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 – William Ernest Henley
I wonder how many people read those last two lines of Invictus and feel an inexplicable swell of purpose within as I do each time I read them. I have learned to pay more attention to these feelings, they’re rarely for nothing and they certainly don’t deserve the mocking judgement that I used to give them.
To the casual observer, I have not lacked control over my own life. But my loss of autonomy came about, not by someone else’s hand, but by my own. I took my eye off the ball for too long a while, I got sucked in by the lies we sell ourselves about what is expected and normal and grown-up. Somewhere along the way I relinquished the captaincy of my soul, put the ship into autopilot and settled for the voyage that most people have. That is never what I have wanted. How did I forget that? I think that was what the emotion was telling me all those times that I found myself moved so much by a poem I could not understand my affinity for.
Now that I allow myself to open my mind and explore my imaginings I find I have dreams for the first time in my life. I yearn for a small plot of land somewhere quiet away from people who would dictate how I should live, a modest life and possibly a hard one in some senses but fulfilling in others and one that is under my control to the extent that it can be. I find that status, career, mortgage and all those constantly moving goals that I mindlessly pursued are not what I want. This epiphany, along with the realisation that it is within my power to change my destiny, has given me back my control and my contentment.
“I can and I will, watch me”. Is there any greater feeling of strength?
It is only by exerting control over my own life that I’ve learned to know myself, my strengths and weaknesses and I’ve learned to work with both. More importantly, I’ve learned to accept myself. And once you do this you can show compassion for others. I feel privileged to have realised and made use of this control. But we can all exert a little in areas of our life by being more mindful and less automated. And we can all ensure that we do not curtail that of others too much. I think I will practice it more. This is reason #1 that I’m travelling, to reclaim my autonomy whilst, at the same time, relinquishing my battle to control my world. To stop trying to make the world something that it’s not, by truly and deliberately observing it, for better or for worse, come what may. It is enough. And that is a great amount of anything.