Tips for Fishing and Living #27

Tip # 27:

“There is certainly something in angling that tends to produce a serenity of the mind.”                                                                                                      Washington Irving

Serenity: The state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled. Such a state is something that is developed from within. It comes easy for some, more difficultly for others. But it can be cultivated. Some would describe serenity as the Buddhist notion Ram Dass coined in his book: Be, Here, Now.” Others might describe is as the ability of being in the flow. 

Sports people talk about being in the flow; actors and other artists speak of it as well. Serenity is something that is available for all of us.  It is a matter of having a calm presence. Religious may call it grace. True serenity is what comes when we are connected to our greater Source; the Source within us, and without us, that allows us to see from a much broader viewpoint. This is possible when we cultivate our capacity to see beyond what our senses offer and beyond the physical, and the intellectual, although it includes these.  

Many of the issues and turmoil we encounter in life are from a spiritual crisis. Eventually we must come face to face to the realization that we will at some point die. For some of us this realization comes about by a major health issue, or some tragedy, or it comes creeping up from just living long enough and contending with our body and/or mind wearing out. If we have been growing and maturing along our life’s path we cannot ignore the reality of our own mortality.

I’ve been known to tell others that whether they attempt to do everything they truly want to pursue, or not, in the end, they still die. I don’t say this to be morbid. Rather, I tell them this to motivate them to take those actions they may be holding back from doing, and to live their life out fully until such time as it is over.

“What is stopping you?” I’ll chide them. You are the only one placing limits on your life. It is you, therefore, who is selling yourself short. Go do whatever you dream. Do is with boldness and serenity. Henry Ford once said: “If you think you can, or can’t, you’re right.”

Some people avoid attempting to engage in an intimate relationship due solely to the fear of failing. This is often the case if someone has had a previous relationship that fell apart. They, understandably, do not want to be hurt again. What they can do, however, is use that unsatisfactory past relationship to learn something useful. This, however, is only possible when we are able to be reflective, and then be willing to get present to what did happen and see our own part in it. We must do this without judgment of the former intimate partner or ourselves.

A wise friend once said,” The worst possible thing is to have died when never having lived at all.” Living in fear is not living; it is merely existing, a waiting around to die. Life is not a spectator sport. It is a given that we will screw things up – probably more often than we like to admit. It’s all part of the learning curve. The best we can hope is we don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over; that we learn from them, and then go out and make new mistakes. This is the only way to gain wisdom.

I am sorry to be the one to tell you. You are NOT going to “live happily ever after.” This is only possible in the movies and romance novels. In real life, what we can hope for is to live “mostly happily ever after.” Even in what we might define as a successful marriage, it is best to recognize that all relationships are comprised of two imperfect people, with each one attempting to love the other imperfectly. Each party, no matter how well intended, will fail their partner regularly. This means each gets the opportunity do a lot of learning and a lot of forgiving. We must, also, learn how to be forgiven.

It is a fool’s errand to strive directly for happiness. Happiness is better seen as a by-product and is more transient or fleeting. Serenity is a learned way of living. It does require self-awareness and self-compassion. And requires a bit of humility, as well. Happiness will more likely come with a focus on serenity.          

During a recent workshop I offered the participants an opportunity to sit in the fourth chair of seven chairs that we put in a long straight line. As they each took a turn sitting in this fourth chair I had them imagine their parents were seated behind them (chair five), and then their grandparents behind their parents (chair six), and behind their grandparents were their great grandparents (chair seven). They may know or have known these people. Then, to the front of the participant in the next chair (chair three) were possibly their own children or nieces and/or nephews. Then in the next forward chair (chair two) were grandchildren, and then in the most forward chair were great grandchildren (chair one).  Perhaps the participant will live long enough to meet some of these future family members; but eventually there will be many more they won’t know.  

This exercise helps place us in an historical context of Life – this Life that gets passed on to us from those that came before us, and where we may get to continue passing this precious gift of Life onto future generations. This exercise is both a humbling experience and a sacred reflection. We are here because of those all who came before us. Eventually we will be part of that distant ancestral lineage as we move along.

We are presently living in a very anxious time. Slowing ourselves down and intentionally seeking serenity is perhaps more essential than ever. Prior to his death, Murray Bowen, the founder of Family Systems Thinking, began developing an aspect of his theory regarding how Society, as a system, periodically goes through times of regression. He called this a Societal Regression. He was writing about this in the 1990’s. I can only imagine what he would think of what is going on today, nationally and globally. These are very anxious times, indeed. These are uncertain times. Old structures and institutions have not been able to keep up with the rapid changes that have been occurring. People are feeling up-rooted and in need of inner calm and serenity, perhaps more than ever.

As human beings we seek certainty, and when we don’t find it we look for simple answers to complex questions. This very linear, cause and effect, way of thinking is failing us. It does not ultimately sustain us. What is required is to be able to think in a non-linear, non-dualistic, and systemic way. In order to do so we must develop newer disciplines for generating calm, and forging a greater capacity for presence, or again what we call serenity.

 One does not have to stand on a river bank with a fishing pole to do this. They must, however, find some way to regularly foster reflection and calm, in the midst of the otherwise frenetic, fast paced life of unparalleled change.  Part of this slowing down to become a calmer, non-anxious person, is to learn to be comfortable with life’s uncertainty. “I don’t know” can be an acceptable response to many questions that confront us.  

To fully grasp our own place in the context of the universe is powerful. “I am here, in this life, in this world, at this moment, and I am one with all that is, has been, and will yet come.” This is mystical. It is a blessed moment to come to such a realization. And it is the source of joy and happiness. Yes, serenity – a serenity that is not only available for the angler of fish, but is a possibility for each one of us “anglers” of life itself.