This is the first part of a series of article on men and the masculine dimension of life. I want to go on a brief journey and talk about men’s work, the qualities of the masculine, the history and the social predicament we find ourselves and how we move forward from here, as well as provide some resources for growth and development.
The first time I have ever consciously paid attention to an emotion happened as I was going through chemotherapy. It was a real rollercoaster.
As I wrote it then in my book, “When I was going through chemotherapy my mood and energy levels could be very volatile. Some days I could barely drag myself to the hospital. Some days I could hardly go through chemotherapy. Some days the pain was debilitating. Some days I questioned my entire being.
But on some days it was a breeze. I’d go to the hospital with a huge smile on my face, ready for whatever was about to come. I’d walk out of the hospital with that same smile on my face. Feeling victorious after conquering, not cancer, but myself.”
So, it took me 18 years and a cancer diagnosis to become aware of my emotions.
How is THAT for extreme?
I have been involved in what is called as “men’s work” (yes, there is such a thing), for a good while, which really is just another aspect of personal development/growth designed specifically for men. It involves specific trainings, workshops, exercises, support group meetings and so on.
The two basic goals of this work are to help men, (i) stay open in any life situation, no matter how challenging, by learning not to default to “unhealthy” behavioural patterns and (ii) understand, embrace and develop their feminine side.
Going deeper this work serves men in the following (I’ll cover some of these in this essay and will get into others in future ones):
- Helping men connect with other men in healthy ways. It is not as easy as it sounds unfortunately, as for most men it’s been quite rare to find themselves in an emotionally safe and honest space with other men where there are no distractions (e.g. sports, drinking etc). This is not about “feelings and becoming vulnerable” nonsense. Rather learning to be authentic in an environment without societal expectations
- Self-examination and processing of a whole host of past events and conditioning: guilt, shame, anger, trauma, resentment and self-hatred amongst others. Unprocessed (and often unconscious) trauma is the foundation for how we are in the present not just individually but as a collective society as well. This is the work of a lifetime but getting over the past is crucial in creating a today that goes beyond individual needs
- Understanding history, society and the role and impact men have in it. For instance, addressing what’s been referred to as “toxic masculinity”, which I personally prefer calling “immature behaviour” (which it ultimately is) for reasons I’ll discuss below
- Learning to recognise and treat women as equal partners in this life. The fact that this is not happening in 2021 and requires explanation (and work) shows just how limited our society is
- Growing personally and developing a different (hopefully better) worldview
- Education on a bunch of topics such as masculinity, commitment, sexuality and so on
Through these events and support group meetings I have been attending I often see men, from a wide variety of age and socio-economic groups, open up for the first time about their lives, more often than not about struggles with work, relationships, family or addictions. They are trying so hard to hold it all together inside and put on a brave face for the outside just to make their lives work. This is of course not specific to men but as we have learnt…well…boys don’t cry. “Sharing” is not a very common word in the male dictionary, unless it relates to sharing stats from the game last night.
I have also experienced something similar personally.
I have given many copies of my book to men: friends, colleagues, family etc to share my story. Without a fail I heard back from them to thank me for sharing my book (they were just polite I think), tell me how much they liked it (they were very polite I think) and then most of them proceeded to tell me about some difficulty in their lives, such as a struggling marriage, divorce gone bad, family member having cancer and so on. It really looked as if for most of them this was the first time they have ever opened up about that part of their lives. Some were even crying. I was stunned. Totally unexpected but glad that they felt comfortable sharing. These are all men whom society would consider “successful” people, yet their insides told a different story.
Now, I’m not asking for your pity for these captains of industry. Far from it. I just want to offer the perspective that many are in pain, suffering and hurt inside without much help no matter their socio-economic status. If they knew that help was available and if it became part of our culture for men to recognise when they need it and seek it out our society might look different.
I’m sure you’ve heard this cheesy new-agey phrase how “hurt-people, hurt people”. If someone, with a tremendous amount of testosterone, cannot really express what’s inside of them in a healthy way (transmutation is a very foreign concept at this stage), carries generational pain and suffering, and acts it out in unhealthy ways it is like shaking a sparkling water bottle incessantly. It’ll eventually blow up. It is also then inevitable that the reciprocal response will be something like #metoo. At some point this has to happen.
But how did we get here? Why is this considered “normal”?
The general narrative you will likely hear if you engage in any kind of personal or relationship development work centres around the idea of how the societally accepted (or “normal”) roles for genders shifted during and after WWII, particularly in the west. If you pick up any relevant books (I will recommend a bunch below) you’ll find pages and pages on this so I’ll just briefly summarise. You don’t have to take this narrative very seriously, but might find it helpful as a guide.
Starting in the 50s and quoting from Robert Bly’s book Iron John (note the American, generally western, context):
“During the fifties, for example, an American character appeared with some consistency that became a model of manhood adopted by many men: the Fifties male.
He got to work early, laboured responsibly, supported his wife and children, and admired discipline. Reagan is a sort of mummified version of this dogged type. This sort of man didn’t see women’s souls well, but he appreciated their bodies; and his view of culture and American’s part in it was boyish and optimistic. Many of his qualities were strong and positive, but underneath the charm and bluff there was, and there remains, much isolation, deprivation, and passivity. Unless he has an enemy, he isn’t sure that he is alive.
The Fifties man was supposed to like football, be aggressive, stick up for the United States, never cry, and always provide. But receptive space or intimate space was missing in this image of a man. The personality lacked some sense of flow. The psyche lacked compassion in a way that encouraged the unbalanced pursuit of the Vietnam War.”
Moving to the 60s.
“During the sixties, another sort of man appeared. The waste and violence of the Vietnam War made men question whether they knew what an adult male really was. If manhood meant Vietnam, did they want any part of it? Meanwhile, the feminist movement encouraged men to actually look at women, forcing them to become conscious of concerns and sufferings that the Fifties male laboured to avoid. As men began to examine women’s history and women’s sensibility, some men began to notice what was called their feminine side and pay attention to it. This process continues to this day, and I would say that most contemporary men are involved in it in some way.
There’s something wonderful about this development – I mean the practice of men welcoming their own “feminine” consciousness and nurturing it – this is important – and yet I have the sense that there is something wrong. The male in the past twenty years has become more thoughtful, more gentle. But by this process he has not become more free. He’s a nice boy who pleases not only his mother but also the young woman he is living with.”
And onto the 70s.
“In the seventies I began to see all over the country a phenomenon that we might call the “soft male.” Sometimes even today when I look out at an audience, perhaps half the young males are what I’d call soft. They’re lovely, valuable people – I like them – they’re not interested in harming the earth or starting wars. There’s a gentle attitude toward life in their whole being and style of living. But many of these men are not happy. You quickly notice the lack of energy in them. They are life preserving but not exactly life-giving. Ironically, you often see these men with strong women who positively radiate energy. Here we have a finely tuned young man, ecologically superior to his father, sympathetic to the whole harmony of the universe, yet he himself has little vitality to offer.”
Stages of development
Another way to look at this development, as it was popularised by David Deida, is to look at this evolution in three stages. Again, don’t take these stages too seriously, just more as a guidance or illustration (there is a pretty good summary here so I’m just adding some extra ideas).
The first stage, described as a person or relationship: it’s all about ME.
I don’t think this needs much explanation as this was the dominant stage up until very recently (some would say even up to today). This can be best described by pretty strict gender roles and norms. Men going out to work and women taking care of the children at home. There is not much empathy and compassion for the other.
Men dominate women by their physical prowess and/or withholding resources and women dominate men by unleashing emotions they haven’t seen before and/or withholding sex. This stage is filled with each satisfying their own needs, manipulation and even violence, yet there is a tremendous focus on presenting a suitable image to the outside. Here essentially our past wounds and hurts (our shadows) are running our lives.
In the second stage the concept of the relationship or a person’s priority shifts from it’s all about ME to it’s all about US.
The emergence of this stage has it’s roots in the zeitgeist of the feminist and gender-equality movements, post WWII disillusion, Vietnam war etc. During this period women began to embrace their masculine aspects, became more dominant, independent from the resource-provider while men identified more with their feminine such as flow, emotions, sharing and becoming more open.
Some have characterised this stage as the “high-powered women executive and the sensitive crystal-healing flowboy”. This is the stage of political correctness, respecting boundaries, avoiding conflict, lack of judgement, agreeing to disagree and so on. All the niceties we live in today. People here want to be valued based on what they can do as opposed to their past, resources or looks. On the flip side this stage also marks the disappearance of sexual polarity because we try to be pleasing to the other.
Our societies and the vast majority of our existence oscillates between these two stages. It is very important that people respect boundaries, “gender norms” disappear (really gender has very little role beyond the bathroom and bedroom), people learn to embrace their opposites and that we find healthy expressions for our shadows. Very much needed. Nothing wrong this, it’s just we are in our evolution, but if one wishes it is possible to transcend these stages and move onto the third.
As we’ve looked at it in a previous essay on free will if one takes their own growth seriously, like an athlete practicing for the Olympics, they’ll eventually reach a point where they will see that there is something in them that is beyond the physicality of the body and the noise of the mind and emotions. At first it’s an intellectual realisation, later it becomes a living experience.
This is a very liberating realisation. Here you’ll begin to need less and less from the outside world to make you feel a certain way. You become loving, joyful, blissful or ecstatic simply by your own nature. People who reach these stages have been called awakened, realised or enlightened beings (there is a progression) but don’t worry so much about labels and please do not call yourself an enlightened being. You might have had some enlightening experiences but that’s nothing.
As you reach this stage you’ll find less entanglement with the outside world, less need to engage, thus the choices and actions you make will be more conscious. Again, it’s not that you move to some cave or become homeless because you are now “spiritual”. It is simply that what you do will be driven by the needs of situation in front of you as opposed to some personal need or ambition. If you want to continue with the person/relationship analogy, one goes from it’s all about ME, through it’s all about US, to your needs are my needs.
Here, you’ll walk into the deepest and darkest corners of the world to do your work, to serve and contribute, because you’ve gone beyond the compulsions of your physicality and psyche. You’ll automatically want to create and share because you are so full. How you express yourself in the world will be through something akin to art (note, not all art is daisies on a canvas).
If you want to take it deeper, in this stage women, or the more authentically feminine person would offer their light, radiance, life-force etc while men, or the more authentically masculine, would offer their integrity and presence unperturbed by the movements of the feminine and the world. Now, imagine if society had let’s say 10% of people like that?
In summary, we’ve gone through this narrative ark of dominating men and submissive women, to WWII where women entered the workforce as men left for battle (and/or returned broken), to men finding odds with this reality of working women, to the search for equality in all aspects of life. Practically speaking this is really a lot, but much needed, change to the historical social structures in a very short space of time which left many wishing for no change at all (e.g. very stringent abortion laws…really a ridiculous idea in the 2020s) or even more change (#metoo).
So, how does all of it relate to men’s work or men in general? As a group of people we have oscillated between the suppressed/repressed provider and sensitised sharer, however to move forward we have to define and create a new paradigm. One not defined by governments, brands or public personalities (they are all keen to get in on the action) but by life itself.
Masculine and feminine dimensions of life
At the beginning of this article I wrote about the two general purposes of training specific for men. First, learning to stay open to life. Second, embracing the feminine. They’re somewhat similar but one normally leads to the other.
Here it might be a good place to start talking about this feminine and masculine business. Needless to say, they don’t have much to do with gender rather these are qualities or dimensions of our existence. You can be identified or not identified with any gender but you’ll still have a core. It could be well covered up but you still have one. Identification or non-identification is a game of the psyche, the realm I’m talking about is an existential reality. Reality always wins.
The feminine and masculine dimensions have been represented through eons in symbols such as the Moon and Sun, Shakti and Shiva, Yin and Yang, Ida and Pingala, left and right sides of the body and so on.
The qualities of the feminine are that of life: it is endlessly moving, endlessly fascinating, the dance of life itself. The feminine, Shakti, is life itself. The feminine is all about “more”. While the masculine quality is that of presence, purpose, freedom and “less”. The masculine is empty consciousness, the feminine is loving energy that responds to consciousness. It’s like the Sun, which is always on and present, and the Moon which constantly shifts and shows a different face every day. Because the feminine is life herself she pays attention to everything (multi-focus) and as the masculine is pure consciousness he is single-focused. One more way to look at it is that “she” teaches about life while “he” teaches about death.
We possess both of these qualities in a different mix, and each of us has a core, yet with training both can be developed so that they find a conscious expression in the world.
Now, how to tell if you’ve a feminine or a masculine core. If you enjoy dancing, singing, creating art, really just being with life endlessly then you’re likely to have a feminine core. On the other hand if practicing stillness, watching a still lake, paying utter attention to something, dedicating your life to a purpose, just sheer emptiness of consciousness is what lights you up then it likely means you’ve a masculine core.
To illustrate it differently if sitting alone in a quiet room meditating is as exciting to you as watching paint dry but you yearn for your partner’s undivided attention and presence when you’re together it likely means that you have a feminine core.
I’m over-generalising here but roughly this is how it works out. Before we get confused, we all have both but I’m talking about a core. Finding this core is very important.
Very often men have a masculine core, which means that he’ll be always looking for freedom and emptiness. However much engagement is there with the world he will always be looking for this to finish so that he can return to nothing and emptiness. Unconsciously, that’s why men might zone out in front of the TV after work with a beer. The masculine wants to be free at all cost. However, it can develop into some pretty unhealthy habits, so training is very important.
Life moves incessantly
The very nature of life itself is feminine. She moves. The day changes during a 24 hour period, weather changes, seasons change, circumstances change, emotions change, people change and so on. She moves it all. This has been called as Shakti in the yogic tradition but don’t have to worry about these terms. If you can see that life is just one big movement you’ll realise, especially if you’re a masculine-core person, that this can get overwhelming at times.
As we’ve looked at it above, the nature of the feminine is to dance with life while for the masculine is to pierce through anything (problem, complication, difficulty) so that it can release and get back to emptiness.
The problem is it never really stops, unless you live in a cave.
Just ask most men if they understand their partners, spouses, girlfriends. The answer more often than not is a big resounding no. One hour she’s happy, the next one she’s said. One day she wants to chop off your head, the other day she just cannot stop loving you. One year she’s all about painting, the next she just wants to dance.
It is very confusing to men with single-focus.
The more you try to understand her intellectually the less she’ll make sense because for her to tell you why all of a sudden she likes painting yellow pots she has to trace it back to what happened three months ago when she was out with her girlfriends talking about painting, then how good she felt in the yellow top she wore the other day, then to seeing a beautiful pot in a farmer’s market last weekend and finally to the perfect weather today.
The feminine is multi-focused, it takes in and experiences everything. There is a perfectly rational reason for her to paint yellow pots today but not one that will make sense to you.
This is perhaps the biggest mistake I see men doing with their partners: they try to understand her…logically. But they’re using the wrong body part. She is not meant to be understood, she is meant to be experienced.
But I digress.
It is very easy to get entangled with the movements of life if one is not centred in the present moment. For one to be seated there steadily requires training. In essence, it requires the training of attention so that it is pulled back from the movements of life all the way back to consciousness so that it is unsullied, pure awareness. As the distance between the world and consciousness grows the easier it is to stay present to, but not get entangled with, what’s happening on the outside.
Now, this all sounds nice but how do you do this consciousness business?
There are a myriad of ways and really it depends on the person. For some sitting in a dark room and meditating for five hours will do, for some it is martial arts training, for some it is chopping wood, for some it is body or movement based training, for some it’s lifting weights, for some it’s driving a car at high speed. It really varies. But the idea is that the more you can stay present in your practice, really aware of emptiness and silence, the more you can stay present to and be with the outside world as she moves day-in and day-out.
As we looked at it in the essay on free will once there is distance between you and the world it is exponentially easier to relate to it. From my non-representative survey of women over the years, single-focus in a men can be the most annoying thing in the world (“Why does he always leave the cap of the toothpaste off?!”) but when this, this pure awareness and presence, shines on them it is the most exciting thing in the world. Now she can blossom into full radiance.
Women will not be able to explain to you what attention or presence is but they all can tell you when you don’t have it.
Now, what happens when there is no such awareness and men are subject to the vagaries and daily movements of life?
Unfortunately, we see this very often and I also witness it in men’s groups. Men not knowing how to relate to life beyond their attitude that it’s some kind of competition where they have to win or gain something. Not knowing how to relate to their partners or children. Having difficulties with their fathers.
Addicted to their job title, career or status. Addictions of other kinds: women, sex, porn, cigarette, drugs, alcohol and so on. Not knowing that help is available, believing in the old story that boys don’t cry and that it’s socially not accepted to call for help.
The list goes on.
It’s really a sad state of affairs but very rarely talked about.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it
It’s important to look at why a purpose or a mission matters so much in the context of men and men’s work. The nature of the masculine is presence and utter attention to a particular thing, or nothing. This quality is very helpful in cutting through the proverbial Gordian knot, solving problems, hunting or building something where long stretches of attention in large quantities are required. One way this manifests in our lives is having a purpose or mission in life.
This mission or purpose makes masculine men come alive. Take this away, or have men entangled with the many aspects and distractions of life (compulsions, addictions, fear, desire etc), and you will have anger, frustration, suppression, violence, competition and so on because this energy doesn’t find a conscious expression. Not the good stuff we want from men.
As we’ve looked at it above some men are suffering, deeply, yet they don’t know or don’t know how to ask for help. I can share many sad stats with you on this but I’ll just show one: According to a 2016 survey by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, males accounted for 70% of suicides that year, and suicide rates for men are more than 3.5 times higher than for women. This is what seemingly immaterial compulsions, addictions or problems can create. And we wonder why our society is the way it is?! I’ll have more to say on this below.
I believe all of us and other men who have dedicated their lives to (real) growth, have realised that once they are beyond the grip of fear and desire, that gets triggered by a particular event or situation, and can fully pay attention to what’s happening their capability to do what’s appropriate in the situation: to help, say something, do something or just simply be present increases tremendously. Once men are not captive to these they can truly bring value to any situation. Once men are not caught by fear or desire they can be fully trusted, both by men and women. Then a man will do his best in any situation.
Life moves, it’s inherent in its feminine nature. Sometimes she moves in incomprehensible ways. The question is can you stay present to that? You can become entangled or you can move beyond it. It’s a matter of priority. There is a way to look at anything that is trying to take you off your mission, that’s fighting for your attention or that’s trying to drag you into a compulsive behaviour as, “ah, this is here to serve my growth”. Welcome it. Welcome the challenge.
Your side-mission, en route to your main mission, is learning to stay present.
Authentic presence is like a still lake. Once something triggers this attention it’s like dropping pebbles on a lake which causes ripples. Can you stay present while those ripples pass and can you do the necessary work so that these pebbles create less and less ripples? That’s the question any serious inner work asks. It’s a work of a lifetime!
That’s what is meant by learning to stay open.
Embracing the feminine
All of this brings me to the second aspect of men’s work which really is about embracing the feminine.
Our current way of existing on this planet, for the most part, is about the economy, money, power and conquest. The more masculine (expressed often as immature masculine) aspects of life. From an early age we are taught to achieve, conquer and be better than anybody. This carries through to school then university where it’s all about getting the best grades or finding the best job or raising the most amount of money without any merit for why we are doing what we’re doing and what’s the impact we’re creating.
We are on all the time globally and in the process destroying the planet, relationships, culture and society when we make success, money, power, domination, conquest and achievement unconsciously the main goals of life. I’m not saying that focusing on the economy is bad (I’m an investor…). It’s a great way to lift people out of poverty and create opportunities but our lives cannot just be all about that.
For the most part, our society through history, mostly led by men, have crafted a world where essentially conquest and survival are the top goals. In to this mode of existence we’re trying to fit women and children as well. But it doesn’t work sustainably. The goal should be to create a society where both the masculine and feminine have an equal role to play. She shouldn’t need to fit into this world we’ve created because half the world is hers anyway.
The feminine aspects are concerned with an entirely different dimension of life that is way beyond this competitive mode of existence. She is about art, beauty, grace, community, nurturing and the goodness of life itself. She is not about a goal oriented or directional way of existence. Really, it’s the colours of the rainbow and textures of the weather. Without the feminine we cannot have a proper civilisation. It’s impossible.
Unfortunately, we’ve forgotten this to a large extent.
We all have a feminine aspect, we all have access to it so it’s just a question of how much, when and how to bring out when appropriate. Having more conscious access to the feminine is a very important part of training and it naturally takes care of the various compulsions and addictions. It is the intuitive, all-sensing and knowing dimension of life because in effect it is life itself.
If you wanted an analogy you could look at an ocean on which there is a ship. Which is more useful in getting you from A to B? The ship. Which is more powerful between the two? Naturally, the ocean.
So how do you do stay open to life? There are various practices that one can cultivate, which I’ll not go into it here, but there is one sure way of doing it as we have discussed it above and on an earlier essay on surrender.
Learning to stay open to life.
Whatever she brings. Whether she brings health or sickness, marriage or divorce, wealth or poverty, success or failure over time one learns to remain equanimous. It is not about suppressing: “I just got a divorce but he said I should be equanimous”. No. Don’t ever do that please.
Learn to feel what’s happening. Don’t push it away. Don’t try to rationalise it. Just sit with it. Can you see that it’s really not you? Can you see that the way you feel inside was triggered by something that has happened on the outside? Good. So it means that it’s not you, right? You are the one that’s witnessing it. It is the masculine (presence) witnessing the dance of the feminine (life). Eventually she will go and will leave you lighter. But if you try to hold onto it she’ll cause misery for the rest of your life. That’s called creating a living hell of your life. Hell is not a destination rather the experience of your life.
Taking care of mother
The other very obvious way is how men treat women on this planet.
In most men’s experience, although unconscious, women are the representative of the feminine. Radiantly beautiful yet incomprehensible in so many ways. Like life herself. Because by and large women have been life oriented, which was inappropriate for men’s logical mind, historically horrific things have been done to her in vain attempts of trying to control her. Just look at abortion laws especially in modern times. What a nonsensical idea of trying to enforce control over women! And anyway it takes two people to make a baby, no?! How immature and childish! But ultimately the lesson here is that she cannot be controlled.
She is life.
A brief detour to the junk mailbox of society
I’m taking a small detour here and expand a little bit on one of the addictions I’ve listed earlier in the essay.
Forgive my indulgence.
I wanted to bring you attention to one particular item on this list because I feel it’s not in the public enough (in a healthy way): porn.
I cannot tell you how many men spoke up, in closed circles, about their first sexual encounters, their difficulties, addictions or perversions. Somehow their entire sexual experience has been tainted by porn, this very thing that is not even on speaking terms with reality.
I call porn the junk mailbox of our society.
It’s a collection of our shadows. Everyone knows that it’s there but very few speak up about it. Porn is responsible for relationships turned sour, for divorces, for perversion, even for suicides and not just in adults. If you think this is only a problem for people in their teens or twenties, you’re wrong. Very wrong.
This is no laughing matter.
It is wrecking lives and livelihoods and yet it’s almost swept under the carpet because…well…sex sells.
An entire industry knows that men are always looking for a release from difficulties in life, no matter how young or old. If you can get them aroused most cannot help but to look for some kind of release. And porn is abundantly available.
Normally, the first exposure to porn starts around the age of 13. When the only thing available was your uncle’s Playboy stash it was a more manageable situation. When you’ve the entire world of porn, from soft to hard, coming to your smartphone unfiltered 24/7, well that is quite a different issue. Some of the things you see there would make you sick to your stomach.
People say porn is very animalistic. But if you actually look at it, for instance the way women are treated and what they are often subjected to, animals would hesitate to do such things. It is way below what an animal would do. This is what the human psyche is unfortunately capable of.
In reality, sexuality is just one more aspect of life. There is nothing inherently wrong with it. That’s how we all ended up on this planet. Through sex, right? In fact, it is and can be a really beautiful thing between consenting people but when it’s distorted for financial gains it turns very ugly. It turns into addiction, a compulsive process in men and for many it determines the quality and often the course of their lives. Sexuality can be explored and turned into a conscious process for growth, as it has been done in some eastern cultures where they had the time and no social morals about exploring such things.
Unfortunately, these things have also been twisted heavily in modern times as they came to the west. Just look up tantra on Google and you’ll see what nonsense is available there. Most of such authentic traditions have gone underground a long time ago because of modern social norms, morals and public prudishness. Exploring sexuality consciously is still considered weird, yet watching a gangrape on YouPorn is not uncommon because, “well, you know, boys will be boys” (I’m exaggerating but I hope you get the point).
If your uncle’s Playboy stash is considered the gateway drug the psyche will eventually be satiated and look for something harder. In the process it gets desensitised to life and what it’s doing creates all kinds of suffering inside and in the outside world when expressed.
Sexual content is not the issue, it’s our relation to it. It’s been in existence in various forms since the beginning of humanity. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. For some people sexual content ru(i)ns their life, for some it spices up, while some are beyond it. Is there a solution? Yes, but it’s not in the banning or renouncing of it. That’ll just suppress it further. It’s been tried with alcohol during the prohibition and the end result was a booming illicit industry. The idea is to bring the shadow to the light, so that it eventually dissipates.
The idea is to become conscious of it to it’s full extent, be able to have open conversations about it then eventually, with work, just go beyond the compulsions it creates.
If you think a conversation is easy just look at how awkwardly sexual education is conducted in schools or how uncomfortable it might be to talk about it with your partner. Most men are not able to be fully open up with their partners in this arena because of a fear of shame, guilt etc. That’s how deep this goes. This, along with many of the unhealthy and suppressed addictions, combined with a healthy dose of testosterone, are the building blocks of “toxic masculinity” that you see discussed often today. The idea here is not to “cancel” sexual content but to raise awareness.
Taking care of mother (continued)
I think we’ve sufficiently addressed the above…
Why is it important? Because of biology and physiology women are able to be hosts for life and birth the next generation. This is no small thing by any means. Yet this hasn’t been treated with the appropriate level of humanity and reverence. This aspect of the “mother” within women have been noted by great beings of past and present. Just look at all women like a mother. They might not be your mother but they are, or could be, a mother to someone else. In reality, you exist here together with everyone.
As Swami Sivananda wrote in his book titled Brahmacharya, “There is no harm in looking at a beautiful woman. You can admire the beauty of a girl just as you admire the beauty of a rose, the beauty of the sea, the stars or any other natural scenery. Think that the beauty of your wife belongs to Nature. Whenever you see a lady, put this question to your mind: “Who is the creator of this beautiful form?” At once, a sense of wonder, a sense of admiration and a sense of devotion will arise in your mind. It is only when you dart a lustful, unchaste look at a woman that you commit sin. You commit adultery at heart. Only when you entertain lustful thoughts, bondage and misery come. The beauty that you perceive in the faces of the ladies is the beauty of the Lord. You can have admiration in this manner.”
If this becomes a living experience, and it can through practice, many of the compulsive behaviours will naturally fall away.
The power of initiation and transmission
As I was going deeper into this work two words, initiation and transmission, kept popping up.
Joseph Campbell, the author of a Hero with a Thousand Faces, talks about how initiations were used in many traditions to mark the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. The idea was that boys, the representative of the masculine (provider, warrior, hunter etc), would be taken through a rite of passage of sorts where it’d become an experiential reality that they were no longer children.
The elders would find ways to have the boys experience a tinge of death during this process. Something beyond their physicality, so that they were ready for the responsibilities of manhood and learn to live with a reverence for life, for the very land they walked on and for the mother in all beings. The boy would be separated from his mother and the very life in them would find an expression in the world. It marked a new beginning of sorts. The birth of the mature masculine.
There is a frequently quoted saying that you’ll hear in many growth/development work: “Heal the boy, find the man.” Some traditions have realised that the masculine thrives on challenge, while the feminine thrives on praise and appreciation, and aimed to cultivate their livelihoods as such, in which initiations played a significant role.
Now we have college kids running naked through campus in the name of “initiation”.
Not the same thing.
Not even in the same ZIP code.
Elements of this are still alive in some cultures today but perhaps more so in a ceremonial role. Yet boys, and the masculine dimension in them, still requires it. However, one of the problem is that there are really no more “elders” around as families have gotten broken up and settled often at large distances.
To quote again from Robert Bly’s Iron John: ”Initiation of Western men has continued for some time in an altered form even after fanatics destroyed the Greek initiatory schools. During the nineteenth century, grandfathers and uncles lived in the house, and older men mingled a great deal. Through hunting parties, in work that men did together in farms and cottages, and through local sports, older men spent much time with younger men and brought knowledge of male spirit and soul to them.
Much of that chance or incidental mingling has ended. Men’s clubs and societies have steadily disappeared. Grandfathers live in Phoenix or the old people’s home, and many boys experience only the companionship of other boys their age who, from the point of view of the old initiators, know nothing at all.”
As the quote above notes, there is very little transmission from one generation to the next, even less that is done consciously, in these modern times. As many parents have found out the hard way children don’t listen, or don’t learn from, what they tell them rather from their behaviour. It’s a kind of osmosis. So if you have a problem with the behaviour of your child it’s most likely your words and actions that are the culprit, not theirs.
To paraphrase Ram Dass, you just don’t get transmission from watching Donald Duck on afternoon TV. Initiators and elders have said many times that a boy needs a second birth, to be born as a man, and perhaps the most effective way for that to happen is by an initiation of elders, the representatives of the mature masculine.
Now, you don’t need to go so extreme and look for tribal elders to initiate you into life. However, the idea is that you have to look for it, at least a little bit, because what is available in our “normal” society is not necessarily designed for the very life in you.
Just look at traditional schooling. It is not a process designed for you to help solve problems rather to be socially acceptable and accumulate infinite amount of information. For someone with a masculine core that is not helpful at all, especially for someone with a smartphone and access to infinite information.
You can let life initiate you but that requires you to stay open (really that is the work, as noted above). With every bit of challenge that comes into your life a little bit of your personal, your ego, has to die. Or you can seek out an elder person, need not be a family member, who has gone through their own initiation in life who can guide you. Or you can seek out training dedicated specifically for men where you can further explore and embody mature ways of masculinity.
Mature vs immature
Unfortunately, without some form of initiation we get immature masculinity and society with a lack of reverence for the feminine. This is the end-product of the world we currently live in.
As we’re coming to the end of this essay, I wanted to take a moment and talk about mature and immature masculinity.
From my experience, and again my non-representative surveys, when women say, “I hate men. I hate masculinity”, they normally refer to what can be deemed as immature masculinity.
These days it’s been upgraded, or downgraded depending on your perspective, to “toxic masculinity”. And they’re not that wrong.
But I hope you can see, through reading this essay, that while our society is not consciously geared to create immature men, if one doesn’t pay attention that is the unfortunately the default outcome. I’m not saying this to abdicate responsibility, far from it, rather to show that the mature masculinity is available in all of us, most have seen and experienced glimpses, but to make it the default way of living takes work.
I’m going to say something that will probably get me into trouble but existentially both the masculine and feminine are just dimensions of this life. Neither toxic, nor right or wrong but just are. Masculinity or femininity in themselves are not toxic but it is men (also women, yes these days there is something called as “toxic femininity” too) who can create such conditions and environments for both men and women through their behaviour.
What’s called as “toxic masculinity” today very much exists, just look at most workplaces, families, law enforcement or politics, really the list is endless, but instead of calling it as such, which can be an abstract concept, I prefer the term “immature behaviour”. I like to break things down to make them workable. We’re talking about the same thing but once you identify it as a behaviour that’s creating problems it can be fixed. If you title it as some philosophical concept it’ll remain as such and I don’t think this helps anyone.
All the behaviour that gets lumped into the “toxic” category is really driven by fear. The two most basic psychological fears we human have are that (i) I’m not enough and (ii) if I’m not enough I won’t be loved. Our need for love, or whatever we define as love such as acceptance, and our need to belong to someone or something is so important that if left unconscious it can make us do awful things. Can you see what extreme behaviours people would engage in to meet these two basic needs?
I could spend pages on mature vs immature masculine but often a short video can sum it up better. I want to show you two videos each about a minute long and ask you to decide for yourself.
The first video is what is commonly known as normal, family friendly Friday night TV entertainment while the second might be considered as a violent macho movie. Whatever floats your boat, I’m far from judgemental, but I ask you to look close.
In the first one, women, hopefully willingly, partaking in a glorified wet T-shirt contest while people around them are clapping and dancing. You might deem this just as a silly TV show but do you realise the message it sends to children and young boys? It’s okay to put young women in such positions, to strap plastic cups around their chests (I mean who comes up with such an idea anyway?!) and have them play in water-filled kiddy pools as they pour water from one cup to another? Is this what we want to transmit to the next generation? I have no way of knowing but do you think the creative genius behind this Emmy-hopeful of a master piece was a woman? Somehow, I doubt it. Was the director more likely a testosterone overdriven male with some very unhealthy, sexually repressed shadows lurking in the back? You got it. Can a man like this be trusted, by women or men, to always do the appropriate thing? Would you like your daughter to marry someone like that? I don’t think so. Just look at the facial and bodily expression of the anchorwoman. It will tell you all.
Now, look at the second video. Look at the idea this man is portraying. Someone is trying to destroy his very livelihood and he is tapping into his very core, the very essence of the masculine that is always yearning for freedom. He is saying, in no complicated terms, that I’d rather die than you take my home without me defending it to my best. I might not have your resources but there is nothing stopping me. I have gone beyond death. I have gone beyond caring for my own personal fears and desires. I’m in service of something much greater than me. I’m not tolerating any less from the other men in my army than their best. I’ll show them a way they can tap into the deepest parts of their being. I’ll lead them. I’m fully present. Together we will live or die in the name of freedom. Bring your best. Because I know I will. It doesn’t get more masculine than this.
Choose for yourself which one would you like to represent in the world.
It’s not that men are bad or we have to cancel them, no far from it (okay, I’m biased). Men can create fantastic things in this world and be extraordinary, it’s just that the vast majority haven’t been held to high enough standards.
I could go on for a long time about this stuff because it is very important. We haven’t even gotten to archetypes and their shadows, relationships and intimacy, many other aspects of this work, which I’ll save for other articles.
In the meantime.
To the men: thank you for doing your work! What you’re doing is so worth it. This is the single best thing you can do for yourself, for your partner, for people around you and the world at large.
To the women: I hope these few words have been able to convey a little bit about masculinity and men. While men’s work is not an underground movement anymore you might not have encountered many men doing such work. Rest assured, these sincere men exist. On the other hand, if you’re with a man who is doing his work and if you find it in you then please help him and become his oracle. He will worship you for the rest of his life. And who knows one day he might even paint his face blue and white and fight for your mutual freedom. Whatever it may be.
Thanks for reading!