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!

Why I’m Going On A Vision Quest

desolation-wildernessTomorrow morning I leave for Desolation Wilderness. Even though there are LOTS of wonderful wilderness areas to explore in Northern California, something about Desolation Wilderness keeps calling me back.

This time I’m going alone for 7-days with no distractions – no camera, no books, no music, no journal – nothing that could get in the way of my connection with myself, the wisdom of the Earth and the guidance of my Source. And from sundown on Friday night until sunup on Tuesday morning, I’ll be fasting and meditating and praying as I seek guidance and clarity.

Some of the reactions have been quite amusing as I explain that I’m going out into the wild world alone for 7-days with nothing to read, write, listen to, or take pictures with.

“Are you nuts?” seems to be the meaning behind the befuddled looks on their faces.

Perhaps I am nuts!

There is certainly a part of me that feels as if I”m nuts. The part of me that is scared sh-tless about heading out there alone for 7-full days. I’ve been out on my own for 4-days, and that was a long time. How will I survive on my own for 7-days? Well, I’m about to find out!

But why? Why am I taking a week out of my already quite full life to sit in silence with nothing around me other than the granite boulders, mountain water, marmots and ground squirrels and trees?

The easy answer is that I received clear guidance that it was time for me to do this. I was wondering how I could celebrate my 45th birthday in a way that would symbolize the transition from the very challenging period of my life that I am moving out of  and into the new phase that feels expansive and peaceful. And it was clear that this was the perfect time for a Vision Quest.

And what, exactly, is a Vision Quest?

A Vision Quest is an initiatory experience or rite of passage. It is most often associated with Native American traditions, though almost all indigenous cultures have some form of vision quest. There are as many ways to quest as there are cultures. But, regardless of how one quests, the purpose is the same: To seek personal growth and spiritual guidance from the world of Spirit and the wisdom of the Earth.

Here is what Black Elk wrote about the Vision Quest:

A Vision Quest is an experience of deeper understanding of Nature and Spirit. It is a ceremony practiced by American Indians. To prepare for this “insight” one must first cleanse the body and mind by going through an Inipi or sweat lodge. Then with the help of a Holy Man is told certain things and must go to a spot, usually on a holy mountain, and stay 2 or 3 days. During this time no food is eaten and one does not sleep but spends the time in deep prayer and observation. Many times, but not always, there is a vision. This vision is then shared with the Holy Man to help learn of its meaning. Sometimes the meaning is not shown for several years afterward.

I will quest in the Lakota tradition. On my second day out I will find a spot that calls to me, a space that feels sacred. I will prepare my questing space by smudging the circle, setting up my prayer ties for protection, placing my water and laying out my sleeping pad and bag. Everything else will stay outside of my questing circle.

After a light dinner, at sundown on Friday night, I will enter the circle and I will not leave the circle until after the sun has come up on the morning of the 4th day.

While I am questing, I will meditate, pray, probably do some crying as I shed old beliefs and patterns and thoughts about who I am. And if I open myself enough I hope to receive guidance and perhaps a clear vision of my path. But, whether or not I receive a “vision” I know that this time will bring me into a deeper connection with my true self and my Source.

The Vision Quest is a powerful tool for personal growth because it integrates a deep connection to nature with solitude and silence.

If you have ever been on a silent meditation retreat, you understand the power of silence to catalyze great shifts in your awareness.

Likewise, if you have ever spent any extended time in nature, alone or with others, you understand the power of the Earth to awaken long dormant wisdom.

The wilderness has always been a place where humans can connect with spirit and seek answers to questions and solutions to problems of the physical realms.

But all of this still has not answered the question of why I am going on this Vision Quest.

Certainly the answer I gave earlier – that I received guidance to quest at this time – is not a clear answer. But unfortunately, that may be the best answer there is at this time.

Admittedly, this is a time of some inner turmoil and confusion for me. I have been questioning my path, my purpose, my meaning. I have been struggling to understand why I am here. Certainly, I would welcome clarity and a deeper understanding of my purpose and the next steps on my path.

I am also experienced enough to know that I could come down from that mountain as confused as I am now! As Black Elk said, “Sometimes the meaning is not shown for several years afterward.”

Will the meaning be clear to me when I return, or will I have to wait several years? I will let you know!