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A king called together his three sons. “It is time for you to make your mark.” he told them, “Beyond our borders are unknown worlds of dragons, maidens and black-hearted knights. Go out and conquer.”

And so his sons ate the feast of the departing, donned the green and set out across the world.

After three years, the first son returned and the whole court came out to greet him. “What have you conquered?” asked the king.

“I have slain dragons, rescued maidens and vanquished black knights.” spoke the son. “I have conquered lands such that our territories are now doubled in size.”

“Boldly done!” said the king, gravely, “Those new lands shall be your kingdom to rule and protect.”

After three more years, the second son returned, and the whole family came out to greet him.  “What have you conquered?” asked the king.

“I have parlayed with dragons, negotiated with black knights and made the maidens fair swoon.” replied the son. “I have conquered the minds and hearts of ten kingdoms, and we now have fond allies all of the way to the Azure Sea.”

“Brightly done!” cried the king, “You shall be my most noble lord, ambassador in my stead to all of the lands.”

After three more years, the third son did not return. After three further years, he still did not return. After three years again, a ragged stranger walked alone up the steps to the royal court.

The old king was the only person to recognize the stranger. He came down from his throne, embraced his third son deeply, and then asked, “What have you conquered?”

The son smiled a long smile.

“I have slept with dragons and caroused with knights. I have danced with maidens and sung with the children. I have laughed with old men on the quay and cried with old women left alone. I have howled at the moon and lain in the sun. I have scaled high mountains and seen distant lands of mystery and promise. I have plumbed the depths and met magicians of the mind.”

“I lost some fear and gained some wonder. I lost some of myself and found some of other people. I tore down the walls of ignorance and found many more. And I have found my way home. “

“I have no need to conquer or fight or persuade. Today is now enough for a lifetime.”

A deep silence fell over the court as the king thought long and fully about what his son had said.

“Wisely done.” he said, eventually, “For you have conquered yourself, and the world and the worlds beyond shall be your playground.”

[Author unknown, but greatly appreciated!  If you or anyone you know has a proprietary interest in this story please authenticate and I will be happy to credit, or remove, as appropriate.]

Conquering means to overcome, to defeat.  Or to overcome as in getting on top of, surmounting.  Another meaning is to gain possession or control of; with force, by force.  Yet another take:  to gain the love and/or respect of someone, by seduction, or by force of personality.

What does it mean to conquer yourself?

Overcoming impulses.

Suppressing unbridled ambitions.

Owning our fears.

Controlling our reactions.

Checking our self-interest.

And, paradoxically, loving ourselves.

Ejecting our self-doubt.

Respecting our gifts.

Conquering ourselves takes a lifetime, I think, because it is what happens as we go about living our lives …

And the result?

The world is our playground.

And today is enough for a lifetime.