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Commitment to Serenity

Updated: Apr 5, 2021

It was January 8th, 1990. I was standing on the upper deck of the Dawn Princess cruise liner. The beautiful Caribbean Sea was spread out before me. It was a balmy Caribbean evening, the stars in the sky were so brilliant I felt I could scoop them up in a mystery bowl. The water shimmered like a dark mirror. My 16-year-old nephew was standing with adoration as he looked up to me as his mentor and guide. I had everything I needed and wanted. Including a glass of scotch in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Suddenly, I could feel the bottomless pit inside me that was me. And in that one moment, I realized all the words my therapist had been telling me were true: no amount of any substance—not cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, money, shopping, sex, food, or relationships—were going to fill that bottomless pit. I was 40 years old.

When I got off that ship, I went straight into the 12-step program and never left. It took some years to release the power of that bottomless pit. What I had to learn was how to live life on life’s terms. Because it’s easy to say I’ll live life one day at a time. It’s easy to say ‘let go, let god.’ It’s super easy to believe it all when life is going okay.

It’s when I hit those road bumps that matters. It’s how I react and treat others when I am up against a wall: like when my father died, or when my mother died, or when I was fired from my job, or when I was in the LA riots. Or how I handled the death of my closest friend of 45 years or dozens of publishers’ rejections or being hospitalized for a heart condition. Or my friend’s brain tumor or cancer in family, friends, and my spouse. Each one of these was a reason to have a drink or twelve. Each one a reason to overeat. It’s much, much easier to face defeat and fear with a glass of scotch than with my own heart.

But the only thing that matters is this: what does it take to stay in an open and loving heart no matter what is happening around me?

It takes a commitment to serenity. I’m not sure I have the courage or wisdom that the serenity prayer calls for. But I had a spiritual revelation that profoundly changed me. I used to have a therapist, Ronnie, who unpacked my life’s mysteries for me. She helped me learn to love and accept my mother even though she abandoned me when I was 19 months old; Ronnie also helped me express my anger for the first time. Ronnie was a god send into my life, and a year after I moved to LA, she killed herself. I was devastated.

But one day, as I was read a pamphlet on the 2nd step, which talks about believing in a higher power that could restore me to sanity, I realized Ronnie could be my higher power. I felt supported by her in a way like no other. And ever since that moment on March 3, 1990, I have felt her arms around me. I have never felt alone again. I have never felt that bottomless pit. I have filled it with love for that abandoned inner child and a belief in myself and my higher power. And with that knowledge in my heart, I’ve been able to stay in serenity no matter what happens around me.

by the Dalai Lama

It’s called calm and cost me many storms.

It’s called calm and when it disappears … I go out for searching it again.

It’s called calm and teaches me to breathe, to think and rethink.

It’s called calm and when madness tempts it are unleashed brave winds difficult to dominate.

It’s called calm and it comes with the years when the ambition of youth, the loose tongue and the cold belly give place to more silences and wisdom.

It’s called calm when we learn to love, when selfishness gives place to giving and nonconformity fades to open heart and soul, surrendering completely, to whoever wants to receive and give.

It’s called calm when friendship is so sincere that all the masks fall down and everything can be told.

It is called calm and the world evades it, ignores it, inventing wars that nobody will ever win.

It’s called calm when the silence is enjoyed, when the noises are not only music and madness but the wind, the birds, the good company or the noise of the sea.

It’s called calm and with nothing can be paid, there is no coin of any color that can cover its value when it becomes a reality.

It’s called calm and it cost me a lot of storms and I would go through it a thousand times more until I found it again.

It’s called calm, I enjoy it, I respect it and I don’t want to let it go…

Participants Reflections:

  • Thank you for sharing so much with us. When you mentioned twelve steps today, I had visions of the many, many steps going up to shrines and maybe cut into mountains to get to the top of the mountain. And I thought how this meditation every morning is such a wonderful step for us to keep getting higher and going up. I know a lot of what is said here stays with me through the day, and it helps me think about who I was, who I am, and who I will be.

  • Thank you for the reading and your words. When I was meditating, I was thinking about the word ‘calm’ and all the turbulence I personally have and what our country is going through. I was thinking about the QR method from yesterday (see Nov 3 blog) and I did it in the meditation today. It brought a great deal of calm to me today. I wanted to share that it is a wonderful way to get to calmness. Thank you.

  • I did the same thing with it. We make a fist and as we breathe out slowly, we imagine a bar moving downwards from our hearts down through our feet. It’s a wonderful way to calm down. I found it very helpful. I get stuck at my mid-waist and have to remember to push it down.

  • I think of it as a horizontal plane and I’m pushing the whole plane down through my body.

  • I’m thinking of the concept of the pregnant pause that was mentioned yesterday, and I think that’s where we are as a nation. To just be quiet and try to keep an open and loving heart, and to see how things beyond our control work out. We don’t have any choice. Things are in motion. And we can hope they turn out the way we like, but we cannot control them. The only thing we can do is stay in that pregnant pause, and breathe.

  • Thank you for your writings. I especially thank you for the reminder of the second step. I wrote it down so I don’t lose it. There is a Higher Power that can restore me to sanity. What came to me is this is where the hard work for me gets real. Do I stand in that or not?

  • It’s also important to remember that we lean into community, we lean into support systems, we lean into our tools and our resources. We do the best we can with the circumstances that are given to us that we cannot control.

  • That exercise you were talking about, I’m not sure if I have it quite right. As you were describing it, I thought of it as a root of a tree that goes down when it gets to your feet. The feelings and how they are expressed in this group amaze me. I am blessed. I want to grow up to be like that someday, to get to that point of where some of the things that are expressed and how they are meditating are done. The poem, about the birds in the wind, I remember in high school there was a fieldtrip to the Cathedral of the Pines. It was a breezy day, and I closed my eyes and I could feel the wind and it was so comforting. It was over 40 years ago. We can go back to moments of peace.

  • In meditation, we can bring ourselves to places of sanctuary, no matter how long ago they were because they are in our hearts. That’s where meditation is fulfilling us, in our hearts.

  • Thank you all for coming here and sharing this space with all of us. This community is important to all of us, to feel the support and love. Have a blessed gentle day today.

Photo: The word for serenity in Sanskrit is śāntiḥ, shaantih

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