Once, when I visited San Francisco to train with my tai chi teacher, Master George Xu. After a training session one afternoon, my girlfriend Michelle and I went to a local fair where there was an animal petting enclosure. Inside the penned-off area were llamas, sheep, a pot-bellied pig, and some goats. One goat in particular caught my attention right away. Not because he was rambunctious, but because he sat with his eyes closed, in what could only be described as deep meditation. This goat was unfazed by any of the commotion around him. No one really cared to pet him, because when they did, he appeared indifferent to their touch. When another animal happened to bump into him, he simply moved his head, never losing his meditative pose. His unusual serene presence was evident in how people kept their distance as they walked around him. I thought, If I could only capture this moment, but I knew no picture could show the serenity that was present in this animal.
There is a difference between this goat and humans—besides the obvious, of course—which is that the goat does not bother itself with anxiety, worry, opinions, and judgements, like we do. Humans are bothered by so much that is happening around them and this is a big reason we are not calm, peaceful, and untroubled.
I have met people who, after receiving a diagnosis of cancer, were untroubled and calm. I’m sure though, that these same people might have been enraged because someone cut them off while driving, or because of some other petty incident. The event doesn’t matter—it is our reaction to it that does.
For most of us, our minds, emotions, physical bodies, which are all energies, are not in our control. We have lost control of one or more of these energies in some respect. These energies make up a human existence, along with the subtle energies as well, that we sometimes refer to Chi, and they need to be in our control if we are to be calm, at peace, and untroubled. These energies collect all our perceived views of the experiences we have, creating a distorted view of the world.
When we download information onto a computer, we do so for our benefit. This new information allows us more control over what we want to do and how we want to use the computer. If a virus or bug enters the computer, however, we can lose control of the computer and, in some cases, it will completely shut down.
So, to, any experience we have that we allow to impact us negatively can be like a virus within us. It will change the operating system, taking control of our energies. The resulting changes within us, is what prevents us from living peacefully. We may have brief moments of quietude, but they are not our default program, our way of being.
The next time you have a negative reaction to something, ask yourself why you are reacting this way. If you pay attention deeply, you will notice that it has sparked a previous experience that caused the same reaction. Feeling calm, peaceful, and untroubled comes from being emptied of the negativities that you have allowed to enter your system and living free from reactionary impulses. We are the ones responsible for allowing them to happen and so we have the power to be free of them too.
I know from my own life how experiences from our youth can cause unconscious reactions in us. Anyone who has been through a traumatic experience can testify as to how it can control our actions, emotions, and mental state. If we are not aware of causes, we can act in ways that seem irresponsible, careless, or trivial. One word or action can trigger an intense reaction that we cannot seem to control or understand.
There is no serenity if we are in a reactionary state. Our unawareness of the reasons we react to certain situations keeps us trapped in a repetitive cycle of reactionary behaviors. We don’t act but rather react, meaning we keep behaving the same way in certain situations and repeat the same actions again and again. My own reactions became a habit that took a lot of attention to see the source and cause. It is amazing how much the unconscious mind can shut off to the conscious one, leaving us to live in a state of continuous unawareness.
So, to answer the question, “Is serenity a possible in this world?”—most definitely yes! We won’t experience this, however, unless we understand why and how we became troubled. We need to filter ourselves of the experiences that have contaminated us. We need to return to the default programming of love, compassion, and kindness that are ever-present when we live from the inner space of our being, rather than allowing the external qualities of life and our reactionary unconscious state to disturb and violate our serenity.