What is the symbol of surging potency and power in man? According to D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930), it is the horse. Why bring that up? Because 2002 is The Year of the Horse, according to the Chinese zodiac. And the symbol of the horse can be a useful tool for reflecting on life. For example, the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) wrote, “I sit astride life like a bad rider on a horse. I only owe it to the horse’s good nature that I am not thrown off at this very moment.”
Thomas Fuller (1608-1661) also painted a useful picture when he wrote, “A man in passion rides a horse that runs away with him.” It’s a reminder that we lose control over our fate when we charge ahead in anger or fear. To benefit from the potency and power in man, we need to be guided by our reason, not our emotions.
The nineteenth century writer A. W. Hare wrote, “Half the failures in life arise from pulling in one’s horse as he is leaping.” Why do we sometimes rein in our actions at the verge of victory? Because of fear. We’ve got to learn to release our fear, let go of the reins, and ride with the momentum. Let the momentum of the moment carry you to triumph. If you become aware of a family member or coworker hesitating just before the moment of victory, why not help with a few words of encouragement? For as the Roman Poet Ovid (BC 43-18 AD) wrote, “The spirited horse, which will try to win the race of its own accord, will run even faster if encouraged.”
In the West, we represent the New Year with the image of an infant, symbolizing new beginnings. Yes, we are beginning a new year, a new month, and a new day. But when we realize every moment is a new beginning, we can change our behavior and allow it to carry us to a new ending. Beginnings and endings are tied together. We need to focus on the ending first, so we choose the right beginning. To help make our new beginnings and horseback riding smoother, I share the following ideas.
1. Have faith. Believe in yourself. Believe in your dream. Believe in your right to succeed. Ordinary talent will do if you posses extraordinary faith. If you lose faith and fall into despair, remember the words of Edmund Burke (1729 ~ 97), “Never despair; but if you do, work on in despair.” That is, if you get discouraged, just keep going. For victory depends not on how you feel, but what you do. As long as you continue, you will eventually arrive at your destination. It isn’t sunny every day. Occasionally, the clouds of doubt will darken the sky. But hasn’t the sun always returned? As long as you remember that, you will be able to continue.
What is there that you can do without faith? Isn’t it true that the first step taken in every noble endeavor is a leap of faith. So, develop your inner strength just as you develop your physical strength, with daily workouts. Use self-discipline to challenge yourself daily.
2. Patience and persistence. People give up too early because they lack patience. As we grow older, we’ll naturally acquire patience, but we’ll also have less time to use it, so don’t wait to become patient; be patient now! Learn to accept and expect ‘failure.’ Edison’s thousands of unsuccessful attempts to create the incandescent bulb were not failures, but results. They were valuable lessons; he was learning what material wouldn’t work and why, so he kept moving on until he found the right one.
Anyone can take advantage of the power of persistence. You don’t need money, power, or connections. All you have to do is refuse to give up. Do you realize that if you were to walk vigorously, three hours a day, you will circle the globe in seven years? Just as gentle raindrops erode the hardest rock over time, so too will your repeated efforts end in success. The lesson is clear, the only failure we need fear is the failure to persist until victory is ours.
3. Wisdom. “If you have wisdom, what do you lack? If you lack wisdom, what do you have?” That is a valuable lesson taken from the Rabbinical teachings known as the Midrash. It recognizes that to have wisdom is to have everything; to lack wisdom is to have nothing of value. The wise rejoice for what they have while the unwise mourn for what they lack. Fools complain about what they are while the wise rejoice in what they can become. Wisdom is the choice to plan our life and live our plan.
The wise understand that beginnings have no value unless they are followed by endings. For as John Keats wrote in a letter in 1817, “There is an old saying ‘well begun is half done’ — I would use instead — Not begun at all until half done.” The Chinese highlight the point even more by saying, “Ninety miles is but halfway in a journey of a hundred miles.”
The wise are always willing to pay the price to succeed. They are willing to make the effort. Consider for a moment a pregnant woman. She doesn’t give birth to a baby to experience labor; she experiences labor to give birth to a baby. She cheerfully accepts the temporary nuisance of pregnancy and pain of delivery because of the years of happiness that will follow. The new beginnings that you are undertaking is something you will give birth to. Like an expectant mother, cheerfully make the effort because of the joy that will follow your success.
Finally, the wise realize the world is a library and each person is a book. They read people carefully. By studying them, they learn what mistakes to avoid and what actions to follow.
Wise or otherwise, we need to monitor our progress. For progress is not only about new beginnings and endings, but also about sustaining our past successes. No point in advancing in some areas as we fall behind in others. When we face difficulties, we can escape them by running away or plunging ahead. It is at these moments that we choose between fear and courage, faith and doubt, and growing or withering.
The source of a vehicle’s progress is the friction its wheels make with the ground. So it is with us, it’s our efforts that move us forward. Let’s hope that when we realize we are not yet what we can be, we will make the effort to start a new beginning and follow through to a new ending.