A New Perspective
As the weather begins to warm and we move into Summer, this week Rev. Joanne starts a new series of talks based on the book Lessons from the Turtle – Living Right Side Up1 by Steve Goodier.
It is a time honored tradition to use metaphorical stories personifying animals to help shine light on the human condition. Turtles are slow moving, which can represent thoughtful and deliberate action. They are long lived, and with age comes wisdom. The hard shell that protects them represents physical and mental toughness. However, turtles are vulnerable when by misfortune they are lying on their backs feet flailing in the air.
Rev. Joanne tells us the the story of “The Gift of the Accident,” from Goodier’s book. In it, the turtle slips on a stone and ends up on its back. Fearful, Turtle asks, “What did I do to deserve this? I have done all the things I am supposed to do? I am usually very careful.”
While lying on his back, Turtle is visited by Owl who asks him to open his eyes to see what is around him. Turtle is afraid that if he does he might die. Owl convinces him to open one eye, and with it he sees the blue sky above. The view of the sky from this perspective is unfamiliar to Turtle. Owl explains the wonderous nature of the sky – its brightness during the day and darkness at night; its infinite nature; the birds that move through it. Turtle, listening, now opens both eyes and begins to see the world in a new way.
When we, like Turtle, have our world turned upside down, we can react in a number of ways. The severity, suddenness, and breadth of the events we are experiencing will certainly determine what we need to do, how we do it, and when. There are three basic causal factors, individually or in various levels of combination, that precipitate the events in our lives – first, are our own actions; second are the actions of others over which we have no control; and third, is random chance.
For example, if we are experiencing a serious health challenge, cancer perhaps, it is possible that we have contributed to our illness through unhealthy eating habits or smoking. It is also possible that industrial waste or harmful carcinogenic products have adversely affected us through the actions of others. It is also possible that random genetic mutations happen through no fault of our own or anyone else.
This can also apply to a career misfortune. If we lose our job, it may be that we are entirely at fault – poor performance, our being the source of unnecessary friction with co-workers, or even illegal activity such as theft. It is also possible that we are laid off because mismanagement of the company by senior officers has made the company unprofitable and staff reductions resulted. There are also greater outside forces at work such as natural disasters, or as in 2020 a global pandemic, that are not the fault of anyone, but we are unemployed nonetheless.
At some time in their life everyone has felt that they have been treated unfairly. Often, they are absolutely justified in feeling that way. No sensible person can deny that human history is rife with examples of horrible racism, sexism, cultural discrimination and religious hatred. These things clearly continue today. However, humans are ever-evolving creatures, and I am pleased to say that we are evolving not devolving.
There are fewer wars, and of less severity now than at any time in history. Women’s rights have moved forward by leaps and bounds in the vast majority of the world. Slavery, a foundational aspect of human society on every corner of the globe throughout history (if a globe can have corners), is illegal everywhere and has been virtually eliminated. In the United States, and in most countries of the world, legal discrimination based on race, gender and ethnicity no longer exists. None of this is to say that our work is done. It is a noble thing to have an ideal of global peace and harmony among nations, religions, races, and between men and women, and we must continue to work toward making this ideal a reality. Fairness, equality of opportunity, and personal dignity are all human rights.
There is a spiritual concept that says ‘whatever you focus on expands.’ If we look for the good in the world we will find more good. However, it is also true that if we look for bad things in the world we’ll see more of that too. But even more than actually finding things we seek out, when we become too narrowly focused on the negative, we can sometimes incorrectly attribute motives, intentions, and agency for what ails us to other people and things where they do not actually exist.
When in my life I find myself, like Turtle, “turned upside down on my back,” at first it is easier to look for all of the reasons for my troubles that are not my fault – girlfriend left me, boss is an idiot, economy is tanking, etc. It is somehow easier to accept my problems if they are not my fault. But I need to take a strong look at myself and ask are my problems really a result only of things beyond my control? If I am being honest, that is rarely the case. Once that realization is made, my first reaction is to feel sick to my stomach. I had some hand in this situation. But that is not a bad thing, it is actually a good thing. Because if I had some responsibility in creating my personal mess, that means I also have the ability to undo it.
The world is complex. We must work together to make it a place we all can live together in peace and fairness. It may seem that our current challenges are as intractable as the proverbial Gordian Knot. Legend has it that Alexander the Great undid the knot, thus fulfilling the prophecy and becoming Emperor. Two versions of his method exist. One is that with careful consideration and study that he was able to puzzle out the method for releasing it. The other was that with impatience and resignation of a hopeless cause that he sliced it in two with his sword. Whether it be in our personal lives or with respect to the challenges of the greater community, let us choose the former method and not the latter.
We know from our study of Truth principles that ‘with God all things are possible.’ Let us demonstrate the truth of this statement by allowing God to work through us as agents of peace, love, harmony and joy and we will soon recognize the Gift of the Accident and be living right side up.
This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24
Take time this week to pay attention to fear arising within. Take a deep breath. Deny: Fear has no power over me. Affirm: I am one with the Power and Presence of God. Then become curious to see what is present.
1Goodier, Steve, Lessons of the Turtle, Living Right Side Up, Life Support System Pub Inc, 2002.