masculinity

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

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.

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

Big

TALE AS OLD AS TIME

One of my favorite movies growing up was "Big" staring Tom Hanks. If you haven't seen it you probably weren't around in the 1980's. It tells the unlikely story of a boy who wanted to stop being treated like a child. He was tired of being picked on and was frustrated at the lack of responsibility he was entrusted with. In a miraculous turn he is magically transformed into an adult version of himself over night. That's right--he wakes up one morning and is...well, BIG. Walking around in the body of an adult has its wonderful privileges. He can choose to participate in life however he wishes to. Nobody is telling him what to do, what direction to go, or where to place his energy. He is his own man.  

Or is he?

As the movie progresses the main character realizes that in the absence of external direction he has little internal compass or fortitude. Without anyone pulling his strings he finds himself at the whim of larger invisible controllers--the tax man, corporate advertisers, and the unending appeal of toys. He has to get a job, but doesn't actually know how to work hard and so he skates by on charm and potential. He finds a woman who is attracted to him and cares for him but treats her irresponsibly and more like a sexual extension of his mom. Even in friendships he fails--treating them narcissistically, and unkindly.

See the reality is he grew big, but he didn't really grow up. In order to succeed in life he would need to learn lessons as yet undiscovered. And (spoiler alert) the movie ends somewhat tragically. He realizes he doesn't have what it takes to be a man--he goes back to being a boy.

This morning I sat with a group of men, and as we each spoke about our own journey of masculinity we reflected the reality of this story. There is the sense of having put on the external trappings of manhood: a job or career, a spouse, children, hobbies, but without the accompanying sense of identity.  We lack the internal character or "tactile virtues" as Jack Donavon, author of the "The Way of Men" calls them: strength, courage, mastery, and honor. 

Often, the men I know, say they have turned to endless fantastical hobbies to pacify the distinct sense of lack brewing beer, fixing cars, collecting (almost anything--rare movies, china, comics, books, legos, booze, etc...), masturbating to porn, fucking women...etc... In short without a guiding center we find ourselves desperately searching for what it might mean to simply get through the next moment well. No sense of purpose. No sense of unique mission...

WORSHIPPING THE GODDESS

Interestingly in an attempt to find a greater connection to a larger sense of self men often find ourselves worshipping at "the altar of the goddess." This sacred cultural motif comes in many forms. As a boy it may look like being "mommy's good little helper" or her "little man." We receive direct reinforcement for being her shoulder to cry on, her person to count on, her arm to hold. A unique relationship forms which psychologists refer to as "covert incest." As fucked up as this sounds, a shockingly high percentage of men reflect on their childhood experiences this way. Absentee father's create a void in which boys are invited to fill and are rewarded with affection and approval for doing so. We learned early on that our unique role in life could be serving the goddess, so to speak.

Having been taught the lessons that empathy has a payoff, we now extend this into our relationships both individually and societally. Many men become the "great white knight--" a rescuer. In my own life, I became a therapist. What better way to continue being my mom's confident? I recall one early counseling supervisor telling me that I was a natural. The awkward truth was it was natural to me, because I had been doing it my whole life. Other men I know slide into roles such as police officers, pastors, teachers, advisors, care givers or additional helping professions for similar reasons. We have heard the message loud and clear: to succeed "as a man" we must be a helper. But professions aside for a moment, it's simply an attitude: I exist to serve. Serve who? Serve my woman, serve my friends, serve the victim, serve my children, serve society...etc.... Do you see the co-dependency here? In this case selflessness is actually self-LESS-ness-- a mascaraed for having an undefined sense of self. The "Great White Knight" proudly wears his armor of being a rescuer to avoid the disquieting fact that he feels empty underneath.

THE SPELL OF THE SENSUOUS

The shadow side of worshipping the goddess is hedonism or gluttony. It is well known that the deity of debauchery in Ancient Greece, Bacchus, was identified with the fertility cults of the great Mother. Fucking our way through women and the world, we kneel down in front of the great vagina and become her devotee. Intense, isn't it? But, you know exactly what I mean. It's not just teenage boys sitting up all night clicking through endless windows of porn. For instance the fastest growing population being treated for erectile disfunction is actually men in their 30's. Doctors have been mystified as to the cause of this, in part because it has historically been men far older than this who manifest these symptoms.  Many wonder if this is due to the high frequency of porn use--opening multiple screens on the computer, or smart phone, cycling through images faster and faster in order to get off. The real thing just doesn't hold our attention as well.

Sexual addiction is, among other things, a disorder of intimacy--an inability to maintain a solid attachment due to a kind of numbness. Think of it like leprosy. A person with this disease ceases to have sensation. Increasingly disconnected from the world of direct experience, they desperately ramp up their encounters. going to greater and greater extremes simply to feel. My own journey bears this out. The less connected I felt to my sense of self, or any sense at all, I struggled to find energy anywhere. Every source of validation in my life would become a place I imagined might free me from the numbness. I desperately wanted to feel again. Drunken on intimacy I ceased to feel it and so I required it all the more. 

But sex isn't the only thing that captures our affections in place of the Sacred Masculine. In the Greek myths Bacchus didn't just promote orgies, he also was dispensing "strong drink" right and left. One author talks about the unique connection of wine to "the feminine." David Deida comments, "When we are tipsy or drunk, we tend to feel loose, our inhibitions drop. We feel more fluid and languid. We are in touch with the feminine principle." In part our obsession with alcohol as men speaks of a kind of displaced attraction to the goddess. We long to feel and touch--to lose control. Men numb to the cold realities of the world by warming our hands at the fires of narcotics. The pleasure principle is in play.

Interestingly civilization has always known of this connection. In one of our most ancient written story, "The Epic of Gilgamesh", from Sumerian culture over 6,000 years ago, we read of a wild man named Enkidu. He is said to have been raised by animals and is ignorant of human society. Enkidu embodies the natural and wild world, untouched by civilized ways--he is the antithesis of cultured, urban, and feminine. He represents the Masculine energies. As the story goes a woman named Shamhat (which means luscious one) is used to tempt Enkidu from his wild nature. She says, "Come Enkidu, drink the wine, feel it's effect upon you and then take me--becoming a man like the others." Unfortunately for Enkidu he does so. He drinks the wine, he eats the bread, and then...they fuck. For seven days. This act of cosmic creation must have been powerful. Because at the end of all this fuckery his old friends--the beasts and the birds--no longer recognize him. He is a stranger to them. Seperated from his natural tribe, Shamhat, becomes a surrogate mother to him and teaches him "how to be a man as other men are," through drinking, eating, dressing well, and having sex. His transformation is now complete. 

Turns out this isn't a recent problem then.

Worshipping the goddess--whether it be as mommy's little helper, the great white knight, or the pleasure seeker, is an easy trap to fall into. It is a replacement strategy for actual growth as a man. But it leaves us feeling just as empty, just as lost.

SEARCHING FOR INTEGRATION

If this vision of the world seems a bit lop sided and heavy handed, I get it. For many women and countless men I know their world hardly seems defined by "The Goddess" and more the obscene and rage-filled Patriarchy. Recently a large newspaper ran an op-ed piece called "Can We Hate Men?" with the profound conclusion--"Yes."  A book that was published not all that long ago was titled "Demon Males" and noted that in all the Great Ape societies males were "aggressive, violent, and divisive." In short, the other side to the story I've been telling in this article is actually that the last six-thousand years of Civilization are littered with abuse, neglect, and the traumatic--thanks to males in large part. If I've characterized the Divine Feminine as a bit of a blood thirsty bitch, the flip side is that there are no shortages of vindictive and destructive Father gods. 

One of the reasons why men today are so lost is, quite frankly, that up till recently our only option was to become a "macho-jerk" or nothing at all. 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.If many women today wonder if men should be hated it is because we have earned such distain.

Yet of course, most people understand that there is a middle ground between goddess worshipping and goddess destroying; between male hating and patriarchy. There must be something in between. In my own household I relate as a son to my mother, a brother to my sister, a husband to my wife and a father to my daughter. I am profoundly connected to the Feminine, and it does me no good to simply go from altar to altar trying to destroy them.

How do we, as men, learn to develop the masculine virtues independent of the Feminine, but honoring of it?  

 Going Home

Too often the answer is exactly as the movie frames its own ending--tired of playing at being a man we go back to boyhood. This is reflected in many of the things listed above. Although mostly it has to do with simply falling backwards--ceasing to try any longer. Having attempted, risked, and lost big, it's easy for a man to go back home and hide, hoping he will the lessons he must, eventually.

I actually respect this perspective a lot. In some ways I feel closely connected to this. Maybe its the path that many need to take. A retreat is necessary in order to advance again. We must go back to the source, dip our buckets in the water, if we hope to fight the fire. We must go home and learn the lessons we always were meant to know. But if we are to go home--then we are not meant to stay there. Not exactly.  If growing up is what must be done, then let it be. If the valley of the shadow of the death must be walked through, then let's keep on walking.

In other words the great need is to develop, to grow, and finally--at last--become the men we always were meant to be. Men who embody the unique masculine contribution to our species of aggression, assertion, and action. We must intentionally integrate strength, courage, honor and mastery. And, ultimately this is accomplished in the company of other men doing that same work. 

If you find yourself longing for a shift such as this, the advise I can give you is connect with others. Don't just make a wish to get BIG. Don't just be an imposter--a Pinocchio who only looks like a real boy, but who is actually having his strings pulled for him. No--find another man, or a group of men--learn to be authentic, to imagine new worlds, and to actively risk. 

Let's take the journey together. 

 

The Problem of Pain

Here’s the thing that sucks about pain: It’s inevitable.

I don’t mean in an academic sense, where philosophically we understand “bad things happen to good people” or that “it rains on the just and the unjust” or even the slightly less high brow “shit happens” sort of way. No, pain is inevitable in the sense that it is simply another feedback loop in life. It’s as involuntary as a foul odor or a loud sound or a hot and sunny day. 

Several years ago my family was gifted with a beautiful labradoodle named Amani. She was six years old and had been raised in a sort of idyllic life in the country where she was free to roam and play. The kids whose lives she had been a part of grew up. They left the house. And she needed a new home. We happened to know the owners and volunteered to become her forever family. It was love at first sight. My daughter slept with her, using her large golden body as a pillow. The boys tussled and rough housed with her. She went swimming with us--hell, she went EVERYWHERE with us. Those first six weeks we had Amani we were inseparable. Then it happened.  

We lived on a busy street in the downtown area. One of my kids was pushing at the door. Amani bolted out. She ran straight across the road--and that's when we heard it: WHUMP.  I looked out and saw her body stretched out in the middle of the pavement. Immediately I ran over to her as the car sped away in a hit-and-run. There was no breath. The life had been taken immediately, mercifully.

I carried this beautiful 80 pound dog in my arms back towards the house. My kids were watching in stunned horror and my wife was whisper/shouting "God no, God no..." Cradling her I knew it was over. One by one the family came out, sobbing, and began to pet our new and now past, friend. We must have kneeled there with her for over an hour as the warmth was sifted from her corpse. 

To this day my youngest son recalls that moment and says: "That was the most painful day of my life."

Of course it fucking was. We didn't choose that. We didn't plan that, cause that, orchestrate that, or prepare for it. It hit us. Hard. The inevitability of pain came down on us suddenly and without provocation. Like wandering into a room where the air is toxic and unbreathable suddenly and without cause, we had stumbled into that experience. Now some might say that there were causes--such as this was a country dog in the city--she didn't know what to look out for. Or, my son jostling the door open. Or the driver of the car going too fast, or texting on their phone. And actually--YES--those things are true. Whether they were preventable or not they form a net sum that amounted to Amani's death being unavoidable. 

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PAIN AND SUFFERING 

Pain, when it occurs, is like that. It's an automatic response to a situation, often unpredictable. It's a tear in the fabric of our heart. Physiologically, it's the feeling of a sinking stomach, or the wave of dizziness that washes over you. We feel it as a sudden headache or a tension in our shoulders. Very quickly, within milliseconds, we connect that physical response to a thought and make an interpretation. In the case of Amani's death the "pain" was sadness. And that sadness was telling us something--its purpose in the great feedback loop was communicating that someone we valued was gone, suddenly. Not unlike the physical pain of placing your hand in a fire is telling you that cells are dying and that there is danger--so too emotional pain communicates a variety of realities. Pain simply IS. Nothing to be done about it, except to pay attention to it--because its saying something.

The problem of pain emerges with our responses--optional ones. 

Because there is a difference between pain and suffering. We often use the words interchangeably as a culture--but they have vast differences.  While pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

Suffering is what often happens when we attempt to minimize, avoid, distract, subvert, or unskillfully respond to pain.

Imagine this--I stumble down the stairs late one night to grab a glass of water and stub my toe on an iron door stopper. It causes an immense amount of pain. I didn't deserve that pain. I didn't really cause it, or ask for it--I wouldn't have chosen it if I somehow could have. But here I am. Now what are my options? What are some natural reactions? I think most of us could relate to wanting to curse, to yell, or maybe even to hit the wall. Still further up the chain of responses, I could throw the damned door stop, or wake my kids up and demand to know who put the door stop there in the middle of the floor. I could rack my brain thinking of causes or reasons why. I could even blame myself--call myself an "idiot" or say "how could I have done something so stupid?"  Or I might choose to avoid the pain in my big toe, to neglect it, and not to notice the wound that I now have.  Each of those reactions has a direct effect though don't they?  They each ADD to the painful experience. They create SUFFERING, unnecessarily.

  ITS ALL ABOUT CHOICES

 While we don't choose pain, we often choose suffering--even if only unconsciously. We routinely create suffering when we attempt to unskillfully fix "the problem of pain."  I've been there. It's as though all we're thinking is: "I don't want to feel this! Get it way from me! Take it!!" We'll try anything to avoid that feeling.

But if pain is an inevitable experience of life, and if it  is actually an automatic feedback loop communicating something to us, then we'd better learn how to get used to it, to tolerate it. In fact, we should get used to noticing our pain, listening to it, and hearing what it's trying to say.

This doesn't mean we won't move into problem solving mode--we probably will. But instead of doing that mindlessly, we now bring a level of consciousness to it all. Imagine trying to "fix" the problem of sadness about our dog... Instead of sitting there and having a beautiful moment with my children celebrating the life and death of our friend I instantly ran out and purchased a new puppy. Or, if I was so concerned about their grief that I started telling jokes, or even yelled at them and told them to go inside and mind their own business! Can you imagine? Of course you can  because you’ve been there. We all have. And it creates unnessary suffering. 

One of the challenges of manhood is learning how to bear pain skillfully. We grow by learning how to tolerate the distress of an automatic response, a frustration, a grief, a sadness, fear or an embarrassment. We pay attention to what the sensation is on our body, and to where our thoughts go. We put our ear to the ground and observe the signal that the painful event or emotion is trying to tell us. We allow it to pass over us and through us and eventually to move past us. Rather than avoiding or suppressing emotions it becomes about experiencing them exquisitely and at the same time mastering them.  

The problem of pain is that while we didn’t create it or invite it—we in no way chose for those events or circumstances to occur—we are now the only ones who can use it and avoid suffering needlessly. Look, there are a ton of situations you can’t make better—but you can usually make them worse. Not listening to your pain will do just that. 

 

 

 

 

5 Books Every Man Should Read

There are a dirth of recommendations out there. I almost hesitate to add to the massive burden of words “necessary” for every man to feel happy, healthy, and alive. Here’s the truth: you DO NOT need them. You don’t. You can get through life, as a man, living fully and deeply, without reading a single blessed word. Really, I believe that. 

But, one of the ways we transmit our ways of being in this world is through culture, and for at least the last six thousand years, through written words. There is a value in being challenged by ideas and stories not our own, by concepts unfamiliar to us, and by experiences that push us to our limits. That’s what this list is all about.  

The truth is this list is hardly comprehensive. It’s not an exhaustive body. We may issue that at some point—but not now. This is just a primer. So, if you see them—buy them. Don’t check these out from the library—OWN THEM (Click on the picture of the book to head straight to AMAZON). You will want to digest them many many times. That is, if you’re serious about your growth. Without further ado, the 5 Books Every Man should read. 

 

1) Meditations by Marcus Aurelius  

It is difficult to oversell the importance of this book. Here’s the thing, it was written almost 1800 years ago, by a man who’s life is unimaginably different than most of ours—he was a Roman Emporer. He didn’t set out to write a book for beta-bros in the 20th century working on their alpha game. He wrote a motivational journal for himself. And it was so fucking amazing they kept it. The advice and kick-ass wisdom in this small little handbook for life will give you reason to wake up in the morning. I use it as a devotional and have for several years now. Learn from the best. Let this mans soul invade your own and make it real. (One word of caution: edition and translation matters—buy the one linked to here, with the Raven on its cover!) 

Along the same lines I would recommend: The Will to Power by Nietszche,  Letters on Life by Rilke, and A Failure of Nerve by Friedman

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida

Look, there’s a lot that’s come out before and since this book. There’s a lot to critique about this book, and its author. But—its still the book I’ve handed out to more men than any other. It’s written directly to the reader, “Today, take one step to do what you were born to do...” it’s aggressive, it uses phrases that men don’t use publicly, “your woman” and it drops the F-bomb a lot. He covers the polarity between the Masculine and Feminine, how to fuck like you mean it, and how to live your best life now. If you want an ass kicking towards purpose, this is your ticket. Read it. 

Also check out: From Wild Man to Wise Man by Richard Rohr, King, Warrior, Magician Lover by Moore, How to Make Sh*t Happen by Sean Whalen, Fire in the Belly by Sam Keen and Iron John by Robert Bly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3) The Way of Men  and Becoming Barbarian by Jack Donavan  

I know I’ll take flack for this. I’ll have friends who will say there are better written books by less controversial figures. I get it. I hear you. And, you’re wrong. These twin books (different books but so complimentary they should be read together or even put into one volume), are written in a bare knuckle, no holds bare style. They aggressively target not only what it means to be a man today, but also how to be in relationship with other men, and how to relate to the dominant mono culture (The Empire of Nothing as Donavan refers to it) around us. While not all ideas within it are worth wrangling over, at least one idea within these pages should take you by storm and motivate you towards a shift. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4) The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram  

I read this book on a four hour flight and found my world upside down as I disembarked. Truthfully this book holds the profound keys to connecting with self, spirit and the more than human world around you. It’s a challenging book linguistically. He’s writing as an academic. Some of the chapters I had to wrestle through. And it was worth it. He explores the nature of Nature, our obsession with words over presence, breath “magical,  and becoming animal. This is a book that profoundly prompts us to become more alive. 

If you like this kind of writing checking out Morris Berman's book Coming to Our Senses or the Reenchantment of the World

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5) The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart compiled by Robert Bly and James Hillman

Poetry. For many men this is a dirty word. Fuck it. There are things we can see better out of the corner of our eye than head on. Poetry helps us do that. Get used to it brother. This book brings together many of the great poets (Neruda, Rilke, Oliver, Cummings) and puts them in relationship to the seasons of a mans life. It helps us see our place in this world. How many times in a dark hour did I pull this book out and laughed or wept accordingly? And honestly, the poem “Balls” is worth the price of the book. 

So many amazing OTHER poets to recommend--really anything by Pablo Neruda or Rainer Maria Rilke, but I might also throw in the poetry of Hafiz as translated by Daniel Ladensky. 

 

 

Alright man, get these. It’ll start you and companion you on the journey!

Gridlock

A lot of men feel stuck. It doesn't matter how or where--it could be in their marriage or romance, as fathers, their job and career, or maybe with their own sense of mission. 

I hear it all the time. 

It's incredibly unsettling, isn't it?  Up or down? This way or that way? Door one or door two? 

This happens, especially in times of decision making. Unless you're someone who has committed to never taking significant steps in your life, and limiting yourself to the mundane hell of playing it safe--you've been here. Gridlock.

If I were to diagnose Gridlock in a man's life I'd be looking for three characteristics.

One: The Myth of Trying Harder

In George Orwell's book "Animal Farm" the horse named Boxer was always saying, "I'll do better." or "I'll try harder." or "I can do more."  Guess what, his efforts didn't improve anything. In fact things continued to degenerate even though Boxer kept giving his all. 

If you've ever been in a crumby marriage or relationship you know exactly what I mean. You keep trying harder and harder to change your partner. Or adapt your behavior to theirs. Or do something to please them. Guess what? It's a tread mill, and you know it! 

This hamster wheel is really powered by an assumption about success. This point of view assumes that technique, and effort, are what win the day. It incorrectly believes that failure is the result of lack of hard work, and a lack of proper information or data.

Its easy to see that this is false. The Beatles were a force unlike any other in music, but there were scads of bands that had better technique and worked just as hard, if not harder. Where are those bands now? Literally, who knows?  Or, how many times have I heard spouses describe the demise of their marriage, concluding with "We did everything we could."?  The image that comes up for me here is of an eddy or a whirlpool in a river--lots of action, but not much real movement. 

Two: The Myth of Answers

I remember a moment in my life when a girl had broken my heart and I couldn't get over it. She had dumped me and I couldn't understand why. The break up had been brief, come in the form of a hasty note, and left me torn up. I just kept repeating: "I need closure--if I just know why, then I'll be able to move on!"  You know what my buddy said? He told me that I wouldn't move on. I would simply have more questions to feel upset about. Today, I can't agree with him more. Rather than try and work to understand what was going on for the ex-girlfriend I should have worked on, and focused on, my own development. 

Innovation happens when we shift the information that's really important. The answers that we needed so desperately become irrelevant. 

When we are concerned about finding the right answers we fail to realize that this is usually part of the obsessive problem in the first place. Because the problem isn't intellectual, its emotional. 

Often in my past work with chronically suicidal clients they would require massive amounts of data to prove, up front, that this treatment would work or was effective. At first I would play into that, placating it. I would give them stats, data, and loads of pamphlets. Eventually, I figured out that this was a trap. In the end I'd say, "Don't believe me. Just try. Then see." Their need answers for answers was a barrier to actually dealing with the situation at hand.

Three: The Myth of Either/Or Thinking

These days its everywhere: all or nothing thinking. Good/Bad, black/white, and all other forms of non-dialectic thought. Things that are simply differences of opinion get chalked up to character statements, intense-oppositional, commitments to labeling the other perspective. 

Whenever I hear someone launch into a diatribe about the evil-ness or good-ness of almost anything I silently assume an emotional process is at work. Whenever differences polarize us there is almost always a maladaptive loop that contributes to the failure to validate the other side of things. 

Recently a buddy of mine went to a well known couples seminar. He told me that rather than try and fix the problems or reduce the differences in each other,  the goal of the seminar was to help people become less reactive to those things. What do you mean not fix the problems?  What do you mean tolerate the difference rather than pummel the hell out of the "other"? 

Either/Or thinking is a kind of blindness, in which options rapidly disappear because we become locked into a self-confirming loop. From this position, even when approached with new data we begin to interpret it in ways that justify our pre-existing perspective. If a real challenge is brought, we tend to dismiss it instantly. 

Each of these myths contribute to the inability to imagine options. Trying harder with a fix-it mentality, relentlessly needing more information and answers, or dualistic thinking are three obvious factors that let us know when we're stuck in Gridlock. The great news is as we unwind each of these--even if we're only pretending or going through the motions--it allows for a new capacity of creativity. 

What do you think? Is that you?  Can you identify these elements in your life?

 

 

 

 

Risk

This morning I got up early--barely even light out. And I made a killing. I Day Traded the hell out of the markets on the east coast. I won't lie--I lost a little too, but I was a whirling dervish destroying the numbers. I was taking risks like nobodies business. Whereas some of my more conservative or cautious friends only bought in at a few shares--I pumped it to the maximum available. That's why I crushed today. 

Oh--and it was all on a simulator. The markets were real but my money wasn't. My risk was really bullshit.

Ouch. It even hurts saying it out loud. But here's the deal: I'm learning. I mean, I know ZERO about day trading, so this is all new. If I were to throw the family savings in now, I'd be a lunatic (which is already somewhat arguable). So, I playing with the tools of risk and risk management, the short and the long sell, while at the same time hedging my bets. Which makes sense. It works in this case. But honestly, that's where the analogy falls short.

In life we rarely can afford to hedge. When we do, whether in love or business or friendships, we usually come up on the wrong side of the line. I've done this so many times, especially in love. And it's gotten me in a hell of a lot of trouble. The deal is I hate being alone. And when I feel alone in a relationship I tend to soothe that discomfort by satiating myself. Historically this has come out as me starting a parallel relationship--I've cheated. 

Now here's what's funny about that admission--cheating is so risky. Breaking your agreements in unbelievably perilous. So much is at stake (especially as we get older). But it feels like safety. It feels like self-soothing. My brain had it all backwards. 

Over and over this plays out true. I hear it from friends who lament their physique but crave just a few more minutes under the covers, or folks who hate their jobs but stick with this one because they've had it for five years.  The thing that devalues their life, which ultimately risks their entire experience, SEEMS far safer. In reality its the opposite. The action that feels risky is actually the one that is far more profitable.

The Male in almost every species takes more risks. Its a biological reality. In this species its paid off. And lately it seems to be taking a toll. We're risking on the wrong things. We're betting on the wrong horse. Instead of putting our money on the places that seem to increase our comfort and make us feel better, we need to double down on our long term goals and highest values. In that department we need to be Monsters.

It's a risk to have an idea, take a step, and see it through. It's a risk to take a position on something, to be UN-dialectical, stake a claim, and take responsibility for that. It's a risk to make an agreement and hold to it. 

This is why Tribes are so powerful and so important. They help us Risk big, while holding us accountable to our highest intentions. 

It takes courage--it takes absolute commitment to tolerating the distress of looking like a failure, or even BEING a failure. But it pays off big.

Daring greatly on the things that actually matter to us, is like Day Trading with real money. It's scary, but it's also the only way you're going to make actual money. 

Authenticity

It's 6:55am on a Saturday morning. I walk into a bright yellow room with florescent lights blaring. There are a handful of chairs scattered around a sizable table. There isn't coffee. There aren't donuts. But there are men, filing in, like me, to this sacred and un-safe space--and they are here to do The Work. 

We are, most of us, self-declared "addicts," intimacy junkies, attachment adverse--broken when it comes to keeping agreements with others and ourselves. Serial dating, affairs, hook-ups, porn, sexting, parallel relationships--hell, a few second families. You name it. These guys have seen it all. The truth is I don't really care what they've done. Nobody is trying to win the prize for best "addict." Actually what I care about is that they're being honest. 

This is a group that values honesty over performance. Don't get me wrong--performance matters too. But for many of us we hid behind accomplishments, achievements, and pleasantries. I know I did. While I was out championing social justice, equity, and the kingdom of god, somehow I was able to break some of the most basic agreements to myself and to those I loved. How did that happen? One trainer from the seminal life transformation catalyst EST said it like this:

"It's quite simple. You break agreements because you live under the theory that you're special, a privileged character, and are thus free to cheat--on income taxes, stop signs, wives, husbands, expense accounts, and certainly on the little things..."

Now, that sort of sounds like performance language doesn't it? It is, sort of. But it's actually something far deeper--its about authenticity. When I'm living and speaking authentically my words match my actions. I stop being "an acrobat, to act like THIS and talk like THAT" (in the venerated words of BONO from U2). In the group of men I've been meeting with every Saturday morning I've learned to reflect my truth.  It's one of the first times in my life I've been able to do something like that. I'm hardly alone in that.

As men, culturally, we are told to be better, to change, and to improve. The stakes are high--our jobs, our relationships, our reputations. We know that something different is needed but there aren't structures that readily support that shift. The places we've carved out, as a society, for such honesty is usually associated with burnouts and dropouts--failures. Masking (lying) becomes one of the easiest ways to get to the place we feel others want us to be while maintaining an image of having it all together. As a client of mine said once after it was revealed they had been giving false reports in session, "I just thought everyone would be happier if they thought I was doing better." 

Not too long ago my son had a falling out with a friend in his Scout troop. When the meeting time came, he said he was too tired from the day, had studied too hard for the test tomorrow, and asked if he could not go to the Scout meeting. Because I didn't really have all the facts, I gave him a pass. Later he admitted that at least a large part of the reason he avoided the meeting was because of the relationship stuff. I was happy he ended up letting me know what happened, but sad that in the moment he chose to manipulate the facts to get an outcome he wanted. It was easy--just leave out some of the details. The tragedy was that we never got to explore those realities, deal with them, or even validate his own experience. He was left holding his turmoil alone. Suffering in silence. That isn't the way of Men. It's the way of boys. 

A real tribe of men practices ruthless authenticity. It means that if you feel like shit, you say it. It doesn't matter if you don't know why, or what the cause is. Nobody needs you to process that right here, right now. But you say it. It means if you are having a response to someone else, a challenge or a disagreement, you're willing to speak it--then and there. Yeah--you may look foolish. And your facts may come out looking like a battered piñata. That's OK. You said it. You were authentic. And you know what, if you don't feel like talking--then you get to fucking say that too. 

Authenticity allows others to see you and to interact with you. Authenticity provides the spring board for real relationship. Authenticity gives an opportunity to find meaningful connection and real solutions. And, authenticity often sucks. It really does. It doesn't feel safe. In fact--it's not. It's risky. It's easier to minimize, avoid, distance, lie, or cheat. Those things give  quick payoff. But--they really don't land a man where he wants to be--in a tribe of other men doing the Work.

7am comes early on Saturday. I drag my ass in, tired, and sometimes beat down from the week. But at least I'm seen. At least I'm choosing to be authentic. And in that moment--I get to invite others into my world and be apart of theirs.