Serenity

(originally published February 25, 2017)

Fat Winter, 2010

I recently attended a yoga workshop. My practice has shrunk to a few old favourites of late. A shocking number of positions require pressing weight into your hands, and one of mine “just can’t”, as the kids say nowadays. But that is a story for another time.

This story is about the quest for serenity. All good quests force the hero to face a series of challenges, any of which could overwhelm her and end the quest before she attains the grail. Challenge the first: I had to drag my hermit-self into the city for three days in a row. A day there can have a depleting affect on me that my near and dear know as “being towned”. Challenge the second: The course took place in a tiny conference room. There were only three windows, and the instructor preferred to lock the door to prevent accidental interruptions during our meditation. Truly, a claustrophobe’s delight. Challenge the third: I didn’t know anyone in the room. I am tiresomely cautious around new people. (Even I find it tiresome to need years to feel at ease with someone.) Recent events have exacerbated all three of these tendencies. But, at the behest of a well-meaning friend and from a genuine desire to heal, I joined nine strangers on a quest for peace of mind.

For three hours a day, we stretched, breathed, and meditated together. Surprisingly, we didn’t speak much beyond the obligatory round of introductions on the first day. “Hello, my name is… I am here because…” It wasn’t necessary, I suspect, because the coursework fostered a sense of unity independent of our personal stories. We were aware of ourselves and each other as simple beings, doing simple things, and the resulting acceptance was profound. At the end of each session, we went our separate ways, relaxed and thoughtful, mulling over new insights and our instructor’s gentle guidance. The next day, we would greet each other warmly, like old friends gathering for coffee.

Still, unlike other group members, I can’t say I had a life-changing experience. Sure, I enjoyed the weekend far more than expected, learned a new-to-me breathing technique, proved to my brain that it couldn’t stop me from doing either. Good as all that is, it isn’t new, it’s the narrative of my life: Force myself into situations that test my limits. Learn. Achieve. Savour. Then retreat, rinse, and repeat.

The change came later.

Driving home on the third day, I realized my yoga weekend was just another episode in a longer quest. I was vaguely saddened by the thought. I’ve touched the Serenity Grail a few times in my life, even held it close for a while, yet it has always slipped away and the quest begins anew. I stared at the highway, then looked to the horizon. I was crossing what others call the most boring landscape in Canada. As the prairie shifted subtly to surround me, I felt elated. Rather than grieve the Grail’s loss, I can look forward to its return, for I’ve held it and will recognize it when next our paths cross.

Meanwhile, I shall savour the quest itself.