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#14 - Ukrainian Proverb: When You Enter a Great Enterprise, Free Your Soul From Weakness.
Reflections on starting a new year well and enjoying the journey.
Proverbs on Blast is a newsletter that publishes reflection on PROVERBS and the gems they offer for personal and professional growth. Posts are written by a learner on a quest for more wisdom (me). Please keep reading. Comment at the end. Share this post. Subscribe for more.
Welcome to a new year! May this year bring the fulfillment of your dreams. May it stretch you, shake you, boost you, and improve you in every way.
A Ukrainian proverb states that “When you enter a great enterprise, free your soul from weakness.” A few days ago, we entered into what can be considered a great enterprise. Ready or not, we’re in a new year. It’s like a 365-paged blank book, waiting for a writer to pen words on it. The opportunity to write in last year’s book is gone and we got a new book. You can write ahead on each page by way of plans or write in real time, by way of living. You can also write afterward, by way of history. The book is quite the operation. As at the time of posting this, you should have filled, at least, two and a half of those pages with content. Did you?
In this great enterprise you’ve just entered, the Ukrainians said to free your soul from weakness. The proverb does not gloss over how you entered the great enterprise but focuses on when. Their current circumstances underscore that. They’ve been living this proverb for the last 11 months. The new year may not have sought your permission or approval to start when it did, but you have entered it and you will need to free your soul from weakness to enjoy it. Here are 3 questions to help ponder the proverb:
What weakens the soul?
What happens to the being when the soul is weak?
How can you free your soul from weakness?
What Weakens the Soul?
There are several culprits that can weaken the human soul. Let’s focus on 3 and how they can poison the soul.
Mistakes, failures, and pain from the past. Perhaps you’re stuck in the past. You can’t move on from what you did or what was done to you. You have unhealed wounds or scars that still throb from the pain. You can’t stop thinking about the past and it’s affecting what you see, think, and attempt in the present. This is a soul weakener that can be as debilitating as weakness of the body, or worse. It can keep you from enjoying the present or looking forward to the future. The Ukrainians urge, “free your soul from weakness.”
Adverse circumstances in the present. Perhaps there’s no hangover from your past, but your present is unsettled or unclear. Nothing seems to be going according to plan. Your efforts do not seem to amount to much. You are blocked at every turn. You plant, but nothing is shooting out from the seeds you carefully dug into a well-prepared soil. People rain on your parade. They scorn your ideas and treat you with disdain. Life itself seems to wait with curveballs at every turn. You can see that things are going well for everybody else around you. But somehow, you’ve become the face of the billboards of failure, arrested development, have-not, not-enough, and not-going-anywhere. These circumstances are bone-crushing soul weakeners, any of which can make you question your existence, doubt your abilities, and despair about your survival. The pain and confusion is real, some of which you may not be able to even share with those closest to you. In this great enterprise you have just entered, the Ukrainians urge that you “free your soul from weakness.”
Anxiety about the future. You waltzed into this great enterprise with no regrets from the past stealing your joy. No pain in the present clouds your existence. Everything is squeaky clean, rosy, and you’re living your dreams come true. But every now and then, you still have nagging worries about the future. Will your children turn out well? Will your parent make it to their next birthday? What if your spouse lost her job? What if you lose yours? Or your home? Will your friends still like you? Will your health stay good into your 60s? Will your wealth keep growing or, at least, stay sufficient for your needs? What about the rising crime rate in your city? Rising gas prices in the nation? Inflation? Deflation? You are a planner and can’t help thinking about the future. When you do, the future stops you in your tracks. It curbs your joy, forcing you to drown it out with something comforting. This Ukrainian proverb says do something different: “free your soul from weakness.”
What Happens When the Soul Is Weak?
Thoughts about the past, the present, or the future can weaken the soul. It can discolor what you see in the world and how you see whatever you see. It will affect what you think about and how you think. Shape how you make sense of the world, people, and circumstances. Whatever weakens your soul will seep into your bones and affect your body. It can poison the wellspring of your mind.
When your soul is weak, you will underperform and underachieve below your capabilities and potentials. You will believe every lie that your mind and your body tell you about what you can and cannot do. Scorners will have a field day with you and may be able to convince you that you’re not good enough or capable enough to do meaningful things with your life. Their words will weaken your soul, which will in turn weaken your mind and body.
Soul weakeners are real, and this proverb does not discountenance their existence or severity. However, the great enterprise you’ve entered will not run itself. You’ll need all your wits about you to make it work and to make it fruitful. To do that, you’re going to have to take care of the root system, a key part of which is the soul. The Ukrainian proverb said to focus on getting the soul to a place of strength. The words “free your soul” places you in the driver’s seat of that responsibility.
Also, the proverb does not attempt to undermine your pain, discomfort, or anxiety about them. But the counsel from the proverb bypasses their reality and zooms in on you, the owner of the soul. It focuses on what you can do, what you ought to do, and charges you to do it: “Free your soul.” It challenges you to not court weakness of the soul in any way. To not allow anything that will weaken your soul to linger, should it visit. And to not allow it to fester or loiter anywhere around you. “Free your soul from weakness,” it urges.
How Can You Free Your Soul from Weakness?
Part of the beauty of proverbs lies in how they stretch you across time and space in search of the wisdom they embody. To answer this question, I dug into the wisdom trove of someone whose writings I I like to read. He was a man who lived around 2,000 years ago, a Jewish-Italian multipotentialite—you know those people whose interests span multiple fields or areas, rather than being strong in just one. They’re contrasted with “specialists,” those whose interests lie mostly within a single field. Well, this multipotentialite guy, Paul, was a lawyer, philosopher, persuasive speaker, erudite writer, scholar, teacher, world traveler, and even made tents as a side hustle. He was charismatic, controversial, committed to his cause, and very convincing with his pen and voice. His friendships scanned continents and he corresponded copiously with the people he cared about.
Close to the end of his life, Paul wrote a letter to his friends in Philippi, Greece. He saw how much they were up against. He saw how the soul weakeners they contended with could rob them of enjoying the full experience of the great enterprise they had entered into. He was too far away to help them directly, so he wrote to them. In his letter, he charged them to take responsibility to free their soul from the things that weakened them.
Here is a part of his letter to the Philippians, in section 4, paragraph 8 that can answer the question of how to do what the Ukrainian proverb urges us to do. In Paul’s letter, he asked them to reframe their circumstances and rechannel their minds. To free their souls from weakness, he asked them to fix their thoughts on 8 things. The words may be almost 2,000 years old but they’re still relevant to you, to me, and today.
Fix your thoughts on what is true. Comfortable versions of truth can soothe but only the truth will liberate. The truth may be obscured in relativism, but it can still be found if you search for it. Truth tellers may sometimes be given the back seat while gaslighters get front row seats, bullhorns, and prime time slots to spout their versions of truth. But however admirable or tolerable gaslighting is, truth will outlast and outshine embellishments, distortions, and outrightly deceptions for real and perceived advantages. It’s a new year, the start of a great enterprise. Fix your thoughts on what is true, however uncomfortable or unfashionable. What is true about you and about others? Fix your thoughts on those. What is true about your past history, current circumstances, and future prospects? Regardless of your feelings or others’ opinions, fix your thoughts on what is true about what you can do, if you train and apply yourself to it.
Fix your thoughts on what is honorable. In a world of blitz and glitz, going viral may seem desirable but true honor remains the lifeblood of decent society. It stems from the soul and manifests in demonstrable patterns of behavior. You can fake it but fake versions of honor have never lasted. You may be able to purchase it through awards and honorable mentions but there is no cheap alternative to honor. Time always reveals whether awards were misgiven, and honors wrongly bestowed. History bears record of the standards of honor, so they are not rocket science. There are right-thinking men and women of honor who walk, talk, and breathe among us. Study the lives of the honorable. In your own endeavors throughout this great enterprise you have just entered into, determine to live with honor. Start the journey by fixing your thoughts on what is honorable.
Fix your thoughts on what is right. What is right may be costly or not easily discernible but with sufficient consideration, it will be evident. Fix your thoughts on what is right, and you will grow to be able to do what is right and also do the right thing even when no one is looking. Especially when no one is paying attention. Fix your thoughts on what is right, and you will be able to discern the shades of gray between black and white that demand wise and humane actions without compromising what is true and honorable. Fix your thoughts on what is right and gain the courage to move on from whatever pain lies in your past, whichever adversity swirls in your present, or whichever form of uncertainty that looms in your future. Fix your thoughts on what is right to stay in the right frame of mind to accept that you deserve the opportunity to make the best of this great enterprise you have entered into. Regardless of your past. Notwithstanding your present.
Fix your thoughts on what is pure. What is pure is wholesome and unadulterated. It is not tainted. Going by looks, a glass of pure water will be without obvious particles, sediments, or discoloration, just clear so it runs clear as one with the glass. Going by content, a glass of pure water will hold up its purity under the scrutiny of a microscope as free from pollutants and microbes invisible to the naked eye. By looks and content, you can be a pure human gem of kindness, thoughtfulness, truthfulness, empathy, and love. As a man thinks, so is he. As you have entered this great enterprise, fix your thoughts on what is pure. Become a wellspring of what is pure and ennobling in a world that is often disabling and dishonoring.
Fix your thoughts on what is lovely. However black your past, however dark your present, and however gray your future may look, fix your thoughts on what is lovely. Find the bright spots in those time periods. Remember the unexpected helping hand from your first-grade classmate? The kind smile from a stranger in high school that sparked some hope in you? That imperfect idea that flashed through your mind at 7 years old that can be developed into something good at this time of your life? What about the commendation from your boss about the great job you did last year? The vote of confidence in what you can accomplish this year? There are many lovely things that can spark hope in you, boost your spirits, and get you to do something wonderful in this great enterprise you just entered. Fix your thoughts on what is lovely to free your soul from any weakness that can stop you in your tracks or slow you down unnecessarily.
Fix your thoughts on what is admirable. What is admirable about your gifts, talents, ambitions, and potentials? What is admirable about your environment, nation, state, colleagues, friends, family, neighbors, and the people in your life? What is admirable about your work, the efforts you put into it, the goals you have set, and the achievements you have accomplished? You will find what you look for. You will become what you think about the most. Fix your thoughts on what is admirable. It will help free your soul from weakness, defeatism, and their relatives such as imposter syndrome and an inferiority complex.
Think about things that are excellent. Everyone can cultivate excellence and there is no excuse for mediocrity. Your standards may not be high enough to determine excellence, but you can find mentors and models through personal contact or character emulation through books and movies to learn. You do not have to stumble in the dark about excellence. You can find it demonstrated in history and all around you. Whatever you do, constantly asking if there are ways to do them better and excellently—a more excellent behavior, skills, words, speech, manners, attitude? Free your soul from weakness by fixing your thoughts on things that are excellent.
Think about things that are worthy of praise. Praiseworthy things are subjective. But in the company of the decent, honorable, and excellent, what is worthy of praise can stand the test of time. Records of action and inaction are neatly categorized in the annals of history. When cultural nuances are stripped away, whatever was truly worthy of praise will remain trustworthy. In your lifetime or after you’re gone, your actions will come under scrutiny. Your inactions will be reviewed. Will you be found worthy of praise? Go through this great enterprise you have just entered into guided by the answer you want. In Paul’s words, it begins by thinking about things that are worthy of praise. They can help you free your soul from weakness.
Is there something that you ought to do this year but your mind or other people are saying that you can’t? Is there a dream or a vision in your soul that should have been birthed but you are a master of excuses at why you can’t or shouldn’t? This new year offers a new opportunity to grow and be fruitful. Don’t let your mind or another person tell you that you can’t grow or be fruitful. You have just entered a great enterprise. Whatever situation or person has weakened your soul, free your soul from weakness. Make the best of the new year. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
May you gain the courage to do more in this new year. And may you find in it the fulfillment of your dreams.
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What is most likely to cripple your soul—the past, the present, or the future? Which of the 8 things to think about is easiest for you? Which seems to be the hardest? Share with us in the comments section below.
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