Saturday, 12 September 2015

Self Reliance and asking for Help

I was recently chatting with some friends, when one of them asked the group of us about a reference in a book familiar to us all (The book was Alcoholics Anonymous). She asked what a “Lone Ranger” was ? (now as it turns out she had got the reference slightly confused, as the phrase she was referring to is actually “Lone Wolf”). Well there were several responses. Several of the men amongst us, who had obviously watched the televisions series as children, began to describe who “The Lone Ranger” was. It was interesting that many talked about why he was “The Lone Ranger”, citing the reason being that he worked alone. Now as someone pointed out this is not actually correct. This friend it seemed was quite an expert and explained that he was called “The Lone Ranger” not because he rode alone but because he was the only surviving member of a group of six Texas Rangers who had been ambushed in a canyon named Bryant’s Gap by a gang of outlaws led by Bartholomew “Butch” Cavendish. He explained that Tonto, a Native American, comes across the scene and rescues the surviving ranger and nurses him back to health. The story tells how the ranger real name Reid had saved his life when they were both boys and that they had formed an eternal bond back then. Tonto had given him the name "Kemo Sabe", meaning trusty scout. The Lone Ranger lived by a strict moral code and went about righting wrongs, but he did not do so alone. He did so alongside Tonto and on his trusty horse Silver “Hi Oh Silver, Away”. The three along with others helped each other. No one was completely self-reliant, although they were very much responsible. “The Lone Ranger” even had his own Creed, that he lived by. It read:

I believe…

That to have a friend, a man must be one.
That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.
That God put firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself.
In being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for what is right.
That a man should make the most of what equipment he has.
That “this government of the people, by the people, and for the people” shall live always.
That men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.
That sooner or later…somewhere…somehow…we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.
That all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.
In my Creator, my country, my fellow man.

An interesting creed…although definitely of its time, hence the lack of gender neutral language.

Now “The Lone Ranger”, operated very much within the spirit of Emersonian “Self-Reliance”, but he did not operate alone. He asked for help when he needed help and he got it. “Self Reliance” is one of those phrases that have been misunderstood and misinterpreted over the years, I know that I have done so. It’s not about not caring for the needy and telling them that they need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. It’s also not about refusing to ask for help relying purely on your own resources. When Ralph Waldo Emerson was describing it in his famous essay “Self-Reliance”, as he left the Unitarian ministry and went off alone, he was not talking about the self-reliance that some economists talk of today. No what he was describing was more akin to cultural and spiritual autonomy and the need to know ourselves and listen to our hearts and our own intuitions and to use these gifts given to us by nature for the best purpose and not to use them lightly or selfishly. This is portrayed in his thoughts on prayer. Towards the end of his essay “Self-Reliance” he writes “Prayer that craves a particular commodity, anything less than all good, is vicious. Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul…But prayer as a means to effect a private end is a meanness and theft.”

Self-reliance ought never to be confused with selfishness, they are in no way similar, although they have been misinterpreted over the years and understood similarly.

No one pulls themselves up from their bootstraps completely alone, all by themselves. From the moment of our births others are involved in creating who we are and who we become. As the old saying goes “It takes a village to raise a child.” No one lives entirely from themselves we are all a part of an interdependent web of relationships that are made of both visible and invisible strings; strings that are physical and others metaphysical. Asking for help is actually a sign of both strength and wisdom, rather than weakness. It is a sign of good, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

Now asking for help is not something that comes easily to me. I am much more comfortable offering my hand than accepting that of another. That said the moments of the greatest personal spiritual growth for me have been those moments of humility, when I have felt powerless and completely lost and have had to surrender to this and held out my shaking hand in the hope that help would be available. It happened again recently as I surrendered to the need to lose weight. I hit a rock bottom about eight weeks ago and broke down. From there I was able to lift up my eyes to hills and to genuinely ask for help. Just asking the question, in prayerful brokenness was enough for things to begin to change. I found the appropriate help and they showed me what I had to do. Now of course it is my task and responsibility to put in the action, but I am not doing so alone. I am part of a Slimming World and am following their “Food Optimisation” plan as well as exercising daily. The results are astonishing, in under 8 weeks I have lost almost three stones, a total of 41 pounds and feel fantastic and am therefore better able to serve life and the people around me.

Now the asking for help began as a prayer but soon became an activity and it brought to my mind that questions that begins Psalm 121 “I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come?” Now in the Psalm the answer is that God will give the help. God who made the heaven and the earth as well as the hills that the Psalm is referring to.

Now while the hills themselves may not be the power there is something powerful about both looking up to them and being up there looking down on life from them. In many ways the thing I miss the most about Yorkshire are the hills, Cheshire is a very flat place.

Standing up on a hill top and looking down on the world in which we live and breath and have our being gives us space and perspective. It helps us rise above our worries and troubles and leads us to solutions that often cannot be found in the middle of the hustle and bustle of life. Somewhere in that space the answers as to what can be done, can be found.

A few months ago I went to see the documentary film “Between Dog and Wolf” it told the story of my musical heroes New Model Army and their long career on the fringes of the mainstream. Much of it moved me as it described their many ups and downs, many that they created for themselves. There was one moment that really took a hold of the soul of me. This was when Justin Sullivan, the creative force behind it all, talked about the few months he lived in London at the beginning of their odyssey and how he just couldn’t write there. He felt cramped up creatively and hemmed in. he needed to return to the hills of Bradford to write once again. He needed those hills to find space and perspective and to once again touch the spirit.


I understand this I need space and time alone to commune with the unseen thread so that I can connect with physical life in the right way; so I can help in appropriate ways and seek help when I need it, so as to be the best that I can be.

From the cradle to the grave we need to keep on asking for help and we need to make ourselves available to be of assistance to others in their time of need. This is not to say that we become unhealthily dependent on others and society as a whole, no not at all. We are though a part of a whole, a complex whole that makes life and community. As we grow and change and become the people that we are this changes shape and reforms constantly, it seems that we are being born again and again to new versions of ourselves. Of course we cannot do this alone. We cannot give birth to ourselves, no one can. We need help and sometimes we need to ask for help from others and in so doing we are of course doing not only a service for ourselves, but for them also.

No one is an island. We are communal beings entirely dependent on each other and life itself. In the words of Martin Luther King “We are interdependent…all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” This has never been more true than today. When someone reaches out in a time of need it is our God given duty to help and when we need help we need to be faithful enough to ask for help too. Interdependence is a physical fact, but it is also a spiritual reality.

This to me is the whole point of spiritual community, of religious living. To see, understand and experience this oneness, this Divine Unity. To see that we are all one. To be of help to one another and to seek the help when it is needed. In this way we all grow and become the best that we can be and serve life to the utmost of our ability.

So I say to you the reader, echoing the Creed of “The Lone Ranger’s” let’s recognise the power within ourselves to make this a better world; let’s gather the firewood that god has provided for us; let’s make the most of the equipment we have; let’s settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken. "Hi oh Silver, away"

I will end this this little chip of a blogspot with the following meditation “The Web of Life” by Robert T Weston…

"The Web of Life"

There is a living web that runs through us
To all the universe
Linking us each with each and through all life
On to the distant stars.
Each knows a ­little corner of the world, and lives
As if this were his all.
We no more see the farther reaches of the threads
Than we see of the future, yet they’re there.
Touch but one thread, no matter which;
The thoughtful eye may trace to distant lands
Its firm continuing strand, yet lose its filaments as they reach out,
But find at last it coming back to him from whom it led.
We move as in a fog, aware of self
But only dimly conscious of the rest
As they are close to us in sight or feeling.
New objects loom up for a time, fade in and out;
Then, sometimes, as we look on unawares, the fog lifts
And there’s the web in shimmering beauty,
Reaching past all horizons. We catch our breath;
Stretch out our eager hands, and then
In comes the fog again, and we go on,
Feeling a ­little foolish, doubting what we had seen.
The hands were right. The web is real.
Our folly is that we so soon forget.

By Robert T Weston

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