Over the many years I’ve been teaching meditation, yoga, self-empowerment, transformation and so on, I have run into the same thing over and over again: women who are on a transformational path and who want their male partners to be on a transformational path too. “I wish he would come to your weekend retreat with me but…” Many women in the midst of an “inner life makeover” even feel like their progress is hindered by the un-interested men in their life. The ladies are lightening up, they are learning all about themselves, they are unleashing their inner power, but their hubby or boyfriend is skeptical or doesn’t relate, or is maybe even resentful of his lady’s new enlighted world. There are some really good reasons why this happens.
Seeing this over the years has been the impetus for me to write my Men’s Book, start Wildman University, and do the different men’s events and training programs I’ve been focusing on. There are some good reasons why yoga class doesn’t always work for men. As we welcome more and more men into the “conscious living revolution”, we need to make sure we’re taking care of men on their terms.
Men and women are inherently different. This has always been the case. And men and women entering into “inner work” in the 21st century have some very specific different needs. In general, women have a huge head start on us these days. They have been slowly roasting on the fire of inner work since long before the days of Jazzercise. Chances are, when a woman rocks up to her first yoga or meditation class, she is somewhat prepped. She already has the basic idea of self-development under her belt. Modern men on the other hand – and I don’t mean boys; I mean the middle-aged male counterparts to the middle-aged female workshop goers – will usually come in relatively un-prepped for inner work. When this is the case the wife’s yoga class is just a very painful and difficult exercise class. And modern day classes have evolved (perhaps since jazzercise) for women bodies, minds, and sensibilities, so the vibe will probably not be a very man-friendly one. Also, the yoga class that Mr. So and So comes into in 2015 is probably not going to be a deep inner-exploration anyway. Same goes for modern day “mindfulness” session. These classes are made for women, who are probably already taking care of themselves in lots of other ways. So a man “comes along” to his woman’s studio or teacher and feels like “this ain’t for me.”
Assuming an intrepid chap gets past the above hurdles and manages to integrate into a regimen of yoga training or meditation work, he will likely face one more even bigger and more profound hurdle, and this is the one that takes him out. The “inner stuff” that a grown-ass-man needs to work through is often heavy, gnarly, and way too dark for the modern yoga/Eastern Spirituality milieu. By the time a man gets into his mid-thirties and beyond, he has some significant weight under his belt. He has divorces and infidelities. He has complex relationships with his offspring. He’s in the thick of a career or lack thereof. He has impotence – if not sexual, existential – that he has to contend with and do his best to mitigate. He has demons. And all of this is wrapped up tight and weighted down well inside a man’s mind, body, and life. He’s got, what I call “Man Stuff”. And the modern yoga class or female “yogic life coach” is just not ready for all that.
Men who have “man stuff” to contend with need other men to help them. And they need a masculine paradigm where they can hash all this stuff out. Ideally they need a strong male mentor or teacher or coach or therapist who can help create a container where they can do “controlled demolitions” and start to blast through some of their layers of hurt. In an ideal world every one of these men would have a men’s group that is specifically set up for this work; a circle of other men where anything can be discussed and revealed and hammered out. Men today not only lack these resources, many modern men don’t even have male buddies they can speak deeply with.
The masculine paradigm I’m speaking of has a few requirements if it’s actually going to help men: first, it needs to be very very sturdy. Meaning, the relationship, group, coaching arrangement – whatever – needs to be one where ANYTHING can be said, and NOTHING will be judged. Ideally, there will even be a good amount of “gallows humor” where the darkest things a man is working through can be laughed about and taken in stride, a context where a man can say to another man “Brother, you’re fucked! ” But you’re going be alright.”
Assuming the container is sturdy, it also needs to be sealed. Meaning, a man needs to know that their work is happening in an absolutely confidential environment. This vow of confidentiality is crucial – not just in obvious clinical settings, but also within informal “brotherhood” conversations. When a man is speaking to his coach or brother or circle he needs to feel not only un-judged, he needs to feel that nothing he shares is going to leak out beyond the container and bite him in the ass later.
Finally, for a transformational paradigm to work for men, it needs to be challenging. In other words, it’s not enough for a man to be heard. Pure empathy and validation are not really that good for men if that’s all there is. If a man seeks out help for his inner life, you can assume he has some deep shit to work out and transform. He’s not going to hang around a men’s group because he likes it. He won’t go to therapy or work with a coach because it’s fun or because it’s the cool thing to do. The work has to be effective – and measurably so. A man needs a masculine shoulder to cry on FOR SURE, but then that crying shoulder needs to turn into a challenging shoulder that says “When you’re done crying, let’s do some transformation!”. When the crying is done, a man needs to get to work. A man needs to be put to task and kept on task and held accountable. The New Age is based on a “do what you’re comfortable with” mode. This just doesn’t work for men who are mired in their man stuff. There’s a reason why military training isn’t “do-it-yourself”. Men need to be pushed past their comfort zone in a supportive context by men who have themselves been pushed. Men need to have their ass kicked.
There is hope.
Right now, there are aren’t many great resources for men. But we’re working on it. This year I am training 8 amazing men to be mentors. Next year I expect to quintuple that number. Bird by bird, men are coming along, reading the book, checking out established organized groups like the Mankind Project and MDI, and doing what they can. And until the day when men’s groups are as common as “vinyasa flow” classes, we need to keep in mind that if we want men-folk to “rise and shine” and join the Oprah-Chopra revolution, we need to give them some man-space and man-culture to grow in. It’s not that yoga/meditation/essential oils/reiki/etc isn’t useful for men. It’s just that these things alone, without the deep men’s work, won’t be getting at the man-kernel that needs to be gotten to.