The Theosophical Society in America

Viewpoint: The Story to Tell

By Betty Bland

Originally printed in the Summer 2009 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Bland, Betty. “Viewpoint: The Story to Tell.” Quest  97. 3 (Summer 2009): 84.

Betty BlandI love a good story. As the images of exotic scenery, exciting adventure, tender love, and inspirational insight parade before my inner imagination, I am carried along with them. I thrill or despair, thirst or feel fulfilled as the story unfolds. The trials of the hero become my trials, and the insights become my insights. The alternative reality imprints on my mind as if the event had taken place in the world of my own daily life.

This function of mind was brought home to me during the news releases of the quick thinking and heroism of Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot of US Airways flight 1549, which in a near disaster collided with a flock of geese during a routine takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in New York City on January 15, 2009. With both engines completely blocked, the descending airplane threatened both the lives of the passengers and the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods, which were heavily populated. More people could have lost their lives than in the World Trade Center disaster. Yet by the time it was made public, all passengers were safely accounted for and the aircraft was floating down the Hudson River, having done no serious injury to people or property.

News stories generally inundate our minds with violence, corruption, greed, and disaster so that we can become supersaturated with negativity. Cynicism and pessimism seem to be signs of being well-informed and sophisticated. For some reason, the public in general thrives on the sensational, the scandalous. And we get caught up in that mentality, swept along on a wave of fear and outrage.

This story had the opposite effect. As the story unfolded of the miraculous landing and rescue of 150 passengers and five crew members, I was filled with tears of joy and gratitude. Immediately after the crash landing, ferries and other boats redirected their courses to the site in order to bring all safely to shore. The serendipitous choices, quick thinking, and heroic efforts of all involved created a drama of what seemed to be a cooperation of divine and human forces in order to bring about a miracle. It was as if I had been there and I had been saved, and I was filled with gratitude.

Each of us has this capacity of imagination, which is a manifestation of the universal creative principle that imbues us with self-consciousness and self-reflection. This is the quality of humanness that places us above the animal stage, although a little lower than the angels. We are an embodiment of the creative principle. The way we process our experiences, memories, and reactions creates a unique environment for each of us. Each sees the world differently through a particular mind-set. This mind-set creates our world of challenges for this lifetime. Kama-manas, or the mental-emotional functions, are the very trap of maya, the illusions whereby we develop patterns of seeing and become ensnared in our own mental constructs.

Our emotional entanglements make us see what we expect to see and suffer what we anticipate. This is not to say that everything is in our minds or that we necessarily choose our suffering. We cannot dismiss the power of suffering by the flippant attitude that “they have brought it upon themselves and just have to deal with it.” Things happen that have complex causes and complex solutions. We have to deal with the paradigm in which we are presently caught. It is true that emotional attachment to the vicissitudes of life is the root cause of our suffering, just as the Buddha observed. Yet we have to figure out how to deal with the here and now. Now that we are in this mess, how can we begin to grow and work through it?

We are the prisoners of the accumulation of our thoughts, but we are also the masters of our fate. We can decide what we want to tell ourselves over and over again and thus create beneficial, or at least harmless, scenes that reverberate through our minds. As we read in The Voice of the Silence, “If thou wouldst not be slain by them, then must thou harmless make thy own creations, the children of thy thoughts, unseen, impalpable, that swarm round humankind, the progeny and heirs to man and his terrestrial spoils.”

Our minds work in strange and mysterious ways, catching and holding on to whatever we feed them. As writer and actor Benjamin Busch said in an interview on National Public Radio, “Who knows how the folds of the mind work, but things get caught in there.” Consciousness is sticky; things get caught in there, usually in unintended ways. Our minds believe and hold on to what they are fed on a daily basis. And the longer we chew on an idea, the tighter it sticks.

It is not easy but we do have the ability to determine the character of our steady diet. The Bhagavad Gita says, “For the mind is verily, restless, O Krishna; it is impetuous, strong and difficult to bend. I deem it as hard to curb as the wind.”

Whenever we encounter a story that brings tears of joy to the heart, let us dwell on the miracle of heroic service to others. Just as the airplane rescue sent waves of happy gratitude around our nation, so we can magnify the little unsung deeds of generosity to be found in our ordinary encounters. Whether large or small, the light of consciousness enables these deeds to become more powerful in transforming ourselves and our world.

Each day, let us look for these moments of joy or self-forgetfulness, forgiveness, loving-kindness, or any quality that lifts the human spirit. Let us look for opportunities to immerse ourselves in books, videos, music, and works of visual art that inspire those qualities. These positive aspects will stick in the folds of our minds and begin the healing process. In this way we begin to become the peace that we all long for. This is the story of the ages that all long to hear. This is the story to tell with our whole being.