Our Own Way
By Dan Schafer
In our last newsletter we bewailed the reality that most of us fit into that description of humanity from Handel's Messiah, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way."
The tragic negative of "turning to our own way" isn't a reproof for not conforming to some human standards. The "going astray" is not down to us not fitting into society's unwritten pressures. It has more to do with that inner light inside each of us and where we have disregarded it.
Let's start with the small things. For example, when you were growing up you accidentally knocked over your mother's flower vase and it broke.
You tried your best to put it back together, but it wouldn't stay. So you thought, "The best thing is to get as far away from the scene as possible.” So you go to your room. Sometime later your mother calls and says it is time for supper. You come down to the table trying to look as guiltless as you can, and your father asks, "Who broke Mom's flower vase?"
No one says anything, so after a bit he looks at you and speaks to you by name and asks, "Did you knock it off the table?"
And you answer, "No, Dad, it wasn't me." Inside you feel a little twinge, but you dare not go back now. So whether you eventually get found out or not, there is always a gnawing in the back of your mind that says, "You know that wasn't right. The right thing would be to own up to the truth." Perhaps in that situation 'mercy' in a redemptive sense might have led to your father realizing it had to have been you, and the next day confronting you with the fact that it couldn't have been someone else, because no one else had been to the living room that evening except you. So you had to own up to it.
But little instances like that get repeated in all sorts of ways so that you get used to half-truths and your conscience doesn't seem to bother you about them so much anymore. That is one way we end up having "turned to our own way."
We have all probably observed a little kid saying, "I want it! I want it!" His parents do their best to try to distract him with something else, or by saying, "We can have some ice cream if you come along now." Most of our parents knew better what would be good for us than what we as little kids thought. So we were often rescued from ourselves by someone who loved us, and whose experience told them what was going to be the best for us in the world of distractions that we easily fell prey to.
By the time that we grow up most of us have managed to harness most of our temper tantrums and other behavior of which society disapproves. We have learned how to be nice people and get along.
But we are essentially rudderless.
People all over the world are the same. I am sitting here in Thailand looking out over our factory pond and fountain at a Buddhist temple next door. It is a quite characteristic temple with all the naga -- dragon like snakes -- on the roof to protect against all the evil spirits or bad luck that may venture near.
We hedge our bets. We try to protect our "hand of cards". Like the Buddhist temple constructers we aren't sure what might happen - so we need to have all the insurance we can get. But it still shows in the anxiety we have over whether our savings are going to be enough for when we retire, whether our health insurance is going to be adequate if we get a serious illness, or whether our job is secure.
The thing to realize is, there is a way which has been mapped out for each of us. In that sense it is your way -- that is, it is the way the shepherd of Handel's Messiah had for us. "Oh," you say, "You mean going to church and that stuff." Well, in fact, no. That really isn't the point at all. It is much bigger than that and much more personal. It is your own rudder.
I'd like to tell you more about that rudder next time. It is not unrelated to the conscience you felt inside when you tried to evade the consequences of what you did by making up some story. But it is a real lifeline.