The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements and in which to store his few possessions.
But then one day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. The worst had happened; everything was lost. He was stunned with grief and anger. “God, how could you do this to me!” he cried. Early the next day, however, he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to rescue him.
The weary man asked his rescuers: “How did you know I was here?”
They replied: “We saw your smoke signal.”
It is easy to get discouraged when things are going bad. But we shouldn’t lose heart, because God is at work in our lives, even in the midst of pain and suffering. Remember, the next time your little hut is burning to the ground — it just may be the smoke signal that summons the grace of God.
A man made a promise to carry a cross to the top of a mountain if a certain wish of his was satisfied.
God granted him what he asked for.
He had the cross made, and set out on his climb. After a few days he found that the cross weighed more than he had reckoned. He borrowed a saw to cut off a good section of the wood. On reaching the top of the mountain he noted that, separated by a gulf, there was another mountain.
Over on the other side, everything was peace and tranquility, but he needed a bridge to get over there.
He tried to use the cross-but it was a bit too short.
And then he realized that the piece he had cut off was exactly what was missing to enable him to cross the abyss.
“They do not know that the dream is a constant in life. They do not know that the dream is wine, it’s fizz, it’s yeast. It’s an eager and vivacious small animal with a pointy nose that pries through everything in a perpetual motion. They do not know that the dream is a canvas and colour and brush. They do not know nor even dream that dream commands life. When a man or woman dreams, the world leaps and moves forward like a colourful ball in the hands of a child.”
From Portuguese poem “Pedra filosofal” by Antonio Gedeao
When someone dumps their toxic feelings on us- explodes in anger or threats, shows disgust or contempt-they activate in us circuitry for those very same distressing emotions. Their act has potent neurological consequences, emotions are contagious. We catch strong emotions much as we do a rhinovirus-and so can come down with the emotional equivalent of cold. The speed differential between these two systems- the instant emotional one is several times faster in brain time than the more rational one-allows us to make snap decisions that we might later regret or need to justify. By the time the low road has reacted, sometimes all the high road can do is make the best of things. As the science fiction writer Robert Heinlein wryly wrote- Man is not a rational animal, but a rationalising one.
I like to think of the mind as the big boss, and the senses as his five secretaries. In any bureaucracy it’s difficult to go directly to the boss. If he is a busy man, and the mind is surely that. With lots of appointments and lots of high level negotiations on his hands, you are wise to start by winning the goodwill of his secretaries.
For a long time the situation resembles those movies from 1930s, where Spencer Tracy breezes into the office, flings himself onto a corner of receptionist’s desk and turns on the charm= Hey honey, how is the bossman today. She gives him the icy look. But gradually the ice melts and the secretary becomes a strong ally.
To win over the senses, when they are clamouring for the second piece of pie, or a cigaraette and a stiff drink, you will need more than Hollyword charm. You will need systematic practice of meditation and the other spiritual disciplines. If you want to be admitted to the boss’s office, you will have to persevere over a long period of time. And if you want to be boss’s boss, that will require lots of hard, hard work on the spiritual path.
During the early days of Iraq invasion, a group of soldiers set out for a local mosque to contact the town’s chief cleric. Their goal was to ask his help in organizing the distribution of relief supplies. But a mob gathered, fearing the soldiers were coming to arrest their spiritual leader or destroy the mosque, a holy shrine.
Hundreds of devout muslims surrounded the soldiers, waving their hands in the air and shouting, as they pressed in toward he heavily armed platoon. The CO, Lt Col C Hughes, thought fast.
Picking up a loudspeaker, he told his soldiers to take a knee, meaning to kneel on one knee. Next he ordered them to point their rifles toward the ground. Then his order was smile.
At that the crowd’s mood morphed. A few people were still yelling, but most were now smiling in return. A few patted the soldiers on the back, as Hughes ordered them to walk slowly away, backward still smiling.
That quick-witted move was the culmination of many split-second social calculations. Hughes had to read the level of hostility in that crowd and sense what would calm them. He had to bet on the discipline of his men and the strength of their trust in him. And he had to gamble on hitting just the right gesture that would pierce the barriers of language and culture
I once had a physicist friend who would gladly discuss electric power, but harnessing the
power of a passion or a craving-well, that was not dynamics, that was poetry. Power, he told me sternly, is the capacity to do work. Work is the energy required to move a definite mass a definite distance. No movement, no work. No work, no power.
Day or night, I had never seen my friend far from the desk. Then late one evening I came out of a movie theatre and saw him striding along like an athlete, several miles from his office. What got you up from your desk-I asked, you are breaking the habits of a lifetime.
Coffee, he muttered, I ran out of coffee.
Here, I said, a very definite mass has been propelled at least three miles, simply by one little desire for a cup of coffee. He got my point.