Did I Do the Right Thing?

As a child, my father often said, “Do the right thing, Edward.” From turning out the lights when I left a room to sending thank you cards after receiving gifts, he would speak those words.

Back then I did my best to avoid doing the right thing… or at least doing HIS right thing. Certainly, there was a good measure of youthful rebellion in that avoidance but there was at least an equal part of me that felt the mechanical, rote nature of his words. They felt empty and disconnected from a greater rightness that I sensed existed beyond the words.

If you had asked me back then I doubt that I would have been able to voice it but a part of me sensed that doing the right thing meant more than turning out the lights and sending thank you cards (although those are certainly good things to do!)

Now, though, when I hear those words coming from within, I find that I am grateful to have internalized this concept of “the right thing.” Not that I believe there is one “right” thing in a situation but because the question, “What IS the right thing?” opens me to bigger answers.

As the start of the Awakened Man Summit approaches and I dive deeper into the research and reading in preparation for it, I’m beginning to understand what it means to be an Awakened Man.

To be honest with you, when I got the “hit” to produce this summit, I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant to be an awakened man. I had a sense of what it meant, but no clear picture or definition. Now, with less than 2-weeks to the start of the summit, I’m starting to “get it!”

Letting Go!

A big part of awakening, as a man, means letting go of the old concepts of the “right thing.”

Until recently most men have chosen to follow a path of rightness handed down blindly through generations of men. This unbalanced expression of the active (masculine) principle that has defined what it means to be a man in our culture has led to violence, war, unchecked growth and the increasingly unsustainable condition of our world.

More recently, some men – myself included – have actively chosen another path, one that disowns the active (masculine) principle and intentionally embraces the softer, receptive, feminine principle.

While there is much benefit in “exploring the feminine” most of these explorations start in reaction to the belief that there is something “wrong” or “bad” about the active, masculine energy. In that place of reaction, where men are actively connecting to the soft, feminine energies and consciously (or not) disconnecting from the active, masculine energies the “right thing” has led to inaction and an abdication of responsibility.

Neither of these paths leads to the Authentic Power that a man can access and wield when he disconnects from the old beliefs about manhood, discovers his true purpose and surrenders his idea of rightness into the service of the highest good of all.

It saddens me to think that my father – like most men – has never explored the concept of rightness unhitched  from the yoke of manhood placed upon him by his forefathers (and mothers).

Rites of Passage

In most indigenous cultures there were, and remain, rituals of initiation to help boys make the transition from childhood into manhood. These rituals involve extended time in the company of men, away from the energy and influence of women. As these boys step through the fire of initiation they are unburdened from the need to act in ways that lead to approval and acceptance from the feminine.

These cultures understand the importance of guiding men out of the “womb” and into the world. For, in many ways, men remain connected to and immersed in the womb of “WOMAN” until consciously and actively choosing to release that connection and step out into the world “naked and alone” as an awakened, conscious, mature man.

Our modern culture lacks those rituals – or gives us watered down versions such as a bar mitzvah. So most men have not experienced the transformative possibility these rituals offer.

Until a man makes this choice and releases his attachment to the energetic womb of “WOMAN” he cannot show up fully as a man in the world or in relationship with a (singular) woman. There will remain within him an urge to answer the question “What is the right thing” based on whether or not it will lead to approval and acceptance from the energy of WOMAN.

The Hero’s Journey

Last night, I saw the movie Thor. It was a bittersweet experience: My beloved and I had been planning to see it together and it didn’t work out that way. We were in the midst of a relational opportunity… to choose to move forward and deeper into trust or to step backwards into distance and defensiveness. The jury is still out on which way we’ll end up going.

[Note that a slight movie “spoiler” follows!]

There is a scene near the end of Thor where he makes a decision to save many lives and an entire world. It is not a decision easily made, for in saving the lives of many he must cut the bridge that connects him to his beloved. In making that choice he knows there is a chance that his actions will forever separate them.

As he strikes the final blow that shatters the bridge he speaks the words, “Forgive me, Jane.”

If Joseph Campbell were here, he would tell us that, with that blow, Thor had completed his “hero’s journey.” He had learned to seek out, listen for and act upon a rightness transcendent to his own personal desires and even those of his immediate loved ones. He had become an awakened man and earned the right to become King.

While not nearly as dramatic as Thor’s actions, I made a decision yesterday to narrow my focus down to a laser point and put all of my time and energy into preparing for the Awakened Man Summit. I felt guided to stand in service of the highest good and consciously devote myself completely to this project.

In choosing that path and sharing my decision I knew that it could create a chasm between my beloved and myself.

It has.

Now I find myself standing at the edge of that shattered bridge wondering if I did, indeed, “do the right thing.”

Was the guidance I received authentic or was it coming from a place of fear?

Was my action truly “Awakened” or was I motivated by unconscious forces?

Will my beloved forgive me or have I permanently severed our trust and broken the bridge between us?

I don’t know the answers but I sense that asking these questions means that I am not far from the right path. My intuition tells me that my guidance was “right” but that I could have found a more graceful and elegant way to navigate those waters as I shared my decision.

Sin and Forgiveness

Sam Keen, author of Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man, and one of the speakers in the Awakened Man Summit, once said, “Sin and forgiveness is a better way to handle relationships than the illusion of perfection. We learn from our mistakes.”

What a relief it was to hear those words and to let go of the “illusion of perfection” in my relationships. And, yet, what a difficult path to walk… to be open to the “sins” of your partner and your own, to be willing to forgive your partner and yourself, and to be willing to acknowledge and learn from your mutual mistakes and use those lessons to awaken more fully. What a blessing. And what treacherous waters you may (WILL) find yourself in when you choose to engage in relationship in that manner.

I have no illusions about being a “perfect” partner (except sometimes when I do!). Nor do I have expectations of perfection in my partner (except sometimes when I do!) To be quite honest, I have no idea what it would look like to BE a perfect partner or to HAVE a perfect partner!

Perhaps perfection is to be found on the path of surrendering the question, “What is the right thing?” again and again, into the service of the highest good.

It seems that my father’s refrain of “do the right thing, Edward” worked, though perhaps not in the way he intended. I truly do long to do the right thing. Perhaps that longing is enough. And perhaps the desire to do the right thing, combined with the willingness to learn from my mistakes will keep me moving forward on the path of awakening.

We’ll see!

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below!

Top 10 Life Lessons I’ve Learned From My Daughter (So Far)

Children bring a great amount of wisdom with them when they join us here in this world. I have known this for many years and have always loved being around children. But it was not until I became a father, a bit more than four years ago, that I discovered just how wise these little beings really are.

From the moment of my daughter’s birth (and even before that) fatherhood has been a truly transformative experience. It’s rare that a day goes by without learning something about life from my Ella. And in many ways I really do see her as one of my most effective teachers.

So I thought it would be fun to share some of the personal growth lessons I have learned from Ella over the past four years. If you have children you will most likely recognize many of these. If you do not have children, you may find some of these corny or silly. Trust me, they are not. Every one of these lessons has had a significant impact on my life.

So here, then, are the top 10 Life Lessons I’ve Learned From My Daughter so far!

1. Tomorrow’s Gonna Be a New Day.
When Ella was younger she would ask me, “Is tomorrow gonna be a new day?” I assured her that, yes, indeed, tomorrow would be a new day. Now that she’s reached the ripe old age of four, she gets it. And now she reminds me: “Don’t worry Dadda. Tomorrow’s gonna be a new day!” It’s good to remember that!

I the only one hearing a refrain from Little Orphan Annie in the background? “The sun’ll come out tomorrow” Sure it’s cheesy, but there is a lot of power in recognizing that, no matter how difficult today is, tomorrow’s gonna be a new day.

2. Sometimes it’s Better to Make Up Your Own Rules
I already wrote about this one in the post Life Lessons from Candyland. But it’s an important one so I included it in this list.

Bottom line: Sometimes it’s best to throw away the rule book and make up your own!

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Show Your Enthusiasm.
Ella is not shy when it comes to showing her enthusiasm. If someone makes a suggestion that she likes she responds in a number of different ways depending upon her level of excitement. If she likes the idea, she’ll say something like, “That’s gonna be a great idea, Dada!” If she really likes the idea, she’ll nod her head vigorously and let out a loud, “Uh huh!” And if she really, really likes an idea, she starts jumping and galloping around, shouting, “Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh.” over and over and over and over…

My favorite part is when we’re at the dinner table and we make a suggestion (like for instance on a hot summer night when we, very rarely, suggest walking down to the ice cream shop in town) Ella will get so excited that she actually has to climb down off her chair so that she can run back and forth yelling “uh huh, uh huh, uh huh!” Sometimes her excitement is so powerful I’m afraid she’s going to fall off the chair!

Do you ever curb your enthusiasm? I know I do. Somewhere along the line most of us learned that stuff we really wanted or were really excited about could be taken away in an instant. Often the very things that were most exciting to us were used to get us to do or not do certain things: “Get dressed now or you can’t ride your bike today!” Or, “Stop saying that word or you’ll be grounded for a week.”

No wonder we’ve learned to hide our enthusiasm! We don’t want the good stuff taken away from us so we don’t let anyone know what we think is good! How messed up is that.

Well it sure is refreshing to watch Ella express her enthusiasm with no hesitation. Enthusiasm is contagious. People want a taste of enthusiasm. They want to know that it is safe to be happy about something.

So give it a try. The next time you discover something you really like, do a little happy dance and see what happens.

4. Feel your emotions fully.
Ella isn’t always happy. Like all kids she has moments of frustration and sadness. We’ve done our best to encourage her to fully feel those emotions and express them when they’re happening. It’s amazing to watch how Ella has learned to deal with these moments.

If something happens that causes Ella to feel frustrated or angry she’ll go into her room, close the door, lie down on the floor or on her bed and scream or cry for a minute or two. Then she opens the door, comes back out and says, “All better.” And usually she is. The frustration that was moving through her just needed to be let out.

How often have you held onto sadness, frustration, anger or grief? I know I’ve held onto stuff for a long time! And the longer I hold onto those emotions, the more powerful they become.

Much better to just let them out in the moment and let yourself be “all better!”

5. Walk On Walls Whenever Your Have The Chance
When was the last time you walked on a wall? Whenever I’m out walking with Ella and we pass a wall, whether it’s a curb or a retaining wall, Ella wants to walk on it. And now she gets me to walk on them with her: “Come on, Dada!” And I must say, if you haven’t walked on a wall in a while, give it a try. It’s a lot of fun!

The life lesson here is that we adult types tend to pass by opportunities for joy and exploration without even noticing them. These opportunities are all around us all the time. We just have to open our eyes and expand our perception. Hanging around kids (even if you don’t have your own) is a great way to do that.

6. Sometimes you have to do it alone (even if there’s someone right there who could help you).
I often feel a strong temptation to reach out to help Ella put her shoes on or put a puzzle piece in the right place. Simple tasks that I take for granted are a challenge for Ella, as they are for any child. If I were to constantly jump in and say, “Let me do that for you,” it would take her a lot longer to figure out how to do it.

It’s especially tempting to help her when she reaches that frustration point. But I’ve learned that if I let her go a little bit longer, just past that moment of frustration is when she succeeds.

In those moments I sometimes think of the scene in the movie, Ray, after Ray Charles has gone blind and his mother pretends she’s not in the room as he’s calling out for her help. In that moment, he discovers that he’s not as helpless as he thought.

It’s been a powerful lesson for me as a father and in my own life.

7. Know When to Ask For Help.
Now, while this one seems to contradict the previous lesson, they really work hand in hand. Let’s face it; there are some things that a four year old just can’t do yet. Ella is pretty good about trying to do things. And she is also pretty good about asking for help when she has reached the end of her patience: “Please help me, Dada.” Or if she’s tired or frustrated she might say, “I can’t do it, Dada.”

Her willingness to ask for help is a powerful lesson for someone like me: a die-hard do it yourself-er. Countless hours have been spent figuring out something that I could have easily asked or paid someone else to do.

Knowing when, and how, to ask for help is an important life skill to master. And I am learning from a master.

8. Don’t be attached to what you painted yesterday (or 2-seconds ago).
Ella is a prolific artist. She cranks out paintings and drawings faster than the fastest graffiti artist. And the beautiful thing about her creativity is that once she’s done, she’s done. There is no attachment to the painting she just created. She puts her piles of artwork into the recycling bin as easily as the Tibetan monks sweep their intricate sand mandalas back into dust. http://www.artnetwork.com/Mandala/gallery.html

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time letting go of stuff I created 10-years ago! Ella’s willingness to let go of her creations leaves her open to the flow of creativity. She is not attached to what she painted yesterday. She does not compare what she is doing today with what came before. She is free to be open and just let it flow.

9. Singing Makes Everything Better.
No matter how traumatic a situation might be, whether it’s an overtired and cranky before bed tooth brushing meltdown or a big boo-boo, singing makes it better. Ella and I sing together on our way to preschool. We sing the silly tooth-brushing song we made up together. We sing the pee-pee song. We sing our favorite bedtime songs. Just about anything that you can say can be sung (hey, didn’t the Beatles write something about that?).

Singing is fun. Singing makes you smile. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s research showing that singing releases endorphins. And most of us adult types tend to sing far too little. The 7-Dwarfs knew what they were talking about when they whistled while they worked! So try adding a bit more singing into your daily diet.

10. Dance like no one’s watching (even when you’ve made sure that everyone is!)
Like most houses with young ones, the phrases, “Watch Dada. Watch Mama. Watch everybody!” are heard on a regular basis. Ella loves to dance. And when she does, she lets it all hang out. She makes up new dance moves on a regular basis: There’s the running back and forth dance, the sneaky dance, the jumping up and down dance, the spin around until you fall down dance, and of course Ella’s famous Jiggy-Jiggy dance!

Somewhere along the way, most of us lose that uninhibited ability to express ourselves. The voices of self-doubt come in and we become self-conscious of our performance. Watching Ella dance with all her heart, whether she’s alone or in front of a crowd, is a great reminder of the innocence and joy that we all have inside of us. Isn’t it time we start letting a little more of it out?

So there are the top 10 life lessons that Ella has helped me learn so far. What lessons have your children taught you? I’d love to hear. Leave a comment below and share your lessons and stories.