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.
The non-acceptance version would read:
I am angry about the things I cannot change. Because I am hurt and this feels unfair, I refuse to do the things I can do to change.
Anger often comes from being unable to accept the painful parts of life: past hurts, present struggles, or future fears. Practicing acceptance does not mean giving up. Instead, it is about accepting the reality of things. Some things you do have control over, others you may not. Acceptance can keep you from getting angry about situations you cannot change. If nothing can be done, practice acceptance. Otherwise, you may make things worse by trying to avoid the reality of the situation.
Exercise: willful or willing?
When you are willful, you refuse to accept things the way they are. Willful people try to use willpower to force things to be the way they feel they should be, rather than accepting them the way they are. Handling life from a willful place is like being a boulder, smashing through things until you bang up against something bigger. Mark the ways that you are willful when things do not go your way.
When you practice willingness, you accept life on its terms. Willingness may not always fix a situation, but it keeps us from getting angrier and making it worse. When we are willing, there is more opportunity for change. Handling life from a willing place is like being a river, flowing through and around obstacles that block your way. Check off the ways to be willing that you use (or would like to try in the next week).
During the next week, notice when you are being willful and try to let go, to be flexible. Practice being willing in difficult situations. See if you notice a difference in how people relate to you and how things work out.
Self-acceptance is the most important (and often most difficult) place to start practicing acceptance. In this mindfulness practice, create a sense of self-compassion by imagining how you would support a close friend in your situation. What could you say to be comforting?
Take a few moments to reflect on this. Think of what you might say to your friend. (Here’s a start: You are safe. You are good. You deserve to be happy and free from suffering.)
Now consider some of the ways that you too have felt sad, unhappy, or angry. Offer words of compassion that are similar to what you would offer your friend. (Here’s a start: I am safe. I am good. I deserve to be happy and free from suffering.)
formal practice: self-acceptance
Notice what happens in your body and mind as you offer these expressions of kindness to yourself. What comes up for you in your thoughts, feelings, and sensations? Turn your awareness to the painful places in you (feelings, memories, or body sensations). Say to yourself, I care for this suffering. Try to feel deeply into your suffering, and investigate the way you would feel toward a friend going through similar pain and suffering.
Try to breathe into the tight places in your body, inviting a little more tension to release each time you exhale. You may find unkind thoughts arising (toward yourself and others). Simply allow the negative thoughts to come and go. Know that these angry, unkind thoughts likely arise from fear. Like all sensations, these thoughts and feelings will pass like clouds drifting through the sky, coming and going. Turn your compassion toward any hurt feelings or painful memories that may have been stirred up. Repeat again to yourself, I care for this suffering.
Close by practicing mindful breathing for five to ten minutes. Offer yourself gratitude and congratulations for giving yourself this gift of mindfulness and self-compassion.