Oh Bother..

“A fish can’t whistle, and neither can I.” ~Winnie the Pooh

I’ve always believed that anything is possible; that no limits exist. But, even though I take these thoughts to heart, I do admit that natural law exists, and that some people are much more capable than others when it comes to performing certain duties or activities. This is a very real sphere; the sphere of personal limitations.

In the headline quote, Winnie the Pooh is admitting that he cannot whistle, nor can a fish. In this statement he is implying that natural abilities and non-abilities are innate within all beings; and this is perfectly fine for anyone to admit. This is the pure nature of P’U; the uncarved block; a Taoist idiom.

Some people just can’t whistle, while others whistle poorly, and others could whistle a beautiful melody. Some are not meant for performing certain duties. Many artists exist, but many more cannot draw a straight line whatsoever. All humans are capable of wielding a weapon, but only certain individuals are meant for becoming a soldier.

During a training exercise known as CAX, a Marine Corps Combined Arms Exercise, the battlefield is staged with numerous targets. The exercise combines ground forces, heavy artillery and weapons; air support and motorized assaults all converging on a field full of targets. This experience mimics a full front line assault in real battle. Live ammunition is used; it is fired from all directions. It is loud; deafening and heart pounding.

Being part of the ground force, our duty is to continuously move forward on the battlefield until all targets are neutralized. We do this by crawling and running in spurts, all the while with heavy gunfire above our heads; bullets snapping and whizzing past our helmets with nearby explosions rattling the brain and shaking the eyes to a blur.

During this exercise a fellow Marine and I were advancing side-by-side. A few minutes after the exercise commenced I realized that I could not see him any longer. I backtracked to the last point of cover and saw him crouching in a ball. He had removed his helmet and was covering his ears; the tears streaming from his eyes were brown with sand as they rolled across his face. He was more than frightened, he was nearly frozen with fear and gasping for breath; pure panic.

What this experience taught me was that we must know our abilities and our fears. We must understand and accept both our strengths and our weaknesses. We must know our place. Though anyone can learn, persevere and achieve goals, many things will remain out of grasp; out of our natural framework. Some are just not meant for whistling. Some are not meant for war, and I wish this were true of all beings.

Within the sphere of personal limitation, we must understand the pure nature of P’U. The block, uncarved, is simplistic and beautiful in its own rite. It contains its own natural power. When it is stripped away, it loses its simplistic power and beauty; it becomes spoiled. We must understand and smile at our own natural and beautiful attributes and abilities. Take care to mold these to greatness. In this sphere, anything is possible, but the possibilities hold hidden limits.

In knowing ourselves through heart and mind, we will know our gifts, our weaknesses, and where our true power dwells. In the light of the soul we will harness our power, cultivate compassion, and then begin to know each other in purity.

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I am an artist, writer, author, philosopher and lover of nature and life. My blog offers a glimpse into my world, my thoughts, my sphere. Enjoy!

61 thoughts on “Oh Bother..

  1. I’m now arguing with myself about nature versus nurture again …
    Could Pooh never have learned to whistle, if he’d met the right teacher early enough?

      1. Limitation can be illusion for some. But natural law is absolute. A remember a bible story as a child that illustrates that very point. When the wise monk was asked about God, he was asked if there was anything that God could not do. He replied by saying of course.. Even God cannot beat the trump of spades with a deuce.

  2. for me any limitations i have had I have placed on myself. I think the stronger of mind and esteem you become the more invincible to limitations you feel. wonderful blog!

  3. I am befuddled at the popularity of military like combat exercises. Our heart-pounding fun is experiencing bullets whiz through the air and taking part in exercises whose sole purpose is to kill. Yet we say we love and are loving and come in peace and, without reservations or a sense of contradiction, profess universal togetherness and understanding. The rational justification for combat of course is that it’s for self defense. I wish it was.

    1. Its a sad part of popular culture, and an absolute part of human history. Having experienced combat firsthand, it is a tragic display and waste of human life… coming under the guise of peace no less.

  4. Self awareness is such a key element in happiness. I’ve seen people “beating there head against the wall” trying to do something that simply was not in their power to do. It’s always sad and painful to see something like that. But a lot of times they’ve bought into the notion that “they can do anything they want” “be anything they want” but without the self knowledge or personal limitations and strengths they live a frustrated existence. Another well written post.

  5. Nice Read….I know there are some things I was meant to do, and a lot more I had no business ever trying. Lol Admitting I have limitations, or just acknowledging that I cant do something has never been easy.

  6. Love the way you have looked through the lens of whimsy and discovered wisdom. Very cool! My wife and I have often tried to place ourselves, and those close to us, in the hundred acre wood character roles. She tells me I am Eeyore, and I call her Rabbit. Have really enjoyed reading your posts!

  7. “A fish can’t whistle, and neither can I.” is a cogent observation today. Equality is good except that people aren’t equal and I don’t mean this pejoratively. A violinist would have a tough time fishing in the Bering Sea much as your fellow marine was pushed past his limit on the mock field of battle.
    Superimposing this model on our education system (a fruitless exercise), the expectation that everyone should go to college is a model for unhappiness and inefficiency. I have a nephew in Germany who seemed to be headed for nothing much until the state sent him to cooking school and he is a changed person. From my perspective intermediate algebra would have been just a stressor.
    I think, (much as you indicate in your description) that students should be allowed their own general and academic tracks, both to increase society’s “happiness” quotient and to put resources where they will do the most good instead of insisting that all perform to a certain standard.

  8. It’s too bad that we don’t hear much about the wisdom of Pooh. Trying to be someone we are not, only breeds unhappiness and up hill battles. Very insightful post.

  9. A powerful message, something I’ve always felt. While people should never be discouraged to try something if they are so inclined, we also need to realize not everyone is cut out for the same things and possess the same strengths.

  10. Hi Jeremiah–This is a great entry, and I am glad to see you including some of your personal experience in here. Many of us were taught to reach for the star or that everything is possible through the American dream, and yet we forgot about our true missions in life. Not all of us can become experts in everything, and many of us would want to live and be like others to be accepted. Many would aim to be the brave one, the popular one, the rich one, the muscular or attractive one…and yet all those powder, lipsticks, and perfume would stink people away from their true selves.

    I did not know that you’re in the army too. Anyway, hopefully I’ll get to read more entries in the near future.

  11. I find it most interesting that you are able to write prolifically and artfully, yet spent time in a serious branch of the military. Right and Left brain activity really creates a broader being, and I commend you for this.

    I agree that everyone has their limitations, although some people either don’t believe that, or truly have an abundance of abilities.
    Some folks who are successful at something frequently want or wanted to do an entirely different thing, and somehow, it seems more satisfying for them to strive to see what they can accomplish there, instead of enjoying the very thing that they are most brilliant at. Human nature is fascinating.

    But each of us has things we do best, and areas where we are lacking, or need help. And thus creates bonds that hold us together, with need, admiration, mentoring, sharing, cooperation and the old back and forth of life in this dimension.

    1. I’ve always been an artist, and deeply involved with philosophy since very young. The Tao of Pooh and the Te of Piglet were the first philosophical books I ever read.. Very insightful. Serving in the Marine Corps was a choice that I made, one where I found myself, or first began down the road to self knowledge.

  12. I love this because I believe we try so hard at times to be what we are not. We try to be what everyone expects us to be, what we think we need to be, instead of who we are meant to be. Maybe we are not meant to whistle, but rather are meant to sing. And even if we can whistle, that may not be what we are placed here for. It may be a silent talent within us, that others are unable to see, that is just waiting for the opportunity to burst forth and complete us.
    It makes me think of a quote I once read, “It is so strange to deny who we are, when we are our own greatest treasure.” (unknown)

  13. brilliant stuff. I always used to feel bad when i could not accomplish some tasks. after reading ur fantastic piece i now feel good and understand that i have to accept my limitations which doesnt mean that i will just give up on something when i face some hurdles. thanks again for sharing..

  14. Thanks for finding my blog..it means I’ve found yours. Love this post…’To thy own self be true’… 😀

  15. Love it! A great read to start the day… and from it an affirmation that I must not put all my energies into being something that would ultimately deny me the opportunity of being who I really am. Your reference to Taoism triggers for me my understanding of YinYang and the 5 elements, a subject particularly close to my heart, but through your words, I can see far more defined. Where would the world be if we were all able to be great at everything? Balance. We each are specialists, the trick is finding out in what and the joy is in the discovery itself. I actually feel less pressured as I embark on my day ahead, and have instructed myself to chill on some level and be content that I can’t ‘whistle’ too well, but I sure can ‘sing’! ;o)

  16. Well done. Reminded me of Harry Callahan’s pithy quote, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”
    Whether it’s “natural law” or not, sometimes we do manage to self-delude and through obstinate persistence “endeavor to persevere.” Occasionally, we find a modicum of success.
    But most of the time, in spite of a person’s belief in their entitlement – the harder truth is that life just isn’t that way. We really can only sing in the shower.
    – Mo

  17. I attended a drawing class with my sister when she was enrolled at the Maine College of Art. I was given a piece of paper and a piece of charcoal. When the teacher came around to look, my paper was still white. “I can’t draw a straight line,” I said. Her answer: “That doesn’t mean you aren’t an artist. When artists need a straight line, they use a ruler.” I have considered myself an artist ever since. Thoughtful post. Thanks.

  18. I have a question that may be fun to explore regarding your post. What do you have to believe to receive your outcome? For example when you and your fellow marine were in combat, what did he have to believe that brought about panic and what did you believe that gave you the confidence to overcome? Few things in life will draw a full on panic like the belief that you are completely overwhelmed, your life is no longer in your control, your identity or your life are about to end. You did not believe this, you believed that you would get through this, that you were helping, that your steps were guided, whatever the case may be you believed that even if your death were eminent it was either meant to be or that the loss of your life would not dictate the loss of your identity.
    I know that we can change our beliefs, I believed things when I was 20 that are almost embarrassing to admit now. So if you change your beliefs does this not change your response, and does not changing you responses change your focus, and does not changing your focus change your direction, and does this not change your destination or destiny? I believe recognizing my limits is recognizing what beliefs are limiting me and deciding if those beliefs are valid.

    1. Considering I was only 19 when this happened, I honestly can’t remember what was going through my head at that time 16 years ago. Though there was a very real threat of death if the wrong move was made, I only knew it was a training exercise, so I wasn’t afraid. My comrade, on the other hand was too overwhelmed and ended up with a poor psyche evaluation. I tell myself today that life in the Marine Corps just wasn’t his path.
      To me, Beliefs are choices, and we all have choices to make every day. We never know the outcome of our decisions, but through intuitive thinking, using the heart and mind as one, we are able to choose more effectively and wisely. Hopefully this tool will be utilized more often when choice presents itself.

  19. Catching up on my fave posts this morning after a weekend away. This was a beautiful find to enjoy with my coffee. Tao of Pooh was my first philosophical read as well. I’ve never known anyone else that has enjoyed the book…until today. Caught me by surprise. A nice flashback. Think I’ll take it off the bookshelf, dust it off and enjoy it again. Always thought of myself as a Tigger. I’m curious what a few years and a lot more experience have done to my block. TTFN

  20. I’ve commented a couple of times (sorry?). But this is truly amazing. Your writing is truth and it can bring the tears of realization to someone’s eyes. Because that’s what happens to me when I read this.

  21. This reminds me of a quote by Einstein, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”. I believe in taking on new challenges in life, for that’s the only way we can learn about our personal strengths and abilities. But a lot of pain and frustration can be created when we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves, or on others. Thank you for this wonderful post!

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