male

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?

 

 

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.

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

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.