In my reading, both on the web and in print, I’ve come across two basic types of men: those who believe that their development as a person and as a man is finished (and anyone who thinks differently is some kind of girly-man or should ‘get over it’), and those who are willing to go deeper – to explore their shadow side, their weaknesses and fears – in order to grow into the man they know they are capable of. To be an authentic man.
I used to be one of the first types, making fun of guys who want to ‘get in touch’, to express themselves, to be vulnerable, honest, and authentic. But through my reaction to a series of events in my life, I came to learn that I was being held back by beliefs that I picked up from society, and that I was living my life in reaction to the world. I wasn’t making choices based on what I truly wanted and believed in, but rather simply reacting, and not in ways that were fulfilling to me or were for my best interests.
So I started looking around at what other men had written or spoken of in regards to the journey of a man – or rather the journey from boy to man. And honestly, 10+ years ago, all the things I heard ran counter to what my heart was telling me – that men are different than women, that they have a different language and different needs than women do. Mostly what I found were focused around taking the lessons that women have learned in empowerment, and putting a male spin on them. This felt wrong. It still does.
I saw quite a few women who had really broken free of the negative gender stereotypes, had claimed their power, and were doing great work for and with women. But I didn’t see any male role models that I felt drawn to – they were either selling a ‘magic pill’, were complete ass-hats and focused on the shallow end of the psyche, or were completely unbelievable.
Because of that, I decided that I needed to just work on myself and find my own way. During that time of my life – about a decade – I read extensively in the great spiritual texts, especially the Eastern religious traditions which were fully focused on the inner game, not the outer rituals. I practiced Hatha yoga, experimented with Qi Gong, and learned to meditate. I also spent years pursuing the elusive (false) feeling of enlightenment that came through psychedelics, but realized that no matter how profound the experience, you always came down, and it isn’t really possible to stay in that place (though many people try to).
Further along, I discovered the Lakota ceremonies of sweat lodge, crying for a vision, and Sundance, which enabled me to bridge the gap between the physical and the spiritual. I learned the feeling of letting go of my expectations, pushing through my physical suffering, and trusting fully in the power of faith, prayer, and intention. I also learned the true meaning of community – gaining a chosen family, with every man my brother and every older man my uncle or grandfather.
And through it all, the challenges of marriage and fatherhood put me to the test – many times leading me to believe that somehow I wasn’t good enough, that who I was wasn’t competent, because I would still react in ways that were not fully authentic, not fully empowered. There were many times that I wanted to run away to my ‘cave’, to head out to the mountains or desert to live the life of a hermit. I never acted on those impulses, but seeing the urge to do so showed me some things about myself that I was busy trying to deny.
So I’ve grown quite a bit over the years, but something is still missing for me.
I continued to keep a lookout for men that I could look up to, for a mentor, for kindred spirits, but my ego wouldn’t let me see the beauty and power in others – all I saw was their weakest traits and their failings. Sure, I saw many men who were competent in one area, or were light years ahead of me in some aspects, but my logical mind was looking for someone who had it all together, so at their first mis-step, I dismissed them from my mind.
The end result of this attitude has been that I’ve been living in a bubble – feeling as if I’m on this journey alone, because I wouldn’t humble myself to connect and learn from other men who are also doing the work of personal development.
In the last year, I’ve been following the work of Jayson Gaddis, who is doing great things by helping men to suit up and show up in life – to help them overcome blocks in their lives and to realize their full potential. He also offers coaching, which I had previously dismissed as something that *other* people need (not me, of course… haha).
I had the pleasure of talking to Jayson a couple of months ago, and felt that he really knows his stuff, and can cut through the BS, but I still wasn’t convinced afterward of my need for coaching. But after my wife and I worked through some really intense relationship issues, I had a moment of clarity and saw myself in a new light – as one who could admit my need for some new insight, an objective view of me and my journey.
So when I heard about Jayson’s ‘Pay it Forward’ coaching , I quickly shot off an email to him before my ego could talk me out of it. And right afterward, I felt that old ‘butterfly in the stomach’ feeling that comes when I’ve got some fear about something I need to do – and that feeling made me realize I had made a good and needful decision. We haven’t started our work together yet, but I imagine that the work I do on myself will trickle down to the topics I write about here.
Another thing I’ve been doing recently is listening to episodes of Tripp Lanier’s The New Man podcast – half hour interviews with people sharing insights in all aspects of personal development, especially for men. I’ve learned a bunch, and can highly recommend it.
I’ve also been re-reading a bunch of books about men and men’s issues, ones that I had dismissed long ago, and finding that I can now learn from them. The ones I can recommend are The Way of the Superior Man and King Warrior Magician Lover, and I just started reading Fire in the Belly. If you’re willing to admit (as I am) that you don’t know it all, and might be stuck, I think they’ll be great resources for you. I’m thinking of them as textbooks for the authentic man, and while I don’t see them as having all the answers, I think they just might have the right questions to ask ourselves.
I’m curious to know if any of this resonates with other men (yourself, your partner, your friends), and how they’ve approached it. Please leave me a comment if you have something to add to this.
And please, if you just want call me a girly-man in the comments, don’t.
Image: yosoyjulito at Flickr