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The Turn of the Tide: Part III

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | October 01, 2011

"The unexamined life is not worth living."
Socrates

Two weeks ago I shared Part I and last week I shared Part II of an essay by Arthur Gordon titled The Turn of the Tide. In response to a difficult season in Mr. Gordon's life, his doctor gave him four (4) "prescriptions." 

Because he loved the beach, the doctor told him to go there alone and without reading, writing, listening to the radio or talking to anyone, he was to follow those four (4) prescriptions - one (1) every three (3) hours. 

1. Listen Carefully. 
2. Try Reaching Back. 

At 3 o'clock Mr. Gordon opened the third "prescription." Here are his words.
 

But I was not prepared for the next one. This time the three words were not a gentle suggestion. They sounded more like a command. REEXAMINE YOUR MOTIVES. 

My first reaction was defensive. There's nothing wrong with my motives, I said to myself. I want to be successful - who doesn't? I want a certain amount of recognition - but so does everybody. I want more security than I've got - and why not? 

"Maybe," said a small voice, "those motives aren't good enough. Maybe that's the reason the wheels have stopped going round." 

I picked up a handful of sand and let it stream beneath my fingers. In the past, whenever my work went well, there had always been something spontaneous about it, something uncontrived, something free. Lately it had been calculated, competent - and dead. Why? Because I had been looking past the job itself to the rewards I hoped it would bring. The work had ceased to be an end in itself; it had become merely a means to make money, pay bills. The sense of giving something, of helping people, of making a contribution, had been lost in a frantic clutch at security. 

In a flash of certainty, I saw that if one's motives are wrong, nothing can be right. It makes no difference whether you are a mailman, a hairdresser, an insurance salesman, a housewife - whatever. As long as you feel you are serving others, you do the job well. When you are concerned only with helping yourself, you do it less well - a law as inexorable as gravity. 

For a long time I sat there. Far out on the bar I heard the murmur of the surf change to a hollow roar as the tide turned. Behind me the spears of light were almost horizontal. My time at the beach had almost run out, and I felt a grudging admiration for the doctor and the "prescriptions" he had so casually and cunningly devised. I saw now, that in them was a therapeutic progression that might well be of value to anyone facing any difficulty. 

LISTEN CAREFULLY. To calm the frantic mind, slow it down, shift the focus from inner problems to outer things. 

TRY REACHING BACK. Since the human mind can hold but one idea at a time, you blot out present worries when you touch the happiness of the past. 

REEXAMINE YOUR MOTIVES. This was the hard core of the so-called treatment - this challenge to reappraise, to bring one's motives into alignment with one's capabilities and conscience. But the mind must be clear and receptive to do this - hence the six hours of quiet that went before. 

The western sky was a blaze of crimson as I took out the last slip of paper. Six words this time. I walked slowly out on the beach. A few yards below high-water mark I stopped and read the words again: WRITE YOUR WORRIES IN THE SAND. 

I let the paper blow away, reached down and picked up a fragment of shell. Kneeling there under the vault of the sky, I wrote several words, one above the other. 

Then I walked away, and I did not look back. I had written my troubles on the sand. The tide was coming in. 

Think about it. Think about it again.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu