Forced Serenity

Yesterday would have been an appropriate day to light a cone of patchouli incense, but I failed to think of it. Today, though, for a variety of reasons, it came to mind. So, as I sit here, the scent of the burning cone fills my nostrils. I cannot say with certainty that it calms me, but I think it helps. I should meditate more frequently, but I would need to awaken even earlier than I do. This morning, I got up around 5; even that, it seems, is not early enough. If I had arisen by 4:30 or, better yet, at 4, I would have felt unhurried and more attuned to the idea of meditation. Tomorrow, perhaps. Today, though, I think I could be sufficiently smooth. Blood pressure of 98/61 and a pulse of 61 suggests I may be relaxed. Yet the body can deceive; physically, I may seem relaxed, but an EKG might reveal something completely different: a frenzied, emotionally chaotic mind-storm. Fortunately, brain waves on an oscilloscope do not reveal the thoughts that undergird the mind-storm. At least not yet. One day, scientists (and others) may be able to read a person’s thoughts. That could be problematic for me, if murderous impulses were deemed enough to warrant arrest and imprisonment. But I’m going off on a tangent here; I’ll loop back into my more sane self.


Out of the blue this morning, a friend from years ago is on my mind. We drifted apart over the years. “Drifted” is misleading; we clashed in ways that seem to have severed our friendship. Close friendships are few and far between, so their dissolution is especially unfortunate and painful. All these years later I am still distraught that all that’s left of one of those extremely rare once-in-a-lifetime friendships are memories and ashes. My memories of how our friendship dissolved are private, so I won’t share them—here or elsewhere. Maybe I should not even touch on it here, but it will serve to remind me—whenever I return to this post—that we should exercise more care to preserve relationships that are important to our well-being and happiness.


This morning’s major news stories, like new stories most days, address issues over which I have absolutely no control: 1) The January 6 congressional committee’s findings and its criminal referrals about Trump; and 2) A major earthquake that caused damage and power outages in Humboldt County in northern California. There were other stories, of course: masses of asylum-seekers at the U.S./Mexico border; the Argentinian win of the soccer World Cup; the status of the Russian invasion of Ukraine; and the finding of guilt in Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial; among others. On one hand, I understand the concept that an informed citizenry is important to a nation’s ongoing progress. On the other hand, I do not follow the logic that suggests I should stay abreast of matters utterly out of my control. Perhaps it’s that we citizens should maintain an understanding of daily national and global events in case something over which we might have some degree of control comes along. When one feels powerless to influence the “big picture,” one tends to shrink into one’s own little domain. At least this “one” does.  I may not have any influence over how to deal with Trump’s criminality or Russia’s immoral belligerence, but my control over what I eat for breakfast is nearly absolute, in the context of the available breakfast foods. And, of course, I chose where to live in retirement (thus far). And various other personally significant matters. If I were to devote as much attention to personal matters over which I have substantial control as I do to national and global news over which I am powerless, I might discover I have even more control than I think. I’ll mull that over for a while.


Using my incense cones in an attempt to attain serenity seems forced. Forced serenity is self-defeating, I’m afraid. Still, I enjoy the scent of burning patchouli. And forcing myself to “chill” demonstrates to me that reality differs radically from fantasy.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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