Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Discipline of Serenity

"Eventide"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

I was going through one of my desk drawers yesterday when I came across a little plaque on which was printed the well-known "serenity prayer."

Lord 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.

I found it interesting that I stuck this prayer at the bottom of a desk drawer instead of putting it on my desk or hanging it on my wall.  I think I did this because I never actually liked that prayer. It also struck me that I probably didn't like it because I never really understood it.

Whenever I conjured up the idea of "serenity" I would get this mental image of some guy with his feet on his desk, "whistling a happy tune" as the world was falling apart and crumbling down all around him. I would imagine that "accepting the things you cannot change" implied that "misery is inevitable," since there isn't much you can do about it, just grit your teeth, accept it -"Don't worry, be happy."  

I have since come to understand that "serenity" has nothing to do with accepting the inevitable miseries of life. I have also come to realize that "serenity" is far more than a "peaceful easy feeling" like the kind you might get on a quiet evening as the sun goes down and the first stars appear. 

In fact, "serenity" is not a feeling at all - it is a spiritual discipline.

Actually I think I came to understand this "serenity prayer" when I began to learn some of the  Buddhist wisdom teaching. 

The Buddha taught:

When we free ourselves from desire,
we will know serenity and freedom.

I think another word for "desire" is "control."

People fool themselves into thinking that they can control the outcomes of what happens in their lives. But for the most part, none of us has little, if any, "control" over outcomes in everyday living - good things happen, bad things happen.  Or, as my Buddhist friends tell me: "it is what it is." 

I practice the "discipline of serenity" when I am able to be mindfully present, awake and aware to the revelations of every unfolding present moment. 

As I sit once again in my garden this morning, an idea came to me that perhaps another way of "getting at: the meaning of serenity is to think about "being grounded."  In fact, I very much like that image of "being grounded." I imagine the chaos and the energy of the flow of an electrical current. When I go to plug in a lamp, I don't get electrocuted because the outlet is grounded. 

So it is with the practice of serenity. The world is a flow of chaos, but when I am "grounded" in the present moment, unafraid, embracing come what may without a desire to control anything, then I am not destroyed by it, but I am energized by it. 

Yes, there are plenty of things in my life that I can change. 

I can change the way I eat or drink or how often I exercise.  I can change the way I care for the environment.  I can change the way I treat other people.

 I can change a lot, but I can "control" nothing. 

And when I understand this, I know "serenity and freedom."

Lord, 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.











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