Serenity is contagious

Bonsai trees at the Montréal Botanical Garden, May 2009

Bonsai trees at the Montréal Botanical Garden, May 2009

“We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious.”Satchidananda Saraswati

Serenity has never been my strong suit, but maybe that’s why I admire others who have it.  In fact, almost nothing is as comforting in a crisis as to have someone taking decisive action while remaining outwardly calm.

I like to think in the past year I’ve learned, if only through sheer necessity, to avoid at least a bit of the over-reacting that is so intrinsic to my personality.  In any case, I have had the chance to watch a lot of competent, compassionate people who have done their jobs well in situations where the outlook wasn’t encouraging and the news wasn’t good.  I’ve been grateful time and again for those professionals who know how to be realistic but reassuring; pragmatic, but positive.

Have you ever known people whose peaceful demeanor made you feel relaxed just being around them? I can think of so many times when such people have provided islands of sanity in circumstances that were potentially upsetting or volatile.  Though we often think of serenity as a passive trait, it can accomplish more than some of the driven behaviors we fall into when stressed.

If you have a gift for serenity, I hope you will use it to bless others who find themselves in harrowing situations.  And if, like me, you wish to increase your own capacity for this trait, keep your eyes and ears open for those who have mastered it.  They have much to teach us.

One year ago today

Infinitely healing


  1. Nice article. Good advise. Informative.

    • Thank you so much! I appreciate your visits and comments.

  2. sarvjit

    Tress are wonderful in just everything. Trees give us a gift, called fruit, when we hit them and cool shadow to eat it with pleasure. They give shelter to anyone in need, even in calamities they stand still and help. Trees are the most serene thing on the planet.

    • Yes, I love trees! When we moved back to the east coast from California I was very homesick but the trees were a constant solace and I had forgotten how much I missed being surrounded by them. No matter how worried or upset I am, being in the woodlands is soothing and healing.

      • sarvjit

        Still we are cutting them down is just beyond forgiveness. But tress are great, they still forgive us. Be happy and keep visiting the woods.

        • Thank you, I will!

  3. And yet, your posts are so serene to me. 🙂

    • Thank you, I guess my posts are my attempt to “visit” serenity and talk myself off the ledge, so to speak. It’s probably best that people who read this blog can’t see me in everyday life all the time, because I’m rather a hotheaded person at times, which doesn’t exactly go with the theme here! But I am (even in real life) determined to look for the good in things and make lemonade with the lemons that come my way. I find that determination on your blog as well, and it’s inspiring.

      • I love that we’ve connected. Our little pieces of paradise here in the blogosphere. ♥

        • 🙂 Yes! 🙂

  4. raynard

    Julia I was once told that i was “fidgety/ “the u.p.s guy on that old 90’s Show “Living Color’ ( a side note that’s where Jenifer Lopez( “J LO”) and Jim Carey ( Ace Ventura Pet Detective, ‘Bruce Almighty, “Dumb& Dumber to name a few of his movies) both got their starts. You know it’s sad, I just got off a 12 hour shift and watching”Green Acres” on youtube. I learned if you don’t have you peace in your heart and mind, “you will lose your mind and “pop pills like”m&m’s and “skittles” . I had to have “boundries with my time and people in my life. I’m known for 1 not having”a phone face( cell phone up to it 24/7) and calling me at home “my answering machine stays full…Plan on starting another cake shipment. How’s your mail these days? Reason why, our mail person brings our packages upstairs to our door.I appreciate the friendship and friendlyness from both you and Jeff in the sharing of your daily life’s journey.We might be going up to Lancaster next month to Shady Maple. Kathy from Reading on the Upper Room has spoken to me about meeting us up there. Oh that song I spoke of previously from ‘The Golden Girls was”Thank you for being a friend”. Be blessed

    • Hi Raynard, I think if I had been born 30 years later I might have been labeled ADD. I would get lost in books or daydreams and not pay attention to what was going on. My second grade teacher (a very sweet lovely lady nearing retirement) kept asking my mother to have my hearing tested because I would not respond when she called my name. My mother just laughed but finally did have my hearing tested and it told her what she already knew, that my hearing was above average and I was just “tuning out.” 🙂 You asked about our mail – don’t get me started. Let’s just say it has been less reliable lately, and leave it at that. I think we confuse them by having it forwarded between addresses and putting it on hold a lot. We came home during horrible rains last week to find SIX packages – all books — SOAKING WET (our porch isn’t covered). The books were getting damp and wrinkled but fortunately I got to them just in time to flatten them out again by stacking heavy books on top of each one, now they are all fine. I hope someday we can get an east coast gathering of all the Upper Room gang at some geographical mid point. There are many who live between Virginia and New York. Maybe we could all pitch in and fly Sarah out from Chicago! Til then I hope you are able to get together with Kathy and maybe others in PA. Cindy and Henry and I got together for dinner in Alexandria last summer and it was so much fun. I like that song, I didn’t realize it was from Golden Girls.

  5. Michael

    I am more like you and tend to overreact. Once I was told I was a,” normal level neurotic” on a personality test. Whatever that is .It might mean borderline personality. Mandela seemed to exhibit some of these qualities. Did you see, “Invictus.”
    If you like Bonsai-visit the Brooklyn Botanical garden- Best I have seen, but your picture from Montreal also looks great.

    • I have never seen Invictus but I like Clint Eastwood so maybe I should try to see it. When I was in high school, a science teacher told us that she believed everyone was either a little bit neurotic or a little bit psychotic, and of the two, she thought it was better to be a little bit neurotic. I have thought of that many times since I’ve always considered myself to be at least a little neurotic; in any case it’s an intriguing hypothesis. (Anyone who loves Woody Allen’s films and writing as much as I do would have to be neurotic, wouldn’t they?) Someday I’d like to get a Bonsai plant to have at home, but I have this idea they are high maintenance and I wouldn’t want to kill it. Of all the plants to kill, letting that one die seems almost like a superstitious no-no.

  6. This is so true. Not just in crisis situations but often in everyday life. I find when I go back someplace I have toured before but this time with a friend who had not been there before I would see something new or just listening to the things they said I would learn whole new lessons about the place that made me want to come back again when after the first time I felt ambivalent about going back. That always catches me off guard. I love it though. I am a person who flies off the handle or deals with situations in a hyper dramatic manner so it is always good for me to stop and view it through another persons eyes. I always remember a time when I was the president of the spouses club and one of my board members did something she knew would throw me into a tither. It worked. I called the commanders wife all kinds of upset and left a desperate message on her machine BEGGING her to call me back. About the time I hung up my sister (who maintains almost an odd calm in situations) called for something and could tell by my voice I was all wound up. She asked me why and I very nearly didn’t tell her thinking she would be bored by it all. If she was she never said so and in fact calmed down, offered sage advice and a viable solution and I moved on. By the time the commanders wife called me back that night I was a different person. I had moved on, crisis adverted and I remember she kind of laughed at me. I try to remember that instant when I feel the heat rising in my face, I try to hear my sister whispering. I wish I listened for the whisper of the Lord as well but too often I do not. HMMMM!!! Praying your day is calm, your weekend serene and that cooler heads prevail in your hours of need. I love you.

    • That’s an interesting observation about seeing a place differently through someone else’s eyes. It’s also funny to hear you talk of when you lost your cool because I don’t think I’ve ever been present when you did (although you have told me about such things later). Maybe when you are with me you know that one of us has to stay calm! Which reminds me of some of my favorite quotes from Ashleigh about calm – I’ve made a collage for you:

    • Rene

      Maybe the “”whisper of the Lord” was in your sister’s reply :).

  7. It really feels good to be with serene people. I am not one such person. But I do have a few such friends who I look upon for their quiet, compassionate, cool nature. I have often wondered how they manage to stay so cool even in the midst of problems.
    Hope you are fine. Had no access to internet at home for some time and now I am back. I love trees but the bonsais make me sad – prevented from achieving great ‘heights’!

    • Bindu, it’s good to hear from you again! I had been thinking of you and wondering how you are doing. We are all doing pretty well. Jeff went back to work this week and though he is tired, he is doing exceptionally well under the circumstances, in my opinion.

      It’s interesting that you don’t consider yourself serene — your writing and photos project just the opposite, a lovely calm, as someone said in these comments about my blog. Perhaps you do the same thing when you write as I do; it’s therapeutic for me. I had never considered that the bonsai are, in effect, stunted from normal growth. Wow, there are all kinds of deep philosophical parallels to that one! What we see as lovely and unique comes with a price: the prevention of “normal” development for the plant. Yet they do appear to be healthy and certainly more remarkable on first glance than they might have been without intervention and control. Of course, almost all cultivated plants are pruned, but with the bonsai it would have to be more aggressively so, at least in the beginning. As a parent, I sometimes wonder how much “pruning” (in the figurative sense) we should attempt with our children. It’s an interesting dilemma, isn’t it?

  8. You do a wonderful job with sharing your serenity with the inner peace found in your smiling genuine words each day. Your posts are natural and so very inspirational, like having a morning chat with a best friend. Your spirit brings this to and places that same beautiful essence in all who you meet. You leave many at peace within themselves. God bless and have a wonderful Sunday!

    • Wendell, what a kind and thoughtful comment! I appreciate your encouragement. Saying the site is like a chat with a friend is a tremendous compliment to me and it means a great deal. I do think a great deal of the special joy of this site comes from the many generous and interesting contributions of its readers. Jeff and I hope to have a wonderful Sunday morning tomorrow as it will be our first with our home congregation since Jeff’s recent surgery. I hope you too have a wonderful Sunday tomorrow!

      • Rene

        I am amazed that Jeff is back to work already. My sister also went back to work this week (and started out her 1st day back with a 45-minute gym workout—you can guess how that went, but I digress). Praise God for his healing hands & answers to prayer!

        Thank you for being the friend that understands, although we know each other so little. I “lurked” here for a long time, but once I arrived I have felt so welcome. God bless you again & again!

        • Rene, thanks for updating us about your sister. You must be picking up my vibes about her, because every time I start wondering about how she might be doing, you seem to remember to update us 🙂 . It sounds as if she may be similar to Jeff, who often tries to come back from things too quickly and ends up being tired out. He is gradually learning to ease back into things a little at a time. Still, I am proud of them and others who don’t let the medical issues hold them back.

          I am so happy to have you here among those who take a more active part in the comments. When I started library school in 1994 (while the internet was all text-based) I too would often lurk for a lengthy time before making my presence known. In fact, I still do that on many sites and blogs that I read. I think at any website the vast majority of readers are lurkers, and I appreciate those who visit, whether or not they feel comfortable making any comments. It’s always fun to “meet” someone who has been a longtime reader! In traditional publishing, authors heard from only a very few of their readers, relatively speaking. I love blogging because it makes contact much easier for those who wish to interact.

  9. Hi Julia. Beautiful picture! My husband tells me I can hear a grasshopper walk across a leaf outside. 🙂 People tell me, I’m calm to be around…of course just give me a book.~/ But I can’t read if clothes or dishes need washing. I don’t like disorder…even my poor little dog, Charlie gets washed!
    So Wow! 10,000 post! my husband won’t be surpised!

    • I just think it’s cool that you happened to be the 10,000th one. I had been watching and wondering whose comment would be the one. Jeff is the same way about certain things that need to be done, and I am that way about others. I like the make the bed first thing on arising, for example, and I CANNOT STAND for anything item of clothes to be thrown on the floor, EVER (even right before laundering). But when we have company for dinner, I prefer to do MOST of the clean-up AFTER the guests leave, and just enjoy them while they are there. I’ve found some women seem to feel compelled to start washing dishes if I don’t. I have to tell them repeatedly “Just put them in the sink and rinse them; I’ll get to them later!” People who know me well now know not to try to do my dishes! 🙂

  10. Michael

    Have a blessed Sunday.
    Over time I have become more accepting of my ability to kill plants. Unfortunately, plants sometimes don’t make it, despite our best intentions. I wish you the same acceptance. I think the plants know we want them to live. Most are killed by too much love=over watering. Most junipers are pretty bulletproof- so if you want to Bonsai start with one of them. Deep down I don’t think I would have the patience for it -as it takes potting and repotting over and over. I have a hard enough time with the orchids.
    I just finished” life of P”i- thanks for the recommendation.

    • Hi Michael, I’m glad you read Life of Pi – I found it to be a fascinating story as well as a brilliant philosophical argument for the existence of God.

      Re: the plants: I have learned not to over-water for the most part (I always give the soil a “finger test” before watering, especially since Jeff often waters the plants without remembering to tell me he did). I’m afraid I’m far worse about neglecting them, not deliberately, but because they don’t make noisy demands for attention, and thus get forgotten about. Pasha used to nonverbally remind me if I forgot to feed him when Jeff was away, or even if I forgot his daily meds, but plants have no such talent. So anything that required frequent re-potting would be almost doomed with me! However, I may one day attempt to keep a Bonsai alive. If nothing else, it would be a good discipline. But I will start with a juniper and bear in mind what you say about killing plants. Another thing Jeff and I have taken a surprisingly long time to realize, is that even the healthiest plants do have a life cycle and many of them are not going to last more than a few years.

Thanks for encouraging others by sharing your thoughts:

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