emotions

The Sacred Masculine Archetype

To be a man is not the same as to be masculine.

Neither is being masculine the same as being toxic, or abusive, or dangerous.

Just as being feminine is not the same as being a woman or being loving, nurturing, and good.

Quite frankly both of these are assessment based judgements that have little to do with reality—but much to do with a set of self-serving stories.

Archetypes

It is important to begin to understand that when dealing with these notions “masculine” or “feminine,” that we are interacting with something that is archetypal in nature.

The world that we perceive and the world that is are different things. In truth we are almost always looking at things through a set of symbols and meanings. These are categories that help us connect the dots of phenomenon. Some of these stories or symbols are things that we create as we grow up, we inherit from peers and authorities, or are imprinted on through conditioning. Some of them are creative acts of world building as we make up our own meaning. And some of these symbols are something else entirely. They are archetypes.

An archetypal truth is one that is sewn deeply into the fabric of our consciousness. Think of them very similarly to an ancestral trait that has been passed down from generation to generation. While this is easily observed physically, it is equally true psychologically. Think of the presence of various symbols in multiple cultures—the mandala, which seem to make its way across the world, the Sun Dial, or the cross. It is almost impossible to escape the significance of how these symbols spontaneously arise in various and disconnected cultures. Why? In part because they are imprinted on our psyche as a species.

Two of the most ancient and enduring archetypes, predating recorded civilization, possibly extending as far back as our most distant ancestry is the binary Masculine & Feminine.

These are seen as primal linchpins, and can be found in countless traditional cultures, regardless of the words. The anima and the animus, Shiva and Shakti, yin and yang. Masculine and Feminine principles are complex and resist being reduced to their simplistic forms. They are far more interesting than the gender binary of male and female. However, of course, pan culturally, they tend to draw from these forms. While both genders have access to each, it is most true that we correlate to one or the other.

Again, its important to remember that these are archetypes and not genders. The polarities of masculine and feminine are complements but substantially different.

When we consider these two archetypes its important to acknowledge their distinctions, and that they are played out in stereotypes. These are grand and sweeping generalizations that help us make sense of the core process unique to each. Let’s consider each one in turn.

The Feminine

The Feminine, at a base level can be defined as the principle organized around being present moment oriented, creative, demonstrative, emotive, networked, responsive, relational and in constant movement. She seeks, in all things, continuance.

The Divine Feminine, or the full flowering of this archetype, is the creative energy that allows us to meet and experience openly and with vibrancy. When a person is operating out of the feminine they’re less outcome oriented and more in the flow of the present. They’re trusting and intuitive. The ability to flow emotionally is fully integrated and the feelings run hot and fast. Things are felt in their immediacy.

When the Divine Feminine is fully healed of her primal wounds, she is able to allow her emotions to be Data points guiding her into true presence and practical solutions. She is a vessel emptying herself in order to receive and is genuinely breathtaking in her capacity to experience life in the here and now, freely surrounding to all that arises in this moment.

The immature Feminine energy however tends to be passively overwhelmed by problems. She surrenders her beliefs and values to others or to circumstances. She may see many sides, yet has no real anchor in the storm and so loses sight of her essence. Her sense of empathy becomes ravenous and self-destructive, devouring not only herself, but those who try to support her. Life in the present moment collapses into an Alzheimer’s effect with no clear sense of past or future, a nightmare with no anchor or hope.

The Masculine

The Masculine is, at its core, non-reactive conscious energy. It is globalizing, reasoning, non-attached, pro-active, directional, assertive, and object focussed. His primary aim is completion. He thinks in cause and effect.

When the Masculine is un-initiated, or immature, he is defined by detached and objectifying ways of being. He tends to complain, or critique, as his contribution—without bothering to immerse himself in the process of creation. He dominates others that he feels are weaker and blames instead of taking responsibility. He is consumed with black and white thinking—this/that, good/bad, right/wrong, etc… When the Masculine is uncultivated he has little erotic energy—or the ability to be willful in life. He spins and reacts in a steady state of fear.

However, by moving to a place of strong and relevant opening, this is transformed into The Sacred Masculine. This energetic shift gives someone operating out of it the ability to be assertive and directive, the ability to access deep emotions while not being defined by them. Additionally the Sacred Masculine celebrates uncertainty and is able to consciously hold all sides of an equation, while taking steps forward with effectiveness. The Sacred Masculine is focussed like a laser beam, without being myopic.

Masculine and Feminine Emotions

In the current cultural discourse we are taught that to be emotional means to be feminine, exclusively. It is now overtly taught that while men can access emotions, its rarely from their masculine core; that to be masculine is only to be reasonable.

Of course a clever pushback, which maintains the same broken stereotype, is the protest that “Men can be emotional too!” This brings with it the appeal for men to connect to the Feminine principle—empathy, connection, delight, etc… In effect it is like saying, “Well of course men can be emotional! Be like women!”

Gender stereotyping aside, here’s the sticky truth: Each core human emotion carries with it a spectrum organized around Masculine and Feminine presentations. In our evolutionary past as we innovated emotions for functional reasons—to communicate to self, others, and organize us to action—we did so in ways that corresponded to these dominant archetypes.

Why do I call these Masculine or Feminine? Not necessarily because they correspond to men or women. But rather because they exist within a container of traditional understandings of these archetypes. Each one directly interacts with key elements in either direction.

The Masculine pole is modal, focussed, global, detached, directional and tribe focussed. The Feminine pole tends to be present moment oriented, reactive/responsive, location specific and connected/networked. Watch how this plays out with several emotions.

  • Anger-This emotion occurs when a goal is blocked. Its adaptive function is clear: to organize a person to overcome an obstacle. In the Feminine we witness a reactive energy called RAGE. This is an intense and responsive form of anger that particularly accompanies an interpretation of being wronged specifically. Whereas the Masculine form of anger is AGGRESSION. This is proactive, and channeled with an object in mind.

  • Happiness-This emotion occurs as a reinforcement that we have done something positive or in alignment with our good or the good of those we love. In the Feminine we witness a form called DELIGHT. This presentation is situational, it is responsive, it is highly present moment oriented. In the Masculine there is a corollary associated as JOY—or happiness regardless of what happens. Joy is detached from an outcome. It is a global state of being. It does not need to reinforce the moment, because its reinforcing the general reality.

  • Sadness—This emotion occurs when something or someone of value has been lost, or is perceived as lost. The Feminine tends to exhibit intense and situational Grief. It is fluid, multidimensional and responsive. Whereas the Masculine seems to show despair—a focussed bodily descent into sadness that globalizes its results.

These are simply three examples, however there are numerous aspects when we apply the categorizing of core emotions to these traditional archetypes.

In this sense, a person wishing to cultivate the Sacred Masculine doesn’t need to adopt only Feminine emotions—but actually the forgotten masculine ones also.

What’s the Point

Guiding metaphors are helpful for us to witness reality.

This isn’t because somehow they ARE reality—no they’re just ways of connecting the dots, or stringing together words that help us make sense of things. There is of course a difference between the territory and the map of it. It becomes dangerous when we assume that the “houses for the holy” are in fact “the holy.” Words are tents we pitch to create shelter for things that are important, and we wish to protect. This is true of Masculine and Feminine principles.

By thinking these are entirely factual structures, we limit ourselves to rigid concepts and burdensome metaphors.

Currently it is easy to talk about the positives of the Feminine. She is celebrated in Western Culture in abundant ways—time magazine recently hailed this decade, that is now closing out, as the Rise of the Feminine. A new golden age is being hailed in which “demon males” (the name of a recent sciencish book) are put back in their place.

However, there’s something being lost in all the commotion. The opposite of the Divine Feminine is not the toxic maleness The complimentary pole of the Divine Feminine is the Sacred Masculine.

I have yet to meet a woman or a man who wishes to eradicate Masculinity. They often simply don’t know what it is, and don’t have an effective way of discussing these concepts.

By remembering other words, such as these, as descriptions of meaning, we free ourselves to speak and to think with greater clarity. We also assist in healing old wounds.

Healing the Masculine

In reality we ALL have access to these polarities. In fact we are almost always sliding, side to side, in one direction or the another. We draw from this element, or that. However, we tend towards one of them. And that is usually reinforced throughout our lifetime.

In reality, neither of these, independent of one another, will access the inner wisdom we so desperately need right now. We need the compliment of the two—personally, relationally, and socially.

But first, before you can marry the two—you must embody it. You must heal the wounds present.

I would argue that one of the greatest needs in society today, within both males and females, is in fact a healing of the inner masculine. Part of the wounding that we live with is around these spaces.

When men are cut off from this archetype, we find ourselves unable to access our inner balls—cut off from aggression or assertiveness, except passively. And it is profoundly difficult to experience non-attachment from the present moment.

Candidly men who are wounded in their Masculine core, can’t take feedback. It feels naggy if its from a woman and disrespectful if its from a man. Men, cut off from their Masculine, want to be protected and empathized with, they want to feel the deliciousness of agreement, without the depth of connection. They experience an unclarified aspect to their life work, it lacks refinement or vigor. They feel a sense of emptiness around not having a purpose, or passion about life itself.

We see these symptoms everywhere, in both genders, and it points to a disconnection from the inner masculine. There is such a need to heal this wound.

My work, born out of my own spiritual quest, is to find the natural and mature Masculine, first in myself, and then to help others locate it in themselves as well. There’s been a great deal of abandonment or jumping ship away from this archetype, in part because of both legitimate and then also illegitimate critiques of its excesses.

However, without a “hieros gamos” or sacred marriage of the two—MASCULINE and FEMININE—we won’t find balance, and we won’t find progress. Which is why my work is to assist the masculine to continue becoming very natural again, and then to mature.

Don’t Always Listen to Your Feelings

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are Feelings Anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So if not feelings, then what?

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

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

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

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

We lack will, culturally.

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

And that brings me back to feelings.

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

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

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

I Don’t Accept You

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

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

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

Accept it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Triggering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Step By Step Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gift of Being Triggered

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

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

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

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

You get the idea....

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Weaker Sex

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

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

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

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

Consider the Facts

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

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

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

  • Boys constitute 60% of highschool drop-outs

  • Women now earn over 60% of college degrees

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

  • Men earn fewer than 40% of graduate degrees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Men’s Emotional Dilemma

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

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

  • Four times as many men commit suicide as women

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

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

  • 80% of alcohol dependency is male

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

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

  • Twice as many men are diagnosed with PTSD than women

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

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

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

Sam's Story

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

Everything stopped...

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

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

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

Everything is Different. Nothing's Really Changed

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

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

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

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

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

A Balanced View

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

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

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

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

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

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

However--something was lost. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steps Forward For Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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



As men are

Being a Man isTerrifying

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

Getting Through It

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you tired of it already?

An old remedy works in this case.

Love.

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

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

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

I’ve received this kind of love.

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

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

An Assignment

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

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

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

Cut Off

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

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

THINKING LIKE AN ANTHROPOLOGIST

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

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

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

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

Anxious. Nervous. On edge. 

All of these are signs of latent frustration.

This, is you. A picture of manhood. 

Yet...

THE RIVER, DENIAL

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

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

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

"Why?" I ask.

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

Sound familiar?

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

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

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

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

THE FUNCTION OF AN EMOTION

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

1) Emotions inform US about what's going on

2) Emotions inform OTHERS about what's going on

3) Emotions motivate us towards action.

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

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

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

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

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

And here's the truth:

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

Why?

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

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

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

WHY NOT FEEL ANGER?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANGER, NOT RAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOVING FORWARD

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

Here’s a starting point: 

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

Discover. Your. Anger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.