Briefing for a mission

This is the final session. Yesterday we talked about Equipment. Today the subject is Keeping Watch. It is of absolute importance. That is why I expect perfection from each of you. Perfection of attitude, that is. You will see what I mean.

Consider a ship moving through uncertain waters. While the wheelsman keeps his eyes on the compass and his hands on the helm, the officer of the watch paces the bridge, going out on the wings, peering into the darkness and fog. He cannot allow himself a moment of inattention.

Consider, too, a person adrift, holding on to a plank. One moment he's at the high ridge of a wave. The next, he's sliding into a deep trough. But his thought is on the horizon, even while his sight is blanked out.

You need to train down the mind to a trim focus to keep it from the borderline of dreams. It is so easy to see things that are not there - so easy to let discouragement in, and then fatigue.

At the same time you cannot afford to lose the vision deep within you. It may be that you will wait a long time before anything happens. If so, you need to be as keen and uncomplaining as astronomers, waiting years for some star, living each day in the triumph and prescience of discovery, never collapsing in a torpor of doubt.

You see, then, the difference between relentless observation and enduring vision. The one requires an exercise of volition. The other takes a steady tenacity of purpose. When you're able to blend the two you'll begin to understand what ''keeping watch'' is all about.

There is a further thing to be mentioned: the quality of your waiting. I touched on it just now in referring to astronomers. The main attribute is patience. But patience must be active, because it is through the nature of your patience that you achieve a richness in life.

Some of you are smiling, as if to say, ''He's going off on a philosophical tangent.'' But do you think I'm standing up here to encourage a poverty of thought, a stoic single-mindedness? This might be the case if I imagined that I could send you to the fulfillment of your mission like bullets to a target. But there are so many things to be gained by you along the way.

The tendency to force results before their time of ripening is human, but it is unnatural and sometimes as ludicrous as a person standing over his freshly planted tulip bulbs, shouting at them to blossom. I used to expect instant miracles from everybody. We are all of us so surprising. I'm afraid I still slip back into the habit.

Waiting, we know, is demanding. It takes a willingness and determination to do the right thing at exactly the right time. It may be a split second, as in basketball when a shot can be taken by the open man. Until that moment one creates opportunities by moving effectively without the ball.

There is nothing static about creative waiting and the effective employment of patience. Do any of you think that waiting is a slavelike submission to forces beyond our powers? Then you must come to realize that it is never a condition of being squashed by circumstances or difficult people. Nor is it a matter of leaning on those who can advance us. Said Ezra Pound: A slave is a person who waits for someone to come and free him.

That is not the kind of waiting I'm talking about. Inspired patience means that you are keeping watch in order to act wisely and resourcefully on your own behalf. When you do so, you find other people opening doors. Eventually you find yourself opening doors for others.

That is all I have to say to you - except this: There are two different attitudes. Both you cannot have. One is weak and vulnerable. The other is growing and productive. You can say to yourself when you leave this room, ''Well , that was sort of interesting. Let's see what happens.''

Or you can say, ''I know how to get the best results, and I'm moving in that direction.''

You choose. Your mission is living.


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