Thanks for the Advice, but I Prefer Not to Go Screw Myself: Notes on Serenity (Mine and Joss Whedon’s)

Posted: October 17, 2010 in Early sobriety
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

So, every alkie who’s been “in the rooms” knows the Serenity Prayer:  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.  I figure that beyond 12-step groups, new age shops and dust-catcher stores have these words plastered a-plenty all over mugs and magnets and pillows.  For all its ubiquity, it’s a tough order when you start thinking about it.

For one thing, “serenity” is rather an elusive little devil of a state of mind.  It makes a certain sense that Joss Whedon, when he developed his short-lived sci-fi series Firefly, named the spaceship in which the crew sets out on its various adventures “Serenity.”  (We learn that it is technically named for the last battle of a civil war that the good guys lost.  But I think this was post hoc exposition.)  Serenity is what you ride in during, not the destination of, the journey–or so I’m told, led to believe, and occasionally do realize when I’m not being a resistant cow-bag.  And like Whedon’s fictional spaceship, my Serenity is usually in need of repair, threatening to fall out of orbit, and being hunted across the universe by forces wishing to destroy it.  When it’s working, it gets me out of scrapes, helps me combat the bad guys, and is a nice place to invite people.  WHEN IT’S WORKING.

Part of my meditative practice–which I can only translate blandly as an effort to move toward serenity–involves taking an affirmation and “working on it” throughout the day.  (I have elsewhere described my hilarious [in]ability to meditate effectively.)  I challenge you to pick a short quote from your favorite religious literature, moralist, ethicist, philosopher, even politician and consciously put that quote into practice for the next 24 hours.  But this is what I have been doing for several weeks now.  Today’s is “Love can change the course of my world.”  Sounds nice.  Sweet.  Like maybe the words should be laminated on a big poster board with images of balloons and kittens and unicorns and rainbows.

So, when I get over being the ironic little piss-ant that I am and concentrate on it, I agree that the statement is almost undoubtedly true.  (As a result of love, I wound up with two kids:  need I ask the universe for more evidence that love has already changed the course of my world?)  But how do I put this into PRACTICE?  Does it mean, for instance, that I should allow love, rather than hate or fear or judgment, rule my dealings with people and situations during the day.  When I inadvertently take a parking space for which  an (otherwise) nice man was waiting patiently, prompting him use a little common sign language indicating that I should go have relations with myself–do I approach him and apologize?  First thanking him, of course, for the suggestion, because although at that moment self-gratification was not uppermost in my mind, it might be later….  I know I am to love my neighbor, for instance, and that this should/could be a part of my practice.  But do I also have to love the impatient jackass giving me the finger in the parking lot because I didn’t see his gray-like-every-one-else’s late-model-sedan?  I suppose so, but it’s a challenge.

Love itself can be damaging to serenity, after all.  Perhaps it is far more likely to disrupt serenity than the vexing example of mild resentment I gave above.  A book I’m reading right now (The Enigma of Anger by Garret Keiser) remarks that “love is the only thing for which a sane person will suffer.”  Suffering does not sound like fun, nor does it sound particularly conducive to serenity–not my babyish version of serenity, anyway.  And that’s one of my problems:  I have a notion that serenity will be easy or even just make me feel “good.”  Just like I have the adolescent idiocy to imagine that the changed world that love can create will be familiar, cozy, and uncomplicated.

I claim that the rainbows and kittens and unicorns and schmaltzy pillows and knick-knacks covered with prayers and feel-good slogans are nauseating.  Nauseating because they pretty-up the real world with pastel half-truths and junk wisdom.  But, if I’m honest, it’s exactly what I want.  I don’t want serenity to be a state of mind that is a place for making difficult choices, identifying and admitting painful truths, or enduring pain and grief.  Nor do I want love to result in the discomfort of new demands and the anxiety of unexpected dependencies.  No:  secretly I’d rather hope that murmuring the serenity prayer over a candle blessed by Carmelite nuns will do the trick.  I have enough of the idolater in me to deserve the Mosiac retribution of a heavy load of commandments toppled down on my head–all of them with the serenity prayer etched deep in the granite.  Moses had a flair for symbolism:  it’s probably the only thing sometimes that might get through my thick skull.

As I said, I like Joss Whedon’s name for his old, bedraggled, much-loved spaceship.  Many of us have probably had an old, bedraggled car for which we had or still have a sentimental spot.  It runs, sometimes it doesn’t.  But mainly it runs, and we tend most of the time to take it for granted.  Even on the frosty mornings, it still starts up at the first turn (or even if it takes the usual 10 or 20 cranks, we take for granted it will).  Like serenity, we only really notice it when it’s not working.

  1. Evelyn says:

    Or as Mulder says…
    “I want to believe”
    I’m jealous of Mormons who actually think God speaks to them.
    But I once meditated on the concept of being “blessed with work”. And it worked. For a while.
    I like your writing style.
    Gonna poke around…

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