17/40 Wisdom and Serenity


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17/40 From Rabbi Brian

Wisdom and Serenity


Take a moment to reflect. Think about what’s going on, how you feel, and how it seems life is treating you.  


Now, make a list of 5 things that are bothering you.  


Just write down (or think about) anything that’s troubling, worrying, or irking you – whatever the case may be.  (For some of you, it should be fairly easy to create this list.)  


Five things that are bothersome right now:

  • 1)
  • 2)
  • 3)
  • 4)
  • 5)

Do you have your list? Good. (If you can’t come up with 5 items, don’t sweat it, 2 will do just fine.) 

Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer is the founder of Religion-Outside-The-Box.

After being ordained as a rabbi, he left mainstream congregational life to encourage people to find and be with (the) God (of their understanding) through podcasts, books, tweets, and internet-based seminars.  

His day job is teaching mathematics to Los Angeleno High School students. The rest of the time is with his family.

Pinpoint one of these bothersome issues.


Answer a very simple question with regard to that issue:  

Can it be changed?


Whatever that issue is – whether it’s something that is happening now, will happen in the future, or took place in the past – can you change it? Are you capable of affecting it somehow? Is it possible for you to alter its outcome?


The answer here is either “yes” or “no.” 

Either it can be changed, or it cannot. 

Yes or no. 


If it’s a “no” and that particular bothersome thing on your list can’t be changed, do you have the fortitude to accept it? Can you tolerate this fact in your life for what it is, whether you like it or not?


I want to take a moment to elaborate on what accepting is. When a loved one dies (for example), certainly there is nothing you can do to change that reality. Accepting that it happened doesn’t mean you have to like it.  Accepting it does not mean that you should say, “Hey-ho,” pick yourself up, and get on with your life. Accepting means fully acknowledging the reality of what is, even if you don’t like it.  


Here’s a bit of a lengthy, but thorough definition of acceptance: 

Acceptance is not abetting, advocating, agreeing, aiding, approving, assisting, authenticating, authorizing, backing, complying, concurring, confirming, consenting, cultivating, encouraging, endorsing, furthering, liking, maintaining, permitting, promoting, ratifying, reinforcing, sanctifying, supporting, or sympathizing. Acceptance is saying, “It is what it is, and what it is, is what is.”

The question in the above isn’t if you like it, but, if you can’t change it, can you accept it?

Going back to your bothersome issue – if that particular thing in your life is something that can be changed, will you?  Usually to change something from “irksome” to “less irksome” requires some action. However, often, the idea of effecting even a little change is somewhat scary.
Go through the same process with the other annoyances on your list.
For each item,

  1. ask yourself if you can change it.  
  2. if you cannot change it, are you willing to accept it?  
  3. if you can change it, are you are willing to do so?

I often use the above steps when I teach middle and high school students.  I use it to introduce the notion of philosophy and of wisdom being distinct from knowledge. I tell them: Knowing the difference between what can and cannot be changed is the roots of wisdom. By the end of these talks, the students understand that “a love of wisdom” (a translation of the Greek philosophia) is truly beneficial to their lives.
Analyzing problems in this way is really just a step-by-step interpretation of the  Serenity Prayer – a beautiful text attributed to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who is said to have written it in 1934.
Here’s the prayer (and remember, it doesn’t really matter if you believe in an active, external deity or not – the words of a prayer are about changing the person who prays):
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
A wonderful petition, no?
Spiritual-religious advice: Be wise: accept and have courage. 

With love,

  Rabbi Brian

 Rabbi Brian  

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I thank you. -Rb 

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