The Courage to Change the Things I Can

I was reflecting on the recovery prayer: “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.” It occurred to me that it would be valuable to more deeply explore each section of this invocation—acceptance, courage, and discernment—and help others gain deeper insight into these core elements of graceful living. This article is the second in this series.

By George A. Boyd © 2021

Q: How do I summon the courage to do what I must?

A: Fear inhibits action. Courage requires that you face and overcome your fears, and take action. Several solutions have been advocated for overcoming fear. These include:

  1. An act of will – choose to do what you fear to make you realize that the consequences that your fear projects are baseless. This reveals your fear is false evidence appearing real.
  2. Compassion – Show love and compassion for the frightened parts in your mind and gently ease them through what they fear; let them know they are not alone, and they are safe.
  3. Systematic desensitization – This lists different intensities of fear towards an object or situation. You are exposed to progressively greater intensities of the experience of this fear, while you are trained to relax and release any fear you feel at this level. You do this until you can be exposed to the most fearful instance of your fear and you do not feel afraid. [In this method, a trained psychotherapist walks you through this exercise.]
  4. Vipassana – You let the feelings of fear surface, and you fully experience them. You allow them to release and pass away. You continue this process with your fear until these scared feelings no longer arise.
  5. Rational refutation – in this method, which is used in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, you uncover the beliefs that underlie your feelings of fear, and inspect them to see if they are rational. You refute those beliefs that are irrational, and not founded in reality. [Like Systematic Desensitization, this is usually done with a trained psychotherapist.]
  6. Faith – You pray to God or your spiritual Master to protect you. You believe that God is with you during frightening episodes in your life. You ask for God’s help to grant you strength and courage.
  7. Systematic transformation – You change things in your life, so you do not have to encounter what you fear. You change your beliefs and perceptions through reframing, so the fear object is no longer intimidating. [This method is commonly used in coaching.]

To overcome your fear, you need to find a method that helps you work with it. Many people have used these approaches to successfully rise above their fear: there may also be a technique that will work for you.

Love and Fear

In the Bible it says, “Perfect love casts out fear.” [I John 4:18] This higher love within you can help you surmount your fear.
Fear comes from your wish to avoid:

  • Death
  • Injury or pain
  • Humiliation; loss of esteem with others; experiencing censure or ridicule
  • Stress or extreme difficulty
  • Loss of something valuable to you—love, money, or a cherished possession
  • Experiencing failure; making the wrong decision and not succeeding in what you propose to do
  • Withdrawal of others’ love, support, or favor

Perfect love is the experience of the Soul’s unconditional love. This love:

  • Is detached from the struggle your ego is going through in your life
  • Perceives itself as immortal, and is not afraid of death
  • Inspires faith, hope, and courage in you
  • Leads you to carry out altruistic acts of kindness and charity for others
  • Enables you to defer gratification, and to persevere despite difficulties or trials
  • Grants the experience to the ego that it is not alone; that the Higher Self within stands with it
  • Remains steadfastly with you until the challenge or crisis is ended

One of the ways you can overcome fear is to invite this unconditional love of the Soul to be present with you, to hold your hand and walk you through this terrifying episode in your life. Inviting in a Higher Power—your Higher Self, an angel, a spiritual Master or Savior, or the form of the Divine that you call upon—can instill in you the courage, strength, and faith to move forward when you feel frightened.
When you have the inner confidence and conviction you will be okay; this will enable you to get through this frightful encounter.

You can get the assistance of a psychotherapist or coach to help you work with difficult fears you cannot resolve yourself. You can learn to work with your fears in your unconscious mind using a variety of evocative self-help methods.

In our intermediate meditation courses—the in-person Mudrashram® Master Course in Meditation and the by-mail and online Accelerated Meditation Program—we teach methods that will enable you to work with fear: Process Meditation, the Mandala Method, and the Rainbow Technique.

We encourage you to find a resonant method that works for you to overcome your fear and to move ahead to the next step in your life.

Those of you who are in stable recovery from your addictions may find the Addiction Recovery Coaching Program helpful.

Confrontation with Dharma

By George A. Boyd © 2006

Excerpted from Question and Answers with Swami

Q: I’m in a lot of conflict right now. It seems my Soul requires one thing of me—and my parents, friends, and church require another. What do I do?

A: To become your own person, to individualize and realize your authentic self, it sometimes becomes necessary to deviate from established norms that are placed upon you from the outside, so that you may remain true to that norm which is inside (Dharma). To remain true to Dharma means that you are living in integrity, you are in harmony with the law within your own heart. These types of violation of societal norms include:

  • Deviation from cultural (ethnic group) norms – Going against custom, following a life path other than that which is expected
  • Deviation from societal (legal) norms – Breaking the law, performing behavior that violates codified statutes enacted by legislative bodies
  • Deviation from ancestral (parental) norms – Going against requests of your parents, going against parental expectations of model behavior and lifestyle
  • Deviation from peer (friendship) norms – Performing actions that violate the conscience of friends, going against peer expectations of model behavior and lifestyle
  • Deviation from corporate (workplace) norms – Performing actions that violate company rules or policies, not performing work to required standards of excellence, efficiency, precision, accuracy, or professionalism
  • Deviation from political (political party) norms – Voting or expressing political opinions that do not agree with the approved ideology of your political party
  • Deviation from religious (religious group) norms – Performing actions that violate behavioral and belief standards established by the church (or other religious body) which the church believes are authorized by scripture and sanctioned by the Divine or the representative (Master, Savior, Prophet) of the Divine
  • Deviation from personal conscience (Dharmic) norms – Violating an internalized standard or value believed to be true, right, or good. Not living in integrity with one’s inner sense of truth (Dharma)

Even if you rebel from these outer norms, if you remain true to your inner sense of truth, you will have inner peace. But if you deviate from your Dharma to live up to the outer norms, to fulfill the expectations of your culture, your nation, your parents, your friends, your employer or your religion before your own inner sense of truth, then you will live in conflict. This conflict is a felt-sense that something is missing—a vague uneasiness or unidentified anxiety, a feeling that your own self is angry with you, is condemning you for your folly or a sense of emptiness or desolation within.

Dharma appears in different forms according to the Ray type of the individual:

First Ray – The Will of God, the Fiery Triangle

Second Ray – The Wheel of the Law, the Eightfold Path of Noble Truth

Third Ray – The Law of God, the Ten Commandments, the Divine Order behind the laws of the Physical and Astral Planes, the laws underlying the Creation of Heaven and Earth

Fourth Ray – The Law of Nature and Consciousness, the Way, the Tao

Fifth Ray – The Law of Truth, the Razor’s Edge, Perfection, Perfect Mastery

Sixth Ray – The Law of Love and Grace, living according to the Master or Savior’s commandments

Seventh Ray – The Tree of Life (Kabala) – the Laws of Karma, Manifestation, Wisdom and Spiritual Essence

On whatever Ray it manifests to you, this image, voice, or felt-sense of Dharma will become very clear to you at certain crucial points in your life.

  • Sometimes your Dharma will require of you things that go against your desires, your plans, or what seems reasonable to you.
  • Sometimes, when you have already started on a course of action, it will pull you back and start you down another path.
  • Sometimes it will unexpectedly intervene when you wish to marry someone and indicate that this person is not right for you.
  • Sometimes it will bid you to leave the security of your job and strike out on your own.

However Dharma manifests to you, when it confronts you, you have a choice. Do you follow this inner requirement of your Soul or do you follow the dictates of your desire, your preferences or your reason?

If you follow Dharma, it will sometimes create disruption in your life.

You may have to:

  • Cancel plans
  • Make awkward explanations to friends and family about your sudden “irrational” decision
  • Go through unforeseen personal sacrifice and hardships
  • Do things that feel terrifying or illogical to you
  • Re-think where your life is going and what you will do with the rest of your life
  • Experience antipathy and continual criticism from those who were your friends and colleagues
  • Receive threats of violence or promises of revenge from those whose values and beliefs you have acted against through courageously acting upon your integrity

If you reflect upon it from the standpoint of your ego, the part of you that only wants to fulfill its own desires, live its dreams and be happy—it is madness; it is utter lunacy.

But from the standpoint of the Soul, it is an absolute requirement: it is necessary to fulfill the Divine requirement.

Because of this, you will run into a conflict between the free will agency of the personality, which wants to have its own way and create the future it desires, versus the impulse of Destiny, the pressure of the spiritual life upon the human life, which is a Dharmic imperative.

If you run away from your Dharma, your decision haunts you. You have your freedom, but it is a hollow, tormented freedom. Things go wrong, you sabotage yourself, your plans fall through—it seems to you sometimes that the world is against you.

It passes through your mind that you are cursed or that you have sinned against some higher principle. You feel a sense of desperation. You may achieve your goals and find that they have no enjoyment for you, they seem empty and meaningless.

Outside the door, the Soul waits, until the karma that you have created by your own free will plays itself out. This may last from a number of days to several lifetimes. Then your Soul will appear before you, its Voice will whisper to you, you will feel its presence once again. Again you will be given the opportunity to follow, to fulfill your Dharma. What will you choose this time? Will you again choose your egoic freedom and abandon your Soul?

This process of choosing or abandoning your Soul is placed before you. Sometimes it can occur from moment to moment at certain periods. Sometimes it will appear only one time in your lifetime. It is put before you to live according to the requirements of your Dharma—or abandon it and reap the karmic consequences. This requirement is very definite: there are no gray areas here—it is yea or nay, and there is no middle ground.

Forced choice is used in ethnic groups, in society, by parents, friends, and employers, in political parties, and in religious conversion and preaching to require you to make a decision. It is very clear to you what the consequences will be if you do not choose what they want you to do.

On the other side is your Soul, which also places before you the forced choice of embracing or abandoning your Dharma. From the outside, these social forces that make powerful demands of you are pulling you one way. From the inside, your Soul is pulling you another.

Sometimes it must feel to you that you are being ripped apart. People sometimes do go insane and have nervous breakdowns because the pressure is too great. It stretches them beyond their limits and their capacity to endure. It breaks them apart, because they cannot have both what the world desires and what the Soul requires.

People who become mystics, saints, and sages tell us that they have not regretted choosing Dharma, but that it was a very difficult, arduous path they traveled as a result of the choice.

People who have embraced the dictates of their ego, who have followed the path of desires, obeyed the cultural requirements of their group, their society, their parents, peers, and employers and have faithfully followed their religion tell us that they have lived good, reasonable happy lives. They tell us that they have had no major confrontations with their conscience and they believe that their Soul is safe in the hands of their Savior, Master, or Prophet.

This is a very difficult choice that you must make, a life-wrenching choice. It seems cruel that Life has required this of you, and has spared others to be at peace with themselves and with the world.

Your Soul is calling you, making requirements of you that don’t make sense. You feel frightened and confused, and don’t know whom to trust. If you tell your friends and family, they will think that you have gone mad. If you go to a psychiatrist, he or she will certify that you are insane and give you medication to shut down your whirling thoughts and churning emotions.

If you go to your priest or minister, he or she will tell you that it is the Devil talking to you and to follow the teachings of the church. Where do you turn at a time like this?

It helps to pray and ask the Divine for guidance, to show you the outcome of both choices, to bless you to make the best decision for you. Then you must decide, you must choose a path. It may be the right way, it may be the wrong way, but you must choose and take the consequences.

When you realize that your choices do have consequences, you start to gain wisdom, you begin to be able to take responsibility for your life. This is a major challenge for every human being. This is an important step of growth for you.

It is not easy when you have to confront your Dharma, but it can be a great blessing to you if you can successfully navigate these troubled waters. We encourage you to be courageous, to rouse yourself, and rise to this challenge. Face it like a warrior. Be ready to make a firm and resolute decision. Be willing to cast your holy yea or nay. Be willing to have those who are not your true friends fall away, because those that truly love you will love you still, even if you follow a path that they do not approve of or understand.

Confrontation with Dharma can be a shattering, life-changing, revolutionary experience. But sometimes it is the greatest opportunity you will ever be presented.