The Portuguese Man O’War has no propulsion system of its own. Its top looks like a Portuguese war helmet. It moves with the flow of the ocean. It eats what comes into its path. It’s the perfect zen master of the sea, powerful and silent, floating freely.
I saw a few of these last week while kayaking among the mangroves in Key West, and I became obsessed with them. Colorful and tiny youngsters, at about two-inches long, these colonies of creatures pack a big venomous punch! So as much as I wanted to touch them, I didn’t, because I didn’t want to end up in the hospital, or worse.
However, I couldn’t stop thinking about them throughout the rest of my journey last week to visit family. It wasn’t until the end of my visit that I saw the symbolic significance of the Man O’War!
Order is comfortable
Sometimes the things I hear, especially from those I love, press a hot button in my psyche, and I can feel uncomfortable emotionally or even physically. I just want to restore order to my perception of the world, and feel comfortable again, by correcting or giving the facts. We think if they would just hear the facts, they would realize how ignorant their comment was, and recant. Universal order would be restored. Ha!
Or perhaps we want them to take back their comment, or at least consider our point of view, so we can feel good about our relationship with them again. The reasons that we have for “correcting” people’s misconceptions are endless.
This was my experience while visiting my family. Wow, can they push my emotional buttons!
I had previously decided to say nothing — no correcting, no presenting scientific facts, and no sociological insights. I bathed myself in my inner light. Watching my breath flow in… and out. In… and out. Staying present and alert, yet quietly calm and at peace.
Answer a fool… or not?
I went home that evening and read a wise quote, that said that discussion and convincing others doesn’t change them. That it’s better to simply be silent.
Now, I think there may be a time to speak up, of course, but it depends on your goal and the openness of the person with whom you’re talking. I remember the Bible verse from the book of Proverbs that states, “Answer a fool according to his folly”. There’s another verse, also in Proverbs, that counters, “Don’t answer a fool according to his folly”. So which one is correct? Both. We need to discern when it’s wise to answer a fool at all, and when it’s a useless or counterproductive endeavor.
Only love heals the heart
Ultimately, my goal is the spiritual well-being and blessings of everyone, especially my own and those of my family and friends. This decision that I made, to be calm and silent no matter what arose in conversation that I judged as “wrong thinking,” brought home to me the realization that true change is an inside job, and that I cannot control this change in others around me. I realized that fixing people’s perceptions about life, does not change the heart. Only love heals the heart. And we know that when our hearts truly soften with love, so do our ideas and beliefs.
There is power in silence
I experienced a calmness that I had never felt at previous family gatherings! The Portuguese Man O’War energy was at work in me because of my decision to be silent and not get involved in arguments. I felt victorious.
You may be wondering how it all ended. Well, the end result of this family reunion was loving embraces. I could see the divine shining out from everyone’s eyes. Good feelings were enjoyed by all, and expressed in heartfelt goodbyes. This time, nobody truly got stung, despite hot buttons being pushed.
Happily, I left with my inner peace intact. This Portuguese soldier’s mission was accomplished.