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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Expectations, Acceptance and Serenity

". . . (A)cceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, or thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God's world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life's terms. I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes."
 The paragraph, above, on "acceptance" (from Acceptance is the Answer, p. 417) is likely the most familiar quote from the personal stories in the back of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous. I have read it discussed it, and have heard it discussed in countless meetings. And, yet, as important a message as it is, in recent weeks I have been reflecting on the following simple spiritual calculus that the author includes on the last page of his story (page 420):
  • ". . . (M)y serenity is inversely proportional to my expectations."
  • ". . . (M)y serenity is directly proportional to my level of acceptance."
 The more expectations I have for how people, circumstances and the world should behave, the less serenity I will have, as only God is omniscient. On the other hand, the more acceptive I am of how the people, circumstances and the world change around me, the more serenity I have.

To me, this is the personal manifestation of the second part of Step One, the admission that life has become (and remains) unmanageable by me. In fact, it always was unmanageable by my efforts, but wholly managed in its totality. Thus, I was continually disturbed precisely because all my efforts to shape people, things and circumstances to the way I thought they should be almost always backfired. People, circumstances and the world continued to evolve in the most unexpected (to me) ways. Only grudgingly and belatedly would I reconcile myself to those changes, but with the caveat that I would then have new set of expectations as to how people and the world should behave in these new found  circumstances. On and on this non-virtuous circle drove me through life.

The gist of the spiritual calculus laid out by the author illustrates how expectations and acceptance are really opposite sides of a coin. The greater my expectations, the less accepting I am, and the less serenity I have. The more accepting I am, the fewer expectations I have, and the more serene I am.

"Mastery of life," Eckhart Tolle once observed, "is the opposite of control." Such mastery, I might add, lies in the acceptance of life without expectations.


  1. ...this modis operandi(Acceptance of life without expectation)requires a level of consciousness thats not often found in the typical seems to originate from a deeper region of the brain..for me,access to this 'area of the brain' has come by way of meditation and i've found this region must be stimulated frequently until it can become activated or 'alive' so to speak..

  2. yes, good to see you back! looking forward to your insights to come my friend in sobriety.