Stripping back 'masculinity'

I write this post for a 10 year old me. And a 20 year old me. Oh, and 30 year old. I write it for those cis men feeling like they don't quite fit in. For those maybe intimidated by the alphas. For those of all genders exploring what their 'masculine' is, in this day and age of mixed messages.


Although we are in a period of great change, the messages we receive of 'masculinity' can be incredibly harmful; in films, advertising, television, world leaders, peers and generally all around us, we are being taught of an identity driven notion. So much of this 'masculinity' is to be 'attained', meaning we have to work to achieve it. Some manage it, whilst others don't. Are either happy? Perhaps, perhaps not. The difficulty lies in that if it is 'attained', it then has to be 'maintained'. The end result of this is great suffering, through domination, suppression of others, wars etc. It is all in fear of losing what has been 'attained'. So you're damned if you attain current 'masculinity' (fear), and you're damned if you don't (inadequacy). These feelings of fear and inadequacy are on a huge, interwoven, spectrum of course, but you get the idea. When 'masculinity' becomes part of an identity it is incredibly fragile.


I will share my story to help in understanding how I arrived at this point. You may of course want to skip that, and go straight to the notions of 'masculinity'. Please consider the ideas of 'masculinity' written are not a new identity to be attained, but a discovery of what we all have from the off. They are not assigned to a gender, but will be in everyone, in varying amounts. This is all just my current understanding- which is open to change- but has at least got to somewhat more beneficial than the messages we receive at present. 


I write as a white, cis gendered male, heterosexual, and with what I would say a middle-class upbringing. In other words, the world is designed for me to slot right in- privileged in other words. I understand that, and will be unpicking that forever. So I have to admit that privilege has enabled me to go on this journey of exploration and discovery. Also, I know in two years time I will look back on the post and think it naive. All blog posts are kept on the site as I don't think it's something to hide or be ashamed of. Those further on in their journeys, I apologise for that.


Let's start from the start as it all plays an important part, and I share little of my personal life on here. I was born into a loving family, with a father who was battling cancer. This meant contact time with the masculine was somewhat limited as he was in and out of hospital for most of what I can remember. When out of hospital he was weak and so couldn't do all the 'usual' father-son activities. 'French cricket' (a game where he could stand still and just hit the ball for me to run around and fetch essentially) was as active as it could get for him. He finally left his body and his suffering behind when I was eight. This isn't part of a sob story, but a blessing.


Shortly after his passing I could go cross-eyed. Seems like nothing, but in all his time alive, he could and I couldn't. It seemed strange to a little me that after he had 'left' I could do what he did. I also recall trying to program a game for the Sinclair Spectrum (the ones with the cassette player, which you could also type computer code into) and I didn't know a piece of code. And then what I could never have known appeared in my mind. He was often on computers and it would probably have been something he would've known, so it appeared to me that he had given me this information. These things could of course be merely coincidental, but they sparked an intrigue into possibilities that we're not taught. That combined with seeing human death at such a young age was wonderfully useful in planting seeds of searching.


In this short space of time my notions of 'masculinity' had somewhat been shaped already. And they weren't all that cool. A story my mum likes to tell me (so I like to share with others too) is one Christmas Day- I think I was four- my dad was doing the washing up and I walked in and asked him why he was doing that when it was women's work? Yes, a four year old male chauvinist. That's the imprint of 'masculinity' at four, so I dread to think what I was like by eight. This is why his passing was such a blessing in many ways, as I had far less to unpick when I reached 'unpicking' age. 'Cubs' and 'Boy Scouts' then helped add extra layers of 'masculinity' was 'supposed' to be. I think females were allowed to join as I reached the age of leaving, so it was very much a 'man's world' in the groups; fires, night hikes, building things, fixing things, and such like. Yet in all this I probably felt the most comfortable around women and girls. Of course, I didn't know why at the time. It just seemed actually easier to talk, and talk about things that seemed more important. Blending in with the 'boys' wasn't a problem, but it didn't feel quite right.


Growing older that didn't change much; trying to fit in with my own gender, but feeling more comfortable with the other. I used to just assume this meant I was quite 'feminine' due to an upbringing by primarily my mother and was ok with that. The solution was always activities. Skateboarding mainly. Or later on it was drinking. Activities gave common ground and so those feelings of alienness would be suppressed. Moving 'up north' helped me discover 'banter' and the idea of putting one another down in the name of humour. It was something I could join in with, but again, didn't feel quite right.


The whole notion of 'masculinity' seemed built upon trying to be better than one another. Hierarchies and pecking orders were a plenty, with alpha males at the top. Again, they seemed fine to mix with, but it didn't feel right. Physique would also grow increasingly important as the world became more image conscious. A six-pack- and an absolutely buggered back in order to achieve that- was the order of the day, and a skinny little runt like me can get one no problem.


To cut a long story short, nothing that was 'deemed' as masculinity seemed quite right. Or perhaps, I didn't fit in with it. Yet as I grew older and started noticing more, it seemed that many cis men had this same feeling. Mixed messages were a plenty, with society and the media saying one thing; our feelings and what others saying, another. In the 'dating world' the messages were just as mixed and the feeling was that 'masculinity' was the finest line in the world, that could never be found. What the flying f*!k was this 'masculinity' malarky and did it even exist?


I created a men's group, offering a sharing circle where guys could talk. In all honesty it would've been for my own healing and inquiry. We all seemed in a pretty similar boat and answers weren't necessarily found- but it was a beautiful group and showed that we weren't alone in our questioning. What ensued after was an attempt to unravel myself in order to discover what was 'mine', and what wasn't. What society had taught didn't seem right. In fact, what society seemed to teach as 'masculinity' appeared to be based on trauma and over-compensation. It clearly wasn't working as although cis men have it easier, they were killing themselves more than any group. The argument from many feminist texts was that men are more violent and so more likely to end their life. Perhaps. Or also likely- just because the system makes men's lives easier, doesn't mean that same system doesn't cause great identity confusion amongst cis males in the 'modern' world, along with an inability to talk about it and release emotions. Honestly, it's a literally deadly combination.


Unpacking it all meant lots of reading, observing others, my actions, my inner self (yoga), healing. wounds, more reading, more observing and experimentation. I mention my early life, as I was fortunate to not have huge amounts of 'masculine' influence so perhaps had less to remove (and it's an ongoing process). The more stripping away the socialising and conditioning, the more what 'masculinity' might actually be started revealing. The more healing of wounds, individual and collective trauma, the more it started revealing itself. Of course, to many, much of it might appear on the outside like 'femininity', but in revealing the 'masculine', the 'feminine' inside was also revealing herself.


Now you might say that the binary split of 'feminine' and 'masculine' no longer serves and is actually harmful. I went through a spell of thinking that, and fighting against the notion, saying we are all essentially the same. But I now see it of service, not just to the gender it's 'assigned' traditionally to, but to all. We all have different levels of the two within us. It is useful to play to our strengths, and learn our weaknesses in life, so that recognition is necessary. They are also under our control with practices such as yoga. This means we can learn to 'summon' more of the energy of one when necessary, keep them in balance, or just let them do their natural thing. These are fluid notions which will always ebb and flow. As Uma Dinsmore-Tuli has alluded to, the practices of yoga may have been created for men to 'gain the powers' that women naturally have. I wouldn't argue against that at all, but would suggest that the practice also gives the 'powers' of 'masculinity' too (just not society's 'masculinity'). Or Śiva (consciousness- masculine) and Śakti (energy- feminine).


So what is this 'masculinity'? I see and feel it now as a constant, of which the 'feminine' dances around, to and from. Think of an atom, with the neutron in the middle. It is that neutron, the heaviest part of the atom, of which the protons and electrons revolve around. You may say that is my gender bias, but I am not saying 'women' revolve around 'men' (and yes it will 100% sound like that). This is within us all, and it is more of an inner energy, with outer results. How does this show itself then?


Please remember these are just one side of human experience and also require the 'feminine' elements to keep us in balance. If any of this triggers please consider removing the notion that I am talking about 'men', and see if thoughts change. They may not, and please share your thoughts if so.


Awareness

Śiva or consciousness can be simply expressed as awareness- being aware. Have you noticed being completely lost in thoughts, and then suddenly being aware of that? Or driving somewhere and noticing you don't really know how you got to where you were? That is awareness 'kicking in'. We can go about our days unconsciously, using our autopilot of learnt behaviours and such like. Or we can be aware and make conscious choices. Awareness of the inner world and what is being experienced inside ourselves. Awareness of the outer world and what is in our experience outside of ourselves. Awareness may be of other fields outside of our direct experience. This is the key element of 'masculinity' found in all of us, and where all these other aspects stem from. You may notice that all of these aspects are interrelated and somewhat interdependent.


Single-pointed focus

As we've seen, our consciousness- our awareness- can drift around or it can be under our control. I like to think of it as being on a leash- think of one of those retractable dog leads, meaning it can roam when we want, but be brought under our command at any point. So in single-pointed focus, the mind isn't racing off thinking about things like food (that's where mine likes to go when it's not on its leash), but fixed on what is in our direct experience. You may have heard of mindfulness, and it's essentially what this is. We naturally have this as a young child, and then over time, various factors cause it to fade. We are creatures of our environment. Lives get busier, with lots to remember; our media consumption changes with shorter, faster paced snippets; mobile phones grab our attention; and numerous other things in our daily life. A big factor is trauma, with research suggesting its links in ADHD and similar 'labels'. So many of us are probably on the spectrum of ADD and so have lost this element of 'masculinity'.


It is a practice which can be slowly brought back through some meditation techniques. Healing modalities help with bringing a presence of mind. Using our awareness and continually bringing our actions and the mind back under our control helps this become easier and easier. Stripping back our lives so that there is less busyness and less needed to remember. Writing things down instead of storing them in the brain can also help. None of this happens over night and will fluctuate. It took many years to lose it, so takes many years to regain it.


This focus means that we can perform tasks quicker and easier. It helps with mental wellbeing, keeping us away from the past and the future which are the cause of so many worries and 'negative' thoughts. This does not mean that 'negative' emotions or thoughts don't occur, but we are present in them, helping them to disperse naturally instead of being harboured. Spiritually this is used in yoga to maintain an inner focus or awareness of the presence of divinity, maybe through continual internal repetition of a divine name or maintaining an inner knowing.


Quietness

This may seem strange in today's world but the 'masculine' element is pretty damn quiet in my experience. The more we strip back, the less need for words. It is the observer. Internally that is a thoughtlessness, meaning the running commentary is not there- an inner silence. Externally this a physical silence, but not some sort of sponsored silence where you have to mime what you want to say. You may feel this is a 'gender norm', where 'boys' are thoughts of as quieter than 'girls'. Perhaps there is actually a truth in that, yet it is not reflected in society. Cis men take up the space and the talk time, in the media, in meetings...everywhere. Quietness is actually the complete opposite of 'male' socialisation where we are subtly taught that our voice is the most important. That socialisation comes out as things like 'mansplaining'. This isn't 'masculinity', it is what society taught us. In the modern age this has been magnified by social media, where everyone has an opinion- this is definitely one of my downfalls!


This quietness can be cultivated with the questions and awareness. ' Why am I adding my voice here?' 'Why do I think my voice is so important?' The question of whether or not it has been asked for. It is cultivated with healing, as the desire or need to be heard often stems from past wounds. It is cultivated with confidence, as so often words are used to act as a mask. It is cultivated in a contentment with just being, as silence can feel so awkward without that. These are not small things to cultivate, so take time. They take an awful lot of work and awareness.


Yet this quietness, or silence is powerful beyond measure. This is why people try so hard to fill it. Silence reveals! In a past career, in interviews for documentaries silence was utilised to get to the juicy bits of information. People would try to fill it and end up spilling out things they wouldn't have ordinarily shared. In my days of sales (yup...don't judge!) it was the most important method, of again gathering information, but also in the right moment, for closing the deal. I observed many sales people actually talking their way out of a sale!


A highly important side note is that there are many occasions when silence means becoming complicit in harm, and so it is important to remain in balance. Observe the lion, spending the vast majority of its time in silence, but growling only when necessary. That is 'masculinity'.


Spaciousness

Highly related to quietness is spaciousness. When we think of space it is a vastness. It is omni-present and contains many things, but by itself is 'empty'. Think of how some people enter a room quite quietly, and you may not even know that they are there, but you feel something. That is this sort of presence of spaciousness; we know it's there but we can't necessarily put our finger on how. This spaciousness is internal and reflected out as an external. The internal spaciousness allows room for thoughts, feelings, sensations to come and go as they please. This becomes an external presence as a space holder opposed to space taker-upper- the kind of 'masculinity' that is taught. Holding a space for others to take up.


Creating the inner space involves a lot of processing. Space is taken up in the body by holding on or suppressing. Each and every emotion or feeling that we try to avoid in some way takes up space. They don't go away like we may think they do, but are stored until revisited in some way. This again involves healing (are you noticing a trend here?) in order to free up all that is within us. It involves being fully alive and with whatever we are feeling in the moment, so that it has a chance to move through us. Whatever the experience is, being completely ok with it, until it passes. This is the complete opposite of what men are taught and the results are tragic! Holding space is similar, in that we are present to what is there, and may respond accordingly, without future or past projections. However long something or someone takes, is how long it takes. Everything has a natural course which cannot be hurried. Holding space requires the same as quietness, but it is utilising that aspect in a different way- to fully witness something or someone.


Having the internal space means we experience everything much more fully. We feel much more alive due to this fullness. We are a lot more real and true to ourselves, and all that is going on. Our own spaciousness can mean we have the capacity for compassion, so can witness fully another's experience. All this gives us the ability to hold space for others, which can be incredibly healing for all involved.


Steadiness

As I've said earlier, 'masculinity' is like the neutron in the atom- it is still and steady whilst all that around it moves. Tradition notions of 'masculinity' express this steadiness in physique- partly due to culture's obsession with the physical form, and partly our own mind attachment to our physical body.  This idea of steadiness is somewhat different. It once more starts from within.


Have you had days where you feel 'all over the shot'? Perhaps the feeling of having too much caffeine in the day. This steadiness is the opposite of that. It is a relative calmness no matter what is going on around you. We have this as a young child, where it is often our care-givers who are more concerned about a situation. Then through life we learn to be afraid, to worry, to dread and various similar feelings. These might be learnt from others- close family, peers, as well as messages around us such as the media- from life experiences- be that day-to-day events through to traumas and everything in between. The result is we are more often than not (and arguably always) somewhat reacting based upon the past. This puts a 'filter' on 'reality' which can make us unsteady in our reactions, including what is felt inside. Of course, this then impacts our actions, and which can often reinforce our 'filtered' perception.


Our first step is forgiveness and acceptance. All of these perceptions and behaviours served a purpose at some stage. We weren't born with them, life happened. Some may be easy to see, and others may be so ingrained we cannot see the patterns of behaviour. At some point help will be needed, which goes against current notions of 'masculinity'. We all need a little help, even if you're  a trained psychotherapist. Actually, even more so if you're a trained psychotherapist! But in all seriousness, for healing, at some point the plunge has to be taken and professional assistance sought. There is a growing movement of 'self-healing' across social media platforms which I don't buy. Yes we can self-heal, but it takes healing to get to that stage otherwise we are simply kidding ourselves. This takes current 'masculine' traits of 'strength' and 'bravery', yet so few men are doing this work. What does that say about current 'masculinity'? It confirms it's a load of b.s.


Once we are on the healing journey, we can start to use awareness to observe our thoughts, feelings and actions. We become increasingly aware of our patterns and where they may've come from, helping us to make conscious choices based on the present.  Again, this is a practice which takes time to cultivate, but in time leads to a steadiness. This steadiness is the platform for action instead of re-action. This steadiness means we don't overreact or underreact [not a word, but it should be!] and instead give the situation what is necessary. 


Groundedness

Being grounded can be literally our connection to Earth. It is our connection to her, and a presence to her. You may think how can you be anything other than grounded if you are stood on two feet? Very easily is the answer. Those times where we are deep or lost in thought, we are not grounded. Many can transcend further and consciousness/awareness may be another place entirely. This is not saying there is anything wrong in this, but that in those times we are not usually grounded. Connection to Earth and roundedness requires feeling fully safe with the environment around us. How many can say they feel truly safe in this world- even those with white, male privilege?


Without sounding like a broken record, this requires healing. To feel fully connected and grounded we need to feel safe, which cannot occur without healing the reasons we don't feel safe. This applies to practically EVERYONE. You might think that those high up in power, or with great riches must feel safe. But do you think if someone truly feels safe in the world they need to accumulate financial wealth? If someone feels truly safe in the world do they need to build armies and take part in wars? No. So much harm comes from this lack of feeling safe in this world, and we cannot be fully grounded without that. Healing, healing, healing. Stripping away all the layers that make us feel unsafe. The sad truth is that this might never reach fruition in your lifetime. Everyday new reasons to be afraid are added. If you're not scared by media stories, fear can be created by 'conspiracy theories' instead. In the middle of the two, where the 'truth' often lies, can also be scary. But the more we are able to heal, the more steady and spacious we become, the more grounded we are, the less scary all that occurs can become. The result is a positive cycle.


Simple practices like feeling into our feet help us no end. I see it as no coincidence that shoes have been getting thicker and thicker soles as we become less and less grounded. Staying present- using our awareness- to be single-pointed, or wider to witness more of our direct experience- can help the feeling. Being grounded is again a platform. This platform gives us the ability to go and explore; the world around us; our inner world; outer realms; and everything in-between. Being grounded helps with all the other aspects of 'masculinity', which all reinforce one another. 


Humility

Does current 'masculinity' seem humble in any way? Or can it be seen as overcompensation more often than not? As we cultivate the aspects above, humility naturally arises. As we begin to witness the world around us more fully, the sense of 'I' begins to fade. Instead it is replaced with connection to all and one cannot help but become humble. Our grip on identity- which in many men is based on current notions of 'masculinity'-  slowly fades and the true 'masculinity' starts to just reveal itself. It's always been there. In each and everyone. It has nothing to prove. It has nothing to try and gain. It is not fixed, but fluid and will ebb an flow. It cannot ever exist alone, so always has the 'feminine' entwined with it.


I will write about the 'feminine' in men another time- it is not my place to write about the 'feminine' in all. In all honesty, what is written above is containing the 'feminine' as nothing can take form without it, and nothing can be witnessed without the 'masculine'.


This really is a brief overview- there is so much to unpack- but hopefully it offers food for thought. I would love this to start discussion- including disagreement- as I believe current 'masculinity' is causing so much harm.


If you made it this far, thank you!