On Serenity, Striving, and Shall We Gather at the River

A few days ago, at the park near our house, I stopped and sat on a bench.

I point this out because it is highly irregular for me. I wasn’t tired, I had no book with me, no tablet in which to write, ergo, no reason to stop.

Only there was a bench, the bench was near the river, and so one stops.

So I stopped.

bench by river

I sat there for… well, I’m not sure how long I sat there. You lose a sense of time while staring at a river. It may have been hours, it may have days. In any case, after a time my attention was drawn away by a man standing at the boat landing a short distance from me.

He had sighed. A clearly audible, contented sigh.

He saw me and smiled. “My God, this is beautiful,” he said, by way of explanation. I agreed. He asked me how long the path continued along the river; I admitted I didn’t know.

“It wraps around the bank over there,” I indicated toward the left. “Then it curves around a really pretty swampy area.”

I sometimes forget not everyone finds swamps pretty.

Swampy area

“Oh, very nice! I’ll have to check that out,” he said, my fellow swamp appreciator.

“Isn’t it funny,” he continued after a moment, “how it’s not until you’re old that you find serenity?”

“Yeah,” I said, though I thought it an odd thing to say. He wasn’t that old. I mean, he couldn’t be much older than me and … oh.

Now that I’m home again, I’ve been thinking about this discussion with the old swamp man. What he said about serenity, old age, and what-not.

I wonder, is it serenity we are finding in our golden years, or is it just a sense of oh-well-good-enough?

Or — hold on to your hats now — could it be they are the same thing?

  1. the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.

Sounds good, yeah? But it’s not a state we can reside in for any lengthy period of time, and I propose we shouldn’t even try. Sure, pay a visit on occasion, appreciate what you have, yada-yada. Consider your place under the stars, only don’t stop reaching for the stars.

To butcher Browning: “Our reach should exceed our grasp, or what’s a heaven for, so get off your bum and do something already.”

I took another personality test recently (trust me, this relates somehow), though I honestly don’t know why I take these blame things. They all lead to the same conclusion, that being I’d either make a great scientist or a serial killer.

This particular personality test, the Enneagram Type Test, I’d heard of it before and been meaning to do further study on it. Then I visited the site of one Sarah Bessey, a progressive feminist writer/preacher, and there on her sidebar (when you’re a blogger, you pay particular attention to sidebars) she proclaims she’s an “Enneagram 9.” Leading me to look up the description of Enneagram 9s and finding out, among other things, they are progressive feminist writers and preachers.

Long story short, I took the test — always on the lookout for new items to add the old sidebar — and found out I’m a 5. Or in true Enneagram verbage, a 5w6.

If this means something to you, I salute you. I had to look it up.

Besides making one damn fine scientist and/or serial killer, the description said that a 5w6’s life, “is characterized by a deep sense of longing.”

Come now, I thought. Isn’t that true for everyone?

We may not long for the same things — for some it might be a sense of meaning in their life, for another wealth and success, or we might simply yearn for the perfect chocolate fudge brownie.

The point is, we all have longings. And I find it unlikely they disappear with the advancement of age. Or rather, they don’t disappear, but change.

The longing for wealth may change with a realization there are different methods for measuring wealth. A longing for meaning might soften into an understanding that you had more control over it than you ever realized. And a longing for the perfect brownie recipe may end with a humble acceptance that several store-bought mixes are quite good.

So yes, to some extent we may find a sense of peace and serenity in our life. A sense that, “oh hey, maybe I don’t have to beat myself up quite so much.” But I don’t think it’s a given.

All this is to say, the achievement of serenity is not an end to itself, or even an end. Without a sense of striving in your life, a continual grasping for something better and wiser just out of reach, than how can one truly be content? It’s the striving that makes it so!

Or at least I think that’s the case. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Another couple years by the river should do it.

By the river

30 thoughts on “On Serenity, Striving, and Shall We Gather at the River

  1. It’s nice to the time for such interesting introspection. I am always striving for … something. In his retirement, my husband does not seem to be doing that. Mostly he is serene, but he also tends to get bored! I am never bored (unless being forced to do something I don’t enjoy, but that is rare.)

  2. Interesting thoughts. I think serenity is different for each of us. Some like to strive, some like to not. Either way, if you are doing something you enjoy, that makes you feel worthwhile, alive and happy – you have serenity. Just my thoughts. Enjoy that bench, there is something in watching water.

  3. I don’t often think about serenity …. maybe that’s the point. But I did wish each of my babies ‘content’ when they were teeny tiny. Maybe I was wishing them serenity. Either way, any excuse to walk by water is to be taken. I’m a 9 by the way. I’m content with that 😉

    1. Were our children more content, we might find serenity. Something to think about.
      It doesn’t surprise me in the least you are a 9, the Peacemaker. You gently reassure neurotic bloggers, guiding us toward acceptance and self-respect. 🙂

          1. Ha! I’m sure my husband has at least 500 lurking in his man drawer …. along with all the other things he deems useful and which I dare not touch 😉

  4. It does seem like serenity becomes more accessible with age. Maybe it’s because the “been there, done that” list is more extensive and there’s less need to prove yourself to yourself. I suspect striving is a separate topic; regardless of serenity if you’re not striving towards something, even if it’s as simple as having a relaxing day, what’s the point of living?

    But I’d watch out for those swamps. At the right time of day, entire hordes of mosquitos have been known to arise from them, blacken the sky, attack, and carry their prey back their young. It tends to mess with your serenity.

    1. I’m beginning to think this town has some sort of treatment plan in effect for those biting buggers. It’s the only explanation for my skeeter-free comfort here. Haven’t heard any trucks spraying during the night, so maybe they’re tossing something in the water? I’m not sure, but I’m also not complaining. 😉

    1. Of the sites I checked for info on Enneagram 5, they all said this type “is a minimalist.” Which sounded terribly precise for a personality test and also dead-on.
      So yeah, I agree with your friend.

  5. I’ve heard personality tests referred to as “astrology for smart people.” Since I’ve been known to break such tests (literally … story to follow), I tend to agree with that sentiment. They do allow a questioning mind to examine themselves in more detail, however.

    When I was in high school, it was early days for computers and we had a teletype machine with a personality test to help us decided what career would be a good match for us. (It was more efficient that having the guidance counselor talk to 300 juniors and, y’know, actually get to know the person.) I took it and 2 of my six main traits were diametrically opposed … and there was no career in the computer code for such a situation. There was literally no career for which I was suited, based on that personality test.
    So, they told me to ignore the artistic streak and focus on the technical streak and be a computer programmer.
    I nearly flunked out of college.
    Ever since, I keep taking those tests and find myself arguing with the questions, and then arguing with the results.

    I took that Enneagram test in your link and there were at least 5 questions I argued with, and then I argued with what it said I’m supposed to want, based on my answers. Some of us, perhaps, aren’t meant for the serenity of knowing which box we belong in.

    1. Some of us aren’t too pleased with the box we’re put in, even when we agree with the placement.

      My daughter experienced something similar when she was in high school. She was given the same career advice as you: forget your artistic leanings and interests, focus on what makes money. She ignored them, stuck with theater, and has embraced frugal living. There are worse ways to live.

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