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STOIC POETRY | Ulysses' Ride - A will-less venture into new life

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

It is so easy to get caught-up in the illusion that our lives are our own, self-guided affairs. That we have much or anything at all to say about the course of living we take, or the decisions we make, or the end we one day must become. Our only seeming will is the turning of the rudder of this frail ship of being. Yet, the dear irony is that every movement we make to the right or the left was the only movement we could have ever made in that very moment of choice. I cannot prove this. Yet, I know it is true. I hold our lack of free will as a despicable matter and point of faith. The larger fact of universal machinations beyond our will suggests we are merely action and reaction within the context of all that exists. And yet, we tell ourselves that we have some choice and say in our lives. And we do...only the choices we make are the only decisions we could have ever made.

An interesting example of this phenomenon of seeming will is when we "decide" to break our current life in favor of a new life. When we quit our job, sell our house, say goodbye to friends and pack our things. We then load up the car and embark away from the routines we know; towards new routines we must find and somehow make our own. This is a scary thing to do. A very frightening thing, indeed. That is why most never do it...and instead go on through life convinced the living they know now–and have seemingly mastered, so well–is also a life which they have some real power over. They do not. We do not. We only make decisions: decisions we could never not make. Our every choice through life is exactly the only choice we could have made in that place, moment, and circumstance. Free will is only a very convincing illusion.

And so, we go then into our new life... There is some fear perhaps as we make this change. Maybe a lot of fear. And for a few weeks or a month or more we fumble with our new place at work, and our new home, and all the new names we should learn and remember and the new ways of the people and the new living we have assumed as our own. This experience feels like travel. Like a sailing journey upon the sea. Yet, our hands can hardly hold the tiller at times for the tossing new waters. The still, quiet, and seemingly deep waters of our old and well-known life are now just a near - and possibly dear - memory. Now, the waters in the new place churn. Now, the new life becomes like a storm and - at times - a maelstrom of confused and demanded decision. Yet, even these decisions always hold just one answer...the answer and choice we do - and must - then make.

Who tied the captain to the mast? And how does he thence guide the ship?

I would never suggest we let go of the rudder in any weather. For, some steering is needed if we are to survive and thrive. Yet, in a sense, our guidance through these new waters hardly matters. We will survive or we will sink. For, we are each then Ulysses tied to the mast: giant waves rising before us and a Siren song beckoning from sharp rocks. Sunlight bursts then with promise through cloud-break, lighting distant, saving still waters. Or the sea grows dark with nightfall, and cold with the approach of some awful end. Or dawn appears just now and warms our stubble cheek with another promised day. Through it all, our bodies are bound to the ship's solid mast. Through it all, our good and guiding hand holds the steering tiller. We are secured to our fate while seeming to own our path and way. Yet, we can only turn the tiller where we will. We can only guide the ship from where we have been to where we will go. We can never be what we will never be. We are Ulysses tied to his mast. Hearing fated calls and watching the storm of our choice. Making through to clear waters or going down now smothered in the sea. I'll ride like Ulysses today and again if tomorrow may come. I'll hold tight the tiller while the ropes bind me hard to the mast. I'll make the turns I will...knowing they are the only turns I ever would or could.

I will ride like Ulysses, bound and free to go where the sea must lead.


My name is Kurt Bell.

You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.

Be safe... But not too safe.

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