Finding Serenity

by Prema Jesuthasan

Bruce’s Butterfly — a painting by our columnist Prema Jesuthasan based on a picture taken by her husband, Bruce Walters

My husband loved the mountains. They were where he found peace, far away from the chaos of the everyday world. Camping in the mountains was his Zen.

Ordinarily a late riser, he would wake up early when camping, listening to lilting birdsong as the cool mountain air soothed his skin.

There was tranquility there – in the whispering of the leaves, in the swaying of the pine trees, in the magnificence of the great blue heron as it stood on the banks of a stream, poised to catch a fish for its breakfast before flapping its huge wings as it flew to its nest.

Nature was his cathedral. Nothing brought him more joy than being in the mountains with his family. When he was able to purchase his dream motorcycle, the Honda Goldwing, riding it on the curvy mountain roads put him at the pinnacle of happiness. He had his dream mode of transportation to carry him to his favourite destination.

On the other hand, being by the sea is my idea of nirvana. I am most at peace when I sit or walk along a beach early in the morning, just before dawn breaks.

The rhythm of the waves as they crash on the sand pulses within me. There is little that is more soothing to me than the sound of waves rushing to shore and then retreating, and nothing quite as magical as watching the dark night sky slowly give way to the gentle light of the rising sun.

The clouds seem to delight in trying on different colours as the sun appears– first purple, then pink, followed by orange and red. There is so much beauty in the world at sunrise, but it is loveliest to me when standing in front of the sea. It calms my soul and relaxes my brain.

Holidays in the mountains or on a beach were how my husband and I restored ourselves whenever we were able to get time off from work. However, those breaks were few and far between, and I needed to find other ways to deal with stress and anxiety. I discovered that I have inherited my mother’s green thumb.

My husband would indulge my love of flowers by going with me to a nursery to choose a colourful variety of plants. And then he would leave me to dig in the dirt as I decided what plant to put where.

I enjoyed the digging and planting, but what brought me the most joy and peace was seeing the flowers bloom, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. Even now, it amazes me how much joy I get from seeing these creatures flitting around as they seek nectar.

I also had an indoor garden, where I grew orchids, succulents and African violets. Being surrounded by beautiful flowers inspired me so much that I began trying to capture them on paper.

I started painting with watercolours and discovered this was another way to relax. Even though I am my own worst critic when it comes to anything I do, be it baking, cooking, painting or writing, each of these activities centres and calms me.

When I hold a paintbrush in my hand, seeing the brush strokes turn into something that at times is quite pretty gives me a sense of pleasure and pride in the accomplishment.

When a plant thrives and flowers bloom, it makes me smile. And when I bake or cook something that tastes good, both my brain and my stomach are happy.

I have learned over the years that happiness is not a constant. If we were happy all the time, it would mean nothing as we would not appreciate the emotion. It is finding little sparks of happiness amidst the busyness and stress of life that makes it meaningful.

And one of the best ways to be happy is to learn what brings you serenity and peace. It is in those quiet moments of tranquility, when you are not worrying about the people you love or your finances or the many other stressors in life, that you will find joy.

Those moments are everywhere – the antics of pets that make you giggle, seeing a beautiful dragonfly alight for a minute on a leaf in your garden, playing games with your children or grandchildren, enjoying a delicious meal with good friends …

Listening to music was one of my sources of serenity. Some music made me dance, others made me tearful (in a good way) from the sheer beauty of the composition.

My husband shared my love of music and broadened my tastes. When he died unexpectedly in 2020, my heart shattered. For a long time, I could not bear to listen to music as it reminded me too much of him and the music we had listened to on our road trips, the concerts we had been fortunate to attend, the conversations we had shared.

The same thing had happened when my mother died. She taught my siblings and me to sing in harmony, and our house was often filled with music. After she died, I would burst into tears no matter what kind of music I listened to, because it reminded me too deeply of my loss.

It took some months for me to be able to hear music without crying, but I had my husband beside me and that helped. Now he is also gone. I realised the other day that I had stopped listening to music. That shocked me, because music has been such an important component of my life, and it was a vital part of who my husband was.

So, I am trying to get back into the groove, as it were, attempting to listen to the songs we both loved without the accompaniment of tears. Eventually, I will find the serenity that music used to give me, and I will hopefully be able to remember my husband with more smiles than tears.