A Celebration of Serenity

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“How’s the serenity?

These words always bring a smile to my face. I picture Darryl Kerrigan surveying his ‘castle’ and realise that this Aussie larrikin was onto something. Despite living in a modified kit home mere meters from an airport runway, he proudly surveys his home and family and cannot be more content. Even a son in jail for armed robbery does little to dent his idyllic view and a collection of random knick knacks is declared to result in ‘the best father’s day ever!’

Serenity is not something that comes naturally to me. I like order, clean lines, tidy spaces. Often these ideals drive me to frustration as I prioritise elements that are often unachievable with three rambunctious kids in the space. I expect to be listened to, instructions followed, boundaries kept and these starry-eyed expectations can spark rage when reality collides with the ideal.

Tonight was a prime example. Having a spontaneous burst of energy after dinner, I spun like a whirlwind around the playroom – reorganising boxes, sorting toys, putting all the annoying ones out of reach. As always seems to happen with a clean room, the kids suddenly get a second wind and become fascinated with all the toys I just put away. Before we knew it, it was 7:30pm and the boys had not even started thinking about bed. Eli was drawing pictures at the bench and Hudson was sneaking cheese from the fridge. I began corralling Hudson to clean his teeth but all my instructions to Eli seemed to bounce off the invisible wall of focus that he had constructed around himself. After repeating myself far too many times and noticing Hudson about to join his strangely unresponsive brother at the bench, I cracked it – ordering the boys to listen and start getting ready for bed. Unfortunately, Eli is very sensitive to being yelled at (as of recently) and he disappeared under our bed crying angrily. Thus began an hour long battle to calm him down, not get frustrated at his defiance and get him the hell to bed.

I know logically that yelling rarely solves anything, that it is a cheap way of communicating and that the message gets completely lost in translation. But what can I say? I’m human, I make mistakes and sometimes the fifteenth time of asking someone to do something just tips you over the edge. I’m aware that this is largely intertwined with being a Type One on the Enneagram, the simmering pot of passions and feelings that we so often strive to ‘keep a lid on’. Even tonight as I revisit my Type I read this: “Your Achilles’ heel is your self-righteous anger. You get angry easily and are offended by what seems to you to be the perverse refusal of others to do the right thing—as you have defined it. Try to step back and see that your anger alienates people so that they cannot hear many of the good things you have to say.” Ouch. Oh so true.

Richard Rohr points out that serenity is the virtue (or antidote) to the repressed anger of the One. He defines serenity to mean ‘a nonreactive heart’, or ‘holding the world with compassion and patience’. As Russ Hudson puts it, “Serenity allows Ones to be of service. Instead of reacting in anger and irritation, serenity lets Ones show up in the face of difficulty, conflict, and suffering and see what’s actually needed, what will be most helpful, and what will open things to the good. Serenity can trust the goodness, blessedness, and dignity that’s in me and trust that same goodness, blessedness, and dignity is there somehow in the situation or person in front of me.

I remember years and years ago, sitting around a kitchen table with friends at a holiday house in Mount Martha and we went around telling each other the great qualities and impressions that we had of them. It was a memorable experience as so often I think we assume that others know how much we value and admire them, when they have absolutely no idea. When it came time for my turn it was said that I was like Galadriel, the Lady of Lothlorien, sweeping ethereally through life. I love that image, though there is no way it can be said to be true now that kids have arrived on the scene. But perhaps the aspiration, the mental image of Galadriel can sustain me as I raggedly take a deep breath, flooding my prefrontal cortex with oxygen so that the animal brain doesn’t take over and catapult me into fight mode.  One can only hope.

It is a pity, I think, that it is difficult to reflect properly on how our decision to remain calm in that moment avoided a two hour meltdown from a frustrated child, or how sensing ourselves approaching the stress zone and putting on Netflix for the kids helped us regain our perspective and finish the night well. It is the blemishes, the sorrows and failures that loom large in our conscience – or at least it is in mine. I’m learning more and more through the Enneagram that the tapes that play in others’ minds are a little different.

At the very least, serenity is an underrated, powerful way to move through the world. If we were all to view those we meet with compassion and patience, there is no doubt that the world would be a better place. Or, in viewing our homes and colourful families through the lens of Darryl Kerrigan, realising that we really are ‘the luckiest in the world’.

So when you see me next, feel free to ask:

“How’s the serenity?”

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This piece is part of an exploration of monthly themes springing out of my resolutions for this year.

January: The Art of Hospitality
February: A Quest for Spirituality
March: The Audacity of Authenticity
April: The Genius of Generosity
May: The Fortune of Friendship
June: The Tapestry of Family
July: The Humour Chronicles

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