When I went to school to be a naturopathic practitioner, it wasn’t uncommon for me to be the only man in a class of 25 students. Currently at the Wellness Collective, we have 20 natural health practitioners and only two men. 75 percent of the clients I see are women. This leads me to the questions of:
Where are the men?
Where are the men interested in asking the deeper questions?
Where are the men wanting to live from a place of depth and purpose?
Where are the men who are asking:
What do I really want my life to look like?
Who are the men in my life that cannot only inspire me, but will call me out and have my back when things are falling apart?
What do I have to offer back to the world?
Where are men in their journey toward consciousness? While women seem to be all around me asking these deeper questions, it seems the men willing to dig into their growth are few and far between.
Why do many men do the least amount of personal work possible to keep their woman happy and relationships at work tolerable?
Let’s start by taking a look at where men find themselves in our current place and time. Below are two basic stages of masculine development adapted from David Deida’s book “The Way of the Superior Man.” The vast majority of modern men are found in one of these two stages, or they flip flop between them.
First Stage Man
A first stage man borders on the edge of asshole. Going to work, barking orders at his kids and wife, calling the shots and generally being agitated and grumpy or completely shut down and withdrawn. He doesn’t cry, he doesn’t go soft, and he makes sure his sons don’t cry either. He likes to watch the game and drink beer. He is not so interested in his own feelings or anyone else’s. In this first stage, men are aggressive, macho guys, self-driven and territorial, protecting himself and perhaps his tribe. He calls the shots, but he also suffers silently. In this stage, most men are completely disconnected from how they are suffering and rarely ask for help.
Second Stage Man
A second stage man has learned to embrace his feelings and everyone else’s, too. He isn’t afraid to help out around the house or change diapers, and he may even be able to show his own emotions. He is generally a nice guy. He borders on being too nice, though, so not only does life push him around, but his wife and kids often do, too. He has started the work of integrating feminine values, but is in serious danger of taking his non-confrontational, understanding approach so far that he loses touch with his inner truth and power. Trying to be caring and kind, these men over-give and border on the edge of being a pushover.
While 1950s TV men were portrayed as the typical first stage man (think of the father Jack Arnold from The Wonder Years), today we see a lot more second stage men as well (consider Ross from Friends). While these are exaggerated portrayals of both the first and second stage, most men can clearly identify where they are stuck from the descriptions above.
Why men are stuck
Some men are watching the football game, while others are at the PTO meeting. Many are good dads yet still feel deeply unfulfilled. Some men drink to feel happy, and others drink to feel numb. Some work all day to avoid what they can’t face or because “working all day” is what their dad did. Most men are trying to “hold it together” for their wives, or girlfriends or kids. Many men are afraid to admit they have emotions, let alone be honest with their families and friends. Mens’ shame prevents them from acknowledging their suffering and reaching out for support.
Researcher and storyteller Brene Brown says, “…For men, it’s the fear of not being wealthy enough, tough enough, or smart enough. The number one shame trigger for men is being perceived as weak. Men walk this tightrope where any sign of weakness illicits shame, and so they’re afraid to make themselves vulnerable for fear of looking weak.”
Mens’ confusion and shame stops them from reaching out for help. They are stuck between being macho jerks and sensitive guys. Men are not sure if they should toughen up or soften up or both. So when the thought of diving into their own personal work, emotions and the deep dark places of their subconscious comes up, most men find something else to do.
There is, however, another stage that men can move into. Few men put the hard work into actually getting there, and most men haven’t had any good examples to see what this type of man actually looks like in the world.
Third Stage Man
“The man who reaches Deida’s third stage does so through realizing his own mortality. He recognizes that life is an unpredictable, uncontrollable experience, and that he has no choice other than to love and serve others and the world. Right now and always.”* The man offers integrity and stability, as an expression of his desire to penetrate the world with truth and love. These men know their innate freedom and love intimately and will not repress their true nature just to keep the peace. Connected to their bodies and emotions, they are committed to their deepest purpose and are clear on what it looks like to express that out into the world in the way they work, father and love their partner. When storms of life come, they are committed to feeling and experiencing all the emotions without letting it throw them off their deepest commitment and purpose.
No matter where men find themselves, growing, healing and integrating takes time, effort and often money. Should men decide to go on a healing journey, here are a few tips for along the way.
There are no skipping stages.
In a journey toward consciousness, you don’t get to skip through the stages you don’t like. If you are primarily showing up in stage one, you can’t bypass stage two. There is no way to stage three without feeling and grieving your own deep pain and wounds from childhood. There is no way to get there without embracing your own vulnerable and scared inner you. Most men think they are farther along than they actually are. If you are confused as to where you are, ask your partner or best friend to weigh in with complete honesty.
Embrace your emotions.
Most men are still wrestling with the old belief of “real men don’t cry” and the “need to be tough,” even men planted in the second stage struggle with feeling and sharing their emotions. Most men have deeply repressed and denied their emotions. Any growth or transformation requires an acceptance and integration of emotions. Start an emotion log where you notice what emotions you are experiencing each day and what they feel like in your body. Consider reading Emotional Intimacy by Robert Augustus Masters.
Find a mentor, teacher or counselor.
Use discretion in finding a guide. This journey is too hard to do all by yourself. Find another man whom you respect and trust and who has been on their own inner journey to help guide you. Counseling can be a great option, but many counselors have not done their own internal work and, therefore, can’t offer you the depth of presence you need for healing. When you find a good counselor, it can be life changing.
Find a community.
Who are the men who can journey with you? Who can you trust with your struggles and celebrations? Can you get together and read a book? Or go hunt or hike? Start a men’s group? You may consider connecting with the ManKind Project. It aims to connect men back to themselves and each other. Finding men who can move beyond conversations about work and sports is a must.
Move into your shadow.
Stop the ascension trip and start the descent into the murky waters of your unconscious. As David Deida describes it, you must make love to your fear. While men often pursue their spiritual journey by going up and emptying out (fasting, intensive meditation, sweat lodges), it is descending into the wounded child of our youth that ultimately sets us free. This journey down and inward into our shadow and fears is best done with a guide who can help us look inward and a community who can support us in our process.
We need men who are deeply connected not only to their feelings, but also their power. Men who can show up and support other men as well as their families and the world. Men who are not assholes. Men who are not pansies. Men who are really good men.
Author: Micah McLaughlin is a naturopathic practitioner specializing in the integration of the body and mind. In 2008, he founded Continuum Healing, a holistic health clinic located in Grand Rapids, MI. Micah is passionate about walking alongside men as they work out purpose, power, love and vulnerability in their lives. He is also a co-founder of the Wellness Collective Grand Rapids.
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