Before the world was lit at night the Arabs, Bedouins, and other traveling peoples guided themselves by the movement of the stars and the twilight created by their effulgence. What thoughts illuminated their minds as they wove their way into towns, watering holes, and trading markets? How did travelers know which roads to take? How could they tell who to trust and who to avoid?
One time I visited a tourist-trap cave with an anti-gravity room. The term “anti-gravity” is a misnomer, for the room does not really defy gravity, but is designed to create optical illusions that shift the sense of what feels upright. Stripes on the wallpaper ran at right angles to the upward slanting rock floor, giving the impression that you were standing crooked where you were actually standing straight. The spare furnishings all supported that illusion as well. Only the vents in the top portion of the walls were truly vertical.
I stared hard at those vents, determined not to fall over like the rest of my fellow tourists who gripped the railings for dear life. My strategy was successful. Then I decided to test my strength of mind against the wallpaper stripes themselves. Suddenly it felt like a strong magnet was pulling me over. I caught myself on the railing. Again I focused on the vents and my balance was restored.
I was successful in overcoming the crooked little world I was in because I did what no one else did. I identified what was truly straight and focused on that no matter what.
This is the issue I see today when one is trying to remain straight in a crooked world filled with so many illusions. It does not do to focus on one’s surroundings, but to find some kind of guiding star (in my case, those vents) and set your mind on that. It’s the only way you’ll know the vertical from the horizontal.
I took my first plane ride rather late in life, and I remember the trepidation I felt about not being in control so high in the air. My uncle, an aeronautical engineer, gave some great advice that I have followed ever since.
“When you get on a plane,” he said, “the first thing you should do is look for the emergency exits closest to your seat. Most people who survive plane crashes burn up in their seats instead, because they are looking to see what other people are going to do. Don’t look at anyone else. Get out of your seat, open the exit doors, and run like crazy. It’s the only way you’ll survive.”
Guiding principles. Exits. The will to act.
If you are going to stand straight in a crooked world, you must be prepared to do what no one else will do. It’s not selfish. It’s the only way others will take your lead and survive. It’s a life recipe.
Feature photo: Federico Beccari, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons