The Invisible Piper’s Mysterious Tune
There are so many things about us we cannot do much about, right from our DNA structure, to who our parents are, the place of our birth, and the length of our lives. We refer to these, as ‘givens’ and the actual list can be very long. Albert Einstein, putting on his philosopher’s hat, goes a step further, saying that everything is determined by forces over which we have no control, and that we all dance to ‘a mysterious tune intoned in the distance by an invisible piper’.
Against this list sits another one, where the items listed out are those over which we do have influence and things on which we can have an impact. Depending on our energy, willingness and level of risk-taking, we are able to generate a whole lot of transformations within ourselves and in the environment around us.
One of those prayers found everywhere in stores and curio shops, practically upon every sort of material from glass, to cloth, to wood, is the one that asks the Almighty to grant us serenity to accept the unchangeable and courage to change the changeable. Up to here it has enough insight contained in it. But the crucial few words kept for the third line are ‘…and wisdom to know the difference’.
There are many situations in life in which we fail to exercise this discerning wisdom, from our careers, marriages, dealing with our neighbours, or simply in our setting priorities.
While changing the material world and one’s financial status are not impossible things to do, it takes a lifetime and many setbacks and knocks to realise that we cannot change others, and that we could have reserved a substantial amount of energy and resources if we had exercised the serenity to accept this.
Sufi master Bayazid Bistami offers some insight on this. When he was young he was a revolutionary, and all his prayers to God were to ask for energy to change the world. Approaching middle age, he realised that half his life had gone by without his truly changing a single soul. So he changed his prayer, now asking for power to change those he came in contact with – just family and close friends, and he would be content.
Then comes this wisdom-statement: “Now that i am an old man and my days are numbered, my one prayer is, ‘Lord, give me the grace to change myself’. If i had prayed for this right from the start i would not have wasted so much of my life.”
So the first prayer is about serenity, courage and wisdom and the second one is about energy, power and grace. And this is interesting because there is a vital link here between wisdom and grace. In one sense a true prayer is about asking God to grant us grace and by that, or in the light of it, we may acquire wisdom.
Wisdom is not always about knowing what to do, but more importantly, understanding about what not to do. Sometimes simply listening, not rushing to help or to interfere can be enormously wise.
We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking to realise that in life a lot depends on the willingness to face all that happens to us, and at the same time on learning the limits and extent to which we can overcome, and also what we must learn to make peace with.
Life is about choice. But to choose well, Kofi Annan says: “…you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.”