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Mastery versus Self-Mastery

The following two poems articulate opposing perspectives:

The subject in this first poem stands red-faced, veins-popping, and teeth-clenched, trying to achieve self-mastery through his "unconquerable" will; he is trying to determine his destiny -- for he is the master of his fate . . . or so he assumes.

His aim is about Self-Mastery:


by William E. Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may
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.


With "unconquerable" will-power, as he supposes, the subject of this first poem thinks that he can think himself, and will himself, into self-mastery. But Jesus asks this question:

"Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?"

The subject in the second poem, in contrast, begins with an entirely different premise: Yielding before his Maker and Master, he strives for the highest form of Mastery:


The Soul’s Captain
by Orson F. Whitney

Art thou in truth the master of thy fate?
The captain of thy soul?
Then what of him
who bought thee with his blood?
Who plunged into devouring seas
and snatched thee from the raging flood?

Who bore for all our fallen race
what none but him could bear--
the God who died that man might live,
and endless glory share?

Of what avail thy vaunted strength,
Apart from his vast might?
Pray that his Light
may pierce the gloom,
that thou might see aright.

Men are as bubbles on the wave,
as leaves upon the tree,
O’ captain of thy soul, explain!
Who gave that place to thee?

Free will is thine--free agency,
To wield for right or wrong;
But thou must answer unto him
To whom all souls belong.

Bend to the dust thy head “unbowed,”
small part of Life’s great whole!
And see in him, and him alone,
The Captain of thy soul.


*   *   *   *   *   *   *


“Go For The Gold” . . .
is the widely acclaimed and well-worn Olympic battle cry,
but consider another perspective to the pursuit of excellence:

When an archer is shooting for nothing . . . he has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle . . . he is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold . . . he goes blind,
or sees two targets--he is out of his mind!
His skill has not changed.
But the prize divides him . . . he cares.
He thinks more of winning than of shooting--
And the need to win drains him of power.

- Chuang Tzu  400 B.C.


*   *   *   *   *   *   *


My Comfort Zone
Author Unknown

I used to have a comfort zone where I knew I wouldn't fail.
The same four walls and busywork were really more like jail.
I longed so much to do the things I'd never done before,
But stayed inside my comfort zone and paced the same old floor.

I said it didn't matter that I wasn't doing much.
I said I didn't care for things like commission checks and such.
I claimed to be so busy with the things inside the zone,
But deep inside I longed for something special of my own.
I couldn't let my life go by just watching others win.

I held my breath; I stepped outside and let the change begin.
I took a step and with new strength I'd never felt before,
I kissed my comfort zone goodbye and closed and locked the door.

If you're in a comfort zone, afraid to venture out,
Remember that all winners were at one time filled with doubt.
A step or two and words of praise can make your dreams come true.
Reach for your future with a smile; success is there for you!


*   *   *   *   *   *   *


The Builder
Author Unknown

I saw them tearing a building down.
A team of men in my hometown.
With a heave and a ho and a lusty yell,
They swung a beam and a sidewall fell.
And I said to the foreman,
"Are these men skilled?"
"Like the ones you'd use
if you had to build?"
And he laughed and said, "Oh no, indeed
the most common labor is all I need
for I can destroy in a day or two
what takes the builder years to do."
So I thought to myself
as I went on my way . . .
which one of these roles
am I willing to play?
Am I the one who is tearing down
as I carelessly make my way around?
Or am I one, who builds with care,
to make the world better...
because I was there?


*   *   *   *   *   *   *


What Counts
By Edgar A Guest

It isn't the money you're making, it isn't the clothes you wear,
And it isn't the skill of your good right hand which makes folks really care.
It's the smile on your face and the light of your eye
and the burdens that you bear.

Most any old man can tell you, most any old man at all,
Who has lived through all sorts of weather, winter and summer and fall,
That riches and fame are shadows that dance on the garden wall.

It's how do you live and neighbor, it's how do you work and play,
It's how do you say "good morning" to the people along the way,
And it's how do you face your troubles whenever your skies are gray.

It's you, from the dawn to nighttime; you when the day is fair,
You when the storm is raging - how do you face despair?
It is you that the world discovers, whatever the clothes you wear.

You to the end of the journey, kindly and brave and true,
The best and the worst of you gleaming in all that you say and do,
And the ting that counts isn't money, or glory, or power, . . . but YOU.

If these poems inspire you . . . here's something else to ponder concerning your potential!


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