In 1965, I had the opportunity to spend a year in Birmingham in the UK. My 3rd grade curriculum at Hallfield School was a demanding adjustment to me, including Latin, French and English history. I don’t recall how the book “1066 And All That,” by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, came into my hands, but it did. I considered the hilarity and enjoyment I received from that book to be a fair price to pay for the gleeful demolition of my slim, fighting chance of grasping English history.
The courtiers could not dissuade the tides
I am sharing this with you because I wish to share the Sellar and Yeatman treatment of the Danish king Canute, who ruled England from 1016 to 1035, and then tell you what really happened.
“Canute began by being a Bad King on the advice of his Courtiers who informed him (owing to a misunderstanding of the Rule Britannia) that the King of England was entitled to sit on the sea without getting wet. But finding that they were wrong he gave up this policy and decided to take his own advice in future – thus originating the memorable proverb, ‘Paddle your own Canute’ …”
In Henry of Huntingdon’s 11th century account, Canute set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the incoming tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. Yet “continuing to rise as usual [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.” He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again “to the honor of God the almighty King.”
I am sharing this with you because I recalled this story of King Canute as I pondered Step 89 of Steps to Knowledge, “My emotions cannot dissuade my Knowledge.” The word “dissuade” appears seven times in Steps to Knowledge before appearing in this step. The context is consistently encouraging the student to not let some inner phenomenon (thoughts, doubts, fears, confusion) dissuade or talk the student out of going forward with the practice of a particular step.
My emotions are like King Canute’s flattering courtiers. I am the leader of my mind and body. The incoming tide is like Knowledge. While emotions can be intense in the moment, they don’t last. There is something more permanent to follow. King Canute didn’t execute his courtiers, but rather instructed them. Knowledge does not need to destroy my emotions. It only wishes to contribute to them. Sometimes the icky feeling that accompanies the doing (or not doing) of something is a sign that something should be thought out again.
The courtiers could not dissuade the tides. My emotions cannot dissuade my Knowledge.
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