Stepping onto the path of self-awareness for a man is like taking a deep breath and entering the darkest cave, underwater, at night, and then realising you can’t swim.
Ok, so that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but as the author, Joseph Campbell wrote “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek” speaks of the gold that can be found inside the deepest recesses of ourselves once we have decided, or plucked up enough courage, to hold our nose and dive in.
For me, entering the limestone was a frightening experience. At times I felt like Mr Tickle from the Mr Men children’s books, that stretchy dude with mega long arms. Reaching in and poking about only to have my feet firmly planted on the familiarity and safeness of my external world. I knew that entering such unknown depths will soon turn Mr Tickle into Mr Messy and boy, at times, I was right.
However, I did find my gold and in doing so also became not only just a bit more self-aware of the man that I am, but also conscious of the way that I show up in the world.
I am lucky. I have a large support network of men who I can rely on. These men help me feel safe, keep me accountable, hold me to my integrity, offer support, love, friendship and more importantly, willing to keep guard at the cave entrance as I finally decide to take the plunge.
You see, these men are what I would call emotionally healthy. They embody masculinity that is both paradoxical in nature and ironic in stance. They are strong, immensely strong, both within themselves and how they assert themselves, yet they are also soft, taking into account the wishes of others and a willingness to let others shine. They no longer look outside of themselves to fulfil some internal need, but fully understand that by focusing inward that need would be met. They are balanced. They are wholesome. And more importantly, they are a pleasure to be around. They embody healthy masculinity.
Many men of my middle-aged age group were brought up to be a mix of emasculated Mr Nice Guy on one end of the spectrum and / or the Matcho dude on the other end, devoid of any tools to handle basic emotions, if he can feel them at all.
Suppressing emotions can lead to bouts of anger, violence, the numbing influence of alcohol, drugs, gambling, listlessness, lack of drive, passion and an undercurrent of deep shame.
This also effects our interactions with others. We deflect when a conversation becomes uncomfortable, we are not present, we lie, we become triggered easily and a plethora of other behaviours that we believe we are protecting ourselves with.
As shame researcher Brene Brown said “Pain that is not transformed, will always be transmitted“.
This is the cave. The abyss. The inner workings of the mind, tied tightly around a knotted stomach.
The work that we do is to untangle that mess. Some of it is easy. Deflection in conversation is attached to a spaghetti of shame that feels all too familiar and uncomfortable when activated. Let’s deal with the cause of that, and pull that bad boy out.
The deeper we go, the tighter we find things tangled, and this work can go on for as many years that we have left.
The reason why we do it and not give up on the first hurdle is the transformation that it allows us. I have been honoured to see men physically change in appearance over the course of a weekend. Our relationships with others are transformed. Life is installed in us again. We begin to know who we are, we are no longer frightened little boys. We begin to live life authentically and with honour.
The more of the accumulated crap that is cleared out, untangled or worked through the clearer we become. I only consider myself a novice on such a path but can see quite profound effects on men I look up to, my mentors.
The greatest effects that I have seen is how a conscious man shows up in the world.
To use a term such as conscious means that we also need to define its counter opposite, unconscious.
In this context, we are talking about the person who is unaware of himself. He is unaware of what emotional forces drive him. His reactions, his distractions, his own internal conflict, why he projects his shit onto others. He is unaware, unconscious of his actions. He would often live outside of integrity, he would live in pain.
Ironically, this pain could be so well hidden that he could be completely unaware that any pain exists at all. I was one of those men.
Conversely, the conscious man who is aware of himself, understands what drives him. He doesn’t react but responds. The conscious man is ruthlessly honest with himself. He is present, grounded, embodies stillness, solid, driven, he listens, he gives and lives fully by integrity. When an emotion comes up he is able to give himself permission to be vulnerable.
Having the capacity to express emotion and to not shame it, or hate it, or fear it, or feel that part is inadequate is both enlightening and the greatest form of relief. He is wholesome.
He can do this, and the reason he is whole is that the feminine aspect as been allowed to shine.
INTEGRATING THE FEMININE INTO THE MASCULINE
But what does the feminine have to do with being masculine?
As it happens, quite a lot.
The masculine and feminine energies are polar opposites and we embody a mixture of both. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, straight or gay, somewhere inside you will have varying percentages of each polarity.
It could be seen that the feminine is the nurturer. She is heart-based. She is everything that changes, the giver of life, which is why we see nature as feminine. She is movement, emotion, intuition, sound and love. The feminine is fluid.
The masculine is based in the mind. He is the doer, driven, decisive, unchanging, the voyeur. Where the feminine will express herself through dance, the masculine will be at contentment watching. He is grounded, listening. The masculine is stillness.
If you are a woman reading this, then chances are you have a particular percentage of masculine qualities playing out in your psyche. The part that drives you, forging your career. The aspect of you which lets you make decisions are all masculine qualities. The balanced female, as most are, an interplay between the feminine and masculine aspects in a healthy way.
Without generalising too much the typical female has more feminine than masculine, giving her that feminine edge.
Imagine this in percentages. 70/30 feminine to masculine would see a person who would feel feminine at her core but also has enough masculine to drive a career. 80/20 more feminine while the masculine influence backs off.
It doesn’t matter what these percentages are, the point is that we embody both to some degree.
The issue with many men is that the feminine can be completely detached. Remember the Macho dude from earlier? A classic example. When we have been brought up to keep our emotions at bay, all that this does is shut down the feminine side of us. Believing that ‘boys don’t cry’ or to ‘man up’ or ’never show any weakness’ leads to a total disconnect of any emotional feeling. As strange as this is to write this, I have known men who literally cannot tell the difference between feeling happy or sad.
When we begin doing deep emotional work, we are opening up the feminine aspect of ourselves. As this work continues we become comfortable in embodying this energy, until we have a fully expressed masculine and a fully expressed feminine. Embodying the conscious masculine includes embodying the conscious feminine as well. There is no one without the other, and this makes us fully whole.
We become comfortable with our negative traits. Not only do we realise that we have them or where they originate, we realise that these aspects are a part of us. We feel the need to not hide them, shy away from them or repress or deny them. “I am cool with my jealousy, my neediness, my heartache”. I am aware of them and doing work to change them. I am conscious.