I have a confession to make. I am still trying to figure out what it is to “be a man”.
Sure, I know some of the qualities I would like to possess and grow into, and how I want to I feel as a man (I try to connect more with my heart over my head these days, and feel) but this is something I’ve long been confused about. To be honest, it’s only something I have recently started to think about properly.
The last couple of years have been a transitionary period of self-care for me (I shared my story in last month’s December edition of Happiful) and one where - especially through therapy and writing - I have managed to do some significant healing and made changes in my life conducive to better wellbeing.
One of the ongoing changes that I’m making is making more of an effort with my close family (mum, dad, brother) and consciously spending more time with them. In particular my father and, come to think of it, my brother. The two men closest to me in my life. And therefore also the ones most difficult for me to become closer to. We’re a strange breed, us men.
From the little understanding I have of my father and his childhood (he doesn’t tend to dwell on it too much), he grew up in an interesting family environment where he didn’t really know his own father, who was in the army and passed away when dad was at university. My dad also had a difficult time expressing his emotions. In fact, he just doesn’t really do it. Without blaming him for this, I think I have absorbed some of his tendencies.
My feeling is that this emotional closed-off-ness is fairly common amongst men of a certain generation, and that blokes just have a hard time when it comes to opening up and expressing. Typically, we’re rubbish at it. And we’re a lot less likely to divulge things to one another, especially matters of a personal nature, unlike our female counterparts who - I am told - have get-togethers where they share their stuff and “spill all” as it were.
I think it boils down to this. We are in desperate need of a new version of masculinity. A version of which is currently still taking shape, and is currently leaving swathes of men in their 20s, 30s and even 40s utterly confused about who, as men, they should be.
When are we supposed to be brave and courageous, and when do we take a step back a little and lean into vulnerability? How do we reconcile those two?
Are we supposed to be the ‘breadwinner’, or is it now OK to put that mantle to one side and let our more fatherly, nurturing side be sown?
Ancient men used to be hunters and hunter-gatherers. How do we keep that ancient, tribal part of us alive?
Are we allowed to cry? To hug and embrace and break down completely in one another’s arms?
Is it acceptable for us to remain single as a conscious choice?
And what about sex? When is the right time for us to be leaning into that part of us, and how do we do so in a healthy manner? I entered my teens just around the time when the internet started moving beyond dial-up and things a teenage boy shouldn’t be exposed to became readily available. Way too many of us are exposed to online pornography far too young to pornography these days, and research is indicating that it affects both sexual development and mental health.
These are all questions I’ve been pondering recently, and I know I’m not the only man seeking such answers. When the yoga studio I joined recently advertised their first ever “men’s circle” (a women’s one has been running for a while), it didn’t take much thought before I put my name down.
I didn’t know what to expect, left only with the event’s blurb, which read as follows:
“Held on every full moon, this group provides the chance to journey deep into your own masculine, ask questions of your intuition and begin to confront and integrate your shadow. Throughout history, Men have always had to undergo an initiation process to mark the change from boy to man. This has been lost in our culture, but the need to embark on a hero’s journey still rests at the core of our being. Through developing community and opening a dialogue with ourselves about what it takes to be a man in our culture, we can start to unravel this desire for balance.”
I was born into the Sikh faith, and I identify as a Sikh. However, not only does our religion encourage great tolerance and respect for others and their religions, but I am also fairly open-minded spiritually. So I committed to attending and I arrived to a room dimly-lit by candles surrounding some beautiful tribal ornaments in the centre, with beanbags and pillows.
There were six of us in total, including our co-ordinator Eddy. We were briefly introduced to the 4 archetypes of a man, the King, Warrior, Magician and Lover. The theme of the evening was “the King”, and had a brief discussion around what sorts of things we felt a kingly man evoked in us, and what our version of a “king” should look like. We were then led through a shamanic journey, instructed to imagine meeting with the king - or a representative of this king, whilst Eddy banged a drum. Even though I would consider myself to be reasonably open-minded and spiritual, I was surprised at just how far I ‘travelled’ during the exercise and the dialogue I was able to have with myself. It was a pretty powerful experience.
Thinking about it, in traditions of old the men used to hunt together, dine together, hang out together. And presumably, amongst all this, converse together. I was reminded of that as I was sat with a fellow group of men in a gently-lit room, in a scene which very much felt like a small tribe around a campfire.
Whatever the explanation, there’s something within me that has been stirred and left yearning for more. The sense of connection that came from sharing a space for co-created dialogue and reflection with a group of men seemingly curious about the sorts of questions I was.
I’ll be putting myself down for the circle next month, and I may even find myself attending another men’s group Eddy hosts elsewhere in London (there’s one happening next week, in fact, and there’s already a bunch of us in a Whatsapp group).
Increasingly, I am finding that groups like this can facilitate strong, open and honest connection; the kind which I find incredibly nourishing and feeds into my wellbeing.
Wednesday, 28th November 2018
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