In Every Step

A rewarding vista is rewarding as much for the climb to the top as for the vista itself. 

“To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.” – Ralph Walso Emerson

  

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Anticipation

Butterflies flutter

Within me this stilly morn-

Anticipation

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True to the Truth

As with love and beauty, defining freedom can be a little challenging. We Americans love to throw that word around – especially at this time of year – but I wonder what would happen were we to ask ten or twenty people to define freedom. Some may say it is the ability to do what we want when we want to do it, while others might argue that freedom is the result of a declaration of independence toward something which was previously in control of one’s destiny.

To me freedom is much more than license. To my mind, freedom does not derive from license, but from the assumption of responsibility in relation to truth. When one is true to the truth, one is free. Being true to the truth is much more than simply not telling lies. Being true to the truth implies fidelity to the laws and principles which govern all things. It implies the state of oneness with the stars, the soil, the seas. It is the state of being unified with what has been called “universal mind” or “logos.”

Action outside of this pattern is chaotic, disjointed, and tiring. Action in it is efficient, coherent, and invigorating. Expressing le mot juste, that is, exactly the right word or expression spoken at the right time, is but one example of this in action. When freedom is experienced in this way, there is a sense of connection with everything else that is ordered according to truth.

To let freedom ring one must join forces with truth. Freedom in this sense is not the elimination of an enemy, but the courageous act of allying oneself with truth, no matter ho unpopular it might be.

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Happiness

Martha Washington once wrote: “I’ve learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our disposition and not on our circumstances.” Two hundred fifty years later, Nelson Mandela and Maya Angelou embodied this principle, and in so doing provided a bright light of hope for humanity.

Both were treated unjustly, both experienced significant hardship, and both had to find it in themselves to rise above when limited or difficult circumstances collided with limitations in their personal character or experience up to that point. In so doing, each one of these inspiring personages sent a shock wave through the body of humanity, one that will reverberate for many years to come.

What these two said to themselves was essentially this: “I can handle this. I am not a victim. I need not blame. I can accept responsibility, rise up, and in so doing lift that which is willing to be lifted to a higher state of being.” In the case of Nelson Mandela, he spent nearly a quarter of his life in prison, and was subject to deplorable conditions and demeaning treatment throughout. Despite this, he maintained his commanding presence without ever putting on airs or becoming lordly.

Mandela took regular inspiration from Henley’s poem “Invictus.” When you read it, think of the dark times you’ve faced, the times when you’ve felt weak in relation to the tasks at hand, and the times when you have lost courage, or felt like lying down. Think of those times ahead when the winds will be at their worst. Think of the challenges faced by others, and let the power of these words fill you with the courage and strength to carry on:

“Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Likewise, Maya Angelou faced more than her fair share of dreadful hardships in the course of her life. Yet she, with inextinguishable dignity, penned these stirring words some 50 years into her long life:

“Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

One final poem I would like to share (again) with you to drive home Martha Washington’s point is the magical “If” by Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

No matter what your day brings you today, know that you have a chance to influence, if not reshape your disposition, especially if your circumstances are unfavorable, if not downright awful. Your happiness depends upon it.

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All Possible Objections

“Nothing […] will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must be first overcome.” – Samuel Johnson

Everything worth venturing involves a degree of risk, an element of the unknown. While many aspects of a new venture can be examined in advance of committing to a new direction, the unexpected is ever-present and as such, not all possibilities will be evident. When you try new things, consider what can be considered, but don’t overdo it!

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Discretion and Glory

“The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.” – proverbs 19:11

In life, you will be wronged, you will be hurt, stepped on, overlooked, lied to, and disrespected. It does not matter how cleanly you act, offenses will come your way. Realizing this, you must make a choice when your loving kindness is met with ingratitude.

That choice is made from three options: the low road, the middle road, and the high road. The low road is paved by shortcuts, deception, self-centeredness, and the preference of expediency over integrity. The middle road is laid down by the doctrine of quid pro quo and is based in reaction. The high road, however, is a radiant, selfless approach.

Taking the high road requires discretion and courage. It requires a willingness to subjugate one’s own automatic reactions of anger or resentment to a concern for service.

You cannot help others by taking the low road, neither can you uplift the world around you by simply giving it what it gives you. Remember, even if you act flawlessly, there will be those who will revile and discredit you. You must find it in yourself to rise above it, and give of the magnanimity of your soul, rather than just a piece of your mind.

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