“The wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water moulds itself to the pitcher.”—Chinese Proverb
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven,” Ecclesiastes 3:1
“Wasn’t the snow so pretty this morning? It was so nice to see snow again.”
My daughter, Maddie, said this to me on a recent evening after temperatures from the previous day had hovered around 60 degrees, only to plummet to 13 degrees the following morning. Additionally, a light layer of snow covered the grassy areas, trees, and hilltops.
Upon hearing Maddie’s observation, I felt pleased to hear she still appreciated the natural world even now as a young adult. My next thoughts were to recall how cold my feet and hands had remained throughout the day as well as all of the ways in which I chilled, and quite honestly, complained due to the sudden onset of cold rather than appreciate the miracle that is snow. Oh boy, who’s the parent?
Maddie was correct. From the sugar coated tree branches standing in sentinel silence earlier that morning on surrounding hillsides, to the wispy white of the grass, as crisp and precise as a starched shirt under a jacket of cold air, it certainly made for a picturesque, albeit chilly, start to the day. Hmm . . . I felt the sting of humility enter my mind.
A few days prior, while preparing to teach a yoga class, I encountered a phrase in one of my books that stated, “Adapt, adjust, accommodate; bear insult, bear injury.” I made it a point to write down those exact words because I wanted to remember it. Now those words were reverberating in my conscience. Who was I to complain about the cold? After all, it was mid-November.
The article, which contained that phrase, as best I recall, described the power and influence of our thoughts, and the importance of cultivating a clear mind in order to discipline and guard our minds against disturbances and fluctuations driven by our ego. Of course, it emphasized the importance of praying, meditating, and all other faith based practices, but its real intent was to point out that all those practices/habits are useless if not applied in day-to-day life. If our thoughts, words, and actions are full of complaints and resistances for things we cannot change or overflowing with attachments and thoughts to how things should be, not only are we not putting our faith into action, but we will not experience true inner peace.
A week later, I found myself walking with a friend. Half way through our walk, I could feel a rock in my shoe. However, it was cold and our conversation was lively, so I did not want to stop to take the rock out of my shoe. Still, the annoyance of it kept pressing into my foot, irritating and distracting me, but I remained doggedly determined not to take a few moments to remove it from my shoe. Thus, at times, I found myself losing focus on our conversation as my attention drifted to that rock in my shoe.
Once home, I stepped out of the car, took off my shoe, and shook out the rock. Returning the shoe to my foot, I walked the length of our driveway to paper box to collect the newspaper. Next, I sauntered over to the porch, pruned dead leaves and flower heads off of a chrysanthemum. Finally, I moved the pot, with the chrysanthemum in it, across the porch and into the sunlight as temperatures were once more climbing into the 50s. Not once did I become distracted as I worked because I had removed the irritant—the obstacle–from my shoe. What a metaphor for our thoughts.
How often do I fixate on negative thoughts, such as, “It is so cold;” “I am so tired;” “My back is killing me;” “I am so overwhelmed with . . ..” I could continue with examples, but the point is, these negative influences become like those scratched records of long ago, the words keep repeating, and won’t stop, until the needle is moved past the scratch.
Likewise, at the end of a meditation, prayer, focused reading, walk, or even a yoga practice, most, if not all, negative thoughts have been removed from my mind like the rock in my shoe. I can begin tasks, and even conversations, with a renewed focus, energy, and a sense of positivity. It is only when I begin to allow those perceived injuries and insults; such as, cold weather, aging, work load, and so forth, to infiltrate my thoughts that I once more become distracted, irritated, or filled with doubt/uncertainty.
When my grandparents were living, a framed “Serenity Prayer” hung upstairs in the attic area in which I lived for two years fresh out of college. I remember once asking my Grandmother to explain the significance of the prayer, especially the first two lines: “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 . . ..”
“Stethie,” her pronounced name for me, “over the years, there have been a lot of things that happened in my life that I could not change.”
Grandmother went on to provide me with examples. From the death of her own mother when she was a young girl, to her “crippled” dad, as she referred to him, refusing to receive charity—including not allowing my her to accept a scholarship (at a time period when a high school education was not mandatory) to attend a high school in a nearby town; from the 1937 flood in which she and my papaw lost the grocery store in which they owned and operated, to the fact that her beloved sister, Ruth, had married and divorced several men over the course of her life and lived out her final days impoverished.
“I can’t change any of it, just like I can’t change these wrinkles on my ol’ face. I had to learn when to let things go, and live my life for the Lord and my family, especially you-kids.”
Her dark blue eyes, that were beginning to become milky with age, filled with tears as she finished by saying she loved me. As an afterthought, she added that I’d come to understand and appreciate the prayer more with age. This was an especially poignant moment because I now realize that my papaw and she had had to accept major changes in their retired life in order to make room for a young-know-it-all 21-year old to move into their house.
Adapt, adjust, accommodate; bear insult, bear injury, and keep on going with devotion and love. Perhaps, this was what Grandmother Helen was trying to impart to me all those years ago.