Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Set of the Sails

In 1916 Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote the poem in which she tells us:

One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
'Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.

I don’t know when I was first impressed with her thoughts, but I know it was in my early years, perhaps when I first started studying metaphysics.  I also seem to remember it being recited to me by my mother, who had also studied metaphysical thought.  It became a personal mantra as I began my ministerial career.

Today, the poem came to mind again, one of those “out of the blue” moments.  I found myself thinking about persons I have known who seem to have an inordinate number of crises in their lives, and who never had the opportunity to imbed the philosophy of self-direction.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to lead them to consider how they could take more control in their lives and thus have better outcomes during times of challenge.  Actually, unless one is a qualified psychologist or therapist, it is probably not your responsibility to point this out to anyone.

My point is that I have to continue to remind myself of this principle of self-determination.  It is not easy.  When something goes wrong it is much easier to place the blame on circumstances “beyond our control” or, worse, to blame another person.  I am reminded of a professor who used to take advantage of every opportunity to remind his students that, “when you point a finger at someone else, three are pointed back at you!”  After hearing this in many of his classes, I would find myself chuckling at it as if to simply dismiss it as a platitude, not really meant to make a difference in one’s life.

The truth is, for me at least, that it really does make a difference.  If we always find some way to make someone else responsible for our problems, it is unlikely we will ever come to a point of feeling we can change the way things are.  Conversely, if we accept that we have much more control over our lives than we may think, we can begin to see ways we can actually do something to bring about successful results.  One thing is for sure, as long as you feel you don’t have the power to change your life, you won’t.

We have all recently witnessed the tragic 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan.  As if that was not enough terror “beyond their control,” then came the nuclear reactors failing endangering the populace with radiation poisoning.  News reports of how the people of Japan met these disasters ranges the whole gamut of emotions, but it was also clear that the Japanese culture is one that places personal responsibility high on their list of priorities.  This does not mean they are responsible for the challenges.  It is a case of their accepting the responsibility to choose how they react.  They worked together to assist others even when they had nothing left of their own.  Brave men chose to be on the front lines fighting the reactor melt down.  This is how you take responsibility for your life (while at the same time helping others).

Hopefully, we will not have to face such dramatic events where our actions become reactions based on the personal belief systems we have already developed.  Wherever each of us is right now, we can begin to build the “I Can” attitude about the simple events we experience, like hurt feelings, broken promises, unmet expectations.  In each of these cases we can decide how we will respond.  Each time we choose not to react and strike out at those we may have felt were responsible for the actions, we get stronger in our sense of self-reliance.  From that strength we can express love and forgiveness.

Tis the set of the sail.

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