It’s something we do in virtually every moment of our lives.
It is one of the few things (along with our heartbeat) that we have in common with all living beings at all times.
It is a part of practices used in virtually every spiritual and religious tradition.
Unfortunately, in many circles, breathing has become something we overlook, a competitive spiritual sport, or a technique. Many of us have lost touch with the simple pleasure of breathing and appreciating it as a vital part of our life force, our being-ness, essential to our health, well-being, and survival.
Right now, try simply noticing your breathing. Feel the sensation of air entering your body through your nostrils, circulating through your lungs, and leaving your body. Feel the sensation of your muscles, chest, and belly expanding and contracting. Let go of worrying about the depth or shallowness of your breath, the speed of your breath, or any ways you think you should be breathing.
Break any rules you might have around you should breathe and breathe in a way that feels good to you. Make breathing a joyful experience, a way to celebrate the gift of your life in each moment.
Noticing the breath automatically brings us into the present with less effort than trying to be present. Breath can help us connect to our bodies, our emotions, and our state in each moment that we give it attention. As you breathe, notice how you feel. Experiment with placing one hand on your chest and the other hand on your belly as you breathe.
For me, noticing my breath helps me connect to my humanity, my vulnerability, and my aliveness. There is something so simple, essential, and pure about breathing that it almost instantly brings me into greater connection to myself and alters my state, not to mention slowing down my pace.
Noticing others’ breathing almost always helps me feel connected to them. When I feel angry, disconnected, or judgmental, becoming aware of others’ breath (and sometimes trying to match it) lowers my defensiveness and disconnection – it opens a doorway through which to connect and appreciate our shared humanity, including the struggles we all face in being human. When I already feel connected, by noticing others’ breathing I find a simple place through which to deepen intimacy and relate through our shared human experience.
Everyone has blind spots. Whether these blind spots fall into areas in which we have minimal experience, aspects of ourselves (or others) that we simply can’t see, or habitual ways of behaving that don’t produce the results we desire, these blind spots keep us from thriving. This is true for both organizations and the individuals within them.
As a trainer, coach, and consultant, my job is to help identify these blind spots and create and implement a plan for overcoming them. My position as an outsider provides the opportunity to see things that others cannot. For example:
- Unspoken or unacknowledged norms in the organization that are creating ruts and stagnant thinking
- Ineffective communication between the manager and the people above or below that drain the organization of resources and create waste
- Withheld complaints and grievances that can decrease morale and weaken the organization’s core
- Ideas and wisdom that never reach the proper channels that could potentially transform the organization and eliminate debilitating obstacles
In my experience, organizations tend to jump to solutions without clearly identifying the underlying problems. This wastes both time and money, not to mention impacting the morale and confidence amongst employees. My job is to clearly identify the underlying problems in order to provide solutions that are effective, sustainable, and create real change that is relevant to and that strengthens the bottom-line goals and mission of your organization.
It is also too common for organizations to know what they need to do but often fail to follow through on implementing a long-term action plan. In my desire to see organizations thrive, it is my job to implement and carry out a plan of action that can remain in place long after my work is complete. My goal is to help organizations become independent and self-generating, capitalizing on the wisdom and talent within.
I not only want to see organizations thrive for themselves, but also for the betterment of the planet. It is not enough to simply focus on the bottom line. Given the many challenges we face in our world, we also need to consider the well-being of both people and the planet. The three are interlinked: health in any one of these areas creates health in the other two. As a trainer, coach, and consultant, keeping all three areas in harmony are vital to the success of the organization.
Whether you are experiencing significant problems or simply want to take your organization to the next level, or anything in between, my services can provide the catalyst and the follow up to implement and sustain change. Just knowing change is needed is not enough to make a difference. With appropriate coaching, consulting, and/or training, your organization can take the action necessary to create and sustain the desired changes.
There are not a whole lot of words right now to convey the depth of pain and grief that many of us (including myself) are feeling. Yet it is through allowing ourselves to fully feel the pain and grief that will bring forth the healing that we most need. Ironically, this is the area that we most tend to avoid.
I am the first to admit that I don’t want to have to feel this. I want to numb and avoid having to face the depth of fucked-upness in this situation. It fucking hurts to see what our world has come to and to be a part of it. I feel such intense rage and sorrow – how could we let this happen? What the fuck is wrong with people? How could anyone do this? It hurts to be part of this world. The more I start to feel everything, the less I want to be here.
We’ve been conditioned to avoid feeling grief. Finding fault, being quick to advocate for solutions, and even trying to comfort ourselves by focusing on the positive keep us from having to feel the depth of our grief. It is our unwillingness to feel our grief, however, the underlies so much of why we behave in the ways we do that cause harm, fear, separation, and violence. Our unwillingness to grieve underlies our cynicism, anger, and tendency to blame. It is what keeps us from having to recognize the pain and suffering of others (and ourselves), and what prevents us from coming together to hold each other through the darkness and suffering that we all experience, regardless of gender, nationality, political affiliation, class, race, or age.
There are no easy answers. At this point, trying to find them is another way of not having to feel our grief. Allowing ourselves to feel, to come undone, to let our hearts break all the way open is the one thing that we’ve continued to avoid over and over again. If we want to deal with the cause and stop trying to manage the symptoms, we need to stop avoiding and start feeling. We need to deal with the messiness inside so we don’t keep enacting it on the outside. We need to feel our grief in order to move through it.
I pray for all of us to completely fall apart and feel our grief. To be reduced to an ocean of tears and tantrums. To be a complete mess. To stop trying to comfort ourselves through positive thinking, finding solutions, pointing the finger, or numbing and distracting. To actually be human and feel all of our feelings, without trying to rationalize or justify them. To unite and support one another through these times and move past the barriers we’ve created to separate and isolate ourselves. I pray that, as a nation, we come undone. I believe that this is the message: to quit running from our grief and to start feeling it, together.
When reflecting upon and participating in the men’s movement, both past and present, something has been lacking for me. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve been able to put my finger on what it is, at least in any articulate way:
We keep trying to make men fit into models, rather than helping men be men.
In the men’s movement, there are numerous models, theories, frameworks, and concepts that we use in an attempt to grow and evolve. In most cases, these models are rooted in mental concepts. They are ideas of what “should” work and be helpful. They “make sense.” They produce a certain level of results and benefits, including in certain cultural contexts and eras. In some cases, they draw from spiritual principles and concepts. They appear to offer a way out of our current state of “suffering” and confusion and into a way of being that is more meaningful, fulfilling, and healthy.
These models for men also exist on a cultural level independent of the men’s movement. We have (and are fed) all kinds of ideas of what men are supposed to be, and these ideas are constantly changing. One day men are supposed to be tough and invincible. The next, stoic and independent. Another day, sensitive and kind. Another, community-focused and spiritually evolved. Another, all of the above. Shit, can anyone keep up with or figure out how and who we’re supposed to be as men when the image and the bar is constantly changing? We keep searching for an image and ideal that can’t, and won’t, ever exist (especially not in a one-size-fits-all kind of way).
Sure, we can apply these models – we can figure out which archetypes to embody and draw from, which of David Deida’s three stages we’re in or how “masculine” or “feminine” we are or should be, which meme to apply to track our progress and growth, which men to look up to as role models, how conscious we are or aren’t. However, rather than help us, I believe that this kind of thinking keeps us stuck in looking for the way out. It perpetuates a search for something new and different that one day will be outdated and passe. Meanwhile, men are caught up in trying to figure out who and how they should be, moving from model to model looking for an answer of what it means to be a man (usually through someone else’s model or perspective).
This thinking mirrors our culture, where we get caught up in distractions that we think will fulfill us (or save us), but instead keep us from being present and fully here in the moment. It provides an illusion of control through “knowing” that keeps us from having to surrender and admit the fact that we really don’t know shit about what will really create meaningful and lasting change or how that might look. It keeps us safe and secure on the cliff of “knowing” from having to take a leap of faith and free fall into the unknown.
An alternative paradigm? Helping men be more of the man who they already are. Letting go of concepts and models and simply discovering who we are and who we are becoming through engaging in conscious relationships (including with ourselves). Stop trying to figure it all out, and allow change to unfold and emerge on its own. Creating consciousness and becoming conscious in the moment, rather than as something to aspire to or achieve.
In our search for solutions, we overlook the fact that as human beings we already know what’s true and real. We see where others are off. We see others’ strengths, gifts, and weaknesses. We know the impact that others have on us, and the ability to hear how we impact others. We know what feels good and what doesn’t. We are intuitive, aware, and insightful beings. And yet, we develop all these fancy and seemingly evolved technologies that, at the core, keep us from actually relating with ourselves and other people and working with the raw material that will in and of itself lead to growth, change, and evolution. The map we seek already exists within the very fabric of our relationships, but instead we apply all of these concepts and models that actually get in the way of allowing our humanity (and masculinity, whatever that means) to emerge through presence.
In my groups, workshops, and individual sessions, men have the opportunity to simply be with one another in presence. They engage in simple somatic and awareness practices that help them become more aware of who they are and what their experience is. They both give and receive feedback, trusting that they both see and are seen. They share their experiences, fears, doubts, insecurities, desires, challenges, and gifts. They have opportunities to be vulnerable and reveal themselves authentically. They are challenged and called forth by one another to be the best they can be and to fully show up. They learn to communicate and relate through experiences that provide feedback in the moment, rather than through applying a “right or wrong” method or model.
Through these experiences, men become more aware of who they are. They become more attuned to how they think, feel, and relate, to what they want and desire, to what they are passionate about, to what fulfills them. They learn the impact they have on others, and this feedback enables them to grow in ways that serve other people and the planet. They learn more about their strengths and their weaknesses, their light and their shadow. They form their own beliefs about what being a man means to them, and are encouraged to enact and express themselves congruently. They learn to tell the truth about their experience. They are held accountable for their actions and behaviors. They become the living creators and enactors of a new “masculine” consciousness and culture in each moment that they choose to wake up and be and express all of who they are.
This paradigm assumes that the only way out is through. It requires us to work with the grist of what already is and to surrender to the process (and the result). It requires us to trust ourselves and our experience, and to become more conscious and aware of what our truth and experience actually is (and to communicate it). It requires us to actually relate with one another (and ourselves), where the purpose of a model is to act as a tool or reference to better understand and articulate our experience. It calls us to come together to discover what the truth is and co-create it (and allow it to be co-created by something greater than ourselves). It says that there is no answer or solution (other than the paradox of the solution being the paradigm itself). Taking this leap requires courage, curiosity, commitment, and surrender.
The map is not the territory. While some of the existing models can be used as tools through which to gain more insight and awareness into where we currently stand, the mistake we make is trying to use them to dictate who and what we are supposed to become. Yet, deep down, I believe that we all really know who we are – it’s just that sometimes we need other people to remind us.
In reality, we are each unique beings made up of qualities, traits, expressions, beliefs, and gifts that transcend any archetype or model. To try and fit ourselves into anything other than our essence is dehumanizing and contributes to the very state we are trying to “free” ourselves from by using these models in the first place. To think that we know what consciousness and evolution looks like or to outline stages of growth is arrogant and insulting to our potential and humanness. The truth is that we don’t know what our human potential actually is because we’ve never, either individually or as a species, experienced it. To attempt to limit, categorize, define, or box in our potential only keeps us stuck and prevents us from moving into the unknown area were the magic and mystery of the human experience can organically unfold.
Masculinity is a concept, not a state or way of being. By choosing to be ourselves rather than fit into a concept, we become more human. I believe that this is our journey – to create space for us to come into conscious relationship with ourselves and other people and discover and call forth the fullness of who we are, both as men and as human beings.
(Postscript: I believe that this paradigm is true for all humans, not just men).
Whether you are in a monogamous relationship, open relationship, or any other form or relationship, many of us seem to find ways to avoid intimacy.
Regardless of the reasons for or against your relationship preference (and, as with any perspective, there is plenty of “scientific evidence”, logic, and rationale to back up one’s case), in any form of relationship there can be “exits.”
These exits can be small or large, ranging from spending too much time watching TV to having an affair. Common exits include being on the phone or computer, spending time with pets, children, or other friends, having multiple partners, using pornography, drinking alcohol, overeating, or working. Other potentially big exits include fantasizing about other people, wondering if the “grass would be greener” with someone else, or not fully committing to anyone. Note that these things are not necessarily exits in and of themselves. What makes them exits, regardless of the behaviors, is the underlying cause: avoiding intimacy with yourself and with your partner.
Case in point: me.
In my current (monogamous) relationship of almost 1-1/2 years, I’ve become aware of exits that keep me from fully being in the relationship: staying in touch with past lovers where there is still an “energy” there despite not actively engaging it, over-analyzing or over-processing the relationship with others, caretaking other women (including my partner), isolating, and not expressing or communicating my feelings.
As I close off the exits, the crucible of relationship gets hotter. With nowhere else to go, my fears rise, and I find myself sitting in the intensity of my own feelings without having a place to divert my energy. There are many moments when I feel scared shitless, wanting to run, hide, or shut down. I come face to face with my fears of being abandoned, smothered, or hurt. My beliefs around self-worth, lovability, and my ability to receive love are challenged. It’s not always “fun” and I don’t always “look good”, but there is a depth of realness, of truly being brought to the core of my human-ness and fully being exposed and vulnerable to another person that is humbling, both heart-breaking and heart-opening, and miraculous. And, there are times when I feel miserable and can’t seem to get through the discomfort and just have to deal with it (while also trying to find ways to relate with my partner) until I find a way through.
While I don’t believe there is a right way to do relationship, I’m seeing just how much I and others avoid intimacy, with all kinds of exits. And, if you value relationships as a path of growth, these exits can thwart that growth in ways that are often unconscious.
And yet, there is something to be said for staying in this fire and having to fully show up with another person. I can see how at times in the past it was so much safer to have the exits of other people to turn to for comfort, arousal, aliveness, sexual gratification, solace, fun, or kvetching and complaining (in addition to some of my other exits) to avoid having to sit in the fire of intimacy.
The benefits to closing off the exits are huge. As I close off the exits and confront my fears and beliefs, I am able to receive greater love from my partner. There is more trust between us, and I am more able to surrender to her and to the relationship. I am more able to handle intensity and discomfort, and thus able to take a stronger stand in my life. I feel more powerful, confident, alive, and able to show up. Having confronted those dark places, I am more able to powerfully offer my gifts to others. And again, sometimes in the midst of working through the fears it doesn’t seem like there is an end in sight or any benefit other than torture and masochism. However, if I’m willing to stay with the fear, discomfort, and awkwardness I always arrive at a new place on the other side.
I both challenge and invite you to notice where the exits are in your relationships. Where are the places that you hide out, where you avoid depth, where you “leak” energy?
As it is for me, the truth can be ugly, and it takes courage to identify and own those exits.
It takes discernment to discover what yours are. If you’re stuck or want to cut to the truth, ask your partner or trusted people in your life who see you. Take in what they have to say. If you find yourself feeling defensive, take it as a sign that they are probably onto something.
From there, do whatever it takes to close the exits, sit in the fire, and feel the burn. As in any crucible, alchemy happens, and the lead is transformed into gold.
This just in: Bin Laden has finally been killed.
I start to see the reaction amongst many people in the West: celebration, rejoicing, time to party, “it’s about time he got what was coming to him.”
Somehow, I get the feeling he (and many other people he was aligned with) were thinking the same things about us after 9/11.
And we hated them for it.
Which begs the question, “why is it then acceptable for us to feel and react that way?”
Are we better than they are? Are we right and they are wrong? Why do we get to claim the “moral high ground?” Is that racism? Ethnocentrism? Who are we to say who deserves to die, any more than he did? I’m sure he had his reasons, same as we did.
Don’t get me wrong – I believe in holding people accountable for their actions. However, wishing death upon another person is not about accountability – it’s about revenge and vindication. It is reactive. It is a way for us to feel better about ourselves, to temporarily avoid the suffering, anguish, pain, and fear that we all face.
And yet, our darkness still lives within us. We still suffer – another’s death does not truly bring us liberation nor release that darkness and shadow. Our anger and pain still lives within us, ready to emerge again once someone else steps up to commit some heinous act that we despise. It doesn’t go away – it simply goes underground, causing us daily misery in forms such as disease, unhappiness, scarcity, illness, and persistent emotional states such as fear, anger, and grief. We may temporarily have the illusion that we are safe and secure now, only to soon find some other reason or circumstance to project our insecurity and lack of safety onto.
We become liberated once we can face and embrace our own shadow. The part of us that could kill if we were pushed to that point. The part of us that hates. The part of us that is intolerant. The part of us that thinks we have been dealt injustice, lack of compassion, been judged for our beliefs and way of life. The part of us that is righteous and thinks we are better than everyone else.
It makes me sad to see people celebrating someone’s death in such a way. It makes us no better than the monster that we judged him to be.
We have seen the enemy, and he is us. Stand for justice, and confront the enemy within. It may not be easy. You may not like what you see. It may be extremely uncomfortable. And, this is where peace begins.
I wrote an article a ways back called “Men and the ‘Finding Your Purpose’ Myth” about men discovering their purpose through relating and connecting rather than isolating and going away. And yet, beyond finding your purpose, there’s actually knowing what the hell purpose actually is. There seem to be lots of myths and stories surrounding purpose, such as:
- it takes time
- it involves doing something
- it has to be expressed through some external form, including mediums such as work, hobbies, or art
- it is indicated through feeling passionate, inspired, and happy
- it is conditional and contextual, perhaps changing over time or dependent on your circumstances
As such, many people spend much of their time and energy seeking and doing, attempting to find meaning in their lives and “feel good.”
What if purpose is actually simpler than that? What if purpose at the core is simply an experience giving way to action, rather than taking action in order to try to have an experience?
I’ve had moments where I’ve felt miserable, depressed, and angry, but have felt completely on purpose and on my path (and known that feeling that way was essential to it). I’ve had moments and periods where I’ve literally been doing “nothing,” yet have felt full of meaning and fulfillment. I’ve experienced instantaneous shifts in my awareness, state, and consciousness with no effort whatsoever. I’ve had times when I’ve profoundly impacted another person’s life simply by being present, without saying or doing anything. I’ve been in extremely unpleasant circumstances or situations, and felt blissful and at peace. And, I’ve received money, love, appreciation, support, and connection without having to lift a finger or take any action.
My point? How much of our lives do we spend trying to “do something,” be busy, make a living, fix ourselves or others, try to accomplish, etc. just to find and live our purpose? And, how much of that seeking is a distraction to avoid feelings of worthlessness, emptiness, discomfort, unpleasant emotions, pain, or lack?
Each moment presents an opportunity to be “on purpose”: to love unconditionally; to honor ourselves and our experiences; to dance with and embrace life as it is; to serve; to commune with Source; to relate. All the rest is window dressing, perhaps nice and fun, but at the core, unessential to our well-being and happiness. Yes, it might feel a hell of a lot more uncomfortable at times, but in the end is so much more rewarding and fulfilling, sourced from within, unaffected by outer circumstances, people, or situations, free of condition or limitation, completely under our power and control.
This is the choice we are faced with: to let go of purpose involving anything outside of ourselves or the need to do or change anything, and instead to choose to be fully present in each moment, feeling and loving and embracing ourselves, other people, and life, just as it is.
Love. What does it really mean?
Jesus said simply to “love one another.” The Beatles said that “all you need is love.” And yet, why is it so freakin’ hard to do?
I’m not talking about syrupy-sweet “I-love-you’s” with little follow-through or romanticized happily-ever-after love. I’m talking about a penetrating love with depth and heart and the power to cut through fears of separation, illusion, and blame. I’m talking about a moment-to-moment love that can be either tender or fierce, that can inspire movements, end wars, and open even the most closed and fearful hearts. I’m talking about a love that is willing to endure the truth, even if it’s painful or uncomfortable.
Too often lately I’ve witnessed the inability or unwillingness to love: those who profess that the real war is within, yet who blame and point the finger; those who leave when the going gets rough, checking out and distracting themselves from the pain; those who talk about their frustrations and struggles with people in their lives to everyone except for the people who are directly involved, unwilling to move towards the discomfort into potential healing; those who believe that the problem lies “out there.”And even my own fears of “losing control” and choosing to play small rather than into openness and generosity with others.
We avoid making connecting with real love through work, drugs, sex, and other addictions. We lie to ourselves, afraid to face the truth. We espouse love, without actually practicing it. We treat love as a noun, rather than a verb. We close down our hearts, rationalizing, justifying, and living in our minds. We love conditionally, seeking the light while denying the dark.
I believe that love is in the details: choosing the speak the truth, even when it’s hard; appreciating and noticing those around us, even if we don’t know them (and especially if we do); unconditionally loving the world as it is, even when we are afraid, angry, or don’t understand; being present, rather than avoiding, denying, or suppressing; slowing down, pausing, and making time; praying not just for ourselves, but also for others; offering nurturing touch, deeply listening to someone, and practicing empathy; noticing the innocence in each person, and looking beyond the surface; taking personal responsibility for our choices and behaviors, making amends, and refusing to blame others; caring for the earth; moving towards one another, rather than away; leaving each person better than you found them; honoring all forms of life; remembering that each expression, no matter what it is, is either an act of love or a request for it, and responding accordingly.
This is where the rubber hits the road, where we move from the conceptual to the real. This is where love counts and makes a difference.
It’s quite simply, really.
Love in action.