Saturday, October 26, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, October 26, 2019 - Serenity is the Measure

I had a conversation with a good friend recently. He’s not a religious person, by any stretch. He has been to my church a couple of times and has expressed an interest in the way I approach things. But that’s about as close to organized religion as he’s ever been comfortable with.

I have no issue with this, of course. It’s not my job to convert people to any particular religion. I prefer to help people assess what religion they already are. Because I truly believe everybody has a religion. Of one fashion or another.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize what religion we profess. And by use of the word ‘religion’ here, I mean to say that we all place our faith in something. It’s good to have an idea of what it is. But most of us subscribe to faith systems which we don’t even realize are in progress. We may go to church, we may profess a certain type of faith regarding the nature of God, or lack of It. But the philosophies and principles of those religions may not be what you, deep down, actually live by. It’s good to know if that’s true or not.

By the same token, it’s good to recognize when the way you live your life happens to already coincide with what all religion is trying to teach us.

How do you live your life? How do you govern your behavior? Are you judgemental? Notice about what. Notice when the particular behaviors of others tweak you. Wonder why that is so. When we are tweaked into judging others, there’s something important to be learned about ourselves. It hinges on the practice of whatever religion you have deliberately or inadvertently chosen. What is your faith?

Many of us live our lives by what we learn in the church of materialism, for example. We subscribe to the doctrine of gain-at-all-costs when a slight shift toward a respect for abundance might yield a greater return on your faith investment. It’s not that having “stuff” is bad, it’s when that “stuff” is used as the metric to define your own worth that your weakness is revealed to be a strength in excess. In other words, “stuff” is fun to have around. But don’t let it define you. Don’t let Stuff=Worth become your religion.

My friend owns and lives in an old granite mill building by a river that was converted into multiple apartments many years ago. He was telling me about the slight cultural shift he’s noticed in the building.

A while back, he put a bench and tables by the river’s edge and noticed the tenants increasingly gathering there together in ways they hadn’t before. He found it meaningful. He attributed an overall neighborly shift in the building, which occurred over time, to choices like that and others which have a tendency to bring people together.

There are other aspects of my friend’s character which reveal a deep generosity and a love for other people. These qualities are natural to him. He has told me they were definitely not learned in the home. They are simply intrinsic to him.

It occurred to me that this was how he expressed his faith. With or without a conscious belief in God or Its nature, nor the rules for good behavior that we are meant to memorize and follow, my friend was good because it is fulfilling for him to be good in these ways.

That’s not to say he doesn’t revel in his streak of curmudgeon. He loves to occasionally feign a grumpy exterior. But the goodness of his heart is unmistakable and there should be more people like him. People who are unapologetic about the goodness they perform and need no higher guidance to tell them how or when to perform it. It has just become natural to them. That’s a good religion.

After talking about it for a while, he described the overall philosophy simply as this: “Serenity is the measure.” It’s what motivated the bench and tables by the river. Serenity. It’s what motivates even the smallest of actions in the management of his building in favor of friendliness among the tenants. Peace. It’s what motivates his desire to be of service to the elderly across the street, even when he can’t quite figure out how. Inner satisfaction. Serenity is the measure.

Serenity is his religion. The inner doctrine he has written in favor of that outcome helps him make choices about how to be in relationship with the world. Serenity is his dharma, his rulebook.

That’s not to say he is any more or less perfect than the rest of us. I have highlighted his halo and wings here for a moment, but the rest of him is just as human. He struggles just as much with the implications of his faith as the rest of us.

But we should recognize the goodness we perform in the world and ask ourselves what motivates it. If we do good to simply feel good, that serenity is our measure. If we do good so that we won’t feel guilty, or so that we can make someone else happy, or so that we can prove something to someone, it won’t make you feel very good. It’s swimming upstream and will wear you out over time.

Let serenity be your measure. Seek a deep inner satisfaction in the goodness you perform. If you are part of an organized religion, notice the places in which it says to do just that and look for more of the same. If you have no religion at all and seek none, it’s OK. The same still applies. Notice your goodness and do more for the sake of it. Let that be your religion. Let it be well with your soul. That is the goal of any faith.

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