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Serenity

from Good to Me by Shannon Curtis

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about

Peace in the midst of struggle

• How does everything that I’ve discovered on this journey function to cultivate peace of mind in the midst of struggle? Make an inventory of all the tools I’ve discovered and describe how they help me make peace in my spirit.

• Must I be removed from chaos in order to have peace in my spirit? Why or why not?

• What does the answer above imply for how I go about cultivating peace in my every day life?

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What’s in my tool belt?

An inventory of my tools:

NAMING takes away the mystery and some of the power that the struggle has over me. When the struggle is both nameable and named, I’m no longer spooked by the potential of what lurks around every corner when I’m not able to see and call out, specifically, what it is that haunts me.

Looking at my go-to COPING mechanisms, and understanding how they may harm me, helps me to get unstuck — helps me get my wheels out of grooves that keep me struggling in the midst of chaos.

Understanding what I am POWERLESS to change, and coming to terms with the futility of engaging in battles that I can never win, frees me from that cycle of defeat.

ACCEPTANCE — this is the big one. Being with what is steadies my heart, allows my chest to expand for deep breath, quiets my mind. I don’t have to do anything. I can, and must, just be.

Choosing COURAGE to act focuses my energy toward something positive. It harnesses and concentrates my desire to do something, channeled into an outlet that will actually be productive and good for me, for my relationships, and for the world.

LISTENING is a still activity that requires a quiet spirit, and reinforces quietude in my spirit — because when I listen, I get the downloads I need to know where to focus my energy. It feels like I’m in sync with myself, and that’s a harmonious, peaceful feeling.

Owning the POWER within myself, recognizing that power in others, and building power with others gives me a feeling of roundedness, of belonging, of purpose. All of this brings calm to my spirit.

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The bill always comes due

So, to the question, “Do I need to remove myself from the chaos in order to use these tools and cultivate peace?”

Like … a permanent vacation? While that might sound appealing, it isn’t a real possibility. Life is always there, waiting for me upon my return from any place I’ve run to try and escape it. Not that vacations, or self-care time, aren’t great things to do for myself when I can! But escape hatches aren’t any kind of sustainable long-term solution, you know?

I was having a conversation with a friend recently, and we were talking about the ways in which we sometimes try to avoid the hard stuff of life. We talked about how a lot of us manage to escape into our coping mechanisms of choice — and how it can sometimes feel like we’ve successfully avoided it all for a while! — but how the bill always comes due.

I suppose — and there isn’t any way to know this with any certainty — that in death I’ll escape the chaos forever, and experience peace in its place. That is, if the myths from which I’ve borrowed in my meek attempt at understanding the mysteries of the universe, and of life and death, resemble anything like the actual truth of the universe and of life and death.

We’ll just have to wait and see, though. Because I’m far too interested in living, and in life, to experience the answer to that mystery any time soon.

So, at best, removing myself from the chaos is only ever temporary. But I’m okay with that. First of all, because it is what is. But also because I believe — and know from past experience — that having peace in my heart is possible in the midst of the struggle.

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Life is like the train

So, what does all of this imply for the cultivation of peace in my spirit? The implication is that the choice to pursue peace is available to me every single day, every moment, regardless of my circumstances, regardless of the choices and actions of other people — it’s available to me all the time, if I choose to pick up my tools and cultivate it.

I recently saw The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah interviewing Jay Shetty, author of the book Think Like A Monk. Shetty once trained to become a monk, and he shared in this interview a story from his training experience.

He and his teacher went on a 72-hour train trip in India. He explained that, in the monastic life, you don’t buy first-class train tickets; you buy the least expensive ticket, and travel in the least desirable place on the train, in an effort to detach from your sense of comfort in material things. As a result, the car in which they traveled was pure chaos — filled with people, and animals — just loud, hot, and full of distractions.

So, at every stop, Shetty got off the train to find a quiet place to meditate. After one such stop, his teacher asked him why we was getting off the train. When Shetty explained why, his teacher asked, “Do you think life is like the stops? Or is life like the train?” And he realized that his teacher was helping him learn that what is needed is to be able to find, cultivate, and receive the stillness of meditation in the midst of the chaos, precisely because chaos is the nature of this life.

I thought a lot about that story with regard to my cultivation of spiritual peace during difficult circumstances.

I realized …

… if I have to get off the train to find peace of mind, then I’ll never have peace in my real life.

… if I have to get off the train to find peace of mind, then I’ll never go anywhere.

My task is to learn how to be in the struggle AND have peace in my heart.
It’s on the train where I am powered forward in my life.
It’s on the train where I move forward in my life, where we move forward together in the world.

On the train — with all of its chaos and humanity — is where we live and progress.

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A footnote

When I began this journey, I identified rising fascism and climate change as being the two main circumstances that were robbing me of my peace. And … those are, without a doubt, still present and on my mind.

But the world keeps throwing up all sorts of other things that cause me worry and pain. During the span of time in which I was preparing for and writing this song, we experienced the mass gun murder of Black people buying groceries at the hands of a white supremacist terrorist in Buffalo, New York. Ten days later, even before funerals had been completed for those victims, we witnessed the mass gun murder of fourth graders and their teachers in Uvalde, Texas.

I imagine that your spirit, like mine, felt shattered in that time. Feels shattered, still. It’s just one horrific, unnecessary tragedy after another, coming at us in a kind of rapid-fire fashion that we should not in any universe be expected to endure. And this is not to mention all of the other tragedies that occurred in that span of time — personal and public — which were equally as horrifying, but didn’t make the evening news.

One after another after another.

It seems like they’re coming faster and harder these days.

I don’t have the answers. (Although I do have some strong ideas about what our elected leaders ought to be doing about the gun violence, in particular, which align with the work that this incredible group is doing.)

But what I do have is an inventory of trusted tools, that I’m finding myself needing to pick up every single day these days — in order to keep my head above water, wrap my spirit in the peace it needs, and give myself a fighting chance at using my power to make a difference in this hurting world.

So that’s what I’ll do. I’m on the train. Heart open. Tools ready. Let’s go.

lyrics

Even though I’ve a new script
This play’s not ending with
A happily ever after scene
Already another curtain
Rising on a tragedy
Even before the last is grieved

How many times have you heard me say
Get me off, I want off this train
Thought I could make a great escape
To serenity
But now I know that I’ve got to stay
Inside the struggle, it’s the only way
To move forward
The serenity is within me

Maybe in death the chaos
Fades into endless light
If our myths can be believed
But I’m too in love with living
Through the beauty and the fight
Here in the mess I’ll make my peace

How many times have you heard me say
Get me off, I want off this train
I thought I‘d make a grand escape
To serenity
But now I know that I want to stay
Inside the struggle, it’s the only way
To move forward
The serenity is within me

I’ve got to stay
I want to stay
On this train
I’m on my way

How many times have you heard me say
Get me off, I want off this train
I thought I‘d make a great escape
To serenity
But now I know that I’ve got to stay
Inside the struggle, it’s the only way
To move forward
The serenity is within me

credits

from Good to Me, track released June 15, 2022
written by Shannon Curtis
published by Shannon K (ASCAP)

produced by Jamie Hill
co-produced by Shannon

conceptualized, programmed, arranged, and performed by Shannon additional programming, synthesizers, and sound design by Jamie

mixed and mastered by Jamie
at Department of Energy Management, Tacoma

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all rights reserved

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Shannon Curtis Tacoma, Washington

Shannon Curtis is an artist who works as a songwriter, storyteller, and author. Shannon lives in Tacoma, WA and makes artpop music with her husband, producer / mixer Jamie Hill (deptofenergymgmt.com/work).

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