“Whatever the mind of man can conceive he can achieve.” NOT!

“Whatever the mind of man can conceive he can achieve” is a primary idea in Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. But is it true?

I can conceive of a person running a mile in less than a second. Is that achievable? I can conceive of someone memorizing verbatim the entire contents of the Library of Congress. Is that achievable? I can conceive a person walking on the surface of the Sun. Is that achievable?

I think what Napoleon Hill is trying to say is that we frequently drastically underestimate our capabilities. And of course that is true. If I have decided ahead of time that I am incapable of ‘X’, than that will be so: because there is such a mismatch between my low opinion of myself, and the truth that I am more capable, I simply won’t try and thus will function well below my potential.

Meanwhile, an overinflated estimate of my capabilities is just as crippling. If I believe I can do 2X, when I am really only capable of X, I am likely to make commitments to myself and others on which I can’t deliver. “Sure, I can leap across this 20 foot chasm” and only manage 10 feet — not a happy outcome.

Ideally what we want is for our opinion of our capabilities to be a true assessment. There is never a substitute for Truth — about ourselves or anything else. “Reality is reality”. When we have an accurate assessment of our own strengths and weaknesses, we are then able to make the most effective choices about how to proceed in all of our Life situations.

(An accurate assessment of our capabilities (and weaknesses) is of course no easy matter.)

Psalm 23 — a paraphrase

The Lord is ineffable, I shall never presume to comprehend Her at all.

He shows me Unfathomable Shining Mysteries. In every moment for all time She sings Her Great Ever-Fecund Silence — and all that Is springs anew, transformed and renewed again and again, eternally.

I have no soul apart from Him.

She leads me, and all of humanity, in our lurching, staggering first baby steps toward the Greatness for which He created us in Her image.

Yea though I be crushed by Fierce Graces* beyond enduring, I know that Your Love will ultimately triumph in ways I may not live to see. Your chastening, and embrace — they both sustain me through each moment.

In my Darkest Night, You are the dim, sputtering candlelight that nevertheless never fails. You anoint my broken heart with Your Own tears. My puny cup and I are simply lost, carried away by the mighty currents of Your Infinite Ocean.

Surely Mystery, Awe and Compassion shall enfold me all the days of my fleeting life, and I humbly bow down with gratitude beyond words to have been even a forgotten whimsy in the Heart of God forever.


*Tragedies that turn out to [spiritually] benefit us in the long run.

Getting what we ask for

Once there was a father who promised his beloved daughter a pony for Christmas. The daughter was very excited and couldn’t wait!

Finally, at long last, Christmas Day arrived. The father took his daughter by the hand and with his heart bursting with anticipation he presented her a purebred Welsh pony with a hand-made leather and silver saddle and bridle engraved with his daughter’s initials.

But the daughter threw herself on the ground and sobbed with disappointment: “What is THIS? I thought you were getting me a cheap plastic pony toy!”

Human beings vs. ‘Systems’

Once upon a time there was a seamstress who made beautiful outfits.

One day a customer walked into her shop and fell in love with a particular pant-suit. “I love this!” the customer exclaimed, “but it doesn’t quite fit right.”

“That’s not a problem,” said the seamstress. “Let’s see what we can do!”

“The pant legs are a little long,” said the seamstress. “So let’s put you on my medieval rack and stretch you out to make your legs longer — there we go! And the sleeves on this outfit are a little short – we’ll just surgically remove an inch from your arm bones – there, perfect! And the waist is a little loose – no problem, we’ll just inject silicone into your stomach until the waist fits just right!”

Leona, the Shepherdess Princess

Once upon a time there was a kingdom, with a great king and queen. They had a child, a beautiful little girl whom they named Leona. The king and queen were profoundly happy, and loved their daughter beyond words.

One day the queen said to the king, “Leona must some day rule in our place. But if she grows up in court, knowing only ease and everyone fawning on her day and night, how will she learn the wisdom she will need to be a wise queen?” The king, having no answer, consulted his mage, Merlin.

“I have a recommendation,” said Merlin. “Allow me to raise Leona as an ordinary subject of your kingdom, with no knowledge of her royal birth. I will keep her perfectly safe with my magical powers, but she will also learn the ways of the world.”

And the king and queen consented. So Merlin took the little child Leona to a shepherd cottage on the edge of the kingdom. And raised her to be a shepherdess, tending the sheep, caring for their injuries, easing their lamb-births, and being present to their deaths — sharing with them the bright, hot days of summer and the bitter cold nights of winter. And she learned to make cloth from their wool, and cheese from their milk. And Merlin taught her the ways of nature, as well as the ways of books and human knowledge.
In due time Leona grew into a fine young woman, wise from all she had learned.

The king and queen were of course very anxious for her to return to the castle. So one day they surprised Merlin and Leona at their cottage, arriving in their splendid gold carriage with their entourage of knights and trumpeters. Leona had never seen anything like this, and terrified, hid herself in the forest.

“What is to be done now?” cried the queen.

“We must introduce her to her royal station gradually, so as not to overwhelm her,” said Merlin.

And the king and queen consented. Merlin informed Leona: “The king and queen wish you to be a scullery maid in the castle, and as a subject of their realm you must of course obey.” And so she did. At first being in the castle at all was very terrifying, but after all, she was only a scullery maid, safely hidden in a little room for washing dishes down in the bowels of the castle. In due time she became accustomed to her new station, and of course executed her tasks with distinction.

“Now the king and queen wish you to be a cleaning maid.” Ah, this was a new challenge for Leona! For now she wasn’t hidden away, but in the great halls and rooms of the castle, dusting, sweeping and polishing. And oh how she shuddered, and bowed oh so low, when noblemen and ladies would happen to pass by. But they paid her no notice. In time she became accustomed to their presence, and the splendor of the halls and rooms of the castle, and although she still bowed low when nobility passed by her, she no longer shuddered. And, as always, she executed her tasks with distinction.

“Now the king and queen wish you to be one of the queen’s ladies in waiting.” Ah, now yet another challenge for Leona! For now she was in the presence of the queen herself! In her private rooms! Helping her dress, attending to all her needs. And she was in the presence of the king too! All of which she found quite terrifying.

But in time she became accustomed to her new state. And although she of course remained profoundly respectful of their majesties the king and queen, gradually her terror of them passed and she came to love them as the wise and compassionate monarchs they truly were.

One day the queen summoned her. “Please sit here, beside me, Leona. I have a story to tell you.” And the queen told Leona how she had been born their child, and how they had decided to have Merlin raise her as a subject of their realm so she would learn wisdom, and how they by degrees had reacquainted her with the life of royalty, starting as a lowly scullery maid and finally as a lady in waiting.

Leona’s head was swimming! “How can this possibly be?! Begging your pardon, your majesties, I can’t bring myself to believe this!”

“Ah, my beautiful daughter, I have the last proof for you. You were born with a birthmark over your heart — I’m sure you know it well. Look, you will see that I have the same birthmark over my own.” Leona looked, and indeed there it was — over the queen’s own heart — a birthmark exactly like her own. “You are truly flesh of my flesh, my own beloved daughter. Come, my sweet child, take your rightful place beside me as Princess of the Realm.”

And, of course, Leona did as the queen wished, with quaking knees and tears in her eyes. But in time she came to accept her new station, and to appreciate the wisdom of her royal parents, and to love them even more — if that were possible!

And in due time she did indeed become Queen of the Realm, and ruled her subjects with a compassion and wisdom that could only come from someone who had lived as one of them.

Maybe yes, maybe no

Once upon the time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe yes, maybe no,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “What great luck!” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe yes, maybe no,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors came to offer their sympathy on how unfortunate he was, without his son to help him on the farm.
“Maybe yes, maybe no,” answered the farmer.

The next day, the emperor came through the region on his way to his latest war, drafting all the young men into his army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how fortunate he was after all.

“Maybe yes, maybe no,” said the farmer…