Serenity in a Time of Chaos
Rev. Paul D. Daniel
“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 ”
Some of us may know this from AA but it was written by the theologianReinhold Niebuhr. In this troubling time, it is worth taking such a prayer to heart. What is now important is to find constructive ways of coping with the challenges of living amidst political and social chaos that is shaking the nations equanimity. Coupled with catastrophic fires and storms the need for prayers for serenity are more needed than ever to calm our anxiety. But prayers are not enough. We must unite to engage in resistance if we are to change the disastrous course of our nation.
Political and financial systems can change if we set our minds to the task. What I do know is the only way to survive our personal and national malaise is not to panic. Instead, take in a deep breath of serenity and exhale your stress and tension. Breathe in, breathe out. We have been here before; endured economic meltdowns, brutal wars, political turmoil from McCarthyism to presidential impeachment’s and assignations.
We can do that again if the threat to our stability and safety grows and our democracy is in danger. No president or politician is above the law. We are a nation of laws enshrined in our constitution. We also have an inner strength and untapped resources to persevere and cope.
I believe this church; you and I have a mission to help each other face these challenges no matter how daunting. What we can’t do is ignore these challenges. If we do we give up the rights to create a better, more relevant faith and nation.
So, let’s talk about some ideas that might help us deal with this assault on our serenity and tranquility. We all know it is easy to experience a sense of inner peace and satisfaction when life flows smoothly, when we have financial security, good relationships, our health, and a good job. But, when those things are under attack it is far harder to relax, especially if we feel our social safety net might be falling apart: the affordable care act, Medicaid and Medicare, environmental safety and a seemingly endless list of other protections. When our basics human rights such as the right of transgender citizens to opening serve in the military, and workers right are being scaled back serenity is will be in scarce supply and our national stress can reach all-time highs.
Real life however is never truly free of the worry that prevents us from feeling at peace. Nevertheless, tranquility is within our reach internally regardless of the chaos surrounding us. Outside events do not have to control our inner life. We can learn to intentionally seek tranquility and serenity through a focused practice, guided imagery, meditation even under the most trying circumstances.
Thoughts always arise as distractions that intrude on our inner peace, but we have a choice and the ability to silence those negative voices or, we can choose to pay attention to the noise and surrender our tranquility to a growing knot in our stomachs. It is in our power to choose to think positively and imagine what we sincerely want and need to achieve serenity. Good can arises through both acceptance or action. When the mind is silent and still, we can achieve a degree of inner and outer happiness. In a state of quiet and clarity, body and soul are united in our intuitive center. It is there that we know that we are a miraculous expression of the holy,
A calm mind arises out of a kind of emotional cleansing where we feel the rush of all our emotions but do not let them overwhelm us. This is difficult to achieve but a blessing when we in the words of hymn 352,
“find the stillness,
hold the stillness
let the silence carry us”.
Try giving your brain a rest; let it shut down alienation and despair. Let it calm and restore you. Serenity is the freedom from the compulsion of nonstop thinking …. I admit, that is my challenge when I lay my head down to sleep. Remember achieving tranquility is an ongoing process. You can achieve it with practice: meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing, intentional relaxation or many forms of therapy. I have taken up this inner medication to become more conscious of the rhythm of my breathing to calm my racing mind. , out with my racing “monkey mind I am sure some of you have ” tried similar methods that work for you. This journey to serenity that we seek requires time, patience and persistence.
Our thoughts and habits imprison us. This cacophony of thought prevents inner harmony. It can be a very destructive human habit but we can free ourselves of it. To rid ourselves of this incessant chatter of our inner voice we must be conscious of them, and intentionally behave in a new and different manner to shut them out. We must retrain our mind and thoughts until we can form new, and healthy coping skills.
Our thoughts determine how we see ourselves in the world. A healthy self-image is the Rosetta Stone of our being. We can see ourselves as beloved or worthless. It is in our power to decide which one. To become a true master of our own mind goes beyond our ability to concentrate on only a single thought to the exclusion of all others. It is the ability to slow down and quiet the mind completely. That is the path to serenity.
The Indian sage, Sri Ramana Maharshi, has said: “Mind is only a bundle of thoughts, stop thinking and show me the mind”. When the clouds hide the sun, writes another mystic Ramirez Sason, “it is still there, beyond the clouds. Our essence, our inner self, is always here. We only need to remove the barriers to experience peace and calmness.” These obstacles are our thoughts, ideas, habits and beliefs. While we can never stop using our mind, we must work to balance the tension between the instinctual id, the moralizing super- ego and the ego that mediates between the two.
The mind should be our servant and not our master. Sason continues “You don’t have to feel uncomfortable with the language of meditation, self, Inner Self, Inner essence, universal Consciousness, etc. At first blush, they may seem to be meaningless words, but they are not. They symbolize something very real. Concentration and mindfulness give these words meaning.” This spiritual journey is substantive and not impractical.
Let us take a moment now to move into a centered silent Meditation:
I invite you to close your eyes and sit comfortably in your chairs.
Try to calm your mind of all agitation.
Mentally, take a step back and watch your mind, as if looking at someone else’s mind.
Breathe in deeply of love and tranquility and breathe out all that constricts and distresses. Let our rhythmic breathing, the rise and fall of our chest, calm and relax us. Concentrate on relaxing our mind and calming our body. Feel all our tension draining away. Breathe in deeply of serenity and exhale all that causes stress and fear. Breathe in … and out. … as you become aware of your mind and body relaxing.
Breathe in …. Breathe out.
This all to short meditation should allow you to calm your mind, quiet the voices of chaos and lead you to a sense of tranquility.
Open yourself to it.
Feel a cocoon of tranquility wrap around you.
Breathe in relaxation and breath out tension.
Nothing can hurt you or disturb you.
You are at peace.
Take these next few moments to just relax and calm yourself.
Breathe in tranquility … breathe out tension and stress ,
Repeat. Repeat, Repeat
Now, allow yourself to come back to this room, this place, —more at peace than you had been before.
Ramirez encourages us to become aware of our thoughts, as if they were not ours, but we will not allow ourselves to become submerged in them. Learn to practice being mindful of your thoughts. A growing awareness will become easier over time. You will have to repeatedly remind yourself to practice watching your thoughts, for your mind will quickly lose focus. Do not give up and you will succeed.
If you meditate, sit quietly as often as you can. Inner tranquility will come, Remember! Ramirez writes,
“You are not your mind!
You are not your thoughts!
You are not your ideas!
You are not your beliefs!”
They may be from you, but they are not you.
They are tools only and have no power to control, except what
you give them. When your thoughts quiet, the
essential you remain. There is no void. When the emptiness of no thoughts is reached, you begin to feel your true existence, your inner being, your Tao.
This emptiness is filled with a great, wonderful, powerful and sweet tranquility. This is existence without fetters. This is peace that is your birthright.
Let it calm you.