Head North: Moving from Metaphor to Mantra

In my last post, I presented the compass as a metaphor for fatherhood. I like using metaphor as a framework for thinking through and organizing my thoughts about the kind of parent that I want to be. However, the thing about being a parent is that, when it comes time to act, you usually don’t have the luxury of extended periods of calm deliberation.

When kids want their parents’ attention, they don’t send email.

Kids cry…a lot…or maybe, if you’re lucky, they yell your name from across the house. Occasionally, they just start hitting you. Even in the most relaxed and polite interactions, you don’t have time to compose your thoughts, draft a response, read it over, edit it, re-draft it, queue it in an outbox and double check it before sending. For kids and parents, it is always now, right now, and in the heat of the moment, I’ve found metaphors to be too cumbersome.

For that reason, I’ve worked to refine my metaphor of the compass into a mantra–two words that I can repeat to myself on the spot and use to get my bearings and act in a manner aligned with the my deeper values: “Head North.”

In the metaphor, my north is well-being. I currently think of there being three pillars of well-being: consciousness, compassion and courage.

When I tell myself to “Head North” I trigger a series of quick maneuvers.

  1. First, I become mindful of my conscious experience. If I am lost in thought, which I usually am, I notice that.
  2. Second, I acknowledge the conscious experience of others. I lean upon another one of my favorite axioms: “It’s not all about me.” Usually this means that I try to consider how the world looks and feels from my kids point of view. Consideration is the first step toward compassion. When it comes to your own children, it is often the only step necessary.
  3. Finally, I call upon a commitment to courage. I resolve to act and to not shrink from the suffering that I sense. Even if the proper action is to retreat, to walk back from an angry outburst, if I am heading north, I am facing forward the whole time. I am looking up. I am not being driven by fear. I am answering the call to uncover and connect with the truth.

Do you have a mantra of your own? If so, how do you use it? If you feel like sharing, let us know in the comments.

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