Apr 21 2014

Paul Williams



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Acceptance, Patience



One of the most powerful scenes in the movie “Network” was Peter Finch playing a disillusioned broadcaster screaming that he was “mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore!”  It earned him an Oscar.

Rosa Parks courageous refusal to give up her seat to a white woman on a Montgomery Alabama bus is celebrated as a seminal moment in the birth of the CIvil Rights Movement

Life saving discovery’s in medicine may be traced to brilliant minds refusing to believe that polio and small pox were just part of life.

While we all celebrate such aggressive and revolutionary acts, I find great value in the occasional choice of passivity and acceptance.  The fine art of “Letting it be” is a useful option.

For the last twenty-four years I’ve followed some sage advice about how to deal with things in this world that I can and cannot change.  I ask for help.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

That legendary prayer offers bite sized instruction that’s easy to digest. It’s a beautiful entry level mantra for living with unresolved problems.  It’s the perfect blueprint for dealing with those problematic parts of life that can’t be changed. A great prayer, I use it often.

“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems” states an iconic recovering doctor in the same journal where I first read the prayer.   Certainly there are things in this world we’d all love to change but can’t, so it makes sense to pray for the ability to comfortably accept that fact.

It’s the second line of the prayer that fascinates me. “Courage to change the things I can.”   That’s where I find the wiggle room that requires a little discussion.

Just because I can change something doesn’t mean it’s the best, right action. That moment of choice is one I’m trying to be more conscious of.  What are the unintended consequences of my interfering.

Our first affirmation, “Something needs to change and it’s probably me” points me in the direction of my real work.  Can I fix the problem by fixing something in my own behavior? That’s usually where the solution lies for me.

Of course there’s a huge variety of “unsettling situations”, (I’m suddenly imagining Daffy Duck saying that), people and scenarios that can spin us out of control in a heartbeat.  Behavior that can quickly morph mellow Paulie into the irate prosecutor or sulking victim.     And that quickly, peace of mind is a thing of the past.

Once I become focused on the problem and fully enmeshed with the source of my displeasure I can say goodbye to the comfort of calm. I like that.  The comfort of calm. Sometimes the way back to the path of peace is simple acceptance. “Not my job to fix this.” is a happy exit from the drama. A bumper sticker band aid usually works as well.  “Live and let Live.”

Still, there are black and white issues that demand our involvement.  The safety of a child.  A drunken friend who needs to be relieved of his car keys.   But, often the ability to accept life on life’s terms and back away, allowing fellow travelers to learn from their mistakes, process their own problems and evolve without my barking instruction is a gift to me and to them.

Acceptance can be the key to a quiet mind and will sometimes open that stuck door that leads us back to the comfort of another day lived in Gratitude and Trust



Paul Williams

Paul Williams is a singer, songwriter, actor, recovery advocate and has been a fixture on the American cultural scene since the seventies. His book Gratitude and Trust is now available.

  • Margaret Garone

    Paul, Two friends and I discussed this very topic yesterday. Just because we’re given insight to a situation, it doesn’t mean we’re being asked to step in and tweak things. Funny how it’s all right here and stated so beautifully.
    To quote another friend: “My ‘help’ usually sets the healing process back about six months.'” Thanks for what you and Tracey and team are doing here. It’s a tremendous blessing.

    • Robin Madsen

      I also have tended to be a little too “helpful” in the past, like your friend, Margaret. Once you’ve had that backfire on you, you do take more time to think before acting.

      • Paul Williams

        The best of intentions don’t guarantee the best outcome. Yes, once we’ve burned a bridge or two with our insightful comments we begin to get the message. Thanks Robin.

      • Margaret Garone

        The backfiring’s especially awkward when I’m standing there in my Superwoman costume, convinced I have the solution to somebody else’s problem haha! .

        • Robin Madsen

          Yes, and then the person to whom you are most earnestly whispering your “solution” frowns, shakes their head, and leaves the room. Oops. As I said, I won’t be doing that again, without a whole lot more info!

    • Paul Williams

      Nice Margaret. Thanks for being a part of this. In recovery the expression that covers this subject is “restraint of pen and tongue!” … usually serves me well to remember it.

  • Robin Madsen

    Yes, sometimes the issues are black and white, the choice is clear to me, and I can act accordingly. At other times, I feel as if I have taken up residence in The Waffle House, but maybe that’s not altogether a bad thing. I’m reminded of two conflicting maxims from my younger days – “If you don’t know what to do, it’s best to do nothing”, and “Do something, even if it’s wrong”. I lean toward the first course of action, or inaction. I’d like to hear what the other G & T’ers have to say.
    Also, I had to smile, Paul, when you reminded me of “Sufferin’ Succotash”!

    • Paul Williams

      You remind me of my earliest years sober. My guide through the process used to say “If you don’t know what to do Don’t do it right away! More will be revealed!”

      • Robin Madsen

        I think that is some sage advice. Thank you, Paul!

      • Bryan Castner

        Jeez, I love that! If you don’t mind, Paul, I’ll be using that pretty much all the time.

  • Michael Gullickson

    Until a time machine is invented…I have to convince myself that I can’t change the past, furthermore I can’t change the behavior of anyone by being overbearing sounding like I personally have all the answers. What I try to think and live by, is that all the experiences I’ve had led me to where I am now, with a wonderful woman beside me a dresser full of poetry, and friends who respect me even with my faults.

    Should I ask for more? There are some other BIG THINGS coming, I can feel them circulating in the air. Soon to be a grandpa at 70, for the first time! This blog gives me hope and happiness Thanks to you both.

    • Paul Williams

      ANd you always give back Michael. You’re gonna be a great grandfather. I sense children’s poetry coming!

  • Rose Poirier

    That place between acceptance and resignation is confusing because both are passive states. I equal acceptance with forgiveness and tolerance and equal resignation with misfortune and conflict but I equal acceptance and resignation with apathy and submission. I admit that I miss how things use to be and I am trying to accept that things and people change. It is difficult to accept what is, to let go of what was and to have faith in what will be but I am trying…

    • Paul Williams

      I love the value you’re given to the two words. The two actions and how different they are. Resignation feels like defeat but acceptance feels like spiritual growth. Both required parts of a healthy life I guess. Loved reading this.

  • Steppie Royes

    There are a lot of people out there who think they have to work every problem through the first 4 grieving stages to reach the final one: acceptance. Denial (of what can/can’t be done,) anger (that the problem exists in the first place,) bargaining (for an easy answer or way out,) AND depression (the doubt and fear that the problem can not be fixed) slows the process to the thing we long for on a daily basis. I know I do from time to time.

    I still have my days where I am not willing to accept my weaknesses. The thought “Having to live with this condition is not acceptable” is the main culprit and can easily be associated with the common mistakes of others.

    I’ll give you an unflattering example. A few weeks back Irwin and I picked up a few things from the grocery. Pushing the cart towards the exit, a lady just jumped in front of us and continued to walk slowly while talking on her cell phone. I (yes sweet Steppie) mumbled “If you’re going to jump in front of me, at least walk faster”. The lady half turned around and said “I didn’t see you”. I responded “If you didn’t have that cell phone stuck in your ear, you would’ve been able to turn your head to check for traffic….I sure hope you don’t drive like that”.

    See how I was able to relate the grocery situation to my vehicle accident? I was basically throwing out that if people would pay attention then mistakes would not be made and I wouldn’t have spinal injuries.

    I was hurting that day and didn’t want to accept it.
    I uncharacteristically lashed out.

    I’ve learned (after a good long meditation over this) that the real problem was with me. The chronic pain wasn’t the problem. It’s me not accepting it. By avoiding acceptance, I was dragging myself (and those around me) through the stages of grief.

    Your writing is a great reminder that there’s a detour to acceptance and it is called “gratitude and trust”.
    Simple affirmations like “let it be” and “Acceptance is the answer to all my problems” might not fix me physically but it does wonders for my mind and gets me back on the road to a gratitude attitude. Great blog, Paul!

    • Paul Williams

      I like that “detour to acceptance” imagery. I’ll add that to my bumper sticker wisdom collection. I also love reading that a “good long meditation” was the map back to insightful Steppie. It reminds me I need to spend a little more time quietly listening.

  • Bryan Castner

    I’m always amazed at how much work on myself there is for me to do. But no matter what the task at hand happens to be, acceptance seems to be part of the resolving formula.

    Little by little, I’m finding that acceptance and being the witness (to my own life) play off of each other.

    When I put in the work that it takes to find acceptance in the midst of an ego storm, I sometimes find myself suddenly observing the process as if I were a third party – kind of like a U.N. observer or non-partisan sports fan. You know, not really attached to either side of the battle nor invested in it at any level. Just watching it play out.

    On the other hand, when I consciously cultivate the witness (which I’m hoping to make my new hobby), acceptance becomes low-hanging fruit. When my ego is quieted by being in the moment, acceptance is usually the obvious and natural course of action.

    And then it’s back to past and future, fear and desire, and the whole process starts over again. Keeps me busy.

    Blessings Mr. Paul.