I don't possess as much spiritual equilibrium as my parishioners and, even more so, newspaper readers who don't know me, seem to think I do.
For instance, I was already taking three blood-pressure medications when, at a recent checkup, my primary-care doctor said he needed to increase the dosage on the third of those meds. The first two were already maxed out.
Some of my hypertension has to do with my weight, and a lot with genetics.
But my disposition doesn't help. I'm no serene Buddhist lama. Mainly, I tend to look calm on the outside, while roiling at stroke-level on the inside.
I mention this, not to beg for unsolicited medical advice or invite pitches about miracle elixirs sold via multi-level marketing (I already support a platoon of legitimate physicians), but only to say that, when it comes to serenity, I'm a work-in-progress. A work making incremental, glacial progress.
Even so, here are 10 steps toward developing a calmer, happier inner life, and toward, in the process, helping make the humans around you happier, too.
I try to do all these things every day, even though I frequently fail at several. As I used to tell my son when he was growing up, do as I say, not as I do.
1. Be kind. In Matthew's gospel, when Jesus talks about those who'll be accepted into heaven at the last judgment, he describes them in the plainest terms. Essentially, they're nice people. They're hospitable to strangers. They buy a meal for a hungry guy. They offer water to a thirsty woman. They visit a friend who's sick.
I suspect that learning to intentionally perform kind acts requires us to become mindful, and that leads us to contentment. Becoming content then makes us kinder still. Besides, even Jesus apparently prefers hanging out with nice folks, as opposed to jerks.
2. Give generously. Giving takes our minds off ourselves and alleviates the needs of others; ironically, that makes both them and us feel better. It's not only about donating money, although I'm an advocate of tithing (that is, giving 10 percent of your income away). But we can also give our time, our expertise, our praise, our prayers.
3. Be yourself. A wise person said you can't live your life in somebody else's head. I love that turn of phrase and borrow it often. I don't know who originated it.
You can never relax as long as you're pretending to be who you're not. Don't put on airs. Don't compete with the neighbors. Don't fret about others' opinions of you, which shift about every week or so anyway.
Be you. That's who God created you to be.
4. Show compassion to the doubting. If you're a person of faith, don't fret about or browbeat those whose beliefs waver. Sooner or later, you'll experience your own crisis of faith. I've been a minister 35 years, and I still have weeks when I don't believe any of it. If faith is, as we say, a journey, then some days the traveling is easy and some days the highway is pocked with cavernous potholes.
5. Recognize the world is insane. Quit trying to make people make sense. They won't. Humans do screwy, self-serving, self-destructive things a 5-year-old could recognize as nuts. Admit you can't fix others. Heck, we can't even fix ourselves.
6. Remember everyone is struggling with something. No matter how handsome or successful a person looks, he's got problems. Nobody gets off this planet unscathed. So don't envy another person or her situation. If you knew what she's really dealing with, you might run screaming from the room and beg God to let you keep your own problems.
7. Be humble. You also never know what led somebody to the woes he's suffering, even if those wounds appear self-inflicted. Therefore, never judge. If you'd endured all he has, you might be in far worse shape than he is. You might be there anyway before you're through. As my grandma used to say, "You never know what shape you'll get in before you leave this old world." Amen, Jane.
8. Seek joy. Intentionally choose thankfulness. Enumerate your blessings. Slap yourself hard whenever you hear your tongue grumbling and complaining. Discipline your mind to focus on those things that are encouraging and honest and happy.
9. Become a peacemaker. Turmoil and chaos in the world around us too easily hijack our minds, sour our bellies, steal our sleep. Whenever possible, pursue peace. Be quick to apologize, even if you're not sure you were wrong. Forgive. Ignore. Move on.
10. Surrender. The cosmos really isn't within your control. Whether or not you get that longed-for promotion probably is out of your hands. Besides, in 100 years (or 100 days) what will it matter? Who will care? Instead of trying to bend God or people to your will, it's better to pray, as Jesus did, "Thy will be done," then relax and let the universe take you where it may. Enjoy today, wherever you are. It's all you really have.