Taken from a Sacrament meeting talk, 12-27-2015
We can’t predict anything specific about the New Year, but we can be sure that among those in this congregation, serious sorrow will come to some and real happiness to others. And many will experience both in the coming year. Further, some events will bring both pain and happiness at the same time to others. There will be death—if not to you or someone in your immediate family, then to someone you know. There will be pain—in both body and spirit. Some may lose jobs or have other reverses. On the other hand, some will get promotions or other successes, some will be married, and some will have children or grandchildren.
Change is the one thing we can predict for sure for the New Year and for those that follow. We just can’t control what exactly will come our way. What we can control is our attitude, and how we will respond to the coming changes. If we are reactive, if our attitude changes depending on whether or not negative things happen to us, then we may not be as open to the opportunities for learning that come with both kinds of experiences, but particularly those that we perceive as negative. One thing we learn from the Buddhists is that our emotional state very much colors how we view things. If we are distraught, we will miss some important truths. The negative experiences are the ones with the most to teach us—but they are hardest to pay attention to.
What we need then is to approach the future and what comes with equanimity. Equanimity is a powerful word—it is a combination of “animus” or spirit, and equal, meaning an even temperament. An even temperament is needed to see “things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C93:24).
To be able to see things as they are, particularly things that cause us grief, we need serenity—another word for equanimity. Niebuhr’s serenity prayer comes to mind:
O God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed,
The courage to change what can be changed,
And the wisdom to know the one from the other
This is exactly the wisdom we need to confront the many challenges of the New Year.
An idea that can provide some comfort for coming challenges comes from Joseph Campbell (Reflections on the Art of Living p39): Nothing can happen to us that is not positive. This is quite a thought. No matter what happens, not only can we make the most of it, we can gain quite a bit from just about anything. This idea is found in Paul as well:
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God. (Romans 8:28)
All things work together for good—for all people I would suggest. They just need to have the right attitude –for example to love God (and therefore people).
So if we are to be serene, and we know that everything will work out, why worry? Sounds like we should just relax and accept what comes—accept our fate, as it were. Accept our fate—for sure! Sit back and relax—not on your life!
I love Emerson’s idea of fatal courage (The Conduct of Life. Fate). Destiny and fate are unavoidable, but the noble and the heroic conspire with destiny. There is a “loving resignation” towards fate—a resignation that enables one to fight fate with fate. “For, if Fate is so prevailing, man also is part of it, and can confront fate with fate”. “If you believe in Fate to your harm, believe it, at least, for your good”. We are thus as ship pilots on a storm-tossed sea. A skillful pilot can parry the waves and currents to his or her purposes, when necessary letting the sea work its will—even if to his or her demise when all else fails. But the pilot remains anxiously engaged right to the end, no matter what.
Joseph Campbell spoke of what Nietzsche called “the love of your fate”. “Whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say ‘this is what I need’”. Whatever trial or tribulation is happening to at this moment—it is tailor-made for you. You must face it with equanimity, with serenity. Your fate is to face this particular fate with a firm resolve to see it through; not cursing your fate, but embracing it. Whether you come off conqueror or not is not relevant. What is important is that you face the fates fearlessly. That is how you will learn the lessons the fates will bring to you.
You can face your fate fearlessly to a great degree by knowing that nothing can happen to us that is not positive. But the real power to overcome fear is love:
Perfect love casts out fear. There is no fear in love, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. (1 John 4: 18).
Torment is what we feel when bad things happen and we lose our equanimity. We can no longer see clearly, we can no longer see things as they are, and we are thus subject to fear. When we are possessed by fear, our hearts are closed to the “peaceable things of the kingdom.” This is indeed torment.
The power to embrace our fates, the power of an even temperament and of serenity, comes then through love. Looking at the world through the lens of love is not looking through rose-colored glasses. It is in fact seeing things as they really are. Seeing things as our Father and Mother in Heaven see things—us, our family, our neighbors, but more particularly, people we can’t stand. Whether these be jihadist terrorists, or just our brother-in-law, or a boss, or someone who challenges us professionally, we can’t see these folks for who they really are unless we see them with the eyes of love. So in the end it is the same with all challenges, all that the fates bring upon us—whether as infuriating individuals or just outside forces that seem to conspire against us. Love is the answer.