My father’s favorite cartoon strip was Pogo, by Walt Kelly whose most famous strip was some variation on the image to the left. In this cartoon, Pogo realizes that his most challenging enemy is staring him in the mirror.
Ironically, my father’s deepest fear was looking at himself. He was a brilliant man in many ways but a complete moron when it came to self-awareness. He projected his own self-judgments by judging everyone else and finding them wanting. Ultimately, he pushed everyone away and he died a very lonely man.
Fortunately, I have learned from my father’s mistakes.
Waking up requires a willingness to face our biggest fears, to look into the mirror and accept ourselves for who and what we are.
This can be scary work. A Navy Seal I know told me that he would rather be in a fire fight in Afghanistan than look in the mirror. Personally, I would be rather terrified of a fire fight anywhere, but then I wasn’t trained to stuff my emotions and shoot the enemy. I have been trained to feel my emotions and sit with my deepest enemy, inviting him to tea.
The process of becoming more conscious is an ongoing one. Once started, it never ends, but if I hadn’t done this work, my marriage of over 40 years never would have lasted, and the great relationship I have with my three adult children would not have been possible.
- Accept the truth and speak the truth. Accept what is.
- Be courageous in your life. Adopt the principle, “What I fear, I must face”.
- Cultivate compassion and the feeling of connection with everything.
- Become clear about what you want.
- Pay attention to the moment. .
- Think deeply about your life and keep a journal to record your thoughts.
- Be reasonable, but cautious of how certain you are of your assumptions.
- Seek out conscious people and let unconscious people drift out of your life.
- Take care of your body.
- Make it your intention to raise your consciousness.
I wish I could tell you that I practice all of these recommendations, but I can’t… yet. I am working on each of them.
Have you ever broken a glass or a plate and gotten angry? Did it do any good?
I can’t count the number of times my computer has crashed or I simply forgot to save some updates and that work was lost forever. I could beat myself up or curse out Microsoft, but that did not change the reality of the moment. I learned to say, “Is what is” as a way of accepting that shit happens, and the result has been that I get upset much less frequently, and my life has become more stable and more simple.
We live today in a society fueled by fear. We hear every night on the news how scared we should be of terrorists, climate change and even Donald Trump… or Hillary. Fear sells advertising and in a world driven by money, the media moguls are compelled to sell fear. Dateline on NBC uses the tag line, “Don’t watch it alone!” But what is fear, really?
Fear is an emotion that says, “I have it but I may lose it”, whatever the “it” is. The biggest fear that most people face is fear of death, but death is certain. Only its timing is uncertain.
There is an old parable about lions and gazelles, a favorite food of lions. The problem for the lions is that the gazelles can easily outrun them. Even the young lions cannot catch the gazelles, but they can chase them. So the old lions who cannot run any more lie in wait as the young lions chase the gazelles towards them. As the gazelles get close, the old lions rise up an roar. The startled gazelles turn around and run right into the jaws of the young lions. Had they only “Run to the roar”, they would not have been eaten.
Conscious people know that we can let fear inform us but not rule us. We must learn to notice when fear is present and use that awareness to identify what it is that we are afraid of, then run to the roar.
Finding compassion for myself was one of my greatest challenged. I believed that compassion meant loving myself in spite of my many and oh-so-obvious flaws. Then one evening a traveling Buddhist Monk sat in my men’s circle and someone asked him, “What is love?” His answer was simple and profound. “Acceptance”, he said. His answer opened my eyes to a new way of seeing myself. I didn’t have to be perfect. I simply had to accept my imperfectness… my humanity.
I don’t remember his name and have no idea where he is now, but his simple wisdom changed my life dramatically. Self-compassion emerged as I accepted the reality that I am human and therefore imperfect, and that is OK.
Clarity is about knowing what I want. Imagine a kingdom where the king doesn’t know what he wants for his kingdom, where he shows up as confused and indecisive. Would you follow this type of king… or leader? Whether we seek enlightenment, power or simple survival, clarity is necessary for us to navigate through life. Without it, we become a pinball in the game of life, bouncing from one cushion to the next.
Clarity is closely related to commitment. The famous statement attributed to the German writer Gothe is a powerful reminder.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
There is only one moment that truly exists: this moment. The past moments are memories that often fade with time like yesterday’s breakfast, and future moments don’t yet exist… and may never exist outside our dreams, fantasies or nightmares.
In the mid-1990’s I was in counseling with a wonderful man named Garth Alley. After several years of working with Garth, I noticed a pattern: he was using Gestalt therapy. He took me through a visualization of driving down the highway, getting thirsty and stopping for a cup of coffee. He slowed the moment down and broke it apart into each minute piece: noticing that I was getting thirsty… sitting with that awareness… deciding to stop for coffee… looking for a place to stop… putting on my turn signal… slowing down… seeing the restaurant… pulling into the parking lot… stopping my engine… opening the door… well, you get the idea. By slowing down and noticing each moment, my life came more alive. I learned to be present and aware of what was happening in my body.
By all accounts I have heard, meditation is the most powerful tool we have for slowing down and noticing the moment. And for me, it’s a real challenge. I find meditation very difficult. My dancing ego wants to keep typing about slowing down rather than stopping my inner chatter and taking a time out. So I am going to finish this sentence, press update and go sit for 20 minutes.
In his book, “Rough Justice“, author Peter Elkind explores the rise and fall of Eliot Spitzer, the former Governor of New York who became embroiled in a prostitution scandal that culminated in his resignation. Elkind quoted Spitzer as saying, “I don’t believe in psychiatrists; I don’t do introspection”. Spitzer’s fall from power in 2008 was modern day Greek Tragedy.
Spitzer was not unique in his hubris and failure to look into the mirror of reality. Most of us suffer from a fear of seeing ourselves as we really are. In my many years of men’s work, the most common theme I hear is, “I am not worthy… lovable… good enough”. Looking deeply at this belief can be terrifying, especially for men who are culturally programmed to believe that, “If I am vulnerable, you will think I am weak and attack.” But the deeper truth is that these are just thoughts; beliefs that fester in our bodies until we shine the light of awareness on them and accept that their only power is the power we give them.
I have a vivid memory of sitting at a conference table in Michigan with several other programmers as we worked at General Motors on an impossible project. The conversation was filled with put-down’s, macho posturing and (for me, at least) great discomfort. I couldn’t match their cutting comments with my own and felt very alone and unhappy. Looking back at that time of my life, I realize that I was caught in a cultural trap, a form of “Man Box“.
When I was attended The Mankind Project‘s New Warrior Training Adventure in 2001, it felt like I was finally home, surrounded by conscious men committed to helping me become a conscious man myself. In the subsequent years, I found that men (and women) who were not committed to waking up and becoming a better, more conscious person simply drifted out of my life, creating space for dozens and dozens of wonderful new, conscious friends.
Few of these new relationships were of the party-hearty types. Instead, they were friends who would not put up with any bullshit from me, who loved me fiercely and compassionately, who gave me tough but loving feedback on the differences between my intentions and my impact and who simply helped me grow up.
They also taught me to do the same for people in my life. They pushed me to develop a mission of service, to become a “Servant Leader”. My life now is full to overflowing with wonderful conscious relationships, and I feel deeply blessed.
This has been very difficult for me. I am overweight and don’t exercise enough. I have not taken good care of my temple and I feel the costs and impacts of that choice. I make no excuses here. I simply own that this has been difficult and gets even more difficult as I age, and I encourage you not to follow my example.
This symbol is my personal logo. I have it tattooed on my left arm as a reminder of my commitment to continuous growth and evolution.