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.
The above poem, Invictus, was written by an English poet named William Ernest Henley in the late 1800's and featured in a recent film of the same name. The term Invictus has its roots in Latin, meaning unconquered. The film, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela during his term of presidency in post-apartheid South Africa, is essentially a story of unconditional forgiveness. As part of Mandela's passionate quest to unite and heal a divided country torn apart along racial lines, the South African leader fought to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup. A poignant flashback scene depicts Mandela during his incarceration period on Robben Island, reading the above poem from a scrap of paper inside his prison cell.
In the film's version of events, Mandela shares the poem with Springbok Captain Francois Pienaar (portrayed by Matt Damon) prior to the World Cup, when racial tensions are running high and the team's chance for a victory seems dubious at best. The game of rugby had a largely white following and the blacks (many of whom viewed the Springboks as a symbol of apartheid), rallied to pull the plug on the team. Over a private teatime chat in the Capital building, Mandela's passion to save the Springboks from their impending demise incites Pienaar's previously faltering inspiration, ultimately helping him carry his team to victory and uniting a country on the brink of civil war.
Freeman, with his endearingly gentle yet authoritative presence, has us believing he is the real Mandela as he eloquently delivers memorable proverbs throughout the film-forgiveness liberates the soul was my personal favorite. A similar Mandela quote offers rich food for thought at this dawn of a brand new year: For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. How true this is! It is not rocket science and yet most of us tend to forget about this simple truth.
We do not get ahead in life through being judgmental, critical or closed minded. We do not prosper from harboring resentment or being vengeful. When we practice tolerance, compassion and acceptance we satisfy those parts of ourselves that long for the same. Forgiveness does not even require a specific action or personal encounter; rather, it is an internal process of spiritual healing. Through forgiveness we shape our destiny by trading bad energy for good, releasing emotional toxins and expanding the heart. In order to forgive others we must first forgive ourselves. To forgive ourselves we must forget regret and embrace the past- the good, the bad and the ugly. Without our past, we would not be who and where we are today. Everything that has happened thus far, regardless of how painful or unpleasant, needed to happen to bring us to the place where we find ourselves today.
Who is the captain of your soul? The New Year is a perfect time for self reflection and brutal honesty. Where have you been, and where are you headed? Are you moving in a positive direction or is it time to change course? So much of life is random circumstance and yet, our personal choices are infinite. Serendipitous moments and purposeful forethought are intricately woven through the fabric of our lives; a complex interplay of happenstance and intention forming the colorful matrix of defining moments that shape our destiny. Where do we humans end and where does fate begin? These questions mystify even the sharpest of minds. So many famous poems, quotes, books and films ponder these universal conundrums.
We live in a world of opposing forces- yin and yang, man and woman, good and evil, dark and light. How do we find order in the chaos? In a world where bad things happen to good people, where an innocent man is imprisoned for no crime greater than the color of his skin, where wars rage and planes fall from the sky and bloodshed forms the backdrop of entire cultures, bitterness and cynicism lurk around every corner. And yet, embedded in the chaos of our daily lives is the gift of the human spirit. Strong yet vulnerable, humble yet proud, beautiful yet flawed. Bad things happen every day, but it is our choice how to respond.
I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul. As you embrace the promise of a brand new year, ask yourself, Am I the master of my fate? Am I the captain of my soul? If you find yourself clinging to anger, resentment or past regrets, you have not yet experienced the liberating, life-affirming pulse of unconditional forgiveness. There is an old saying, forgive but don't forget. It is important to remember the past, but if we spend too much time there, we miss the present moment and fail to notice our immediate surroundings. Tomorrow is already too late to capture the ephemeral essence of today, so breathe deep, chart your course and sail towards a brand new horizon.