Lately I have been nostalgically looking at pictures on forums from my time at sea in the merchant navy, and reflecting on what a special start to my working life that was.
I am often told how lucky I am, and indeed on many levels that’s true. I was born to loving parents in England, I had a decent state education, and importantly, my parents showed me the beauty and power of the sea, and sailing. They helped nurture a belief in myself—that I could be anything I chose—as well as a lifelong love and respect for the sea.
I have always disliked rules, and being slightly dyslexic, school was okay, but not somewhere I wanted to hang around. Plus, I had a yearning to travel, to be at sea and be my own man. So I combed the career books and decided I wanted to become a navigator in the merchant navy.
At 16, in late Sept 1979, my parents drove me to Aulis, the training establishment for Ocean Fleets in Liverpool. Much to my surprise I was initially homesick, but after three weeks I was on my way to West Africa on the Pegu, and the homesickness faded and was replaced by wonder and excitement at this new world.
My next trip took me right around the world starting in Singapore. On that trip, I remember walking down the street in Seattle on the way to meet my fellow middies in the space needle. As I walked I reflected on how lucky I was to be born in the UK, and to have the opportunities ahead of me. That feeling has shaped my life.
But it could have been different…
You see, I was a little tall at school and my clothes never quite fitted. In those days being over 6ft at age 11 was unheard of and quite literally I remember going to seven shops before we found a pair of trousers that “nearly” fitted. There was no question of choosing a style or colour. I had the same problem with shirts and shoes.
My “posh” accent stood out, as did my ability to be top of the class without doing much work. I also had no sense of smell (I still don’t). I could have chosen to focus on the negatives in my life. I could have allowed my careers teacher to push me into a hugely unsuitable office job (he had never even heard of employment in the merchant navy as a job). I could have binned the navy when a close friend was killed (it was a dangerous place then), or after one trip as midshipman with a sadistic Captain who took a particular dislike of me.
You see so many of us are born with the same advantages—loving parents, healthy, decent education, but so many focus on the negatives in their lives instead of seeing how lucky they are.
Indeed I have had periods in my life when it’s also been the case for me. It all boils down to how we choose to view our circumstances.
It has not been until later in life when I studied happiness, meditation, affirmations and gratitude practices that I realised fully that how I react, how we all react to circumstances dictates if we allow ourselves to feel happy, to live a happy life. It also took losing everything and great pain before I really woke up and understood this lesson.
I changed my life to remove toxic people, cut out the TV and newspapers and their fear based and totally one sided reporting. I remembered it’s unimportant to persuade people that I am right. Kindness works better, giving is better that receiving, and whenever I feel negative thoughts or hear myself talking negatively, I try to notice and correct myself, often out loud.
My gratitude practice everyday is important as is my daily meditation. I show myself love by the food I eat and the exercise I give my 57-year-old body.
It does not mean I am happy all the time, I am still human! But it does mean I am happy most of the time, and any low points are both short lived and shallow.
Happiness takes work, it’s not a matter of luck, but of recognition of what we have, not what we don’t have.
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