The Only Thing You Can Change is You

The Only Thing You Can Change is You April 27, 2020
Ani Kolleshi via

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. ~The Serenity Prayer

During our shared pandemic quarantine, there are a lot of things we cannot change. For instance, we cannot change the path of this virus or when it will go away or the safety precautions we need to take. Yet if we dig a little deeper, we can see that there are things that we can change and they center around us personally.

There’s a marketing and technology blogger by the name of Christopher S. Penn, who recently went off topic and talked to the difference between the “inside” world and the “outside” world. He sums up our new Covid-19 reality like this:

There are fundamentally two worlds you can exist in. There’s the outside world – which, as you’ve noticed, is kind of a hot mess right now. Then there’s the inside world, the world that exists in your mind.

 (Penn also writes a daily column called Lunchtime Pandemic Reading, a must read if you want a deeper understanding of the virus and its societal implications.)

As Penn points out, “the outside world is largely outside of your control.” For most of us who are sheltering at home, we can observe the outside world, but we cannot do anything to change it. What’s happening “out there” is beyond our reach, often to our dismay, and while we can hope or pray for a change, it is effectively out of our hands.

But Penn also has a counterpoint: “The inside world is largely under your control. It’s who you are, what you think, how you feel, your entire existence.” And these days, we are spending more time than ever in this inside world, the place that both loves and mourns, is both brave and fearful, is largely optimistic, but can also fall into despair.

Penn reminds us that if there is any benefit to this shades-of-blue period, it’s this: You now have more control of your inside world than ever before. More time to lose yourself in a good book, or to binge watch a TV series, to “cook a favorite dish, cuddle with a beloved pet, perform some yoga or relax with meditation.” You now have the power to “live in a world that gives you joy.”

More on the things you can change from Deepak Chopra.

On the CNBC website, Deepak Chopra writes of the inside world in slightly different terms. He sees the pandemic as affecting us physically, mentally and spiritually, splitting the inner world into two aspects, a mental area and a spiritual one.

Like Penn, he advises us that the best way to address our mental well-being is through relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga. Chopra says “the virus makes the need for a positive psychological response more urgent, and the good news is that meditation and yoga are good for anti-stress” which also helps strengthen our immune system.

But a bigger concern Chopra has is that our fear and anxiety over Covid-19 “will engender an epidemic of soul sickness.” He explains the problem this way:

The presence of death, whether we want it to or not, evokes concern about the state of our souls. Spiritual well-being is alien to many people’s daily lives, and with the decline of organized religion, millions of people experience a sick soul, however you want to define it — weariness of heart, existential dread, a sinking feeling that nothing really matters — without finding a way out.

His advice: “Don’t spend more than a few minutes diagnosing these feelings; everyone is experiencing them.” It is now part of our shared experience. Chopra tells us that we must do next is address the needs of the soul. We can do this in the following ways, which I have edited. We can:

  • Remember your sense of meaning or purpose
  • Be loving and be willing to be loved
  • Tap into anything that gives you joy
  • Be of service or provide comfort to others
  • Be generous of spirit and engage in acts of kindness

Chopra goes on to stress the importance of looking inward, the only place where true inner peace and joy can be found. He reminds us that this lesson is taught to us in the world’s wisdom traditions. “The Old Testament says, “Be still and know that I am God.” The New Testament says that the Kingdom of Heaven is within. The Indian Vedic tradition says that Ananda, or bliss, lies at the heart of creation.”

He also recommends we use meditation, any type of meditation, to calm our nerves and sooth our spirit. He tells us that “Meditation is nothing more than being alone in silence with yourself and letting your awareness go to the place where peace and joy are eternal.” These words align with Christopher S. Penn’s message that while we cannot change the outer world, changing our inner world is well within our reach.

It’s the one change you can make right now. You may not be able to change the “hot mess” of a world around you, but you can change you—and be the best possible version of yourself and a shining example for those around you.

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