sure why. But I found a clue the other day: a note to myself that I should write a blog about the dark side of gratitude. And that was all it said; I had no idea what I had meant when I made that note months earlier.

Categories
Quaker Practice

The Hold-In-The-Light List

Every First Day, at the end of Silent Worship, the clerk of Reno Friends Meeting reads the Hold-in-the-Light List. This is a list of all those we are “holding in the Light of God.” It usually includes the names of loved-ones we are concerned about because of illness, injury or trouble, and also a statement extending our concern to “all those who live in places where there is strife and need.” In difficult times, the list can get quite long.

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Meeting Community

Cultivating Joy

This is the second of my blogs on The Book of Joy by The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. The first was essentially a book review (https://www.renofriends.org/the-book-of-joy/#more-5464). This second blog is about my experiences of cultivating joy using the practices in the book over the last six months.

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Quaker Practice

The Gifts of Silence

My husband and I were hiking on a ridge above Lake Tahoe recently when I suddenly realized I could hear almost nothing. This happens out west – if you go far enough off-road you can often find a place beyond the whine of the highway or the hum of the city. We were hiking late in the day, so there were few others around. Even the birds were quiet. The tall pines and slanting light made it feel like we were walking through holy space, the world hushed in reverence.

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Meeting Community

Bittersweet Wisdom

We all have something to say about loss, because all of us have experienced it – yearning for what used to be, but is no more. And perhaps, as our years pass, we wrestle with the issue of loss even more, having chewed some of the gristle of life, as it were, not just the low-hanging fruit.