The Things I Cannot Change

Jane Burns Uncategorized

Each morning, I recite the serenity prayer as part of my spiritual practice:

        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.” 

I have always loved this beautiful prayer.

Today, I am thinking about the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.  As someone who has invested her life in counseling others through their healing process, it’s easy to get the idea that I can change things.  I mean, I’ve witnessed many changes coming from the work I do, and that’s very gratifying.  But it takes an encounter with a client or situation that doesn’t change to bring me back to the reality of what is really going on here.

Being a shamanic practitioner carries with it certain responsibilities: to be a witness to the work, to show up in the most selfless way I can, to faithfully deliver the messages I garner from the spirit world with as much clarity as possible, and to inspire people through their process even when it is painful and scary for them to move forward.

But here is what I need to remember: the only thing I can truly change in this world is me. Many times over, when decisions have become too arduous, I have asked my spirit guides: should I do this, should I do that?  “As you wish, dear one,” they always say, unwilling to pierce the sanctity of my free will. 

This teaches me two important things.  First, what a valuable gift free will is, preserving and protecting my right to reinvent myself–however I so choose—over and over again.  It is my entitlement to learn and make mistakes.  It is the great, blessed do-over. 

Secondly, it encourages me to respect the free will of others as much as the spirit world does.  This week brought a setback in the healing work my colleagues and I have undertaken on behalf of a friend’s daughter.  After much, much progress, it suddenly seemed she was back at square one, and our friend was in despair.  It made me question the efficacy of shamanic work.  It made me question my abilities to do this work.

So I took a journey to see what the spirit world had to say about this seeming reversal of fortune.  What they showed me was the image of a tree, rich and blooming and filled with fireflies.  About three quarters of the tree appeared this way, while one quarter of it was bare and dying.  Sometimes the blooming part of the tree would vibrate in its twinkling, luminous way, and sometimes the dead branch would rattle like a bad cough.  Back and forth it went, and each time the cough became weaker and the healthy vibration stronger.

The spirits told me that the fireflies represented all the support that was being given to my friend’s daughter by the spirit world, and that, while their work was continuing, the girl’s healing was not yet finished.  My part in the process was simply to ask for help.

We who do healing work in this world need to remember one important thing: we do not heal anyone.  We merely speak for those who require it—that is all.  Indigenous shamans often perform elaborate dances and ceremonies and invocations while doing their work.  What looks peculiar and extreme to us is merely intended to get the attention of the healing spirits.  The more attention you get, the more healing you receive.

We call this prayer.  Prayer is our sacrifice, what we give of ourselves, our time, our imagination, passion, and energy on behalf of others.  In the shamanic world, we say that in order for there to be healing, there must be a sacrifice or offering.  That offering can be lighting candles, singing, journeying, reciting poetry, dancing, drumming, or doing ceremony—a serene gesture of our sincerest hope and desire that another walk out of the shadow in which she finds herself—no matter how difficult that shadow is for us to witness.

We have heard it said that what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger.  But what actually makes us stronger in the end is not the healing itself.  It is the love and sacrifice we were willing to give in its name.