There is a beautiful freedom present when you meet someone who ‘marches to their own drum beat!’ This last couple of weeks I have had the honour of working with groups of fifteen year old boys on a ‘Crossroads Retreat’. The basic concept of the retreat has been to invite these young men to consider that they are now quickly leaving adolescence and are increasingly been asked to make adult decisions.
When I was fifteen my life was much more simple than the lives of our young people today. Growing up in a rural sugar cane growing town here in Queensland and going to school in a small rural city I certainly was not challenged by decisions about drugs. Sure there was alcohol about and some of my peers may have been sexually active at fifteen but not too many of them.
The whole focus of our retreat was to suggest to the young men that they are now increasingly been faced with quite significant decisions; do they use drugs, do they become sexually active, do they drink to excess, how do they engage with increasingly fractious family situations, depression, violence, use of pornography, on-line bullying and more. The question we constantly challenged the young men with was,
“What man do you want to be the other side of the Cross-road?”
The other facilitators and myself suggested to the young men that the decisions they make – often after mid-night – in the next couple of years will determine the man they will be in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s! I truly believe that many of the patterns of behaviour, our moral compass and our core values are established – or certainly reaffirmed in that crucial time between 14 and 22. But having said that – on the journey which is that heart to be your best self – there is no day when you cannot begin again, begin anew and pick yourself up and dust yourself off – regardless of age.
There is something truly sacred, truly special when we make decisions that make us proud of who we are; the person we are. Those decisions are often small three second ones. That decision about the group of friends we will associate with, that decision not to pretend not to see an unjust act, that decision to name that which is not right, that decision to simply and yet powerfully say, “No!”
At each retreat we invited a couple of young past students from the school to share some of their story of cross roads that determine the person they wanted to be. Several themes came up constantly;
a. The decisions are often the ‘after mid-night’ ones
b. The hardest decision – in choosing to be your best self, the person you really want to be – is made the FIRST time you say “No” or act true to your heart – it gets easier after that.
c. Replace the energy that would surround a negative behaviour – with energy focused on a positive behaviour.
d. Find some reflective practice that works for you – where by you can go deeper and know the kind of person you seek to be.
e. Surround yourself with people who share your core values – who want you to be your best self and invite you to do the same for them.
f. Behind the bleating of the sheep is an admiration for the person you are choosing to be but they will often, rarely admit it.
g. One of the common and most significant crossroads will be what you do when you fail – for you surely will. The person you have grown to be the other side of failure will be perhaps the greatest litmus test of character.
h. Stop and reflect on WHO you want to be – the kind of person – the “content of your character” BEFORE you enter the situation.
i. Don’t over complicate the cross road decisions to be the person you want to be – just ‘nike it – just do it!’
j. Ask not for the courage for the thousand mile journey – just the courage for the next step!
As part of the process we used a Russian Doll – a ten piece Russian doll. The final piece was little bigger than the size of a grain of rice. The young men were in awe as the 7th and 8th and 9th pieces were opened up – to finally reveal that final 10th piece. We then suggested that that small piece represented that tiny moment of courage which draws a line in the sand, which flickers the ember into a small flame, which sprouts the tiniest new leaf of hope – which grows and grows and leads you to be your best self. We invited the young men to find that tiny small moment of courage at those cross road times. As I looked around the circle of young men looking down on the ten pieces of the Russian doll from quite large to miniature I could see in their eyes that they ‘got it’!
During the process we invited a refugee or an asylum seeker to share their story with the young men as well. We did this because we suggested that part of being an ‘adult’ was to begin to claim responsibility for the kind of world you leave to your children. It is no longer a case of me me me – and of having those around you fuss over and respond to your every need. The young person facing those all so vital cross road moments is now being invited to claim their birthright as a citizen of planet Earth – OUR world, OUR planet, OUR global village.
The world is not as it should be. No God wishes the rich to grow richer and the poor poorer. No love energy dances when one grows strong or rich on the backs of the poor. Each of us shares the noble calling to build and nurture, heal and create, plant and cultivate, grow and initiate a world that is increasingly just, loving and whole.
We concluded our day together by planting trees – as a symbol of all that we had done and shared. We used the words that I have often referred to in my blogs;
One of the greatest things a person can do is to plant a seed that will one day grow to become a great tree that will shade to people they have never known.
Yes, as each of us picks up our drum and plays our beat – we do so not with the wilful selfishness of those who care little for the music of the orchestra. As each of us marches to our beat – we are listening ever more deeply to the dreamer voice that is particular to our own hearts. Our drum and our beat are sacred – and combine and compliment that music of hope and love and peace all around us.
We concluded the day with a poem by Dale Wimbrow – the Man in the Glass!
The Man in the Glass.
When you get what you want in this struggle for self,
And the world makes you king for a day,
Then go to your mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn’t your father, your mother or wife,
Whose judgment of you – you must pass,
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back in the glass.
He is the man you must please – never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear up to the end.
And you have passed your most difficult and dangerous test,
When the man in the glass is your friend.
You can be like another and chisel a plum,
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum,
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.
You can fool the whole world, down the pathway of years,
And get pats on your back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartache and tears,
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass!
As I returned home tonight from the retreat – it dawned on me – that there was not one thing we had done – nor one thing in this BLOG that does not apply to all of us – myself included. Oh for the courage to emerge the other side of the cross roads of my life a better man, a crazier dreamer, a more compassionate and caring brother and an ever love risking lover of life!