Knowing Your Shadows

The men sitting right in front of me were howling in fury at me. 

“You cheated!!!  You got us to do what you wanted!! You always win! You rigged the game!”  

I dug in my heels even further, shocked by their poor sportsmanship, their inability to accept defeat gracefully. Frankly, I couldn’t believe they were serious. “Look man,” I said, “I was just trying to show you how to play the game. I in no way used that to my advantage. It’s just how the game worked out.”  "Settlers of Cataan" is a widow maker, but this was different. They were questioning my honor, my integrity. I was astonished.

They hammered back even harder, citing examples of how I steered their decisions in the game and of course their ultimate evidence was that I had won—they had not. 

In truth I wasn’t being defensive. I genuinely didn’t believe I had done what they said. It wasn’t within the limits of my view of myself.  

Have you ever experienced that? When you’re being accused of something, or perceived a certain way, and you feel incensed or totally blindsided by the thought?  

In Shadow Work this kind of exaggerated self-defensive response is a subtle indicator that we are working with an unacknowledged shadow. 

 

What is the Shadow & How Did It Come to Be?

I get asked that a lot when I talk about the effects of dealing with my own, or working with other men around theirs. People are genuinely curious what it means. 

The Shadow, simply put, is the collection of all the parts of self that we have repressed and suppressed in order to be acceptable to others. It begins very early, as the messages of what we’re supposed to do or think or feel come before birth even. As Robert Bly, one of the father’s of the expressive men’s movement, said: 

We came as infants trailing clouds of glory arriving from the farthest reaches of the universe…with our radiance intact and we offered this gift to our parents. They didn’t want it. They wanted a nice girl or a nice boy.

As we continued to hear these messages our consciousness fragmented into pieces. We brought forward the sort of behaviors that were reinforced and were called good and decent. We also shoved into the background anything that could disconnect us from others, from relationship or having our needs met.  

Imagine being given a great pile of raw materials and then constructing a skyscraper above ground. Only the best materials are utilized, and anything that might be seen as inferior or subpar is discarded and falls down. It’s shaped and fashioned to impress and to house visitors who we want to acknowledge us.  

But at night, and in the darkness, workers come and remove the discarded parts. They begin to dig down into the soil and construct a long basement out of those pieces. In fact, for every level of the skyscraper, the basement extends in equal measure. 

We spend a good bit of our early life creating those two conjoined structures.  The basement of our shadows is constructed from who we are and into it we place every thing that we wish to go unseen or be unknown about us. Much of what is naturally occurring in us goes into that basement. Our spontenaity, our wildness, our unpredictability—all of it. In fact, part of the overall “life plan” we come up with early on is a divorce from these shadowy places. We want to ensure that our living is something structurally sound and that can be seen and counted on. And so we lose sight of those parts that aren’t dedicated to the edifice erected above ground. 

Always Lurking, in the Shadows 

However, our shadows are still present. They continue to live and grow there in the darkness. Without the light of day and conscious cultivation they become something primitive and undeveloped. Think of a man who is divorced from his anger—and only allows himself to experience it when he is totally enraged and out of control. The anger is always there—however it’s in the basement of shadows, and has grown into an unruly caricature of itself. 

This is true for anything we tuck away in the basement of shadows. Our sexuality, our sense of freedom, fun, indolence, anger, jealousy, assertiveness, aggression, activeness, or impulsiveness—all of it develops in primitive ways. There’s a sort of staleness to anything left there in the basement over time. These attributes are musty, messy and over-eager.  When the door is opened to them, they lurch out and wreak havoc in the tidy world we have created above.  

Of course our friends and loved ones are surprised and shocked when they see these monsters emerge. We scramble to sweep them back underground—sufficiently reinforced by what we always assumed: there are pieces of our self that are not welcomed and must be avoided at all costs.  

The cycle repeats itself, over and over. 

Most of us choose to live blissfully unaware of our shadowy parts. We have outbursts from time to time, but generally imagine it’s not an element of whom we are, and can be controlled through things like therapy, religion, alcohol, and other sedatives. These certainly help us distract from the murky parts of our being, but often simply help continue in the building of our above-ground self without much consciousness around what lies beneath. When we run from our shadow, and refuse to face it, often confronting it with willpower alone, we simply allow the power of those places to sink back into the unconscious again. Telling the Devil to “get behind me” may feel empowering, but in reality it pushes the “Satan” (or adversary) in our experience behind us—further into the shadows where it works itself in negative and projective forms. 

 

The Unpleasant Wake Up Call

For many of the men I work with, and certainly in my own life, awareness of the shadow comes as a result of the floor falling out, so to speak. We receive feedback that we didn’t count on; life tells us what we needed to know all the while, but tried to avoid. An affair, a divorce, the loss of a job or career, an ultimatum, a car accident, physical pain or illness—all of these things can amount to a wake up call for a man.  

When a man comes to this point the scaffolding of his aboveground and golden life has fallen down. He has been plunged into the darkness of the basement. This is frightening and bewildering. Resource less, ego-less, and in many ways powerless—the man who undergoes this type of confrontation begins a long road not only of confronting his unacknowledged shadow but also picking up the pieces of his life and his lively-hood. It is unfortunate that most of us wait that long to address what is. 

I’m often asked if there’s a better way to begin to work with those unseen parts.  Thankfully, there is. 

There are, in what many experts have agreed upon, five primary ways we can peer into our shadow. 

Feedback Loops

Feedback, as I’ve just said, really is a very good lens through which we can witness our own reflection. If we choose to see it, this can be an opportunity to see ourselves as others see us. However, there are some powerful obstacles to this method. One obstacle is that we tend to take the wrong feedback too seriously and the other is that we tend to take the right feedback not seriously enough. 

In today’s culture the WRONG FEEDBACK is based in the realm of reputation, or what strangers think of you. Social media, in particular, has allowed for a wave of opinion mobs and platform storming. The stories are rampant: a misguided comments on Twitter, and suddenly you’ve been labeled as a hate monger and villianized next to Darth Vader, without the cool mask. Oddly, this extreme targeting, actually effects us. It produces all the same results that an intimate friend saying these things of us might. We can tell ourselves that this doesn’t matter, but at the end of the day it effects us internally, and for many, the feedback loops of perfect strangers have ended their careers and relationships. Mob mentality, jumping to conclusions, and the polarizing of positions are symptomatic of what happens when we create a culture in which we imagine not only does everyone’s voice matter—but also should in fact matter to us.  

The voice of the stranger, while perfectly valid, is not the voice you need to be listening to. Your reputation—or what strangers think of you—is not what you should be listening to. On the other hand, what those close to you know of you—your character—does in fact matter.

Sadly, we are often highly defended against these. “What on earth are you talking about?” we might say, if they point out something they’ve noticed, or a pattern they’ve observed. 

Of course, if we were truly open to the feedback, and had an interest in confronting our shadow, we’d listen and notice, and validate what is valid. Those who live with us, and spend time seeing us, are some of the best indicators of what we’ve become. 

I can recall a moment when my spouse confronted the fact that I had been complaining about a toothache for months not addressing it. She was tired of hearing about it!  She wanted me to take action. 

Often that’s how the feedback loop works. We can live with these painful places in our self, but others can’t. When we allow them to communicate clearly and with effect we benefit.

 

The Projection Profile

Another place we witness our shadow is through projection. When we begin to examine our exaggerated responses to others –whether positive or negative—we can notice the shadow dimension at work. 

Have you ever been around someone who suddenly provoked your ire?  Recently this happened to me. I was around a female friend of mine who is quite influential in her world. She primarily works with women around the qualities of the Divine Feminine. However, everywhere she went, as we were together, seemingly progressive males bore down on her and exhibited grooming behavior towards her. They professed interest in her work, but then shortly thereafter transferred the energy into something more amorous.  It was hard to watch. I felt infuriated. But why?  

Certainly I felt protective for my friend.  I was unquestionably justified in my grievance. Still, the truth is that I too have practiced those behaviors. I also have, in the past, utilized my own progressive and empathetic “feminine side” as a smoke screen for hitting on a female. I wasn’t aware that I was exuding this in those moments, but eventually came to see what was happening. When I encountered those same tendencies in another it became an uncomfortable mirror. I instantly wished to reject in them the places I’ve wanted to reject in myself.  As I watched these unitiated males it was though I was witnessing parts of my own self, that I realize since had needed to be confronted.

One of the simplest methods for using projections as a shadow illuminator is to make a list of the qualities that set you off in someone else. It could be lack of consideration, short temper, selfishness, guilt tripping, manipulation, etc.… Chances are, you’ll discover that these places are also found in yourself in some form, whether highly developed or not. 

Of course not every critique of someone else reveals the same truth in us. I like to say that just because serial killers outrage me doesn’t mean that I’m simply projecting my inner serial killer outward. However, anytime our responses are exaggerated or rooted in excessive emotion, you can almost guarantee that there is something that is unconsciously activated here. 

This actually works out in the positive too.  When we start to truly admire someone or notice their greatness, and compare ourselves to them—or even evaluate ourselves in the light of their strengths this is a sign of projection. It’s often called “the halo effect” in which a person isn’t possibly capable of doing anything wrong.  Truly this points us towards our own shadow work. 

 

Slip Ups as a Revelatory Experience

Another inroad to the basement of shadows is through “slips” or accidents. My wife provides a wonderful example of this. Several times throughout the course of our marriage she has made out-loud critical statements of others, without knowing she’s said it. When I reflect back that she’s said something, she is mortified, and has even accused me of mind reading. No, I assure her, it’s simply a slip of some sort on her part, and not psychic telepathy. What’s happening here?  Her ability to be critical is a deep part of her shadow. She’s cut off from it, she avoids it, and she dislikes it about herself. Despite her best efforts, she occasionally slips up and the critic comes out anyhow.   

We all have those moments, where we meant to do or say one thing and something else entirely emerges. We feel embarrassed and want to take it back.  But the cat’s out of the bag. The best thing to do in that moment is to begin to work with the slip and get profoundly curious about it. Does this connect to something else under the surface?

The Dream World

Still an additional element of shadow work is dream work. This is a spiritual practice and modern western psychological one that is well worth the investment. As the most spontaneous form of our unconscious our dreams truly deliver a profound visual on what may be arising for us. When the shadow arises in our dreams it is almost always the thing that we are afraid of, dislike, or feel disgusted by. Sometimes we are being pursued by this figure. We tend to imagine its separate from us, but in reality it’s a part of our self.  If we look at it long enough we see the thoughts, plans, and dreams we have attempted to deny or escape from on a conscious level.

What Happens Next 

These are all ways we can look into this long basement of shadows. If we don’t attempt this, we fall prey to the monsters sneaking out and running amok in the world we have created. The weight of the edifice of waking life becomes too heavy and the floor caves in. 

The older we get, the more this hour of devastation’s effect upon us. But, if we go, voluntarily, into that basement, and flip on the light of awareness, mindfully investigating what’s there something curious starts to emerge. Everything we assumed to be monsters just ends up being shadows cast by the darkness and light, illusions. That villain over there? Just the junk left from grandpa’s attic. The demon in that corner? Something we stowed away from elementary school. The basement of shadows turns out to be a rummage bin. And when we learn that we can choose to sell those things off at a sale, or dust them off and invite them upstairs into the aboveground places. Either way, they’re not scary any longer.  

Recently I was speaking at a conference, and I fantasized about meeting people from my past who might know me, or know of me. I imagined them approaching me and saying all sorts of awful things and drudging up old haunts about me. What would I say? What might I do?  Then I realized exactly what I would tell them. Looking them squarely in the eye I would share, “I’ve met my demons. I know them by name. Some of them have gone elsewhere, and some have become my best friends. Either way—we’re well acquainted. How about you?  Do you know your shadows so well?”

There’s a strength and power that comes from facing your inner world.  If you’re interested, scared, or wanting to know more—reach out. Let’s begin to explore this together. 

Initiation

I remember the first time I saw porn.

One of my buddy’s had a playboy discreetly tucked away in his treehouse. He thumbed through the pages for me. I’ve got to be honest, my 10 year old self was not impressed. Parts of the female anatomy spread large on a super-glossy 8x11 did nothing for me. Probably frightened me more than anything, if I'm honest.

It wouldn’t be till years later at fifteen, when I stumbled upon a collection of magazines that I, perhaps mistakenly, assumed to be my fathers that I would find myself awestruck.  I rifled through its contents, scanning the pictures and the words, drinking in every detail. My mind was awash with dopamine like a football field where the sprinklers had been left on overnight. Everything was fuzzy and swirling.

As I finally integrated the new found information, I felt a profound sense of shame, and disgust. First these emotions were aimed at myself for enjoying the shit, but then I became angry—mostly at my father. He was a minister. He was my hero. How could he do this—this thing that was clearly vile and loathsome in my estimation? 

That night I confronted him. What a ballsy (and naïve) thing for a kid to do. I don’t remember what exactly I said, but I do recall what he did. He told me it wasn’t his. He said that he had been given it by a man desperate to get rid of it. That he had forgotten about it. That he, unlike the man in his story, was good and pure and to be trusted. And that’s how I knew he was lying. somehow I intuited even then that there is a darkness to men, that would make the images I saw in the magazine desirable. By painting himself as the virgin victim in a case of mistaken identity, he confirmed my suspicion of his guilt. But something else happened.

I was initiated into the ways of men.

Brass Tacks of Initiation

It’s interesting because we really don’t see that word until the middle of the 1500’s in France. They use it to mean a secret ritual.  I think that men today use it in much that same way. But the Latin word here is telling… it’s actually fairly close to the word originate or to begin. That’s really what initiation, as I understand it, is all about: a beginning a birthing, so to speak.  And for so many of the men I work with, and certainly in my own experience, it’s about a RE-BIRTHING, or a REMEMBERING (which again is an interesting word meaning to give something Body Life once more, to put it back together)…that’s really what Initiation I think means—a renewing, a new beginning. 

Traditional male initiation exists around the single purpose of actually severing a boy from the softness he has become accustom to. Often it is to deprogram a child from his self-centric and narcissistic notions about how the world should work. Where once he learned that the village should orbit around his needs, and answer his cries, he now understands that he must grit his teeth and bear pain skillfully to meet life. While a girl becomes a woman through the experience of dying innate to her body, in the womb of her lived experience, a man must externalize his own death before death. 

This is a Hero's Journey. Its a quest. Its part coaching, part depth psychology, part contemplative practice, part mysticism, part modern initiation ritual. But most of all this is a birthing. It does not represent the END of something, but rather the beginning.

First, these highly interactive processes cut a boy away from the soft and empathetic world of the feminine. Up till this point the youth had his needs met, he was given dignity on the basis of his identity, he was treated with tenderness and compassion. However important this was to him, it hardly would meet his long-term developmental needs, or those of the Tribe. A man only exposed to this type of life would be unable to face adversity, easily fragmented, fearful, and ready to blame others. The initiation ritual aimed to simulate hardship and force the boy to learn self-reliance.

Second, it created the conditions where a child could acknowledge his own mortality and face his death. If a man had not done so he might unconsciously develop phobias, obsessions, and compulsive behaviors to deflect, avoid, and mitigate his ultimate fear of dying. By ritualizing Death, a boy gave himself to a cycle of life and death without terror.

Third, an initiation confirmed a candidates sense of purpose and education.Everything he had done up to this point in his short life was evaluated, examined, and either embraced or discarded based on how it served his mission.

Lastly, it was a confirmation and transmitting of a very subtle force that imbues the individual with greater power and wisdom. It imparts skills, and communicates mastery. 

Viking culture would hang a youth of twelve until he asphyxiates, crosses over a threshold of suffering and becomes a warrior. The Mandan Indians were pierced with wooden hooks and suspended mid-air until they passed out from pain. Maasai warriors undergo a kind of poisoning--those who survive the sickness and live are now considered men. 

While a single crisis is often the beginning of such initiation, it hardly ends there. From this conception a boy is inducted into the tribe. He is now re-brainwashed. The elders and men surround him across the next several days, months, and years. They tell him the stories of cosmos. They communicate the answers to his basic questions, and at times supply him with the questions themselves. They show him the skills that he will need, that are absolutely vital to his development. He will learn to hunt, to forage, to make, to do, and to lead. This period of time will be the great womb of his life, incubating him, and creating a new reference point for all that which is to come. 

Initiation, Today

If we do not practice ritual initiation we will be acted on by shadow ones. We are initiated one way or the other. Traditional cultures understood that a man could not be trusted without a great examination so to speak. He had to confront his softness, as I said earlier. He had to be circumsized at a heart level. A part of him had to be cut off…that’s what circumcision was all about. It was an outward manifestation of something. What they understood was that a man who grows up who doesn’t loose this egoic process is simply not safe. He wont be a stable member of the community. He will either be covertly predatory to females or overtly domineering. His energy towards the tribe won’t be balanced. 

My own initiation, along with millions of other men today, is what I call "shadow initiation; a sort of awakening that occurs though it is not deliberately named and is even kept hidden from view of the initient.  Because it’s not as though male initiation has ceased. It’s not like men have stopped training the younger males of the tribe. We learned, but unintentionally. The lessons I walked away with were: Men hide shit. Men lie. Men don’t acknowledge their shadows. Men are vile and disgusting creatures who skulk around only pretending to be something other than they really are. To get ahead, a man must lie. He must pretend. He must perform and play a part.

As bio-social animals we are always learning. If we do not externalize these processes we most certainly will continue to internalize them.Today we experience cultural indoctrination quite a bit. As my good friend Mike Morrell is fond of saying, “Cult and culture are words that share the same root. The cult of modern society is easily the most effective at programming its members and making sure they don’t escape.” 

Formal preparation for the shadow rites of manhood begin largely through the school system. We experience a homogenized telling of values, vision, and priorities. Our ability to “make the grade” depends upon downloading the dominant motifs such as The Myth of Progress, The Myth of Hard Work, The Myth of Change, the Myth of Consumerism and the Myth of the Indidual. These story lines are taught to us so subtly that it is as obscure as the water a fish swims in—barely noticeable. We are trained to enter the world, freshly prepped with these tropes, taught to blend with all the other unique individuals. As my 13 year old son put it: "In school we learn to take life sitting down, to hide our emotions. They’re trying to prepare us to work in offices, to sit in a row, to be on time, to let somebody else have control over you while you don’t talk back.” From the first kindergarten class onward school instructs us to comply, to accept, and to achieve—but only within the narrowly defined parameters provided.

As I have stated elsewhere, boys in particular are now actively taught to sublimate their biologically innate way of being in the world: aggression, assertiveness, and activity. Each of these qualities are attacked, whether through overt punishment, lack of reinforcement, or pathologizing and medicating. When I brought up these concerns to one close friend he instantly slipped into the Myth of progress which lays forth that such cultural evolution is, while undesirable, inevidabtle. “The best we can do,” he lamented “is get on the band wagon.”  

Such inevidability, or fatedness, is often the hallmark of shadow initiations. There is a sense with powerful myths that they and their consequences are iron-clad. A casual observation such as “he’s just like his father” describes this conditioning. Statistics which demonstrate little variation in socio-economic status across multiple generations within the same family point to it also. While modern Western culture is often filled with the concept of mobility and placticity, the opposite tends to be true. Talk therapy, chalk full of ideas concerning self empowerment and human potential, has less than a 30% success rate according to American Psychological Association statistics. SSRI’s, or antidepressant pharmaceuticals, show little better results than placebo pills at shifting people's attitudes and emotions. As one friend recently said, "It's amazing that for a culture that believes in change as much as this one, there's so little of it." The hidden caste system is filled with ninja belief structures and discreet indoctrination’s. These powerful framing stories, never overtly offered or chosen, guide our daily lives just as surely as did the initiations of indigenous peoples, in perhaps even more concrete ways. 

My own initiation moments, like many of the men I have spoken with across the years, are often obscured. I hardly even knew that I had been inculcated. Yet the lessons I learned shaped my priorities and behaviors. It would largely take the experience of profound failure and ego-dissolution to force a confrontation.  By having foregone the wounding or death-simulations so often found in indigenous cultural rituals, failure, which I intend to look at in greater depth in a future post, seems to provide a kind of profound instruction. The shocking reality is that if we do not simulate such a wounding, it will be provided--later, when the consequences are much more extreme.

Where to Go From Here

Some of my companions have set up, or participated in, modern initiations. In many ways these substitutes take the best of what has come before, but apply it within our cultural framework. While there is, in my opinion, a limited draw and scope to such rituals, they may offer a fine stand-in for our hyper active and disconnected lives. Whereas the implicit threat of actual death often accompanied traditional initiation, today affords a safety in which everyone cuts the mustard. This has its downsides, but frankly, may also be a gift. As long as men are willing to question the dominant mythologies they are living into, and allow other s to ritualistically cast the shadow of mortality over them, they may avoid the more brutal teacher of the mid-life crisis and meltdown. If we do not practice ritual initiation we will be acted on by shadow ones. We are initiated one way or the other  

The great news is this isn’t hopeless. Men are realizing this in wide swathes. I see adds for it on social media or read about it on blogs. I think there’s a real resurgence happening here. Again, we’re trying. I think that’s good. But we have to move to a truly radical vision of manhood in which we get past the Dummy’s Guide sort of approach where we are just learning to follow a new set of rules. Simple, step by step, reducible, paint by numbers approaches are more of the same. That’s a part of the incestuous Mommy’s Little man and Nana’s helper approach. Still being a follower. 

I think the goal of working with men—my goal—is not to tell them THE ANSWER—But to create the conditions by which they learn to trust themselves again. Since culturally we are told not do trust ourselves any more, part of what INITIATION today has to be cutting away all the outer layers that have buried and DE-CONDITIONED us.  It really is a new beginning a RE-NEWING.  That’s what I mean when I talk about soul initiation. In many it recognizes the importance of historic tribal initiation, but builds on the concept of Jungian individuation. It’s meeting men where they are today, which is largely isolated and alone. So we start there. We build a man who trusts himself and who lives without hope, without fear, and is therefore truly free. From that place of truly identifying with his essential self we find he is free to live out his purpose, his gift, in this world. A man really can’t be initiated into Tribal culture, or honored as a member of a band of brothers until he has demonstrated he has the capacity to think for himself, to know his own values, and to navigate the stars that guide him.  That’s what my focus in the work. 

I can't help but wonder what would happen if men would give themselves to developing such tribes, to initiating such rituals, and to experiencing overt indoctrination into best of manhood. Lets Find out Together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Always Listen to Your Feelings

 "But shouldn't I go with my gut?" The woman sitting in front of me asks.

"I'm not sure that's a great idea," I say, "honestly, it could just be a bad case of indigestion."

She laughed. And then she started to cry a little bit.  "The thing is," she says quietly, "Everyone says 'trust your feelings,' but MY feelings are saying horrible things...I'm not sure I CAN trust them...I think I'd be dead if I did."

This is the scene I recently came from. A lovely young woman who has attempted to take her own life multiple times, beyond all the occasions of self harm that stopped just short of suicide. What she's telling me is that her feelings are informing her what to do, and that every time she acts on those feelings she really gets hurt.

Of course this may sound extreme, but I see it every day.  People in the same boat. Addicted to following their feelings wherever they may lead them. Told by a culture that bows to the altar of human emotion, that "being true to themselves" is the same as obeying their instincts.

I'll be honest. It's always a bad idea. Here's why.

What are Feelings Anyway?

From an organic perspective, feelings are a part of a complex web of functioning which we are constantly involved in. The truth is that our emotions are sort of like the taste buds of the psychological processing that happens in our minds. When working properly our feelings relay messages about what we're currently engaged with or just experienced. They're apart of a feed back loop.  If I'm involved in something tragic, I FEEL sad. If someone hurts me, I may FEEL angry. If I win a million buck, I'll end up FEELING happy.  Notice, the feeling FOLLOWS the phenomena.  The danger though, is when we reverse the order, and start allowing our feelings to do the leading, constructing our life around our emotions. For one, it's putting the cart before the horse, for another, it's risky business.

Because feelings are a part of a feedback loop, they're constantly in process. Again, my analogy about taste buds works.  It's like a piece of candy that has multiple waves of flavor attached, and changes as you keep it in your mouth. Feeling really operates the same. If we stick with an occurrence or event, our emotions are liable to fluctuate greatly to reflect what's really going on.  And that's exactly how they SHOULD work.  Because they're tiny reporters of experience.  Emotions are meant to be DESCRIPTIVE, not PRE-SCRIPTIVE.

I spend time with people who are starving, and report to me they don't eat because they don't FEEL like it. Yet it's essential for life. Without it, they'll die.

Or people who are isolated, lonely, and empty--but who don't spend time cultivating relationships because they don't FEEL like it.

You name it... when people follow their feelings around, they're literally trading their higher functioning for an un-evolved reptilian mind.

The truth is that emotions are VERY important. Being connected to our emotions, being in touch with what is going on, is part of what gives us information--raw data we need for living. But following them around...well...that means being controlled by our emotions, rather than having control.

I tell a story about watching wild dogs occasionally run by the park my house sits in front of. Strays, passing by my window. And at the point I have a choice. I can either follow the wild dog, chase it down and let it lead me around town. Or, I can notice it, observe it, appreciate it, and let it pass. The choice is mine. I don't have to be victim to my feelings. They don't have to control me.

I am increasingly convinced that the will is simply the spirit in physical form.

So if not feelings, then what?

Spirit, essence, or "wise-mind" (as we call it in my clinical practice as a therapist) is that part of us which connects to not only the "more-ness" of the universe, but also to the "more-ness" of our own beings.  There's something intangible and ineffable about Spirit. It lies shrouded in a realm of mystery. We simply sense that it exists and is at both the center and circumference.  I suppose there's no evidence I can offer to support this claim...except perhaps this thing called "the will."

We act on that which is essential to us.  Air, food, drink, relationships...these are somehow absolute needs--and so we act, automatically.  Breath, which shares the same word in Hebrew as spirit, is the most basic expression of being alive.  So too, the will, the ability to form intention, choice, and action, is the absolute core of humanity.  As breath is what enables us to live, so too our ability to make choice, take a stand for that decision, and bear the consequences, is what enables us to be most human.  This is why I say that will is simply our essence, or spirit, in physical manifestation.

I can tell you the spiritual maturity, or nature, of someone based on their ability to intend and carry through.  It speaks of our willingness to allow our convictions to come forward and play out.

Our culture worships feelings, and praises the passions.  We value that which is automatic and undecided.  The medicines and healing we pray for is something BEYOND our control...We wish for a miracle, or to be fixed, put back together by hands larger than ours.  We cede control to governments, representatives, and agents who will know better than us...  We wish to be in relationships, where the other makes the decisions for us--to stay or to go. We read endless books and websites to gain more information in order to convince ourselves, and be swayed.  We want a person to blame beyond ourselves.

We lack will, culturally.

It is the thing we must regain, if we are ever to resurrect deadened spirits.

And that brings me back to feelings.

Being in wise-mind or in spirit, doesn't invalidate our feelings--doesn't shame or punish us for having feelings. Instead, it listens to them. It appreciates them. It observes them, and honors them. But it also doesn't let them dictate the course of our actions. Getting out of bed in the morning doesn't rise or fall on how I feel about it...because the truth is--I rarely feel like it. I have to depend on another criteria. I also incorporate reason, and intuition to make a decision.

People who consistently "go with their gut" often assume they're being "AUTHENTIC."  I hear that so much. But, I have to comment here that in fact being authentic to their "feelings" or emotional mind is only one part of being real... I practice deep-democracy, where I honor not only my feelings, but also my rational mind, and my intuition. I listen to multiple parts of myself, and let them have voice too. I don't let any one part dominate me. Feelings included. If I just went by my feelings, I wouldn't be authentic to my other parts, such as long term goals, or higher values. And maybe that's OK...maybe that's the choice I want to make in that moment... But it should be a decision, not a tsunami-like emotion pushing me into something I may regret later.

The work that I do is constantly trying to get people to pause and operate from their WISE-MINDED self--their will, or spirit in action. It's where the heart and the head find balance. And it's only when we inhabit that place in which we're able to find lasting fulfillment.

Communicate Effectively

I am increasingly intolerant of technology created to connect us, but do so inefficiently and can often reverse the wheels of relationship.

I believe that effective communication, in all its forms, is advancing something.  It's purpose is wrapped up in describing reality and demanding an action in one way or another.  Ineffective communication does the opposite.  It fails to describe what is really going on--either by way of not saying anything, or by dancing around the real point.  Additionally it doesn't summon up a valid request--again, by either saying something poorly and pussy footing around the idea, or by not even getting it out there at all.

We know that all forms of communication are not equal to the human organism.  Through millions of years of evolution God has engineered a creature that relays information through intensely physical subtleties. These include tone differentiation, facial responses (which can also be heard auditory), gesturally and through posture.  Science has put forward that as much as 93% of meaningful communication is registered at the body level, rather than textually.  This means that really very little real understanding is even capable of happening beyond that physical level.  So what happens when we close it out--when we effectively shut off those receptors?  Miscommunication, poor communication, increased projection, and generally speaking a whopping WASTE OF TIME!

If my goal in communicating with you is to deliver something that you connect with fully, and that engages responsive mechanisms in you, wouldn't I want to use the most effective means possible?

Anything that can be ignored easily is a waste of time.  Anything that doesn't make maximum impact in terms of communication (when that's your goal) is a colossal drain of energy.  Ones that we've become accustomed to are things like: surfing the web, emailing, texting, and business meetings.  Those things give you impressions or exposures, they will confirm what you are already convinced of, but do little to advance meaningful exchanges.

It gets better--all of those highly ineffective forms of communicating all create a sense of absolute urgency, in which your immediate attention is interrupted.  Not only are the inefficient in dealing with their own agenda's--but they then dilute another set of contact.  Examples--remember sitting with your loved one, family member, spouse, or friend--you're laying your heart out, having REAL communication and BAM, you notice...they're staring at their phone.  A tweet has just come through, a Facebook notification has just gone off, an email has decended from the ether, a text just got pushed.  They're now distracted, and so are you.  You attempt to regain your composure, remember where you just were--they apologize profusely, and you move on.  But the moment is gone.

And what has been subtly communicated is that your experience and interaction is less important to your loved one, than a tweet from someone on the other side of the world.  Their attention went to their priority.  That's how real communication works.  We give attention to what is important! 

Do you get that?  Do you get that investing in that form of communication is not only inefficient in terms of meaningful interaction, but it actually puts other, higher, forms of exchange at risk?

This is what I'm coming to:

Text only what is extremely time-sensitive or extremely unimportant.  Dates. Times. Locations. Instantly accessible data. Or a dirty joke to a friend who can't possibly take it as anything other than funny.

Email only that which is extremely time-sensitive or extremely unimportant that you can't in good conscious text.  In other words something slightly longer, but that fits into the same categories as above.  Data. Not experiences, theories, opinions, concepts....

Call when you cannot physically meet.  This isn't the best form of communication, but its better than the other two.

Meet when the communication really matters to you. A real friend. A colleague who you want to convert into a real friend, etc... In other words some one or something that isn't just data or isn't really time sensitive.  For that, use the earlier two.


and whatever you do follow the Nixon Rule...don't write or record what you don't want to be reminded of later...LEAVE NO PAPERTRAILS...

The point...have good relationships.  Don't waste your time and others. Ya know?

How to Communicate Effectively

How do you measure successful conversation?  What quantitates a meaningful exchange?

For many people its about hearing some one and feeling heard. But recently I've begun to wonder if this isn't just a subtle form of manipulation.  A kind of lying to yourself and the other party, by failing to appreciate what's really going on.

Think about it.  I communicate something to you, hoping that you'll hear me.  And, I listen to you, hoping you'll hear me.

Wait.

Read that again.

Do you see that in either case, I'm speaking or listening based on a hope that I'll be heard.  Much of our so-called empathetic listening is an attempt create reporte for further dialog.  It's actually what I identify as a greater body of REACTIVE communication.

Reactive Communication says something in order to solicit a response. I say you look nice because I want you to say that I look nice back.  I say I had a great evening because I want to know that you had a great evening (because that'll make me feel better about myself).  I listen because I want you to listen. On and on.  In Reactive Communication my entire motivation for speaking is based on a desired outcome--namely ME GETTING SOMETHING OUT OF IT! It's a kind of insecurity that needs the others validation in order to feel valid.

It gets worse.  WE DO IT ALL THE TIME.  I would say 90% of communication that I encounter on a day to day basis is Reactive. Saying something to solicit something.

Pay attention.  Notice what you say, and when you say, and what you REALLY WANT!

So, what should we do instead?

Here's my suggestion: PROACTIVE communication. 

Say something because it expresses your reality.  Say it without expectation of response. Say it without wanting a single damn thing from the other person.  Say it because its true, and you can't do anything other than say it.  I would suggest even state what you want without wanting anything.  I know, that sounded Zen.  But what I mean is that its ok to say what you want, as long as your honest about it and can understand that you may not actually get what you want (because there's another real person involved who you can't control by manipulating them with their words).  Because that's what you mean.

Instead of saying, "I had a good time last night...." and trailing off with the hope that they will respond in kind, say whats true:  I had a good time last night with you and I'm actually wondering what you felt about it?"

Or don't lead with your impression at all--that may be another subtle way of demanding a particular ego-stroking response, "What did you think of last night?"

Here's why its so important--if you're only communicating in order to get a response, you're not really ever able to actually receive their truth, and you're certainly not giving yours. You're just extending platitudes tailored to illicit a kind of interaction that makes you feel better.  It's got to stop.  It's doing no one, least of which you, a lick of good.

I know--because up till two years ago I did it all the time.  I was brought up assuming reactive communication was real communication (it's NOT).  And I mastered the art of subtly controlling the outcome of a persons response by leading them with my words.  The reason I was doing it was because I was insecure, in who I was.  I needed a set of reactions to feel OK. If I called someone it was because I was feeling needy--not because they needed the call.  If I treated you kindly it was because I wanted someone to treat me kindly.  If I said a gentle word it was because I was hoping for one in return.  If I said it was a nice day outside, I wanted your interaction (not necessarily because it was a nice day at all!) Do you get it?  Almost everything I said or did was motivated by a desire for a particular self-serving response.

Something changed.  A lot changed actually.  But one of the things was because that form of chatter had ceased working. It left me feeling unknown and isolated.  What's more is that I was increasingly encountering people who wouldn't play my game.  They understood themselves well enough to respond with genuineness and not platitudes.  They weren't willing to keep up the culture of lying to make life run smoothly.  Slowly, with lots of conscious paying attention--I have trained myself to be a proactive communicator.  My goal is state my reality without expectation of response.  One of things that starts to eliminate is superfluous communication.  My texts or emails are short, clipped, informational.  My dialogs often have a stated point. I am working to ensure that what you hear from me mirrors my absolute felt reality.

It's making a difference. It's making me a person you can count on. Who you know exactly where you stand with.

I'd invite you to try it too.  The results might surprise you.



Why You're Going to Have to Change

He came to me sobbing. His wife had cheated on him. His career was spiraling out of control. His drinking had gone from every-so-often to almost all the time. His faith life had failed him. Bottom line, he was disintegrating fast.

This man had been one of my best friends for years. We had gone to concerts together, started businesses together, and been in the same social circles. But, I hadn’t known the pain he was in.

The worst part, he confided in me, was that he wasn’t sure if he actually even wanted THOSE THINGS—the job, the spouse, the spiritual community. Here’s what I told him—”You probably haven’t wanted those things for a long time—and you’ve been half-assing it, and pulling back to prove it.”

He looked confused for a moment and then nodded, “I guess that’s true. But what should I do?”

I told him with absolute certainty, “You’re going to have to change.”

It is difficult--but not impossible--to rewrite your story; your way of being in this world.

Of course who you are seems so instinctual, so automatic.  And that is exactly what it is--a rather downloaded way of living. But character--who you are--is actually the sum total of HOW you are. Which means change is possible, if you're practical.

Why did that man, my friend “have to change?”

Because he was miserable. And he was making everyone around him miserable. He had assembled the life he thought he wanted, as many of us do in our early twenties, only to realize it was hardly his basic desire.

Rather than challenge himself to shift, he simply kept up the pretense and waited for everyone else to act in a response. He wanted his wife to make the decision—and she did. He wanted his employers to make the choices—and they did. He wanted a passive life, and that is exactly what he had. He was constantly being acted on.

I talk a lot with men who want to get back control in their life. They’re tired of being pushed around. They ache because being the one holding all the plates in the air. But if they want out of this position, they’re going to have to change their way of being.

MASCULINE ARCHETYPE

According to one of the father’s of modern psychology, Carl Jung, the collective unconscious consists of instinctual and universal thought patterns that humans developed over thousands of years of evolution. Jung called these primal imprints on our being “archetypes.”

For Jung, archetypes form the foundation of all individual experience. You could be a wealthy and soficisticated stock broker in New York or a bushman in Sub-Saharan Africa—Jung would argue that no matter who you are, you have the same archetypal behaviors embedded within you.

Jung believed that we most readily saw these archetypes of human behavior come to the surface in the conscious mind through symbols, rituals, and myths. As later mythologists would argue, these patterns and concepts of archetypes help us understand why there are so many commonalities in various world myths and rituals. For example, the dying/resurrecting God figure can be found in the stories and myths of ancient Greeks, ancient Sumerians, Christians, and Native Americans.

So too, Masculine and feminine archetypes are in each one of us. These principles transcend genitals, or sex types like male and female. These two archetypes simply are ways of encoding the world, and have been so for thousands of years. It is wrapped up in mythology and how cultures have storied their reality. We often turn a blind eye to these ancient messages, and consider them as outdated or ignorant, but they were saying something, both then and now. Their symbols are tied up in how we think and operate, and we do well to pay attention to them.

In archetypal langues “The Feminine,” often perceived as a goddess or an energetic force, is wild and raw. She is filled with passion and non-directionality. She is the ocean. She is an ever shifting flow of energy going where she wants. She is powerfully emotive. She is vitality and life. The Feminine is also associated with nurturance, softness, and gentility. Whenever a person inhabits these places they are connecting with the feminine.

The Masculine is the polarity of this. It is directional energy. It is purposeful, ordered, and sculptured. It is the Earth. It is emotive also—but as aggression, intensity, and decisiveness. The masculine is also secondary. Meaning that traditional cultures understood that the Feminine force is stronger, interestingly enough (while we won’t explore that in detail now, its worth noting). In fact part of the masculine’s work was to cut away from the Feminine. This was depicted in stories as Male deities slaying Female ones, or male heroes cutting down monstrous females. Of course we could take this at face value and find a rip-roaring example of “The Patriarchy” here, or understand that they were symbolizing the journey of development for the Masculine in their culture. Part of the work of the masculine is always to “shove off from” or “cut away out of” the soft comfort of the feminine.

If a man has becoming comfortable, attached to his sweet way of living, and wishes little disturbance on it, but also feels directionless and purposeless, we might accurately say he is over-connecting with the Feminine, and not with The Masculine (the same might also be said for a woman).

One of the assumptions I have of most males in culture today is that they are addicted to comfort and security and know little of purpose. This imbalance is driven by an overabundance (and over-emphasis) of Feminine archetypes, and insufficient road maps into the Masculine ones.

In order to progress men need understand a certain kind of change-initiation happens. They need to tap into this most basic of Masculine core archetypal movements.

I’m going to spell out how change occurs. This may be helpful, because it make concrete exactly what any of the Masculine (and purposeful) archetypes require of us.

If we want to change who we are we must change how we are.

HERE’S THE METHOD

(new)intension -----> (new) decision -----> (new)action -----> (new) habit -----> (new) character.

Think of someone who is an unconfident slob. He's overweight. His clothes are baggy. He slouches in his chair. He grumbles about everything. He's the perpetual negative nancy or naysayer. His self esteem is in the pits.  Here's the thing...I've been there.

When I was thirteen, entering into 8th grade, I was having all kinds of problems with school--and among other things I was failing English.  That summer my parents got a call. The school wanted to put me in a special English class.  I was against it. I didn't want to be sidelined--even if I was a loser, a failure.  Then the truth dropped. They wanted to put me in a self-directed Honors English class.  They didn't think I was poor at English at all.  They thought I was fantastic, and wanted me to explore that gift.  My entire self-image begin to change over the course of that year. By the end, I believed myself to be somewhat exceptional.  My behaviors and beliefs collided into a whole new way of being.

Go back to our slob. Here's his path...

Intend--literally envision who he WANTS to be, who he believes he is capable of being.  Decide--commit his will power to becoming what he believes he might already be. Then adopt new behaviors.  Change his posture. Stand straighter. Lose some weight. Get a new hair cut. Put a different wardrobe on. Invite him to engage in conversation rather than run from it. Teach him self-regulation where he can manage his anxiety through different breathing techniques and thought patterns. Watch as people begin to see him differently. Watch his confidence grow. Watch it become second nature. Watch new habits crystalize after repetition. Interact with a whole new character.

This is a really crass illustration. But I've watched it happen. At times I've lived it. The trick is in the first three steps...INTENTION. DECISION. ACTION.

You don't have to be the person you are today. Change is not only possible. It's practical.

Our character is defined by our habits....anything you do all the time is who you are.

Across the years I’ve struggled with this, around addiction, self-centeredness, deceit and self-righteousness especially. I’ve developed, like all of us, coping skills to avoid pain in the moment—but really just make things worse in the long run, for me and others. However, when blind spots become apparent, I want to be responsive to the work. To actually bringing my best intentions to bear. If I want to change these aspects of myself then shaming myself and blaming myself or others really isn’t going to help, is it? What will? Work. Designing a life that is impervious to addictive patterns, becoming relentlessly honest with those closest to me, letting go of ego, and doing things for others. The opposite of the character I have often portrayed is exactly what is called for!! It’s not about wishing and hoping, it’s about willing and working at it. 

BALANCE

One of the earliest sets of myths we have comes to us from ancient Sumeria, The Epic of Gilgamesh. This is a significant set of stories for many reasons. First, it is incredibly old—going back to what we might call the “dawn of civilization” and reflects just what our ancestors transitioning out of hunter-gatherer cultures thought and saw in their world. Second (and I feel to be most important), the Sumerian culture was the front line of this transition. They were really the initial experiment of moving from nomadic to sedentary cultures, from connected to soil and seasons, to toiling by the plow and enforced labor rituals. Truly, their early reflections upon those moments holds great significance for the human experience.

The Epic of Gilgamesh has within it two intriguing characters, who play small roles in the shaping of the central hero, Gilgamesh. Their names are Lilith and Enikudu. Obviously Lilith goes on to achieve much greater fame in feminist literature. Enikudu recedes into relative anonymity. However, they’re both worth mentioning here.

Lilith is noteworthy because she is said to be a dark maiden who builds her house within a sacred tree, along with a serpent. The hero Gilgamesh goes to slay the serpent and Lilith then abandons the tree and flees into the wild where she takes up her home.

Enkidu is actually far more complex and developed as a character. He is said to be a wild and hairy man, in tune with the animals and committed to freeing them from those who would capture them. His path is that of becoming ensnared by the villagers who sedate and seduce him through plying him with wine, bread, and sex (about right, all things considering). Eventually he is tamed. He cuts his hair and begins to live as a domesticated male.

What is fascinating is that this story includes a witness to the people of the Wild—those who are undomesticated and unbroken by the yoke of civilization. These characters represent our primal and archetypal Masculine and Feminine spirits. And they both have lessons to teach us. Enkidu’s story is truly a heartbreaking one and reminds us how our primal nature can be caged, in part, thanks to our primal appetites. It suggests that the Masculine can be drawn into a prison, of its own choosing. Security and stability, along with the need for provision are a snare that ancient peoples understood was working upon them. Lilith’s story helps us to remember that the Feminine’s instinct is to create a safety also from within a wild place, alongside of wisdom (as represented by the serpent—an ancient symbol for wisdom in that culture). However, when hunted down and terrified, can retract and often disappear altogether, becoming a wound and a shadow to us.

In total the appearance of these two characters helps us know that the counter-balance to the civilized and enslaving elements of the world is actually a Wild and Free vision of the Masculine and Feminine. There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t need a balance between The Masculine and Feminine. This is the dynamic of living WILD & FREE. We need BOTH. Men especially, in this current evolution are being inundated with aspects of the sacred Feminine—empathetic emotionality, BEING (as opposed to doing), and softness. These are important, but not outside of the masculine edge also. But committing to active change we literally push ourselves into that masculine edge.

Here’s why that matters—because, going back to my friend, if we’re ever going to be happy, we’re going to have to start making decisions that are congruent with our actual intentions. Not what we imagine others would want. Not what we hope for. Not what posterity is demanding—no….Decisions out of who we are. And that kind of directionality is us, connecting with the Masculine again. But it’s also us connecting to happiness once more.

It’s easy to divorce ourselves from our depths—from those parts of ourselves that are connected to intention and being. We do so when persecuted, when sedated, when afraid, and when seduced. We do so when external forces act upon us, and when internal insecurities are exploited. However, in order to change and go forward we must make a commitment to attach to both truths within us.

Maybe its time to re-write your story. Maybe you need to find that part deepest within yourself in order to change, or become the man you were made to. Give it a try?

 

 

Be the Man

It had been a hard year. My rather meteroric career in mental health and academia had come to a spectacular close related to my own compulsive choices and addictive behaviors. I had fucked a co-worker, and generally been an asshole of a human being, acting like a character in someone else’s melodramatic novel.

My faith community that I had founded and participated in was over--leaving long time friends and genuinely good people whom I love in the lurch, hurting and confused. What had seemed like a liberating move to end it, had simply left my family more isolated and me more lonely.

The marriage that I had committed to and passionately wished to be a part--my second--was quickly becoming a casualty of my broken way of being in the world.

It looked like everything was falling apart. Life has never felt as over for me as it did in that moment. I knew I was facing loss in every arena. I can remember clearly thinking "Work--down the toilet. Family--gone. Relationships--ruined. What do I have left?" 

One night, after we put the kids to bed, turned off the lights, we stood in our bedroom--neither of us moving. I recall in that moment looking at my wife, as she was sobbing—we both were—and I asked her: “What do you want me to do??” I’ll never forget her words: “Fucking BE THE MAN!”

Character Shaping

The reality of that moment was this—all of my defense mechanisms had ground down to a halt. Whatever had been working up till then had by now, stopped. Maybe this is an obvious analysis. But the truth is most of develop our defenses as natural ways of dealing with the situations that come about in life. They are often elements that develop very early on which help us mitigate circumstances that would crush us otherwise. In that sense we ought to be grateful for them.

imagine a pristine and clear mountain lake. It’s absolutely teeming with Life - fish, amphibians, nocturnal shore mammals like beavers, and otters. The presence of Life is overwhelming. 

But then something happens. 

The cold winds blow. The winter storms come, and inevitably a sheet of ice forms over the top of the lake. In a sense it’s protective. It stops further harm to what lies beneath.  But it is also preventative, isn’t it?  The things that are underneath cannot easily escape any longer; in order to access those elements, you have to first get through this line of defense. 

As it is in the wild, so it is in our lives. When we’re in the process of personality formation, we’re born into the world as a potentiality. 

As a father who has witnessed the birth of my own children I can tell you that there’s a vibrancy to this emergence of aliveness. It’s unparalleled. 

Maybe you’ve heard people talk about having a kind of essential-self, or even more common is the idea of people having a spirit. What does that actually mean? If you’ve ever enjoyed a fine scotch or a good whiskey, you actually probably already get the idea more than you think. 

 When you process an alcohol down to its finest or most pure distillation, you actually call what’s left “the spirits.”  Its the element that is heart and soul to the character of the drink. In the same way the essence, or spirit, is that part of a person that cannot be reduced. As one poet and philosopher said, it is your face “before you were born.” That’s the kind of irreducible quality that we have as we are born. It is potential, uncolored, unbounded, and undeconstructable. You can’t break it down any further. 

Of course, if you can’t reduce it--it can be covered up, can’t it? 

Let’s be honest: Very quickly, a steady series of disappointments occur to an infant soul, don’t they?

You’re plunged from the warm comfort of the womb into excruciating brightness and cold and noise. The world is distinctly LESS pleasant. And if this weren’t enough, your caregiver isn’t always responsive to your cries; you don’t always get what you want, or the environment doesn’t correspond to your immediate need.

 You get the idea… So what happens at this point?  

We develop coping mechanisms--elaborate defense strategies to protect us from being disappointed or hurt again. This is like that icy layer covering the lake isn’t it?  In this analogy we call that ice--our personality. It’s the outer most part that people interact with--that we show the world.  That’s right!  In large part our personality is really simply the protection racket we’ve been running to avoid heartache.

“Hi, my name is Rainier and I’m a defense mechanism.” 

Your Sin and Your Gift

It all works. Until it doesn’t. The things that got us through simply stop. The habits that protected us and acted in our best interest, no longer do so. The reality is that at some point we had to figure out if we are going to keep running the same play, or try something different.

My own life had centered around filling the void of detachment and loss of connection, chronic loneliness and isolation, with cheap sex and romantic love (the original dopamine rush and cocain high). I meet lots of guys who mirror this journey, and the truth is I suspect its an easy trap to fall into. Regardless of whether or not it is anyone else’s road—it was mine. Those hidden moments, whether spent in front of a magazine or the internet, or making a real life contact, made me feel fucking great. Empowered, charming, and surely, I was able to make sense out of the sadness. I no longer had to think about it.

Recently a social media troll went after me privately stating that I don’t sufficiently explain how our behaviors develop, how our shadows emerge, or how we overcome them. I get it. Culture is awash in clever and empowering self-help jargon that skims over how we get to be the way we are in the first place. It assumes a certain level of awareness on the part of the average reader, or is simply disinterested in exploring the how and the why. Strength based. Solution focused. That’s how you have to be a hustler-guru today on instagram.

The would-be-on-line assailant wasn’t wrong. He was pointing out the obvious truth. We’d rather no have to deal with our shadow. Jung, the father of psychoanalysis and of the discussion around the shadow, noted that the shadow is really the things in our life which no longer harmonize with what is acceptable to the public self. It is, to paraphrase him, everything that shuns the light of public opinion. Of course we don’t talk about it. Of course our resumes are littered with the good stuff. Our stories all hinge on the turn around. And our memories are constructed carefully around putting the best foot forward. However, as Jung further pointed out: “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.” In other words, until we learn to integrate our wounds and shadow, they’ll trip us up at every step.

I’ve got to be honest—that’s what “being the man” is about to me. It’s not about simply reinventing my golden self, or trying to put on airs. It’s not about developing another platform where I simply show the gold. Those things are deadly. For me—being a man living out of his health and strength is about accepting both “my sin and my gift.” One with the other. In order to do this we must have practice spaces, or what I call “unsafe spaces.”

I call them unsafe because quite honestly they’re the very opposite of the tidy, well-organized, pillow filled rooms I used to sit in as a therapist. They’re anything but safe or clean. The circles I find myself in today are messy. And when the shit hits the fan its ugly.

  • A man whose wife cheated on him.

  • A man whose cheating on his wife.

  • A man who hates being a father, but can’t imagine being apart from his children.

  • A man who can’t contain his anger.

  • A man with a past who can’t escape it.

  • A man who can’t stop sobbing about the emotional incest of his childhood.

  • A man who was an abuser.

  • A man who lost his job.

  • A man who is a closeted homosexual.

  • A man who wants more but has no clue how to get it.

Messy. Right?

Men need “shatter zones” where they can fall apart—without being therapized to death, fixed, coddled, or cuddled. Men have to have places where they can practice integrating their shadow. But not so fast—because these aren’t judgement free zones. No—in fact, other men may very well judge a man who shares his shadow. And when that happens—that too must be given voice. Why? Because it’s an important part of change. Just like my wife challenged me in that moment, validating the fact that I needed to do more, show up in better ways, and work towards change. We men must have those moments where we both can be radically authentic, and actively challenged. It’s a both/and process.

What makes that any different than the judgmental and shaming world that shuts men down in the first place, the very thing that has turned us cold and avoidant? Belonging. A deep and profound belonging that says: “I may not like this, I may not agree with this—but everything belongs.” That’s the difference.

Sebastian Junger comments on this when speaking about Tribe, “Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It's time for that to end.” 

We are never so unnecessary as when our sin is divorced from our gift. As one of my podcast guests, Stu, said: “We need failure. Failure is a much better teacher than success.” But our relentless emphasis on success and the golden aspects of our self, makes this difficult, even impossible, to reveal. So we hide, sensing that we aren’t needed—either our sin or our gift. We drop out, tune out, and fade away (which is of course statistically what we are watching with men)

But what if we chose not to?

My Challenge

Just like my wife said to me—I’m challenging men to “Be The Man.” I’m not talking about a juiced up meat head macho jerk. That’s not what it means to be a man. No—a man is someone who is resilient in the face of suffering. A man takes responsibility for his actions—even when they reflect poorly. A man can look at his shadow, and take steps to integrate it. A man can roll the dice, lose, and try another time. A man is someone who can stay, when everyone else falls away—but he’s also someone who can shake the dust off of his feet and leave when he needs to. A man is strong—but he’s flexible. A man has honor in the courts of his tribe, even when public opinion has sentenced him down-river. A man cares for friends and strangers alike, and isn’t afraid to give hand outs or hand-ups. He is a king who is generous because he knows that everything he has was first given to him. A man can face down the Feminine—be inspired by Her, draw from Her, feel and move with Her—and also not be hypnotized by Her, abandoning his mission. A man takes care of his obligations, and commits to be obliged as little as possible.

I’m learning to become that kind of person. In fits and spurts, with help along the way. Life has a way of providing the feedback you need if you find yourself out of step. I wonder what it might be like for you to begin to find your way also?

Might it look like reaching out to a friend, or mentor? Might it look like seeing a therapist or a coach? Could it be joining an online group, reaching out to men in your area, or even starting your own circle of men? What would it look like for you to begin to bridge the gap and to integrate shadow to light, sin into gift, and to discover, more than ever before, who you really are?

Sex Starts in the Morning

I'll never forget when my best friend, already an old married dude, gave me the one piece of advice I NEEDED to know on the eve of my wedding..."Sex starts in the morning..."

This had been a hard fought truth. His spouse was like a finely wound watch or a sports car. She needed to be finessed and tended to. You couldn’t just power your way into her good graces. It had to be earned.

Some guys don’t get this. They think that they can just push harder, brush on through, and power forward to get their way. We’ve all seen dudes like this. Maybe we’ve all been like it from time to time ourselves. But here’s the truth—you will not keep nice things or nice people in your life if you keep on taking that brutish, beef cake, burly approach to life. You won’t. You may get what you want—but there's a difference between getting what you want, and getting people to LIKE giving you what you want. 

If you invest in a relationship, you're more likely to get what you want consistently.

  • Do you want to go out with your buddies more often?

  • Do you want to have more sex?

  • Do you want others to respond when you ask them for things?

  • Well--I'm about to show you how to do just that.

Before I do--a quick note--some folks have been quick to say, "Isn't this MANIPULATION?!?!!"  The simple answer (for the simple minded) is yes. 

However, it is almost unimaginable that we would NOT be doing this.  We are constantly asking for things, developing plans, persuading others, or evoking a feeling to get what we want... the difference is that some people are highly effective at it--while others are not. 

What do I mean by this?

I'll never forget when a person I was working with said, "People always treat me like I'm helpless...And I hate it..."  My response was that I wasn't convinced they did hate it.  Why would they?  Others gave them what they wanted.  In fact their being treated as helpless was only an affect of actually BEING helpless. They had become HIGHLY effective in securing assistance, getting taken care of, and being helped out. 

What the person didn't like was the ICKY feeling they got about always feeling like a victim of circumstance, or being perceived as dependent. They got what they wanted--but they noticed people did it begrudgingly. Often times they’d get feedback that they were lazy, or eventually people would check out of their relationship because they took too much care. Bottom line, the person was getting what they wanted—but it didn’t last.

In other words there might be a more effective way to not only get what they needed in that moment, but also walk away with an improved relationship.

THE METHOD

The method I'm about to show you remedies the relationship destructive ways we try and get results, by reinforcing it with compassion, and loving-kindness--as well as actually caring about the person who is helping.

This isn't a skill you use on everyone. When I'm needing something from the gas station attendant I might not be mindful of building a solid relationship that will stand the test of time. But with my wife...HECK YES...I'm trying to use this skill constantly...

So men and women, here's today's PRO-TIP, step by step:

1) Be Gentle: Use your softer side...be NICE...No harsh tones or aggressive posturing... Try using a soothing voice and some tenderness. It goes a long way. Yeah that’s right, you’re totally phony pro-bro voice that you’ve dropped by two octaves to impress the dudes at work won’t work in this moment. Raise a bit, give it some inflection. Move the eye brows for god’s sake. Smile even—couldn’t hurt.

2) Act Interested:  I think its important to point out that I said, ACT interested... YOU MAY NOT BE!  It's ok. Not everything catches our attention. Not everything grabs us. But that doesn't mean we can't be fully present with our attention and engagement. Don't check your cell phone while your spouse is talking to you. Don't status update in the middle of their story. That's showing them you don't care. And no--don't take the non-emergency phone call in the middle of dinner...it says that others are more important than the people right in front of you. Act like they matter if you want to build the relationship.

3) Validate their emotions: Validation doesn't mean that you agree with a person, it just means that you acknowledge them. If someone launches into a rant, you can say, "Wow...you're really passionate about this..." BAM! They've been heard. If someone is totally tearing up and crying uncontrollably, you might venture, "It seems like you're upset..."  Again, what can you empathize with?!?!  There's always something.  Sometimes I deal with some really tough cookies who might say, "I want to go postal on the whole world..." Now, I probably wouldn't just bob my head and say: "YES!!!"  Instead, I can validate that they're having a hard time, their back is against the wall, and they feel angry beyond belief. It's that simple....

4) Be Cool: This is such a bad-ass thing.  Just by being cool about something, easy, and unflappable, you can take down the energy in a room.  Think of someone erupting in anger and aggression... You have a few options...but usually responding in kind doesn't lead to any place good.  Lowering your voice, having an easy manner, and playing it real cool literally drops the intensity.  I do this ALL THE TIME--and so can you!

There it is. In short a step by step method to get people to like giving you want you want. Just by being gentle, interested, letting them know you're getting their world, and being cool about things rather than boiling hot.

BUT AM I JUST FAKING IT???

I can think of another dude who thought that anything short of “the brutal truth” and “naked honesty” was lying or negative manipulation. Let’s just say he also wondered why he didn’t have close relationships and his spouse often expressed that they don’t enjoy him. What was going on? Same story—he didn’t understand that in order to most consistently experience the positives of relationship, we need to put in the effort. We can’t always just—get what we want.

I suppose there’s the fear of being a socio-path. When we break down what that means in experience, you might say that you don’t want to be calculated or over-analyzing your decisions just to get what you want. I get it, and this is noble. But actually this isn’t that at all. This is about knowing that it’s not simply about the WHAT, it’s also about the HOW. And that how we interact with others has an impact, on them, and on us. This is the opposite of being sociopathic. You’re actually caring about the person enough to take their experience into consideration.

I can hear the objection now—but aren’t you really just taking them into consideration because you want something?

Sort of…

But what you want isn’t only MORE sex, MORE time with friends, etc…you want MORE of this relationship.

Look, I remember in my first marriage I had an idea of “unconditional love.” By that I thought that they needed to love me regardless of how shitty I treated them or whether or not I poured into the relationship. Here’s the reality—it’s not true. Unconditional love may be possible, but not this side of heaven. Turns out bad behavior merits bad results. She happily kicked my ass to the curb. And good for her! She knew that she was worth more.

We treat people how we want to be treated. I learned the hard way that in order to keep or build relationships, and to keep getting the things you desire, you have to practice kindness, connection, and caring. There’s really no two ways about it.

So. Here’s my challenge to y’all. Try this.

Be Gentle. Act Interested. Validate their emotions. Be Cool.

oh, and you’re welcome.

I Don’t Accept You

Don Draper looks over his shoulder at the person standing in front of him and delivers this price line, loaded with dialectics: “You’re good. Get better…”

And that right there may be all you need to know for living.

I don’t buy into the cult of so called-self-acceptance. It is all the rage. In reality, if you are using that phrase, or expressing those ideas, just know you are squarely in the middle of a lovely fad. It will pass.

Accept it.

Here I’ll tip my hand: I believe in an almost limitless capacity within humans to exhibit the good, the true, the noble, the wise, and the sacred. I also happen to conversely believe in the almost equally limitless capacity for humans to be despicable, vile, loathsome, and corrupt. I suppose I simply think an awful lot of humankind. We are, rightly understood, infinite in moral possibility.

The cult of self-acceptance does not however believe in human capacity. They believe you are locked into the caste system of where you happen to find yourself today.

If you are bitchy, then you are a bitch–why struggle? If you feel spiteful towards a peer–then this is you–be authentic. If you are morbidly obese–well, thank God for being comfortable in your own skin. On and on the inanities of today’s sexy “wisdom” go.

In the show Breaking Bad a meth addict and dealer attends a recovery group in order to sell them the drug. During an intervening week he shoots a person. Needing someone to tell, simply in order to deal with the guilt, and the pain of this act he tells the group. But he's not entirely honest–how could he be after all? Instead he says he's shot a dog. The group is sympathetic.

It’s ok, they say. The dealer is confused, what do you mean it’s ok, I killed a dog!? Well, someone pipes in, he was probably just coming after you–it was self defense. No, I shot him in cold blood! Maybe you relapsed, another adds. This is about the meth, isn’t it? You wouldn’t have done this if not for the drug. The group leader eventually contributes–man, you just need to accept yourself. you just need to be ok with who you are. Finally the dealer has had enough. He erupts. He points to one group member and reminds them how their eleven year old child died due to negligence–should we just accept that, he asks? Then he coldly outs-himself, I’m here to sell you more meth–are you going to accept that!?

No. They won’t. Finally, he thinks out loud, something they won't accept.

An example of this comes from the writing world. Post-modern philosophy and particularly literary critique has informed a generation of authors that they have biases. And if one watches or reads much journalistic efforts these days, you see a bent towards owning up to their bias. Most news these days comes across as pure editorialist.

One author though said it brilliantly, the point of knowing you have a bias is to get over it–not to wallow in it. In other words, once having affirmed where we are, we move to where we wish to be.

Recently I posted a jab at non-directive therapy, which attempts to refrain  from intervention. The satire has a client committing suicide while the therapist simply “accepts” all of it. That post was a joke. No real therapist would do something so moronic. They would acceptthe situation–the client REALLY wants to commit suicide. Then, theywould intervene. Accepting something, being aware of it, is only sogood as how we go about addressing that thing.One of my favorite Hindu teachers was guiding his students in theact of centering awareness. This form of meditation teaches ultimateacceptance as you contemplate. The point is to simply notice yourreactions–to form a witness of what is without tampering. Anypracticioner of yoga knows this tactic. However, the guru went on tosay something very significant. He said, “Developing innerawareness, and personal acceptance, is a crucial part of your path.However, even this must be set aside for true enlightenment tooccur.”The final step towards enlightenment requires awareness–but itmoves beyond it.The problem with the self-acceptance bit is that it draws from a ratherignorant assumption. Namely, that we are static creatures who simply are… We aren’t. We are always becoming.

We are constantly being shaped. We are constantly choosing. We are always evolving and adapting. And, amazingly our choices play massive roles in this process. We have a level of self-governance, which while not absolute, is absolutely breathtaking in scope. The power to choose requires that we be aware of all of the options ahead and behind, to the right and to the left. It necessitates that we accept what is, and not cover it up with pretty words or false dichotomies . But then, and only then, we must leap forward into the infinite capacity of Being. We then, walk in the light….or not….it will be our choice. To accept what is, while minimizing the potential good of what might be is ultimately to sell ourselves short.

Just remember that the next time someone offers you their shard of pop psychology, “Accept yourself…”. They don’t actually believe very highly in you

Happy Triggering

The holiday's are upon us.  For many this involves not only HIGH high's, but also LOW low's.  Like it or not, family is a bright red button, waiting to be pushed and trigger an explosive response.

 Our family of origin is also usually the original cause of most of our relational issues, the place of our primal wound.  That can translate into a deeply upsetting, and emotionally disturbing experience, especially during the holiday's--when we're hoping for a little cheer and goodwill.

When I was a kid I felt like holiday’s were magical and sparkling. I loved them! I was the child who was MOST identified with the wonder of the season, in my family. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed that the time actually produces an intense sadness, and sometimes even a kind of anxiety that grips me. Thanks to some solid mentoring in my life I’ve been able to identify what was going on…the holiday’s—with all their wonder—are like heavy lifting for my soul. Big payoffs…but also a lot of self-punishment and pressure. In fact this time of year, and especially around my family of origin, I start to shut down just a little. I get…GRINCH.

I’ve come to realize, I’m hardly alone. In my work with men I’ve discovered that for many of us the holiday season is filled with pressure to perform, painful memories and triggering interactions. Men tend to underperform in this setting. I commonly hear men say that they shut down, they hide, they sedate or numb. What’s the turn into? More often than not, just the feeling of being used—throwing cash at the kids, while inwardly hiding.

But things don't have to stay toxic.  Actually the holiday's and the potential of trigger's coming up make it the best time to explore the hurt that's lying underneath.  We can settle into an experience of "ourselves" and the basic goodness of life, so that when the buttons are pushed, we don't explode.

I'll freely admit that family, especially my parents, but also my siblings, and my own children, trigger me to no end.  But, in doing this, they help me become who I really hope to be, and actually am.  By directing my attention to the hurting places when the pain occurs, my family unknowingly, allows me insight into where the work needs to be done. As the old saying goes, "the wolf that howls is the one that got hit." The hurting parts of our selves are the places that need to be attended to.  From the place of healthy ego-strength we're able use these frustrating moments to identify and address the underlying pain--fragmented, and tender.

When we realize that our relationships can act as mirrors, instead of writing people off, we can actually come to a place of gratitude, where we thank them for such provoking behavior or attitudes, because we can deal with the unfinished business needing work.

So--from this strength position, we can welcome the holiday's as an opportunity to do the work, to grow, and be shaped by deep truth.  Imagine the healing that could come from this shift of attitude.  That's something to be thankful for.

A Step By Step Guide

  • Take the hit—step one is literally this…just STOP. Fucking pause. Freeze your body. Don’t move. Don’t say a word. Don’t do a single blessed thing. Just stop. Breathe. Get the air conditioning going….respirate.

  • Feel the feelings—you don’t have to try and control them, modulate them, or distort them. Just notice them: who, what, when, and where. See if you can locate the PHYSICAL SENSATION that occurs when Aunt Glady’s says that annoying as hell comment, or your child shrieks for the thirteenth time that they need help, or your dad refuses to acknowledge you are your own man. Where do you feel that on your body? What’s happening in you?

  • Observe the impulse— again, there’s no need to act on this. You don’t have to go to the store on the 5th errand just yet (come on—we all know that you’re just going to smoke an unplanned cigarette that you allegedly quit anyway). You don’t need to bite off Uncle Frank’s head. Don’t do it. Just notice. Log it in your invisible anthropology journal (I like to play the anthropologist game in my imagination where I pretend to be observing myself like an alien might. “The human is now feeling his blood boil….the human is having the impulse to explode…etc…”). Just notice.

  • Name the feeling—put the sensation in your body, together with the impulse you just observed and give it a name. Believe you me, this is harder than it sounds actually. Sometimes you think that its anger—when really its fear. Sometimes you imagine its love, when its lust…etc…You sort of have to actually go to the root. And lets face it—most men just want to move forward. Do yourself (and us all) the favor and wait…really get to the root of it and name the feeling, cool?

  • Decide what would be effective—You know what you want to do…but is it effective? Is it really worth it? Is it actually the justifiable action? These are valid questions. They deserve real responses. An action urge is justified if the emotion is legitimate. For instance the urge associated with SHAME is to hide. So you have to ask the question—do I really have something I SHOULD be ashamed of? If so, then you’d need to ask if that’s actually effective to do? Would hiding yourself, or withdrawing actually accomplish your long term goals? (And by the way—some time’s the answer is totally YES!) The same would go for ANGER whose accompanying impulse is to fight back, to retaliate, or to push through. Is the anger justified? Is a goal really truly being blocked, or do you just have a short fuse? Etc…then—even if it IS justified—would it be effective to actually hit Uncle Frank? You get the idea.

  • Act and bear the consequences—This is that moment when you get to do what your highest and best self has counseled you to do. This is exciting! You get to take it on. And just notice the difference. It genuinely feels better. Doesn’t it?

The Gift of Being Triggered

Our thoughts, feelings, and intention-making capacity are littered with trigger points.  All it takes is the wrong person to set one of them off.  The truth is that usually it takes someone special to detonate one of those.  That makes sense right?  Our entire lives we've built up emotional armor to protect ourselves and prevent getting hurt.  The folks we let in are really the ones who have access to those incredibly tender spaces--where most of our explosive capacities are hidden.

So our spouse gets blasted with a wall of quiet rage.

Our children are hammered with our need for control and our frustration at being OUT of control.

Our best friends take the majority of our inner critique and then our over-compensating sense of blind-loyalty (which as a side note is as detrimental as being judgmental).

You get the idea....

The reason is because our deepest wounds are most accessed by those closest to us.

When we're triggered, when something in our thoughts or feelings or choosings is detonated, and we switch into fight or flight mode--it becomes an opportunity to see exactly where the wound is--where we are broken, and defensive of.

These places of reaction hold within them the capacity to become a road map of our psyche--showing us exactly where we need to be transformed next.

We are tempted to withdraw from relationships when triggered too much, and in the cases of abuse or mental or physical harm this is absolutely appropriate. But for most of us, we simply become disillusioned with discomfort and run, rather than realize the gift of such spaces. We will experience transformation to the degree that we allow our relationship with others, and most of all the failures involved within them, to be SELF revealing.

It's always about us...but will we be awake enough to notice?

This holiday season, why not allow those trigger points to become moments where you notice who you are and what your armors are. It’s time to put the child aside, and become the man.

The Weaker Sex

Listen to the main stream media today, or an activist gender’s studies professor, and you’ll quickly be slammed in the face with the idea that the current eco-system of culture is one dominated by men, and male oppression. The good ole boy’s network and rape culture are synonymous with simply being a man in the world, it is said.

Once, I taught a grad school class of would be counselors on the topic of male psychology. They were mostly females, consistent with the general trend in that field. I asked them to explore the stereotypes that came to their mind when they thought of men and boys. Without much thought the board was populated with words such as “bully” “oppressor” “hero complex” “broken” “asshole” “liar” “scary” and “violent.” These were the views that they had downloaded and developed across six years of college and graduate school. I was stunned. While I had anticipated some negative perception, I hadn’t considered that the overwhelming majority would be characterized by this. Now remember, this class was less than a year a way from becoming your sons next mental health counselor. These opinions are  those belonging to the now-gate keepers for what is deemed “mentally healthy” or “normal” in our society. For them, as for many today, being born a man is something akin to the old religious concept of “original sin,” a hopeless and fated destiny to violate and victimize, but without the accompanying vision of necessary redemption. Whatever religion once was, at least it offered a way for redemptive justice. Post-religious and secular society simply punctuates their sinners with an eternal damnation. Why? Because there is the notion that in fact men are the stronger sex, the ones benefiting from a rigged system, and the ones in complete control.

To be honest, I get that. I really do. At first blush it could appear that way.

However, the landscape of what it means to be a "male" in the United States is changing. People unfamiliar with the research and the actual numbers may completely miss that it is Men who are somewhat on the decline.There are actually many researchers who say that it's not just men in the US, or even human's alone, that are experiencing a decline in the Y chromosome. One scientist stated that species wide the Y genetic marker is literally disappearing! Yes that’s right, from bullfrog’s to elephants, their Y is shrinking. And even if that's not the case, when we scratch beneath the surface its apparent  that worldwide something is truly changing. The surge of differing opinions on the cause points to a remarkable complexity about where this is all coming from, but the simple fact remains, in a truly sublime reversal: Men have become the WEAKER sex.

Consider the Facts

  • Males are more likely to be born premature, blind, autistic, color blind and develop early hearing loss.

  • Boys are 3x more likely to be placed in special education or disability services.

  • Boys have lower GPA’s and lower test scores in every major subject than girls

  • Boys constitute 60% of highschool drop-outs

  • Women now earn over 60% of college degrees

  • As of 2008 men were the minority in Ivy League institutions

  • Men earn fewer than 40% of graduate degrees

  • Childless men earn an average of 10% less than women in 147 out of 150 major US cities

  • The median earnings for men has remained the same since 1970, compared to sharp gains for women in similar fields.

  • 50%of men of color between 16-24 are unemployed

  • 35% of men of color will spend time in prison

  • Health care prevention spending is double for women than men (an example is $394 million in prostate cancer research versus $710 million for breast cancer, with a higher projected number to be diagnosed).

  • The average life expectancy for men is 69.8 compared to 80.4 years for women

  • Men are twice as likely to die from a major disease than women

The not so subtle data seems to be pointing to a multi front shutting down, tuning out, and turning off of men.  Education, health, employment, are the big ones--but another set of major statistics jumps out at me.

Men’s Emotional Dilemma

  • 2/5 first time fathers report depression following birth of child

  • Men and women are just as likely to develop Bi-Polar disorder

  • Four times as many men commit suicide as women

  • Suicide is the leading cause in adolescent male death ages 16-24

  • Men stand a higher chance of being diagnosed with an antisocial, paranoid, schizoid or schizotypal personality disorders than women

  • 80% of alcohol dependency is male

  • ADHD in young children is far more prevalent in boys than it is girls

  • 69% of dependency on illegal narcotics is found in males

  • Twice as many men are diagnosed with PTSD than women

  • Men are more likely to be admitted in to a psychiatric ward

  • 67 per cent of suicidal young men say they have nowhere to turn for emotional help

  • The fastest growing population of suicidality is men over the age of forty.

Sam's Story

Years ago a gentleman named Sam came to me from a state hospital where he had been involuntarily confined due to uncontrollable suicidal urges. What I was so struck by the first moment I saw him was how "normal" he looked. This guy didn't look psychotic. He was square jawed, well dressed, even tempered and polite. I didn't beat around the bush--I asked him what the suicide attempt was about. Little by little his story unfolded. Years of abuse by both parents, chronic alcoholism, multiple marriages, estrangement from children--everything seemed hopeless. There's a saying that goes something like, "Truth comes out in trickles" and with Sam it felt like I was trying to draw water out of an empty well. He REALLY didn't want to talk about it. Finally I leaned in and said what I was thinking, "Sam, I'm wondering if I'm the first person you've actually told this to..."

Everything stopped...

He broke. A torrent of emotion poured out from him. He couldn't contain himself. His whole life he had been trying to deal with this on his own. He had been attempting to keep it together, largely with disastrous results.

There is an entire population like him. Men, keeping a sinking ship afloat. One of the most common observable traits about men is their "apparent competence."  This means not letting others know that they've gotten to him. Who knows how long that kind of behavior has been engrained--in fact scientists actually wonder if the "stiff upper lip" is a genetic marker found in males. A sort of predisposition to keeping calm and carrying on.

At any rate--it may be programmed in, but its NOT working for millions of men today.

Everything is Different. Nothing's Really Changed

The simple truth is that in this shifting society if men don't modulate with it they stand the risk of being left behind. Millennia old skill sets such as stuffing emotion and acting opposite of feelings (the will to power) only get us so far in a culture that increasingly values soft skills. 

I recently had the privilege of being with a large corps of United States Military high ranking officers. One of them confided in me that civilians often failed to understand their culture, and in fact did damage to their basic mission by attempting to impose our own ethical standards onto the military. I was intrigued and he explained, "Take empathy for instance... You say that's something I should develop as a human. But the truth is, I can't have empathy. I can't try to see through the enemies eyes or develop a sense of compassion for him. If I did, I couldn't kill him..."  I was taken a back but the power of his statement. While that is not how I view the world I could understand from his own framework that this made complete sense.

What's more is that I felt as though I was being allowed in on a window into primal male culture. Go backwards 500 years ago, 5,000 years, or 50,000 years ago. Men often served a unique function. Hunting, raiding, and warring. Our bodies were equipped for it in many ways. And our minds adapted similarly. We suppressed emotions, limited qualities such as connectedness, networking, empathy and compassion. These were, as the army officer said, liabilities in a time of crisis when hesitation meant death--and potentially annihilation for tribe and family.

Today this ability to suppress, repress, and shut off awareness of emotion, connection to others, and reaching out when helpless, no longer serves. There are few places where those qualities find application. Oddly, society seems to prefer this arrangement. We wish to have fire departments that take risks and demonstrate courage, militaries that demand precise aggression, strength and honor, and police departments that are swift in their punitive function. As long as they have the bases covered—the rest of us don’t have to develop these functions.

In fact, todays world requires the very opposite of the specific tool kit we men have been honing for thousands of years. The reality is that if we don't aggressively learn new skills we'll continue to see a declining role in culture at large.

A Balanced View

One of the men I've gotten to know across the past two years while working through my own intimacy addiction said it like this, "I wasn't good at sports. I wasn't good at school. Sex--intimacy, relationships (pleasing a woman)--that was something I could get real good at."  

I get it. And this isn't about being someone who lacks accomplishments. Its about finding value and worth anywhere you can.

Currently men are told that their inherent skill sets hardwired into them through 2.5 million years of hominid evolution, such as aggression, assertion, and activeness, are no longer needed. We are explicitly told this, and implicitly also. Every day we witness men who are aggressive be incarcerated, men who are assertive called assholes and power-mongers, and men (but especially boys) who are active are medicated with chemicals to reduce their restlessness. Even if there was not an overt dogma around the unwelcome reality of being a man culturally,  it would be easily deciphered by our actions. 

Men are told to change, but then are offered precious few rewards for such changes. While we are told to be "better men" in order to participate in society, the payoff for doing so is not only diminished but ideologically so. The implication is that "males had their chance" and now its time to move over and "let women have the steering wheel."  In other words--at best, all of our new found adaptation and suppression of instinct buys us a ticket in coach. We are now invited to be sight see-ers, because our "time is up." 

Some of these shifts are so healthy. The neanderthalic patriarch of the 1950's where "father knows best" is not only no longer needed--it probably never was. There was a power imbalance. It held so much ego. Men did not have to work on themselves, grow, or develop. They could simply be grouchy, sluggish, abusive or perverted--and it was ok.  But it shouldn't have been. The macho-jerk was little better than an animal. 

The Boomer's knew that. In the Vietnam War era they began to push away from the patriarchal archetype towards something new and "softer."  By integrating the Feminine, the goddess, into their psyche's men discovered the qualities of emotional expression, networking, and intimate connection. Several new generations of men allowed themselves to become allies and champions of the oppressed and identified as warriors of a different ilk. It was necessary, and powerful.

However--something was lost. 

The emotions most commonly reported to be experienced in men today are rage and shame. This is true for any number of reasons, but the primary one is that we feel voiceless and trapped. A changing world has left us feeling more isolated, less hopeful, and utterly powerless in knowing what to do.  We feel ashamed that we are out of line with the expectations of culture, and then in turn become aggressive as a way of compensating.  These two emotions split out into two different types of men.

I watch this play out in these two breeds of men: the overly macho jerk, beefed up, juiced up and wound out. The asshole. He's the worst kind of cartoon version of himself. And it's strange because these guys really do exist. But the other side is the cultural male who experiences shame over the millennia of patriarchy and oppression his gender have caused. Rather than feeling empowered to join in a shifting landscape, he feels minimized and desiccated. These caricatures are what men's worker David Deida called "the macho jerk and the new age wimp." I get it--I identify with both. And it breaks my heart because I know we've got to integrate the two.

There’s got to be something in between the Pro Bro’s and bonobo’s, something between The Animal and the Civilized person. Plato rather famously said: “He who is only an athlete is too crude, too vulgar, too much of a savage. He who is a scholar only is too soft, too effeminate. The ideal citizen is the scholar athlete, the man of thought and the man of action.”

Today men trying to regain their own sense of autonomy and authority in the world are quick to revert to a certain kind of macho stereo type. I don’t necessarily mean that they become Neanderthal dicks walking around smacking women around. I just mean that between the culture of “pick-up-artistry” that tells men that in order to be a man they need to seduce and destroy, or the culture of militant strength in which to prove masculinity men learn the skills of pre-industrial Europe (chopping wood, crawling in the mud, digging ditches, and throwing boulders), men are given a road map that’s antiquated. It will make you feel empowered for a moment, but you actually won’t make the strides you’ve been looking for. Such activity might tap into the primalness of movement, however it will leave the other parts—arguably far more ancient ones—untouched.

Library’s are lined with books about what men should do, and how they should do it. Dummy’s Guides to Masculinity. But men don’t need another set of rules to follow. Performance is, as I’ve said before, simply another trap. No, They need to discover their own souls, waiting—hidden, often scared and scarred—wanting to be found.

Just the other day I was walking down the block in my neighborhood when I was struck by how many men in their mid-thirties were just walking around with this glazed over, listless, expression. There was something hopeless I was encountering. It has a name: Despair. 

A job is no substitute for a vocation. A marriage partner is miles away from a lover and a co-warrior. Children aren't the only legacy we leave behind. And a vacation to Disneyland, a trip to the coast, or a massage aren't adequate compensation for the grueling reality of “a job that slowly kills you and bruises that don't heal” (to quote Radiohead)

Steps Forward For Men

You cannot build a life worth living without Purpose. Our deep need is to find a sense of calling, dive in fully to a feeling of mission and vision. Without those qualities we stagnate.

But how do you find your calling? How do you live on purpose and with intention?

First, it’s about finding your “WHY?” As Nietzsche reminds us, “A man will endure any HOW if he knows his WHY.”

To often we are given false motivations and values—The products of religion, the state, and corporate branding. It is rare for a man to actually know what he values, as so often he only values what others have told him is valuable. Indeed, if men are to find what is meaningful to them, they must first be willing to shed what has been meaningful to others. This is inherently a deconstructive process. It is not for the faint of heart. Truthfully most men will avoid this type of deconstruction as long as they can, preferring instead to cling to what mom, dad, teachers, preachers, and leaders have instilled in them. It often takes a significant fall from grace such as the loss of a reputation, the admission of addiction, the failure of a marriage, bankruptcy, etc, to push men to a place of dis-illusionment. But it need not be so. A far better alternative is an orderly process in which men can observe their own conditioning, and unwind some of the knot, in order to find the ground of their own highest values.

Finding your WHY, inevitably leads to the HOW. The best steps are small but confident ones. Goal setting, provided these are actually YOUR goals and not the conditioned effects of the world at large, is important. They must be challenging but attainable. In fact MASTERY comes when we set our aim on something difficult but doable, and then accomplish it! As we grow in mastery, our confidence grows, and we continue to take greater and greater strides. Yet herein lies an obstacle. Men like to take it ALL on…ALL at ONCE. This is an easy trap to fall into. But don’t do it. Set ONE priority—not many. Choose ONE value to allow to play out into your life in this moment. Build on ONE goal. Then move on. While this may be frustrating for a man who feels like his entire life is broken down, its actually the road out of hell—one step at a time.

Finally—men need a TRIBE. They must be seen, they must be heard. The great sense of isolation that we experience today is directly counter acted by a community of men urging us onward. Find a few other men, build on shared interests and common values. Choose a night and simply get together. Have fun. Read books. Laugh. And then, push yourselves to be authentic. Talk about what is ACTUALLY going on, and not only the surface. This is what changes us, and prevents the burn out that so often comes with manhood today.

Conclusion

I think my hope in working with men is that guys like Sam find a place to show up, to turn on, and to be fully engaged. Where we can somehow experience something exceptional, even for a moment, and know that somehow it's going to be alright--that there are alternatives and our lives aren't stuck in vain.

The truth is I have four children, and three of them are sons. I wonder what the kind of world they'll encounter will be. I wonder what role they'll play. That is the world I'm working to create--one where the masculine has a place, beyond shame and rage. I don’t believe men ARE the weaker sex. I just think we’re in a pickle—a real cultural moment—where there a few wins for us. Sometimes its as though the best we can hope for is to simply “be an ally” as the world of women now rises. That's important to champion, but so is having your own sense of passion, purpose, and mastery. As we, here at Evolving Wild, or through our podcast Lost Man Standing, continue to speak out, we are witnessing men begin to take ownership of their lives. To say, “I am I and you are you—and together we can achieve great things!” And I think that matters.



As men are

The Way of the Householder

This article is a companion piece to the LOST MAN STANDING podcast “Penis Envy.” Click here to listen.

It’s hard being a householder—a person who raises children, keeps a roof over their head, pays their bills, lives with and for a partner—a spouse, maintains a job and generally speaking sacrifices a hell of a lot to do all those things. The reason why it’s hard, especially if you’re a man, is because your penis gets envious. 

You get penis envy.

I remember sitting in a circle of men doing some Work when we played an authenticity game called “Letting my Dick Speak.” Yeah, yeah, this seems like a set up for a Judd Apatow movie…its not…keep listening.  At any rate, the idea behind this game was that we would personify this part of our body and let it have a voice. What would THAT particular part of our body say about us?  It’s an interesting question—essentially if you’re being honest (the whole point of the game) it could give you a wildly different picture of yourself; Which is exactly what happened. Guys were going around sharing as if they were Mr. Johnson saying things like, “I don’t get along with others.” Or “I’m always in control.” Or “I can’t stand to be alone.” Or “I’m a coward.” Really, really good stuff (and freaking hilarious).  Then a man says this—as his penis: “I’m envious.”

The honesty really hit me. Because I knew EXACTLY what he meant.

Back when I was going through my divorce, and in general allowing myself to do whatever I felt like, whenever I felt like it, I can recall my then still married, and somewhat stodgier, buddies kind of rolling their eyes whenever I recounted my locker-room stories. They would shake their heads and grimace. But occasionally this moment of honesty would come when one or another would say something like, “You can’t just go around doing that…whatever you want…I mean…you’ve got responsibilities…”

Which is true—I did have responsibilities. I had a job. I had school. I had kids. But beyond that—I felt pretty entitled and enabled. I, for one, COULD do (mostly) what I wanted to do.  It was actually THEM that were feeling the pinch. THEY had responsibilities. THEY couldn’t go around doing those things… And that was cause for envy.  Because the truth is—they really wanted to.

What most people don’t get about men in North America who are primarily in their thirties and forties is that they aren’t living the life they want to be. They’re living the life they SHOULD be.  This doesn’t mean they aren’t happy. This doesn’t mean they want out. It just means things took a turn at some point.

I hear it all the time.

  • “We got married too young…we didn’t know any better…”

  • “I took that job straight out of college...”

  • “The first kid we planned on…the second was a total surprises…”

  • “We moved out here to be close to HER family…”

  • “She didn’t let me keep the car…the music equipment…the golf clubs…the female best friend”

  • “When I lost the house in the bankruptcy we had to move somewhere else…”

On and on… this feeling of being jostled, pushed, prodded towards a finish line that seems not only farther and farther away, but also less and less desirable.

I recall hearing one of my close friends  description of himself in his first marriage, “I was miserable…but I didn’t know it…I was taking on more and more responsibility to pay the bills, to make it…I was getting home late from work, missing my kids—and then getting up early to go—missing them again…”  What finally woke him up was a family picture that they had recently taken, “I stood there, staring at the portrait…Who the hell is that guy in the picture? That haircut? That shirt? That smile?  That’s not me…I don’t recognize that guy.”

Wake up call.

Many men in this stage of life will simply wake up one day realizing that they are working at a job they can’t stand, to pay bills they didn’t rack up, for kids they barely know, and living with a wife they’d rather not have.

But I’m not talking about being miserable. That’s its own trip.

What I’m talking about is ENVY.  And this is my sharp right turn.

If you’re living the householder lifestyle and you don’t want to be—GET OUT.

Seriously.

If you are stuck in a marriage where you are constantly hitting a wall, finding that you are looking at more porn than looking at your partner, or leaning over the water cooler trying to flirt at the new secretary, or cute waitress; if you are pushing pencils at a job that you secretly are plotting to get away from; if you are silently counting the years until the kids can walk home from school by themselves, or go off to college and leave the house—GET THE HELL OUT.

It is better that you leave the spiritual path of householding than live in it half-ass.

That’s my message.

However, if you do you may just find out that there’s just more of the same grass on the other side of the fence… the grass being greener was just a fantasy.  And then what? At some point you’re going to have to deal with reality. The reality that your path, whatever it is, doesn’t exist to make you happy, fulfilled, or leave you feeling breathless-spinning-dizzy from the ecstacy of it all, known, or beloved like Oprah. The spiritual path exists to challenge you, to reduce you, to shatter your rigid dualism and your self-serving ego. Whatever path you’re on—that’s the end goal…All the mystics agree…Nothingness is the finish line (and oddly the starting line of the REAL trip).

AT THIS POINT-I want to say that for those of you who get out: I bear no judgments. Honestly, you are walking a well worn and time honored road. Buddha, Augustine, and many others who have lived exemplary lives have simply left it all. They realized they weren't being true to their journey. They were not meant for the world of work and play and worry and owning a home. They were cut out for something else. And maybe that's you. My hope is that this IS you, that you ACT. Move on it...don't just keep making passive aggressive attempts while dragging out your ho-hum and dissatisfactory life back at the ranch. have the courage to act on your convictions.

Yesterday I was struck with this thought—I had better damn well invest in this journey of family and home and partnering as my spiritual journey if I’m going to be on it. It had better become the avatar for God—the mask that God wears so to speak. Otherwise, I’m just dealing with penis envy. Trying to get a better woman, a bigger house, a nicer car, kids who listen to me, a dog that listens to me, etc…

So—to my brothers in this world who are householders buckling under the pressure—this is my challenge:

PUT UP, OR SHUT UP. Give this your all, or get out.

Not that it will be easy. Not that you have to become a stay-at-home dad. Not that you should suddenly be flitting around nesting every chance you get—making random runs to IKEA or World Market. That’s crap.

Be YOU. But know that Householding is a spiritual discipline. It is a path that will bring you into union with God, self, and others, just as much as that super-cool conference on Digital Mysticism that promises near instant enlightenment after 16 hours of massage and flashy-thingies on the screen. Raising your kids with affection, and intentionality, is capable of producing just as much true Bliss as diving into a career, or calling, or relationship. These things are possible, if we choose them. Which is ironic. Because most of us who find ourselves here, as householders, already have chosen it…we simply blame it on others…

All the blame, the mommy-did-this-to-me-story, or my wife put this on me, or society has pushed me into this corner—they’re all an elaborate and in-elegant excuse to not live with creative intentionality. There will always be things out of our control. We will never be fully in charge of our own choices. We are certainly going to be experience life in reactions. That’s normal. It’s part of living.

What  matters is that we live the life we have. Fully. Deeply. With Conviction. And honoring the apparent contradictions and paradoxes we find within ourselves. Then keeping on. This is true in any path. And it’s true on mine. The way of the householder.

Iron and Steel (A Guest Post)

  FORGING MASCULINE STRENGTH AND MENTAL TOUGHNESS THROUGH POWERLIFTING

Every Sunday morning at nine o’clock, a motley crew of 10 men varying in age from 22 to 67, gather together in a barn underneath the towering gaze of the Catoctin mountain range just beyond the limits of a small city jutting up along US Highway 15.

Dressed in a ragtag assortment of athletic clothing, drenched in testosterone,these men press upon the other in jovial R-rated hijinks to defy the law of gravity and achieve godhood.This is their sanctuary. Adorned with cast iron plates, a barbell, and a single squat rack, this hallowed ground permits each man an escape from the demands of the outside world andbecomes a training ground in pursuit of the masculine archetype. It is a place of struggle and reclamation, of ferocity and affirmation, of violence that begets peace.

For two hours, each man is tested under the weight of their own resolve—pushing and pulling hunks of metal that would otherwise intimidate what society deems a civilized man, and in this each man finds their primal self.As such, the art of powerlifting defines the essence of what it means to be masculine: struggle, strength, and victory.

Struggle

Struggle is what we men are born into. Struggle doesn’t care who you are, what your name is, where you come from, or what privilege you possess. It will beat you to your knees and grind you into the dirt. It is violent, possessive, cruel, and will enslave you if you let it. You can become a tool of its function orbecome a defiant antithesis in response to its exertion. In powerlifting, iron represents this struggle. Packing pound after pound of humiliating gravitational force, the iron teaches that a man is the master and commander of his own fate. A man must know his limitations, acknowledge his weaknesses, and endeavor do better.

Struggle cannot be avoided. Much like pressing your back into a loaded barbell to perform a squat, life commits you to the challenge that struggle provides. It is your choice to fail and falter, or to succeed. Sheltering yourself from struggle does not build the character and the emotional maturity necessary for manhood, and avoidance of struggle will leave you an immature boy trapped inside the husk of a sickly adult much like the avoidance of weight lifting leaves your muscles soft and weak. Masculinity embraces struggle, because its unionbirths the only proper biological response in overcomingthe world: strength.

Strength

Through struggle, strength is gained. Strength is the most virtuous qualities of the masculine archetype. Throughout the history, art, and the culture of every human civilization, strength is embodied in the tales of heroes rising to atumultuous occasion that sets them apart from the mediocrity of mundane manhood. The hero is put through the testing fires that would otherwise break a normal human being, and in the end forges him into the embodiment of the ideal superman. As life imitates this art of storytelling, a man’s strength is built on the struggles that life provides—progressing in intensity the same as the build up of progressive resistance in training. Rep after rep, iron plate after iron plate in the three major lifts of the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift, strength is developed through the repetitive process of time under tension in both physical and mental capacity. Confidence is built up within each man that approaches and executes a successful and technically efficient lift, just as continuous struggle conditions a man’s fortitude in the repetitious practices of life.

Strength enhances a man’s character and will just as much as it does the physical body—permitting him to develop the emotional and mental capacity to endure that which life fiendishly dishes out in periodic episodes of time, and this provides the opportunity for living a life victorious.

Victory

Through strength, there is victory.Strength is the vehicle in which mental toughness is achieved and self-worth is found. Applied by the masculine heart, a man’s self-worth is evidence of the battles he has fought and won on the physical, mental, and emotional stage. How he is capable in responding to the inevitable tragedies of this world, creates ripples in time that defines his existence and his memory. For the powerlifter, mental toughness is forged under the bar in the same manner that his physical strength is developed. Time under tension. With a whiff of ammonia, his mind is emptied and pressurized with the tenacity of breaking gravity. It is the culmination of his training to turn the heaviest of iron into an almost weightlessobject of ineffectual resistance. The struggle between man and barbell provides the powerlifter with a conduit to pursue life to its most absolute limit and gives him a lesson in application so that his victory is not left on the platform but utilized in every endeavor to which he sets his mind, and this brings us back to the men of the pole barn.

Success is built in the pressure cooker of life, and the men who train two hours every Sunday embody that which few men achieve. They understand self-value and worth is not gained by the lofty musings of a fair and gentile society, but by the emotional and physical challenges life presents. They are a focused force of intensity, knowing their value both beneath and out from under the barbell, because the iron with which they train teaches them the virtue that has long led to the flourish of man. Strength is the birthright of the masculine soul.

  Barry Adamson is a professional, independent writer and editor with a passion for powerlifting. Under the guidance of powerlifting legends, Marty Gallagher, Robert Myers and Kirk Karwoski, Barry trains Sunday mornings in the Pole Barn of Muscle. There, he has gained a deeper understanding of himself as a man, father, and husband through the discipline and execution of masculine strength

Being a Man isTerrifying

What most women I know don't get about men is the terror that governs a man's inner world.

Getting Through It

Men are scared of having relationships, being in their bodies, having and caring for kids, making a meal by themselves, being alone, getting soft or intimate, connecting with big emotions, becoming violent, or committing to a partner.

I could go on and on--how often I see it! This ocean of terror is locked inside and seems to seep its way into every part of a man's world. Most of all it seems to rise and swell with providing for families or making a way in this world. A father recently confessed to me that he felt "terrified" that he couldn't take his kids to Disneyland this next year because the money just wasn't there. He was overwhelmed with fear of disappointing them, of NOT giving them the life they imagined was needed.

Women who support the men I’ve mentored often complain that their husbands or sons seem to mope around looking exhausted and weighed down. 

It often appears like its a struggle for men to enjoy the moment.

The sense of "constraint" and obligation, of looking like life is a chore, comes from feeling a need to master the fear. What often is complained about concerning men's need to conquer and subjugate starts right here. In response to our sense of terror we attempt to conquer life. It's not just being Attila the Hun--it's also making lots of money, having plenty of friends, wracking up exciting experiences, screwing their way through female relationships, or even practicing the spiritual life and mastering meditation, religion, or science. It’s about starting that podcast, building a brand, or even initiating a band of brothers.

The fear driving this need to conquer is always the same. Dare I say it?

The Mother.

No—Not your mom. Not actually, not exactly.

Deeply buried in the male psyche is the image of The Mother being one with him, holding him captive, and then forcing him to attach to her, to be dependent on her. The archetype of fertility and life turns out to be the greatest Monster of a man's dreams.

We see this in ancient mythology. The slaying of Tiamat the Dragon (the female goddess of the ocean waters) at the hands of Marduk ( a young male deity attempting to free the world from the feminine) is the most ancient creation myth we know. The bringing of order and land out of the swirling womb of chaos early in the Hebrew Scriptures is another example of this. Norse mythology depicts a slaying of a primordial cow—a vision of fertility—as what births humanity. In fact, most early agrarian societies had some form of these myths in which the masculine destroys the feminine, or binds it. Men cannot enjoy life, or the feminine, without attempting to conquer it, because we are terrified of it.

Life itself, with its rise and fall, and torrent of potential mishaps, simply looks alarming to the male ego. It appears as the chaotic attachment, the emotional embrace, we received—first in utero, then in life. We deal with it as best we can--often by escaping it or conquering it. Earlier I mentioned examples of conquest styled behavior, but drinking, using drugs, zoning out on the couch, watching sports (as opposed to playing them), playing video-games till all hours, or being a Zen master, are all great examples of the male impulse to escape. To be a man is inevitably to seek distance from the Feminine.

Because the Feminine is identified with uncertainty—that which we cannot control or even understand—it is the thing that both feeds us and confounds us. We both are drawn to it, and horrified by it. As with women—so with life.

I know what you're probably thinking--especially if you're a woman. "My man is NOT afraid...he's lazy or he's driven, he's tired or he's just a high achiever...but FEAR is NOT his thing."

I get it. That's certainly the line we've sold you, or been sold our selves. And the truth is, its far easier to deal with escapism or over-achievement (the SYMPTOMS) than the fear (the ROOT CAUSE). But I guarantee that until a man deals with the overwhelming sense of terror that is bound up in him, he will be rigid, remote, a pleasure seeker, addict persona, guarded, distant, or a work-a-holic...

Men--you know I'm right. You feel it, don't you? Your fear of commitment, vulnerability, and sitting with women experiencing BIG emotions, are all examples of this. Waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat about finances is an example of this (especially if there's enough money in your bank account to fund a small army, already). Whether you want to admit it or not, fear lies at the heart of so much of your daily life.

Are you tired of it already?

An old remedy works in this case.

Love.

The beautiful, and poetic, verse, "Perfect love casts out all fear" is a true statement.

Because men feel constrained, feel tethered to life, and as if our back was being broken under the weight of having to soldier on, we have to experience a sense of rejuvenation. A mature man draws this energy from those around him who are connected to life in a way that is unrestrained--his children, his partner, or some form of the feminine.  Radiance, generosity, and grace are all experiences that temper and soften the rigidity that creeps in, and covers a man with fear.

Love penetrates through fear. Love leans in and drowns fear in a wave of givenness. Love exhausts itself until there is nothing left.

I’ve received this kind of love.

As I’ve said before—I’ve struggled with intimacy addiction. Attachment, and its physical embodiment, sex, have had a profound impact on my undealt with shadow. It’s damaged many I’ve loved in the past and effected individuals I’ve cared about. Not unlike the Prince in Beauty and The Beast, my own selfish choices, impact everyone around me (remember how in the movie his choices bring about a curse that turns a castle into a haunted house, friends and servants are transformed into cracked dinner ware, etc…). My own darkness, shaded others. What changed that for me? There came a moment when the weight of my struggles was heavier than I could bear and I anticipated being left alone to deal with and be buried by them. Instead, my friend and lover, my wife, looked at me—saw me—and LOVED me, unconditionally. She said, in the most unimaginable terms, “You belong—with all your brokenness, woundedness, shadows and gold. You are LOVED.” Not unlike that movie, in which Belle’s kiss unwinds the curse on the Prince-turned-Beast, so too the effects of her love began to undo the knots of ego and illusion I had been drowning in.

How do I know love conquers fear? Because I’ve experienced it.

An Assignment

Men--if you're reading this, practice imagining being invaded by loving kindness. Picture laughing with your kids or playing with your partner. Remember wrestling with them and being overcome by their enjoyment. Acknowledge that the very thing you're terrified of--being conquered by life, is also the exact thing you adore.

Women--if you want to know how to support your men when they're locked down with anxiety, or the behaviors I talk about above (conquest or escapism), don't become harsh or demanding--but drop into your own living connection with the earth, with your own softness. Free him with your crazy kiss, or take him on an adventure with your smile alone to motivate him. Touch him and enliven him.

Acknowledging we have fears is the first step, then moving from terror to love is the game changer.

The (New) Performance Trap

There are usually two sides to any story.

The universe we inhabit is a dialectical one—in which there are multiple truths operant at once. It can be difficult to handle this kind of reality. We tend to like our truth one-dimensional, fundamental, and clear cut. Good guys versus bad guys. Right instead of wrong. Black and white. Turns out, that’s rarely (if ever) the case. It’s more like this: a person can be genuinely caring, AND a god-forsaken asshole. Or this, the Left’s emphasis on the downtrodden is as necessary as the Right’s on hierarchies and boundaries. Or this, aggression and empathy are both important. On and on. At times they seem contradictory, but usually, with a little bit of reasonable discourse, we can move from an either/or position to a both/and one. This is so important, not only because it might get us invited to more social events, but also because if we can think about things from a well rounded perspective then actually we are able to make better decisions.

Which of course brings me to marriages.

COLLUSION

Over the years in my work I interacted with countless committed relationships—mostly in crisis,  headed towards a crash,  hemorrhaging but desperate to stop the bleeding. The words that get thrown around in those moments are fucking hard to hear, if you have any degree of compassion. There are a lot of “You fucked HER!!! Her, of all people!!!” or “You kissed him!?!?!” or “You LIED to me—you lying liar who lies!!!”  But underneath those accusations, there was often another theme that would emerge: “you’re not who I was expecting you would be. I believed you to be ONE thing, which I approved of, and turns out you’re something  Else entirely.”

In family based psychology there are certain stages of development that any couple will probably go through. There’s the first initial encounter, impressing the other person, establish the boundaries of who you are I and who I am (or CONNECTION), then world building in which you begin to actively imagine what it would be like to merge your lives (CREATION), and then there is another period of time that rapidly approaches, often called COLLUSION by experts.  In this case what we mean is a sort of unspoken agreement between the two of you. You’re now actively involved in making sure that the person you originally connected as, and created your lives around, hasn’t changed, appears constant, and seems agreeable to the other person.

If you have a bad spending habit, but imagined that the other person sees you as responsible, you might reasonably hide that habit.  You’d of course be pretending, but you’re doing so in the service of the relationship so to speak. You’re now trying to protect this thing that you’ve created. And your partner is doing the same thing—even on your behalf.  For instance, if you’re a lazy guy who really doesn’t want to work, your spouse might do you the service of ignoring those behaviors. She might work harder at her job, take an extra shift, and even praise you for the least amount of effort.  Or if you have an anger problem and explode like boiling tea on everyone who pushes your buttons, your wife or husband may make excuses for you, or just outright avoid even noticing it. Maybe an easier example is when people go through quite a bit of change and they desperately want to keep step with each other. One or the other person morphs their likes and dislikes to fit the situation. What’s happening here?  Your both sort of conspiring to ignore reality—because its a threat to this new identity the two of you are co-creating. It could spell the end of things as they exist currently.

The problem with collusion is pretty obvious. In the end you have people who are mutually agreeing to protect something that actually no longer exists, or maybe never did.

It happens all the time in fact.

And not just in relationships. One of the most common places we find pressure to collude is around something as basic as the question of HOW WE ARE DOING.

You should probably recognize this as a top tier convo maker for a lot of us. We use it all the time, with friends, loved ones, and even strangers. “How’re you doing” is a measuring rod of social discourse.  Conversationally, this question not only helps generate a time filler but We also gauge our own tone by their response. How a person is performing (adequate, poorly, successfully, etc) helps us determine our own way of being. By directly asking a person this, we know to be concerned, excited, encouraging or even angry. We are collaborating on how we show up in life by asking this basic question.  Which is why there’s actually so much riding on It, believe it or not. Part of the reason why, when asked this question, we lie, is because we don’t want to tolerate the experience of the other person’s response.

PERSON A: How are you doing?

PERSON B: I feel like total shit. I hate my life.

PERSON A (noticeably impacted and showing sadness): I’m so sorry to hear that. That really sucks!

Because as empathetic people, we respond. Now here is what social psychologists find fascinating—Person B now is responsively impacted, and become even MORE aware of their own depressing emotions. It’s called mirroring. When someone accurately reflects our emotions to us, we experience ourselves are real people, and the gravity of such reality now weighs more heavily upon us. Which is why we lie.

Consider how often you’ve been person B. What’s the frequency that you tell the truth, with any level of accuracy? If you’re like a vast percentage of people—most of us—there’s a lot of “reality doctoring”; we give a vague, ambiguous answer.  Why? According to many psychologists—not to throw THEM off the track—but to throw ourselves off… If we were honest, we’d both have to experience a shifted, more complicated, and potentially more intimate reality. So we choose to collude instead—we simplify things: “I’m OK.” or even, “I’m doing GOOD.”

HEROES AND OTHER FRAUDS

No man is the villain in his own story. Instead we are the heroes. We’re programmed to think this way. In some ways its a wiring thing. The mental pain of identifying as a constant source of failure, disappointment, and negativity pushes us to recalculate. We re-evaluate the facts and find some way to view them differently. Us, and our tribe—our in-group—are always THE GOOD GUYS; we fall on the right side of history. But beyond perspective, we genuinely want to be the heroes of our stories, don’t we?  A man wants to be the conqueror, the achiever, the rescuer. In some ways its a flourish of natural selection. By engineering the males, traditionally stronger and more athletic in averages, to be protective, productive, and principled, the species is preserved and expanded.

But males also fall into a trap.  The Performance Trap.

Because in our effort to BE the hero, we are highly motivated to only let others SEE the heroic.

How does that work?  In many ways its the collusion principle. If an other BELIEVES this to be true for me—then I will feel it more, and perceive myself to be more that way.  It’s not exactly the fake-it-till-you-make-it principle, but its close. Maybe better said: Fake it and it will feel like you’ve Made it. 

Interestingly we see this trope show up in high literature. It begins in the classical age—Achilles, who isn’t as debonair and dashing, as he is cold, ruthless and flawed. Odysseus—who’s victory at war, is followed by failure to save his own homelife. Shakespeare gives us probably the highpoint of literature in the figures of Hamlet and Macbeth—both men who are destined for greatness, and are incredible in their own right, but ultimately cast long shadows. Why do authors, then and now, introduce such story lines? Because they are acknowledging something we don’t often like to: heroes are frauds, and life is complicated.

Now, I realize this is an exaggeration. Heroes aren’t actually FRAUDS. They’re very real. Human—all too human. And that makes their heroism all the more grand, doesn’t it? When they do the heavy lifting, it seems all the more divine, especially contrasted with their weak points.  But, going back to an earlier point, we aren’t terribly dialectical. Our heroes need to be brilliantly shiny, with a clean track record—going back to high school. Just look at current politics and beyond. Blemishes aren’t allowed. We’re willing to drum up 30 years worth of potential wrong doing in order to prove a man is impure. Because we have a mistaken notion of heroism, and purity, clean and unclean. We believe that our leaders and great people are flawed if they have weakness—not greater because of them. 

History is filled with men pretending to be heroes, masking potential weakness. Gold up front, and shadows hidden from view. Not only that, but people want it to be so. We are encouraged to put our best foot forward, to wear our awards, and to note our successes. However, people will shun us for our shortcomings—real or perceived. This is a kind of behavioral reinforcement in which we are encouraged to conceal our truest sense of self—and we ALL collude, as if to say we don’t have trouble spots, or darker depths. 

THE NEW PERFORMANCE TRAP

But this isn’t really about pretending, and its not about lying, or being a fraud. It’s about the isolation that comes from trying to be golden. I’ve been there. When I was a practicing therapist, a professor, I felt like my life LOOKED exactly as it should. I was respected, well-liked, and sensed I was on the way UP. But you know what the truth of it was?  I was living with deep brokenness—untouched, undealth with wounds that were festering and becoming infected. And I KNEW it. But as long as others believed I was good enough, justified enough, pretty enough, cool enough, happy enough—I could believe, for just a moment, that this was the truth. I was depending on the collusion. However, I can tell you I’ve never felt so alone as I did walking around with a split reality. No one knew what was really going on. I was hiding it. Like a partner in a marriage struggling with some unknown issue, trying to smile and be loving, when all the while they’re somehow dying inside.

And I see men do this all the time. In today’s MANOSPHERE culture, the impetus is performance and achievement. Do. Conquer. Control Master. You name it. We are told that in order to be manly we must become the best version of ourself. And, I agree. Push, stretch, and reach to your highest and best. However, the problem comes when youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall. When despite our best efforts we fail. When we lose. When its not enough. When all the kings horses and all the kings men can’t, in fact, put it back together. What then?  Admit weakness?  No—of course not. Because the reality is that there is such a high premium placed on success in the New Peak Performance Culture of the manosphere, that to make such an admission would mean you were less than a man. We are trapped by our very desire to do better

Because until you can show your weakness, step into it fully, you will never recognize your gift.

Candidly, I’ve told this concern to numerous men, thought leaders among them. Often men highly involved in being “Professional Men” (or Pro' Bro’s) are dismissive. “I show my weakness” they might say, “It makes me stronger.”  But the move here is so quickly to strength that one wonders if they ever really took the time to sit with the shadow, to learn the lessons that failure and loss have to teach.

As an old story goes, a young minister’s father died and he was given the task of saying the funeral rites. As he preached a glorious grave side message he crescendoed with the quotation from the 23rd Psalm, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…” And here he stopped with tears streaming down his face, and repeated the phrase, “yea though I WALK through the valley….because if I don’t keep walking, I will have reason to fear evil!  God only helps those who keep one foot in front of the other.”  At which point his weeping mother moaned loudly, “God help us all!” 

Ha!  He was busy trying to move forward while the grave hadn’t even been filled in. No, men who tell you that their strength is only fueled by their weakness, are often simply masking that they too are the victims of the performance trap. They’re still pretending.

It’s lonely because no one understands that you really are exhausted—you can’t say it. It’s lonely because no one appreciates how hard you work to relate to others, precisely because you’re lonely—because you can’t say it.  It’s lonely because folks don’t really see that you work day in and day out, because you feel profoundly inadequate—you could never tell them that truth. Your effort to be faithful is out of a fear of loss you can’t discuss. Your attempt to plan and move on to the next and biggest is motivated by terror of pain, but no one will hear that truth. Your desire to control the environment and make a splashy entrance, is simply masking a deeply insecure child—but most people will never meet that person. On and on…. your performance is fueled by realities that you can not possibly let any one else in on. That’s why its isolated and isolating.

 A (non)DUMMY’S GUIDE

However this isn’t only about openness. Men genuinely need ways to become the heroes they imagine themselves to be. If men find themselves in a performance trap, then to simply identify a trap but do nothing to help them out of it is beyond cruel. As one man I respect notes: “men want out of their pit. They just don’t know how.” While I don’t love dummies guides, I do believe that some degree of intentionality to discovering your own inner reality and truth is necessary if only to break free of the Performance Trap and cease colluding. So what can a man actually do?

1) Learn to Dissapoint People by Saying No— imagine standing across from another man, holding his gaze unflinchingly—not because you’re an asshole, and not because you want to dominate him, but because you are HERE and NOW. You’re communicating To that man that you are who you are, in the present, and that you see him too. Your ability to be this present is a direct result of developing your inner sense of Being. How do you do that? First, begin by practicing the lost art of saying “NO.” First do this to yourself. Say no to some things in your life that you can see yourself shedding. The snooze button. The extra donut. The snacks. The next beer. But begin to expand from yourself to others. Say no to safe people, those who will still love and connect with you. By practicing here first, you’ll develop the muscle, and then be able to have the strength to state the hard NO when it counts. Practice spending time saying YES only to those things and people who you know inspire you, who truly know your reality, and experience the REAL DEAL from you.

2) Develop your Inner Being—one of the reasons why I don’t take or post many CANDID “me in the Wild” shots on social media is because I believe that when you’re posting a selfie while meditating, you’re probably not actually meditating. It’s crucial to curate places and times where you can simply BE, without scrutiny. This could be a hike by yourself and without technology—no snap chat, Facebook or Instagram allowed. It might be choosing to invest in an alarm clock instead of using your phone so you’re not tempted to look at it first thing. Daydream. Let your mind wander. Shut off your external influencers and listen to you own sense of self. Your Inner Being is often so buried under conditioning, other people’s choices, circumstances, and the karma of your own decisions that it is difficult to actually hear it. Practical ways are necessary. In Za-Zen it is the practicing of merely Sitting. In many forms of contemplative Christianity it is a sort of quieted Walking. In Hinduism it is through Breath-work, and breathing. What ever the path, each of these require a kind of silencing the self-to allow for close encounters of the soul.

3) Speak Your Truth—as you see it now, without apologizing for being you or hedging your bets. This doesn’t mean being unwilling to dialog, in fact by taking a position, you’re creating space to do just that. The truth can of course be painful: “I don’t feel in love with you anymore.” Or “I’ve been spending our money on this shit...” or “I think I have a problem...” or even, “this is actually the movie I want to see.” Each of these represents YOU stepping away from performance mind set and into authenticity mindset. One of my dear friends and mentors is clear on this, “it’s about honesty OVER performance.” This too can be difficult—especially if you’re Mr. Nice-Guy. In part its easy to swing the opposite way and become a Dick. That’s ok, it’s par for the course. At first it will seem like you are in fact becoming an asshole. It’s a necessary stage of growth, and hopefully you move past it. it’s also going to be unfamiliar to others who are used to you biting your tongue. They’ll notice you’ve got your balls back, and won’t always appreciate it. Keep going, reassure them of your intentions, and reinforce those who you’re committed to. But keep being honest.

4) Learn to Listen to Your Emotions—no this isn’t the path of the Sith, Dark Side. It’s actually one of the most fundamental aspects of being human. Our emotions wire us to communicate to self, others and motivate us to actions. Every emotion , from anger and sadness to joy and jealousy are valuable and are trying to feed us data about experience of the world in real time. In truth our limbic, and emotive, centers have been around far longer than our cortex, and rational brain. While we like to imagine that our reasonable mind is in the drivers seat, it rarely is. Mostly it follows around and justifies its emotional impulses. Think of an elephant and his rider. Studies of these symbiotic relationships have demonstrated that while the rider/trainer thinks he’s the one navigating, its actually the elephant who, by virtue of being far greater in size, dictates the direction. It takes some aggressive training to get away from this. By listening to our emotions, learning to identify them, and then beginning to navigate the signals they’re giving, you increase your own inner power. I utilize an emotion model several times a week, where I take an event where I felt a particular emotion, and I unwind it. This is left over from my days counseling chronically suicidal and self-harming clients. My promise to them, which is also true for me (and by default for YOU), is that as we break down our emotions in to their various components of prompting events, awarenesses, interpretations, vulnerabilities, etc… that we can actually almost slow down time and have control over our decisions.

5) Find actual community of men to practice authentic connection with—this doesn’t have to be a perfect tribe, or the ideal tribe. It doesn’t even have to be more than a few of you, but it should be a place where you’re doing more than just pretending. In true community you are able to practice being yourself without the performance. These men should know you. They may not fully accept you, they may give you harsh feedback, but that’s part of the practice for them too. By creating an “unsafe space” you are actually diving head first into profound belonging. I will say one small word of warning having been a part of and Led numerous men’s groups: it’s possible to simply get good at doing “group” or “tribe” and for it to not translate into life. The goal of true community is to generalize or globalize your skill of living with integrity and authenticity in every area. Sometimes a group mindset will localize, where a man will use these skills—but only in the group, only with a select few. This man isn’t really taking risks, isn’t actually being himself. He’s still playing it safe. What is necessary is a Tribe of men who are willing to share life, who you spend time with—not just an hour a week with, who you relate to in real ways, not merely contrived ways. By increasing our lived experience with each other with intentionality, men can steer clear of simply creating another performance motif.

CONCLUSION

I am concerned for the manosphere because in the midst of all the desire to improve and grow stronger there is the ring of relational stages of development. We’ve moved past connection and creation, and are squarely in collusion—trying to present realities that exist only in our mind, in order to keep the status quo.

However—if men truly began to be open about their lives. If they can find another man, or group of men, and entrust their souls to them—there may be hope. That’s the great thing about collusion—it doesn’t have to be the end of a relationship. If the couple, or in this case the men’s world, can simply move to the hard place of truth telling, then come what may, there is hope. A new and more intimate connection can be formed. A better reality is possible. But only if we’re actually looking at reality.

 

 

 

Embarrassed

When I was a practicing psychotherapist I saw a number of men of all ages who suffered from a common wound: embarrassment of being a man. Perhaps put another way they experienced the shame of finding themselves raised as male in this current world. As the Latin American poet Pablo Neruda said: 

It so happens that I am sick of my feet and my nails/ and my hair and my shadow./ It so happens I am sick of being man.

From my privileged position of confidant I heard other men's stories and discovered the profound pain that many endured. Men told me of abuse or neglect from father's, whom they considered to be larger than life examples of stereotypical manhood.  The loss of elders and the rather ubiquitous transience of shifting male role models, the loss of passion and purpose, and the sense of utter disconnection to male community were common themes. They would say, "I get along better with women than men," typifying their experience of feeling profound ambivalence concerning their basic ability to even interact with their own gender. And honestly it made sense. Hearing them, I understood their sadness. I still do.

In many ways I relate. My grandfather was my hero--standing 6'6", a WW2 hero decorated with the purple heart for saving another man's life while wounded, he was a cattle rancher and a horse trainer. The man noodled catfish and bronco busted!  But, I rarely saw him. Not unlike my father, who also occupied an absentee role. Not that I didn't idolize him--I did. He was a powerful orator and preacher, as well as a brilliant teacher. I loved hearing him cast spells with words...but when I came home from church he would slide into a kind of moroseness, withdrawn and isolated. No, instead of being raised by my heroes, who's attention I craved, I was left to the devices of my mother and sister mainly. They loved on me and pampered me, protecting me from bullies or doing the dishes. I was their companion and little helper. The world I grew up in was more haram than throne room. And for many years I felt I was better for it.  Actually I began to identify myself as a brand of "feminist-man" capable of getting women for who they were and being their shoulder to cry on. In many ways when I saw men--particularly from older generations--I just felt bad for them. They struck me as brutes and savages; dinosaurs whose time had passed. Looking back on it, I suspect my judgement of other "manly men" was a sort of judgement on parts of myself I wished to sublimate or do away with all together.

The Loss of Ground

When talking to men, it seems as though our embarrassment is caused by several different sources. There is the loss of "archetypal ground" so to speak, the disconnection from the body, the detachment from tribe and community for men, and grief over the father wound. As I've mentioned earlier, this last one, is felt keenly. Boys feel such an instinctual need to be touched by their father, to be heard and hold his gaze, that when this doesn't happen the sense of grief builds unbearably. One male in his early adulthood told me of a hunting trip he and his dad took. This was set up as a rare and exciting opportunity to join into his dad's world. He remembered his sister and mother waving goodbye as they drove away in their little pickup. For the first two hours silence reigned. He didn't know what to say to the man, and apparently the older male was equally clueless. Suddenly his dad brought the car to a screeching halt and pronounced, "this just isn't working!!!" and turned around towards home. My friend recalls feeling as though he had done something wrong. As they drove he began to whimper quietly, tears eventually cascading on his cheeks. He replayed their silence, attempting to imagine a way out of it. But, he remembers, the words were stuck in his throat. He mumbled an apology, but didn't know what he was saying he was sorry for. The remourse was ignored. And they stoically arrived back at their house. Over the years he wrestled with this question and the consequence of self-blame. He routinely asked "what is wrong with me? why did my father not speak to me? why could he not bear my presence?"  This grief, he stated, was the dominant issue of his life. 

Interestingly my shadow side influenced this distain for the Masculine. The parts of me that were distant, detached, pretentious, seductive or sexual, aggressive, or overly assertive were--I thought--mannish. I preferred the elements of my persona that I assumed were more feminine: connected, emotive, caring, relational, not-interested in sex. It's funny how associated stereo-types go into those notions. However, in truth, these are generalizations that multitudes of people make. And they're not altogether wrong. Usually we make stereo-types out of truths that replay themselves consistently. We feel that they can be counted on. In my own childhood--as in the lives of many other men, and current culture at large--to be a man by those stereo-types was negatively reinforced and to be a woman or feminine, according to those same generalizations, was positively reinforced. It was frankly embarrassing that I had these shadows of masculinity.

SOCIETY ISN'T BUYING IT

It's no wonder that I, and many others of my generation and younger found ourselves rejecting our sense of the masculine. Even if we did not find corresponding demons in ourselves, the cultural assault on men has been overwhelming. In a randomized study of over a thousand television commercials it was found that 100% of the portrayals of men were negative. Husbands were pictured as unable to do the laundry or adequately clean the house, men were shown as barbarians or criminal, males who were friends of each other were noted as stupid or inept. On down the line there were ZERO positive references. What was once a rich tapestry of male depictions has been reduced to gross simplifications of what it means to be a man. As Guy Garcia put it in his book The Decline of Men, " If men were a brand, their value would be dropping because society is not buying what they're selling."He goes on to suggest that this rapid de-centering of manhood was even advisable: "What better way to welcome to resplendent return of the goddess than the symbolic immolation of the male?" And there is no doubt that this kind of self-combustion is occurring.

The images we're seeing of men, daily--hourly--by the minute--are of overly hostile, vilified, or inept caricatures. Names like TRUMP, WEINER, WEINSTEIN, BUSH and DICK are easy to remember and stick to the gender as a whole. They create a kind of market-image that is transposed onto every other card carrying member who don't openly distance themselves from Testosterone. However, even more disturbing are the beta-bro's who simply drop out of the man-game. As sociologists have been telling us for years boys are overwhelmingly choosing video games, frat parties, and hook ups. Instead of opting for the traditional routes towards responsibility, occupation, and family, men are staying juvenile longer--well into their thirties. It's an interesting reversal culturally in which young women are encouraged to take on the world headfirst, and ARE DOING SO, while the boys-to-men are choosing porn, parties, and video-games.  It's little wonder why, in response to this phenomenon, ex-first lady Michelle Obama criticized this in saying that while we raise girls to be tough and strong we've overprotected boys and created an entitlement culture. 

As Ms. Obama notes though, the same cannot be said for women. If anything women have fought an up-hill battle across the last century and have won every square inch they now occupy--which is far more considerable than mass media might let on. In the infamous piece for The Atlantic Hanna Rosin wrote that for earned Bachelor's degrees are 2/3 in favor of women. And in all but 2 of the 15 projected "future industries of growth" they were dominated by females. It's a strange phenomenon compared with both the record of history, and the rhetoric as it exists today. In Kay Hymowitz's piece Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys she observes that “young women are reaching their twenties with more achievements, more education, more property, and, arguably, more ambition than their male counterparts.” Her conclusion ultimately comes in the form of question "where do boys fit into a girl powered world?"  And of course this conclusion isn't to say that there's been a total reversal here. Women still earn, on average, less than men in many professions. Women still experience the results of systemic oppression, and continue to be outraged at the injustices of power abuse and wrongful societal rules. But for a son of liberal parents, or even growing up savvy to the dictates of culture today, its hard not to feel the shift and be effected by it. 

When these two extremes, what David Deida called "The macho jerk or the new age wimp," are what you're given, when your own internal shadows are what you project outward, when you're reinforced for distancing from what you perceive as the dinosaur of The Male, why wouldn't you be embarrassed to be a man?

WHAT'S THE BENEFIT

At some point I began to realize that the shadow parts of me--the so-called undesirable elements--are also worthy of love and respect too. In fact the Divine Feminine, the goddess, is only worthy when balanced by a Sacred Masculine. If the feminine qualities can rightly be historically perceived as empathetic, relational, and emotive then the masculine virtues of aggression, assertiveness, and action can also have appropriate function. While society routinely finds itself threatened by these qualities, its important to remember that when overlayed with the virtues of Strength, Courage, Honor and Mastery, as well as tempered with Wisdom, these qualities have saved countless lives, enriching and enabling generations of individuals.

The masculine has always been associated with competition and aggression. it seem as though the male tendency to fight is universal. We witness it in the horse world where one stallion fights over reproductive rights, in the wild where stags skirmish for food. Anthropologist's note that it would be unlikely for humans, as a branch of the great ape family tree, to have ever been peacable. Our ancestral condition as males would have been to fight to protect the tribe, to hunt over a wide area, to acquisition safe nesting zones, to defend things of value and to overcome obstacle. Of course aggression was hardly a male monopoly--females also demonstrate the same capacity. However what distinguishes male aggression is that even in ritualized versions of it, there is a passionate enjoyment which seems to possess men. Even with young children, boys demonstrate an instinctual thrill around rough housing and violent play. 

All of this points to the reality that while there is little place today for such intensity, male aggression has served an evolutionary and primordial purpose, so much so that it is ingrained from birth--even provoking feelings of fun. This feature was rewarded not only with delight, but also with a slough of adaptive functions in relationship to other arenas of life, such as increased resiliency. As Sebastian Junger points out in his ground breaking book Tribe,  cultures where there is less aggression also have higher rates of PTSD and depression.  Is it possible that a society that decreases its aggressive tendencies might also experience heightened mental health distress? And if this is so, does it point to the idea that by de-emphasizing the masculine contribution, we do so at our own peril?

It seems apparent that in relationship to not only aggression, but the other dormant male virtues, we suffer when disconnected from them. Masculinity, in its essence has something to offer us, that is more necessary than ever. What I needed to do, I realized, was not deny these parts of myself, or shield myself and others from them, but refine them give them real life.  

HOW TO RECONNECT

Some times I sit at the Fire nights with my tribe of men, or get the opportunity to meet with others lone-wolfing it. I end up hearing this sadness in them. And they're nuanced enough to know throwing out the whole enchilada isn't the right answer. Most of us are trying to figure out how to show up more in our daily lives as father's, husbands, business owners and friends. We want to integrate not only the aspects of the modern man—emotionally sensitive, empathetic and connected, but also our more primal and ancestral truths. Again, Sebastian Junger points out: “

human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered "intrinsic" to human happiness and far outweigh "extrinsic" values such as beauty, money and status.

And this strikes me as true. We need to feel a mastery over self and environment, need to feel as though we genuinely matter and don’t have to hide our truest sense of self, and need Tribe. Mastery. Authenticity. Tribe. In other words, if men are going to start to feel content in themselves they need to find places where they can experience both their core instincts and push against their edges. Men desperately need to shed themselves of the shame that comes from being a “man” in this culture, and begin to practice a new degree of intentional openness, both accepting and challenging themselves.  

If we intend to grow in our capacity for aggression, and therefore resilience, we must allow ourselves the opportunity to experience this coursing through our veins again. In part this is why the book Fight Club was so popular. Its author Chuck Palahniuk said, "There are so few books that offered a valid path for manhood--I wanted to do it."  Being physical, competitive, and intense is such a new reality for men who have come of age today, that the most we know of it is the middle school conflict we engaged with early on, or the movies we have seen. Both demonstrate little in terms of motivating us to either want to, or know how to, engage with each other on a playing field of physical competition. But try wrestling another man. Even in a friendly way. Or pull out the boxing gloves. Be friends. Be friendly. But also, let your muscles wrench against his. Why? Because to touch and be touched are a part of manhood, as well as this--it opens you up to a new way of being you have been shut off from. Or rather--it reconnects you with the wound that has been scarred over. The loss of contact with Father, and the detachment from boys in earlier years, creates shame. When you grind into a fellow male, competing for mastery in that moment, you allow yourself to encounter that place once more. At first it smarts a little--but soon begins to heal over. 

The same can be said for activeness or assertiveness. I used to teach workshops to women who had experienced domestic abuse. We spent days, even weeks, on the topic of assertiveness. It has been so conditioned out of them, that they were terrified to state what they wanted, or take action. I usually posed the question--which is more important to you, situationally: to build the relationship, or to have self-respect? For many, keeping the relationship was more important. They were  willing to sacrifice their own sense of self in order to maintain the connection. But the same can be said of men who are  relationship starved. Because empathy, relationality, and sensitivity have been so emphasized to many men in this current epoch, they find themselves not knowing how to, appropriately, state what they want. It takes practice. Recently, a close friend and collaborator here at Evolving Wild, told me that he wasn't going to fulfill a project I had asked him to do. It was lower on his priority list. Interestingly, my response was that I found myself THRILLED. He showed self-respect in that moment. I knew that was hard for him. He was drawing a line in the sand, and being his own man. I understood he was practicing reclaiming his own sense of assertiveness. 

In order to effectively heal the embarrassment around being a man, we must learn to be apart of a pack, a gang, a Tribe. It is the most natural form of healing that could possibly occur. You don't need to sit around and "explore your woundedness" to do so. Even for men to get together as men is a kind of summoning up of the deepest wounds we each experience. It brings to light our vulnerability and our hiddenness.

The greatest instruction that I could give a man on this journey is simply this: Risk. Attempt. Try on. Allow yourself the opportunity to be seen, or to get it wrong. Look like a jack ass. Deconstruct. Build. Be with other men on the same journey. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fucking You Get...

A friend and Catholic priest said it like this:

"The fucking you get isn't worth the fucking you get." 

God. What a predicament. 

We are almost always making these invisible tradeoffs, aren't we? 

The Hebrew Scripture opens up, straight out of the gate, with this proposition. It pictures the first humans as being presented with a temptation in which something specifically forbidden looks "pleasing to the eyes and desirable for food."  Turns out, it looked good--but it lands them in a world of suffering. I relate. 

Or another story from the wisdom teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. He tells about a little mustard seed that gets planted, and is nourished until it becomes a huge tree. It grows so large that the birds come in make a nest in it. While that story may not exactly be obvious, a couple of details crack it open: mustard seeds make small shrubs NOT trees, and in the same grouping of stories Jesus had been telling, the birds are always seen as looming specters of evil.  This story is about something growing out of control and it has an effect--a harmful one. Again, I get it. 

Consequences are rarely something humans consider when it comes to making choices. The reality is we are so embedded in short term propositions that its difficult to consider the long term outcomes. 

Recently I was listening to one of the emerging men's-movement-guru's. His bro doctrine was in full swing: "Don't you want to build a bigger business, be a better husband--a greater version of YOU??"

I felt my heart swell along with every other red-blooded blue balled listener. Fuck, YES!! Give me the meat!!  Let's DO THIS!

Then it clicked for me. This isn't really NEW, per say. It's in many ways part of the same dominant cultural mythology that is marbled through the rest of modern society. It rests on a profound assumption--Dr Seuss called it: "BIGGERING" But I'll call it "progress."  And believe me, its as tempting as the god-damned-original-forbidden-fruit. 

Myths and Meaning

A myth isn't an untruth. In fact its a powerful narrative that helps frame and guide people's understanding of their lives. In ancient or classical times those myths often involved personal explanations of the universe. If someone jumped up and then came back down they might say that it was some invisible SOMEONE pulling them back towards the earth. Today our dominant motif, and the way we view the world is through an impersonal lens and our myths tend to be centered around "science."  We would then attribute the forces pulling us downward as GRAVITY. Whatever the actual facts of the causation the way that we connect the dots of our experience lies squarely in the realm of "story" or "myth."  We are always telling these sorts of stories in order to make sense of our world. 

Humans are constantly making meaning by constructing myth and stories. We are constrained to it.

Victor Frankle who wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning” commented to humans without meaning lived depressing and empty lives. Yet even such “meaninglessness” exists within a meaning vacuum. There is quite simply no such thing as meaninglessness outside of the story we assign to it.

Life is phenomenon until we tell stories about it—until we connect the dots.

Nietzche proclaimed the “death of God’ or the end of the Big-Story. There would be no more metaphysics. Indeed, Camus’ drives the point home with his “Myth of Sysaphus” in which he shows a man, punished by the gods, constrained to pushing a stone up a mountain, only to reach the top and start over once more. This, Camus suggested, was the rather “absurd” reality we live within.  It’s all stories…and there is no meaning…

But the knife by which Nietzche killed God is the one by which he slit his own wrist. The exestentialists, and with them the post-moderns such as Derrida and then Focault, spend great amounts of words in order to tell of us of silence—they tell masterful stories to illustrate the end of stories. Which of course is absurd, to borrow Camus’ word.

A truly ridiculous story goes like this: there was a farmer during the days when surveyors were mapping the border between Finland and Russia who happened to live right along the line. Agents from both countries approached him and asked which nation his farm should be associated with. After thinking about it for some time he responded “Finland.”  When the surveyors asked why that was, he responded: “Well I love Mother Russia, and frankly have always wanted to live there...but the winters are so cold!!” 

Words are powerful. Words are meaningless.

Stories—our present condition is such in which the stories we tell, and the stories that are told to us have great meaning, yet are also malleable.

Which stories will we choose to live by?

THE DCM 

If every culture is defined by the ways we interpret reality, the best and most effective structures kind of work like a good bra: invisible and firm. If the myth is obvious or overt it’s usually discountable. But dominant cultural myths (THE DCM) are those that are hidden, woven into the fabric of our assumptions.  

Fascinatingly there are commonalities among agriculturally based state run civilizations—across culture.  It doesn't really matter if it was the Sumerians in 3700 BCE, the Romans in 300 CE, or the United States today; civilization runs on the same dominant cultural myth.

Before we get to it, here's the truth: It's a ponzi scheme. 

For those of you wondering what that is, allow me to define the phrase. A ponzi scheme is when an organization or individual draws investors based on fraudulent information, and instead of paying them the dividends based on actual returns, simply gets NEW investors, paying off the old investors with the new money. Wow...sounds complicated.

How it works is this. Mr. Wonderful gets you to invest 10,000 dollars, with the promise that you'll make $5,000 dividends for investing with him. He then spends your money. He's broke now. And you've got ZERO coming to you. So what's he do? Mr. Wonderful then goes out and convinces several more investors to give him $10k each, which they do because...well...he makes great promises. He then takes THAT money and pays YOU your $5k.  In other words you haven't really made any money. You've actually lost money. But the illusion keeps you satisfied. For a while.The really disturbing thing about Ponzi schemes is that investors are usually thrilled with the results. Until they want to cash out. Then what happens? Well, because there's no money--they're shit out of luck. Sorry folks. Nothing to see here. Move on. Sadly, people have drained their entire life savings, mortgaged their houses, spent their kid's college money hoping for the "get-rich-quick" promises to come true. And in the end, they don't. Lives get ruined.

The Ponzi is based on the notion of constantly increasing size and dimension. There must always be NEW investors, because it's literally covering the costs of the old. There's no REAL growth--only getting larger.

That's why the civilizational structure resembles this scheme. It is based on empty promises from its earliest inception. We know that contrary to what Hobbes said, human life prior to civilization WASN'T short, nasty, and brutish. Instead hunter/gatherer culture is often portrayed by anthropologists as the original affluent society. With as little as 3-4 hours a day of working for subsistence and the rest going to play and inter-tribe socializing. Further more--we also know from the earliest archeological records that the first citizens of the city and state organized socieities lived shorter lives, had higher frequency of illnesses, and experienced overwhelming oppression compared to hunter gatherers. Why the hell would anybody want that? Why did THEY make that choice. 

Well--this gets back to consequences and choices. Because my guess is that's not exactly how it was presented to them. My guess that had they known--or for that matter had WE known--we wouldn't have hitched our wagons to this unwieldily juggernaut. So the deception has to be really good. You have to really sell that shit. 

And the Ponzi scheme of civilization is set up this way. What's over the next hill is better than what's here right now. Your life can be MORE. In fact--the only way to have that "more-ness" is to accept the fact that you're missing something, and that we--WE--can provide it for you. The myth of progress invisibly demands that bigger is better, that newer and next are the desirable, that the forward arc of history is the correct one. The moral imperative is to control our own future, to become more than human, to change our own stars. We increase speed and efficiency, yesterday's limits are today's challenges, and the assumption is that technology will create a world that is the kind we all want to live within. 

This myth is sold in such way that to deny it, you end up looking like a conspiracy theorist or radical. In fact the very word "radical" which formerly simply meant the opposite of a progressive and literally translates "to the root" with an implication of getting back to the basics, is now touted as a fearsome word. Think of terrorists--they've been RADICALIZED. The way this word has even been villianized reveals the implicit bias at work within culture towards the myth of progress. . 

An Alternative

While the myth of progress informs people that difference is to be distrusted and done away with (in order to get as many new people into the Ponzi Scheme as possible), radicals appreciate difference. They prefer an organic story informed by the myths of interdependence and the science of ecology. If progress tells us that MORE IS BETTER, a radical world view says, "LESS IS MORE, SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL." It teaches sustainable growth, appropriate and cooperative technologies, permaculture, and slow-movement (as opposed to breakneck speed). But most of all a true alternative to the myth of progress tells us that kinship and connection are the language of truth. 

Both of the stories I referenced at the beginning of this article are rooted in that tradition. Whether discussing how self-deception and the desire for more lead to a  fall, or the idea that bigger doesn't always make better, these are counter scripts. They're pushing against something, and inviting us, as wisdom literature often does, into a new experience. 

As public philosopher Sam Keen put it: "The new human vocation is to heal the earth. We can only heal what we love. We can only love what we know. We can only know what we touch." The radical alternative to progress is intimate, close, and diverse. Progress at all costs is an impoverished innovation when compared to this.

So What's this Have to Do with Fucking?

I started with a story about "the fucking you get not being worth the fucking you get." Which is really about trade offs, isn't it?  

One of my complaints about the "pro-bro's" is that they don't really challenge the dominant cultural myth. They keep on putting it forward. Progress or else. Bigger is better. More is the only way. Not only does it not challenge this harmful myth, it continues to propagate the untruths. You have to be a Demi-God at the gym to get the girl (or keep the girl), you need more technology, more STUFF, to have the relationships. You need bigger barns, better houses, crazier and and and....

It's exhausting.

So, it feels good for a while, but ultimately leaves you dissatisfied on the hamster wheel. Men who are already exhausted from transitions, middle age crisis', divorce, remarriage, loss of businesses, the rapid decay of their own dreams, are quick to take the bait. They throw themselves into the experience, buy the book, arm themselves with the compound bow that is being sold to them, and hope for a soul change. The approach here is to do whatever it takes to get the wife back, the house back, the business up and running again--and of course, this time, even BETTER than before. But the reality is--its just going to leave them depleted. 

What if a better way to approach your masculinity wasn't to use the same old boring story line? What if it was to radicalize it? What if we chose to listen to our bodies, to work with them, to simplify instead of only consume, to give (more than we get), and to work with our own energies for a while, before we conquer to "enemy" on the other side of the aisle.I wonder if we approached ourselves through the lens of sacred ecology how we might become better gardeners and care-takers of our souls. 

Just a thought. 

Cut Off

Now, I know what you're thinking. AND this isn't an article about circumcission. Well, not exactly. It's about the experience of being emotionally castrated, particularly as men. Severed from the source of your emotions, you walk through the world passionless, mission less, directionless. You've been cut off. 

Ok. Draw in a breath. Scan your own body, your emotions, your interpretations--and take a deep dive into the heart of manhood, today.

THINKING LIKE AN ANTHROPOLOGIST

If an alien anthropologist was watching you in a coffee shop, here's what they'd see.

Hunched over, squinting at your too-large-phone X, snarling at the screen. Bristling when you're bumped. Shoving your way to the bathrooms--and then when you've accidentally tripped someone, ruthlessly apologizing. You grunt loudly when someone makes a move you don't like. You roll your eyes to almost any disturbance, but when directly confronted you're all smiles. 

When you get into your car to drive away a new scene unfolds. The alien anthropologist sees you look indignant as someone refuses to let you into traffic, as if someone just kicked your puppy. Another car cuts you off and you've apparently had enough. You launch into a tirade of verbal diarrhea under your breath, and then wave and smile at them. 

If you're a father, you come home from work, and instantly demand to know why the dishes haven't been put away. The toys need to be up, off the ground. The kids should at least look bathed.  Your spouse should be upbeat, positive. At the slightest sign of any alarm, any surprise, you can be found slinking away to sulk in the next room, away from the situation that was beyond your control. Everyone knows to cross their t's and dot their i's with you. If they don't you meet them with a simmering, seething silence. .

Anxious. Nervous. On edge. 

All of these are signs of latent frustration.

This, is you. A picture of manhood. 

Yet...

THE RIVER, DENIAL

The minute a person ask's if you might be angry-or directly state that this is their experience of you--you, like many men, will do backflips to protest. You'll wring your hands in agony trying to convince the observer that you weren't in fact angry. Maybe a little irritated, you admit. Perhaps even annoyed, but angry? God no, you say. And if the person presses you on this point, you'll kindly emphasize that they don't really know you, after all. 

I've known countless men like you in my career as psychotherapist and men's coach. And, with the rare exception, I hear something like this:

"Well...while I may get angry sometimes...I try not to show it. I don't want to express my anger. And I try not to make others angry either."

"Why?" I ask.

"Because things like Anger lead to hatred and Violence...and I've grown beyond that."

Sound familiar?

One man I was working with shared that he had been fired unjustly. He shared how he had been lied about, and maligned. When I asked how this effected him, he noted: "It made me sad." Yes, that makes perfect sense. But, was there something else, some OTHER equally justified emotion? No, was the answer. No anger. Zero.

Another man I interacted with around these issues was raised by parents that abused him--which caused him to grieve, a wife who was openly cheating on him--which made him feel despair, and employees who refused to respect him--which created confusion in his mind. Again, no anger. 

Are these simply more highly evolved specimens of masculinity? Can it be that these fine gentleman have been able to shed over 1.5 million years of affective (emotional) selection and wiring in their life time? 

I'm going to argue that in fact these men are emotionally castrated.

THE FUNCTION OF AN EMOTION

Researchers in affective psychology help us understand that every emotion has a purpose. Emotions didn't evolve in a vacuum. In fact they are adaptive elements involved in a constant feedback loop performing several key functions. 

1) Emotions inform US about what's going on

2) Emotions inform OTHERS about what's going on

3) Emotions motivate us towards action.

In other words, emotional experience is deeply important. Every single emotion that we feel is telling us something, and organizing us around achieving some sort of result. There aren't good or bad emotions--there are simply emotions. Sometimes these emotions are justified, and sometimes they aren't. 

For instance--if some one died, and I broke out laughing, that wouldn't be justified. The cause wouldn't fit the effect. In fact you'd think I might have lost my mind. Or, if my child got bullied in school, shame wouldn't necessarily be the justifiable experience. This doesn't mean these emotions are INVALID, but rather simply not congruent with what is going on. They're certainly telling you something, though they might not always be telling you the correct things.

Now--the function of ANGER is this: it is motivating action when a goal is blocked or has been thwarted. Simple, right? If I didn't get that promotion unjustly, then I might reasonably feel anger. If I suspect my wife is cheating on me, then I should feel justified anger. Once I asked a classroom of young men when they feel justified anger, and one said: "When I'm playing soccer and someone blocks my game winning goal!"  That's the exact function. Now--what does that anger do for him?  It actually organizes him to overcome the obstacle!  He now doubles down on solving the problem. Propelled by the emotion of anger he plays harder, he puts all doubt out of his mind, he focusses and he scores the next goal.  Get it? Anger has a profound purpose.  In human history we see that it was THIS emotion that helped us achieve tremendous advances. Whenever there was a setback or an obstruction, anger helped play a part in overcoming this.

In other words--it would be ridiculous to evolve past this feedback loop. In fact the limbic system and the emotion neural network are some of the most ingrained and efficient parts of a human. There are even some philosopher's and psychologist's who argue that this is the core of our basic sapiential experience. 

Losing touch with our emotions--ANY OF THEM--has unseen consequences that often times cause greater problems. As Brene Brown, one of my least favorite pop-psychologists says (accurately), "You can't cut off one emotion without cutting off the rest..."  

And here's the truth:

When a man is emotionally castrated you have lost touch with the fullness of your masculine essence. This tends to come across as anxiety. You are afraid to be alone, afraid to assert yourself, afraid to take part in things or participate with an open stance, you are afraid to express anger, or have anger expressed towards them. Maybe you run a successful business or even have numerous relationships--but my guess is that you don't experience real satisfaction. My assumption is you go from one lily pad to the next hoping "this one will be it" but each one disappoints. 

Why?

You're never going to find fulfillment as long as you are afraid of incarnating your full masculine force which includes anger!

While men experience actual anger,  their inability to express it ends up producing passionless people. Literally you've disowned your passions.

If you are afraid to express your anger, then you are afraid to experience your passions too. Men without the ability to be angry are men without the ability to love or live. 

WHY NOT FEEL ANGER?

A common story among men I interact with is that they've witnessed or heard of destructive anger, or rage. They've watched as their father's took out toxic anger on their mother's or loved ones, or even themselves. They've learned first hand the cost of letting anger get out of control.  Maybe you too have known this type of explosive rage or "toxic masculinity." It can be powerfully destructive and leave long term wounds.

Many men have also, particularly within the past 30 years, received the societal message of "aggression aversion" drilled into them. Anything that could lead to the potentiality of violence is seen as damning and to be avoided at all costs. Boys especially are being taught to be KIND, be GENTLE, be SWEET, and to NEVER-EVER-EVER fight. And frankly, they haven't had to fight their own battles all that much. James Scott, the well known anthropologist noted that in our current system, the State has a monopoly on violence. It is not as though people stop experiencing the impulse to be violent, they simply pick up the phone and call their local law enforcement.

In a culture that has watched a record decline in violent crime across the last 15 years, we have also witnessed a sharp increase in falsely reported, and over-reported criminal behavior, as well as all time highs in law suits and other civil challenges. These changes have led to the corollary of heightened isolation and relationship-fatigue. We have traded over aggression for the chill of dispassionate relationship, or state-sponsored violence.

It is apparent that in many ways we have simply sublimated our violence.  Scott points out that this sort of displacement tends to serve racially motivated outcomes. One commentator, building on this work, noted that there is a gendered and racial bias implicit in the use of State violence, largely against males, a majority of which are African American.

We haven't become less angry or violent. We've simply hidden it. Buried it and blamed others for it  

The reality of keeping the peace is largely played out in an inability to sit with or effectively process anger. Rather than learning how to experience it in healthy ways, we neglect the emotion at all until it becomes a deafening source of rage, or numbness. 

One man I know recently confessed: "If I were to tell you how I really felt about the situation that made me angry, I'd probably end up killing someone." Underneath this statement is a deep sense that he will be left out of control, Embarrassed and alone. It makes total sense why a man might not want to tap into this emotion. 

Positive  examples of emotional expression are hard to find. There are few places to practice safe anger.

ANGER, NOT RAGE

When it comes to affective psychology, historians tell us that we're actually witnessing a bit of a phenomenon. Evolutionary psychologists theorize that the heightened emotions that we currently exhibit (rage, despair, ecstasy, etc) are more recent than historic. Had emotions developed at these heightened levels, we would have not progressed as a species. An infant who is inconsolable would be left to tend to themselves. Men enraged might well annihilate themselves. Instead, our long track record was probably an extension of mid-level emotions in which we had a range available to us, but rarely dipped into the extremes. Today we see countless examples of living at those extremes. Men’s inability to express anger is matched by our current rates of despair, and closely related to our obsession with the feeling of ecstasy as a lasting state. We are either all hot, or all cold. Frankly, we don’t know how to have balance. 

One of the reasons, researchers say, that we’ve lost the ability to regulate our emotions effectively is that we have lost what they call: “environments of evolutionary adaptivity.” Holding spaces. Practice places  

it’s hard to utilize what you don’t use routinely.   

By creating environments where emotions may be attempted, feedback may be given, and direct change can be applied, we begin to learn a more balanced path. 

What emotionally castrated men have been missing is this: Tribe.

A place where you can learn to experience anger--NOT RAGE, but real and tangible anger. You can speak your pain. You can feel it in your bones. You can challenge another man, and be challenged by him. This seemingly "unsafe" space actually becomes a place of real safety, where you don't have to wonder about the passive aggressive take-away the man next to you is leaving with. Why not? Because he's serving it up to you right there. He's not terrified of devouring you should he express his anger. And you know that you're ok in speaking your mind. It's going to be all-fucking-right.

MOVING FORWARD

You need this, because you need to feel alive again. You need this because you need to connect with your mission. Fuck, even if you don't feel that--your wife probably does. Your kids probably do. Your employees do. Everyone around you gets it. You are disconnected and cut off. They just don't know what the answer is.  And you probably don’t either.

Here’s a starting point: 

Find a tribe of men willing to hold your truth. Don't give up. Don't run. Don't lick your wounds in isolation. Choose to keep your feet to the fire and feel that anger. Learn to find balance. And then once you've mastered it in this practice space, expand to the rest of your world. Start learning how to use it at work, in negotiation, and in relationships. Figure out how to overcome the obstacles you face, by connecting to your 1.5 million year old challenge-conquering emotional system.

Discover. Your. Anger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Failing Matters

Themistocles had what most people would consider to be a fantastic 10 years. An unconventional leader of the Athenian people between 485-475 BCE, he proved to the entire known world that strategy, wits, and subterfuge could take down an empire. It was his leadership that allowed for the Persian empire to be stopped at three significant battles, Marathon, Artemisium, Plateau and then the legendary Salamis. He was the genius who used espionage to infiltrate the Persian court and sway Xerxes to make counterproductive movements. And while he suffered from a lack of noble breeding, he made up for it in self-promoting vigor eventually becoming the undisputed chief of Athenian democracy. He had a fantastic run.

Then it ended.

For one reason or another--and there were actually many reasons--he ends up being ostracized by the people he had saved and bettered. He had to abandon his home of Athens and flee into exile looking for any other city that might take him in. His shrines and sacred sites were desecrated. The plaques bearing his name and honoring his successive victories were taken down. Eventually he was forced to approach the new king of the Persian Empire and beg to live out his days as an ordinary and obscure citizen. Plutarch, the historian who wrote about him years later suggests that he committed suicide by drinking bulls blood but there really is no way of knowing the truth. I suspect Plutarch imagined the suicide gave the man a last ditch dignity, preserving honor by choosing when and where he died. But, who knows? 

I have always admired Thermistocles. There are the apparent and rather epic reasons. Hundreds of years after his death his reputation was restored. Historians validated his virtues and dismissed the rather mundane and most-probably Machiavellian causes of his fall from grace. Hind sight was kind to him. One rather well known British historian in an emotional moment actually said that due to his colossal victories over the Persian empire, thus securing the future of Western civilization and the dominance of Greco-Roman thought to come, that he was "the most important person in the history of the West." I don't know if this is true. And frankly that's NOT why I admire him. Actually I find him fascinating because for all his victories in life--he  lived out his days as a failure. And that matters.

Recently I had the chance to informally poll a handful of elders and mentors--I asked them what mattered most to them in their experiences--when their life changed and took on significance. Almost every single man reflected that they did not experience true transformation or integration until they had suffered major loss.

This is so remarkably different than what I hear spewing in the Men's Empowerment culture today. Without naming names, I love listening to their podcasts and watching the talking heads. While most of them don't have any hard research to back them, and mostly depend on "bro-science" I find their conclusions often impactful and right on. The blend of stoicism, resiliency, self-determination, and good ole "American pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" is a necessary balance to the softer and stale generation of men just prior to this current epoch. There is a sort of take no prisoners approach that my favorite men's guru's today lean on. And I love it. But, I also find it lacking. Not in theory mind you--but in actual life. Maybe that's why we appreciate it. We enjoy our fiction, don't we?

One masculinity swami recently hosted a 20 year old ultra-marathoner who proclaimed "Every man can and should run a marathon." He reflected on his own conditioning, and his overcoming of obstacles to get there. it was inspiring, I admit. But there was something missing. You know what was lacking? That’s right: failure. This is a young man who had achieved every bench mark he set. He, seemingly, has not flinched from his targets. He is in control of his own destiny. And that’s how I know he’s a young man—just beginning the hero’s journey. 

Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, noted that all the great fables, myths, and legends shared a similar structure. They developed along a synchronistic form and if you are watchful, you’ll notice those plot line movements. There’s the initial call to adventure, the meeting of the mentor, tests and trials, there’s an ordeal—and usually there is an enemy (whether internal or external) that the hero cannot defeat and did nothing to summon or create. This adversary is largely out of the scope of the hero’s control. Even if he could stop it, he is  powerless to do so. In fact the trope of most ancient stories was less about victory in the end, and more often about living a life in the shadow of Fate, of life outside of your dominance or control. How does the hero respond when their targets are unreachable, when their allies betray them, when their friends disappear, when their strength fails, and when their wits are suddenly useless? 

Modern man wants none of this. The myths of progress and social Darwinism are solidly encalicified in our post-industrial reality. The Bob-the-Builder mentality of fixing anything and everything has been taught since childhood. Men, who biologically tend towards risk taking, achievement and aggression as it is, find all the cultural reinforcement they need to avoid the concept of fate and failure like the plague. And who wants it anyway? Not I. 

But wanting it isn’t really the point. It’s about being unable to avoid it. Failure—the True Adversary, the thing that was almost tailor made to penetrate your armor and well designed self protective strategies, when it comes is unknowable. You can’t stop it, because you often don’t see it.  And that’s why in the end it’s the real teacher. The gift is the Fall. Without failure we are too carried along by our ego, dominated by our own carefully crafted Bullshit, to know what our blind spots are. Failure cuts through all of that, powerfully and transforms us, potentially, from “wild men to wise men” as Father Richard Rohr comments.

Yesterday I was speaking with a rather renowned Intimacy and Relationship Coach. As I sat with him he told me about his own failures. He shared a story I already knew--how he'd lived with sexual addiction well into his thirties, even as he had climbed the ladder of success. As a pastor and psychologist he achieved tremendous things--but all the while his unconfronted shadow was lurking, gobling up real-estate in his soul. He acted out numerous times, with clients, with paritioners. And finally he'd had enough. He couldn't go on. He came forward. And guess what happened. No one applauded him. They cast him out. Coldly.  Of course there were consequences of his actions--however after that aspect he really didn't have any one left. "But," he said to me, "For the first time I was beginning to be ME!  I was beginning to get real and tell the truth. And that was priceless."

Success allows us to tell lies to ourselves and others, tricking everyone into thinking we have the game figured out, all the while leaving the bodies buried in the backyard. We wonder why after the big show or the stellar meeting or the award ceremony we feel empty inside. It's because there's a certain hollowness to the whole thing. Success SEEMS like what we're after, but actually FAILURE is the better teacher. It teaches us to take one step at a time, to put one foot in front of the other. It builds from the inside out. 

A young man recently asked me what advise I would give him for career development. Do you know what I told him?  "Try. Fail. Fall. Get up. Keep running. Try something else. Fail again. The important part isn't the running, its the failing. That's how you'll get to know exactly what you're made out of. "

It's a shame that our culture doesn't see the value in that brokenness. It's the great teacher.