Don't forget dad

Most spiritual traditions instruct us to honour our mother and father.

In generations past, honour was a much-used word — from the mythical battleground of Troy to the very real playing fields of Eton. People lived and died for honour, but somewhere along the path of progress, we dismissed it as a relic of another time, like chivalry.

“You cannot believe in honour until you have achieved it,” said playwright George Bernard Shaw.

That means we can’t honour mother, father or anyone else until we learn to honour self, that we must put ourselves first before we can be of any use to others.

While Shakespeare was supposedly mocking a hypocrite and his homespun wisdom, one who did not trust the son to whom he was giving the advice, the words he put into the mouth of Polonius are worth considering on Father’s Day, or any other day.

“This above all, to thine owns self be true and it  must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Difficult as though it might be to believe, airlines (a modern version of Polonius?) understand it, too. They urge us to put ourselves first.

Most of us were told repeatedly to think of others first, which can degenerate into co-dependency, resentment for thinking we have to look after others, and feeling guilty about doing if we do things for ourselves.

When we’re stuffed into that airline seat, we watch the attendants perform their pantomime: In the event, of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop down from the panel above you. Place the mast over your own face first before helping anyone else.

If we’re with children, spouse or parents, the first concern is to help them — that’s what we were taught in Sunday school, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

But if we ignore the airline’s advice, and pass out from lack of oxygen, who will save them? By thinking of ourselves first, everyone benefits.

“In the metaphysical circles that I come from, it’s called WAM, which stands for what about me,” Stuart Wilde writes in The Trick to Money is Having Some.

“It’s easy, isn’t it, to forget to include yourself? We spend so much time helping others though a sense of dedication that we drop out in collecting a bit for ourselves.”

That’s the tightrope we walk — being true to ourselves, but remembering we exist in a society that thrives when people work together for the common good. But the more complex society becomes, the more difficult it is to remember the common.

It has been said that depression is a disease of the I, that the more we concentrate on ourselves to the exclusion of others, the more we set ourselves up for problems and the more “failure” becomes our fault.

The millions of prescriptions written for mood-enhancing drugs and the billions spent on alcohol and illegal drugs re-inforce that contention.

“The epidemic of depression stems from the much-noted rise in individualism and the decline in the commitment to the common good,” psychologist Martin Seligman writes in Learned Optimism.

“This means there are two ways out: first, changing the balance of individualism and the commons; second, exploiting the strengths of the maximal self.”

While it appears contradictory, it seems the more we give, the more we receive, the more we help ourselves, the more we help others — and vice versa — which transports us out of a vicious cycle into a virtuous circle.

Many spiritual traditions tell people mired in despair to do something for someone else, implying, as quantum physics has proven, that at some level we are all connected.

“If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am for myself alone, who am I?” wondered Hillel, the great Jewish rabbi just before time turned from BC to AD.

That’s a problem many men face in a society that has forgotten honour — what is their role. While society is constantly changing, people at the most fundamental level, haven’t. Modern males are cavemen in three-piece suits.

Today, Father’s Day, many people spare a thought of love for the first man in their lives, even if it’s only for a moment as the line up their shot on the ninth hole.

Many others will, however, buy dad a nine iron or a necktie and take him out to dinner if they’re in the same town or call him if they’re not.

Call dad today (even if he is no longer on this plane; the connection is never broken). Honour demands it.

“A man has honour if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient,  unprofitable or dangerous to do so,” said journalist Walter Lippmann.

Intuition: your inner Internet

Many of us are searching for something: a way, a method, a philosophy, a religion to help find our place in this rather large universe.

We read books, go to workshops, take classes, attend church to help ground ourselves in our life, looking outside ourselves, hoping some author, guru or saint will say something magical that will bring everything into focus.

But we don’t need outside help; we have all the answers. Inside us is a spiritual Internet into which we can plug our questions and find the answers.

It has been argued that humanity’s highest faculty is intuition. We’ve all had those eureka moments where we puzzled over something, and then, in flash of insight, we knew the answer.

Because we don’t cultivate our intuition, those instances are so rare that we don’t think we’re intuitive. If we think about it at all, we assume it’s a gift given to a few by a whimsical universe.

Life planted intuition in all of us, and like a seed, it must be watered, nurtured and its soil weeded. Plants in our gardens usually don’t just grow and produce fruit without care and attention.

“Intuition is a function which we all possess, but which very few of us can use at will,” Christmas Humphreys writes in Zen: A Way of Life. “It must be developed, and this can only be done by use.

“Satori (enlightenment) is a flash of intuition deep enough and wide enough to break the barriers of thought in the individual mind, and to let the Whole flood into the part, the relative fragment ‘see’ for a moment of no-time, the Absolute.”

When we are angry, sad, jealous or vengeful, when emotional storms are raging — or we’re just thinking, thinking, thinking — we can’t hear our intuition. It’s like being at a party or a crowded coffee shop; we strive to listen, but it’s difficult to hear what’s being said.

And often we can’t be bothered to listen because we’re too busy telling the universe what to do. We do that when we complain, when we judge, when we rage against our parents, our spouses, our bosses, about what they did and how they did it, what they didn’t do and what they should have done.

We must train ourselves to quiet our mind, listen and act on what we hear because that small, still voice can awaken us to the truth of who we are. Often in moments of repose or just as we fall asleep, we stop our mental complaints and the mind is quiet enough that the universe can finally get through. That’s why some people always have a notepad beside their bed.

Inventor Thomas Edison often sat in a chair with ball bearing in his cupped hands. When he drifted into sleep, the ball bearings would fall and he’d awaken and write down any ideas.

That’s commitment, but then he single-handedly changed society with his thousands of inventions. We don’t have that pressure or responsibility; we only have to change ourselves. The more we listen and the more receptive we are, the more we change and oddly enough, the world changes with us.

“What this power is, I cannot say. All I know is that it exists ... and it becomes available only when you are in that state of mind in which you know exactly what you want ... and are fully determined not to quit until you get it,” said Alexander Graham Bell.

It also requires faith. While practice helps us discern intuition from the normal muttering of the mind, we should act on the messages we receive.

Socrates shaped his life — and as a result Western civilization — by listening to his inner voice. It also shaped his death. Athenian authorities didn’t particularly want to kill the founder of moral philosophy; they just wanted him gone. His friends had arranged for his escape, but since his daemon didn’t tell him to run, he stayed – and died.

Henri Bergson, who built his philosophy on intuition, and won the Nobel Prize for literature, said intuition is a direct perception and experience of the continuous flow of reality, without the use of intellectual concepts.

Maybe that’s the problem. We like concepts and intricacy; if the solution appears simple, we ignore it, never realizing that great knowledge is not a necessary step to wisdom. Intellectual knowledge can lead us away from wisdom.

Around the turn of the 20th century, a university professor went to visit Nan-in, a Japanese Zen master. While the master served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the tea into the visitor's cup, and  kept pouring. 

Finally, the professor could no longer restrain himself. “It's over full! No more will go in!”

“You are like this cup,” the master replied, “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.”

To hear the still voice, we, too, must empty our cup, throw away our ideas of how life should unfold, and still the internal noise so we can hear the universe.

“Within every person there is an intuitive sense of the transcendent, an inner knowledge that there is more to life than one is experiencing, and a yearning to unfold more of than more,” Eric Butterworth writes in the Universe is Calling. “No matter how realistic or humanistic we may be, we still look up.

“There is an upward pull of the universe, ever seeking to lift you to the heights of your divine nature. It is as real and as inexorable as the force of gravity.

"The universe is calling . . . are you listening?”

Shatter your illusions

We'd rather be ruined than changed
We'd rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.

— W.H. Auden

We sure like our stuff, our drama, our life situations, the movies we create in which we are victim or hero, or both.

On the other hand, we don't like our life much: the kids crying, bills overdue, the toilet backing up and the cat throwing up.

We cling to the illusions that we are separate, that we are limited, that we are flawed.

But our greatest fear is not that we are limited, but that we are powerful. We want to believe we are victims, that we have excuses for not writing that novel or climbing that mountain, or achieving our secret dream.

We cling to these illusions because when we cut through them, shatter them, we have no excuses for not being the best we can be.

We pick at our wounds and the people we like are the ones we can talk wound-ology with, the ones who will sympathize and empathize with our long list of hurts.

We describe how hard done by we are, like a he-done-me-wrong song on an iPod player stuck on play. Our body seems to produce a chemical cocktail of bliss when we tell an attentive listener that we aren't better or more successful because...

We love our children when they're good or make us proud, when they make the dean's list. But how do we feel when they're on the janitor's list, when they come home drunk, stoned or end up pregnant or in jail, when they turn out the way we don't want.

We have become so attached to outcome, that we forget what happens in between. Psychologist Abraham Maslow said that a self-actualized person is never concerned about outcome or what other people think of him.

"A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be," he wrote.

“This is the need we may call self-actualization ... referring to a person's desire for fulfilment, namely to the tendency to become actually what we are potentially.”

But that isn't nearly as much fun as judging ourselves and others, something we do from the moment the clock goes off in the morning until we re-set it at night: I like her, I don't like him; listening to music is good, fixing a plugged-up toilet isn't.

We see in our children, our spouses, our friends and ourselves what we don't like, instead of shifting and seeing what is good and worthwhile.

We need to replace "the horror, the horror" of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, with the wonder of an infant exploring its world, and experience the absolute joy and awe of this amazing world, our bewilderment.

Imagine seeing the world every day with childish awe. We would probably appreciate our children, our spouses, our parents, our job, our lives, even ourselves.

We might even remember that life is a dance and that we don't waltz to get to the other side of the room. We do that for the sheer experience, for the joy of moving, of being in the moment.

Should we treat our lives with any less enthusiasm than we would do the funky chicken or whatever dance grabs us?

We're amazed at the altruism of Mother Teresa, but it is the athlete, the actor and the rich we want to emulate. We know money doesn't buy happiness -- if it did, the brightest stars in Hollywood's firmament wouldn't switch partners, gurus and hairdressers so often.

But we still line up to buy lottery tickets hoping the winnings will buy a good imitation of joy.

We have forgotten that the coin we should run after is peace of mind and we find by accepting that the most important person who has ever lived is us, each of us. The most important relationship is with ourselves. We must accept that we were chosen — by God, fate, circumstance or the universe — to be here.

We must become like the Indian god who proclaimed, "I am Shiva, destroyer, shatterer of worlds." We might consider shattering the pretend worlds we create to avoid living in this one.

Before we can create a new us, we must destroy the illusions that keep us shackled to an image we don't like. We create the world daily in our own image. But it's time to create a new image; to remember who we are.

Every atom of us — except hydrogen and helium, which were formed during the Big Bang — was forged in a star.

Yet, we don't look up to our birthright, to the lights in the night sky that call to us to be who we should be. Instead we look down at the mundane: mortgages, bills and traffic jams.

Every moment we are at a crossroads. We can choose the well-worn path or we can take the road less travelled, like the knights of the Round Table who always blazed a new trail, never, never following someone else's path.

In this world of 9-5, we have forgotten that we, too, are on as important and as romantic a quest as Gaiwan, Lancelot or Perceval.

We, too, search for the Holy Grail — ourselves. But unlike those knights, we must remove the armour of illusion and face the lance of life with the only weapon we'll ever need: faith in ourselves.

All we have to do is choose to believe. 


Are you honourable?

Helen’s face may have launched a thousand ships, but honour drew the cream of Greece to man them.

Honour to self, enemies, country, family and society shaped civilizations and literature, but we don’t hear much about it any more, at least not outside a courtroom. And if we’re in one, it’s a good idea to call the judge your honour.

But it wasn’t just Greek hoplites, Japanese samurai and English knights who demanded adherence to a strict code of honour.

Religions and philosophical traditions expected its followers to honour their parents, to keep a holy day, and to live an exemplary life. But as we distance ourselves from our roots, from the source of our being, from the nature that formed us, we forget the wonder in our life.

We don’t have the rituals and myths to remind us of life’s changes and our connection to all things.

While we don’t dance around campfires much any more, or paint our bodies, except when we have a big interview or bigger date, we can still live with honour.

The fourth commandment suggested keeping the Sabbath holy and the fifth recommended honouring our parents. Of course, to Jews — and later to Christians — they were laws not suggestions. They were supposed to be written on hearts and not just on stone.

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord; whosoever does work therein shall be put to death,” is the way the King James Version of the Bible records it.

No matter what our faith or lack thereof, it wouldn’t hurt to stick the other commandments on the fridge door. By practising them, we honour ourselves and everyone we meet.

Even if we lust for a new car or a new house, we know we shouldn’t worship idols, whether they’re money, fame or movie stars.

Not lying, cheating, killing or coveting our neighbour’s wife —or husband — and his new boat make us better people and keep us out of trouble and out of jail.

We should treat every day and each moment as holy because that long string of moments makes a life, our life, the only one we have, or might ever have.

The quality of these moments — even those spent in long lines in banks, government offices, traffic and airports — determines the quality of our life.

Not only should we honour our parents, but our spouse, our children, our boss, our co-workers and the person who cheats us.

We can learn to see the wonder in the person who cuts us off in traffic and appreciate the boss who orders us to stay late to make up for a co-worker who left early.

The beauty we saw in our newborn child still shines in the grown one even when s/he doesn’t bring the car home on time and uses our debit card more liberally than s/he should.

Our goal should be to treat everything with honour especially the moments when we least feel like it; when we’re tired and that three-hour airport layover has turned into four and most people on the flight seem to be under five and tired and cranky.

Even when it’s the last place we want to be, we must have the courage and discipline to be exactly where we are and not where we wish to be.

“Beatrice now understood that whatever crossed her path — each creature, person, even weather conditions — had a unique purpose for existing,” Marlo Morgan wrote in Mutant Message From Forever, her second novel about Australian aborigines.

“Her goal was to honour by acceptance, not necessarily understanding what was taking place.”

Oh, but we have a need to understand, to intellectually rip apart everything that crosses the screen of our mind, no matter how much time it takes and turmoil it creates. We’re afraid not to know because that means we aren’t in control.

Yet, if we let go and honour the moment, we shift from the need to control to acceptance, and break the chains that bind us to a restricting belief system.

“Every day brings gifts that you have ordered and each day you place more orders,” Gary Zukav wrote in Soul Stories.

“You do this by setting your intentions and acting on them. The universe takes your orders and delivers. Everyone gets what she or he ordered. If you order fear, you get it. If you order love, you get it.”

We’re always creating our own reality, but we pretend that life is something that just happens, that thoughts just pop into our heads, that emotions just erupt from nowhere, that we are victims of a cosmic jokester.

 “The only time that matters is now, each moment, each dot,” Morgan wrote. “If we live each day to the best of our ability, doing everything with the highest level of integrity, we will be successful on this journey as a human.”

We all face a variation of the same stress, the same physical and psychic pain, but how we process them shapes who we become. The wise change what they can and accept what they can’t, which reduces the wear and tear on body and mind.

“You are the product of your own thought,” Claude Bristol wrote in The Magic of Believing. “What you believe yourself to be, you are.”

Socrates had a similar thought:

“The shortest and surest way to live with honour in the world is to be, in reality, what we would appear to be; all human virtues increase and strengthen themselves by the practice and experience of them.”

More Transitions articles

About the Author

Ross Freake, a former managing editor of The Daily Courier, has worked at 11 newspapers from St. John's to Kamloops. He is the author of three books and the editor and ghost writer of many others.

He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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