Masculinity can get a bad rap, especially when the social script doesn’t match changing social mores. Navigating modern masculinity is difficult without some kind of map or marks to guide the way. Sometimes, those trail markers are ancient and fading, but by shifting our perspective, the light hits the mark at just the right angle to illuminate the signs for us.
In his new book, The Mindful Man: Words from the Earth (Leaping Hare Press), Caspar Walsh challenges us to consider how we break down what a man is and what makes a man better?
Walsh is clear this journey will not be easy right from the beginning, noting:
Becoming a mindful man is a big ask, a big question, and a big step. It has many levels, many roads in and out. If you’re looking for a quick fix, an easy answer, something to shore up a hectic, stressful life and look good on the shelf, this is the wrong book.
Though this book will look good on a shelf, it is meant as a guide. You open the book, and the book will help open you. What makes a man comes from within—emotion and spirit—and from without—body, experience, and the environment. We inherit masculine social performance in ways that can hinder our ability to achieve happiness, contentment, and success. How can men break it all down to better build ourselves up?
One lone man
A circle of men
The Family of Man
Walsh shares his experiences in crime, addiction, and mental health to reveal how he transformed his self-destructive path into a positive and inspirational journey. His narrative gives useful exercises to build the individual back up after trials and challenges. His approach is not a “do as I say” listicle self-help book; this is a guide and a mentor in an accessible book format.
Walsh’s book navigates the reader through manhood, independence, and interdependence to help men fully grasp how his self-improvement exercises found in each section help men be more aware, intentional, and mindful in thought and action. I found this method beneficial to absorb and adapt the new information, habits, and behaviors quicker than one that forces the readers into self-discovery and change without an explanation of how, why, and what to expect. Caspar Walsh becomes your mentor directly through The Mindful Man.
Men need mentors for every aspect of life. It is wise to seek a number of them rather than looking for a one-size-fits-all.
In nature there is symbiosis, there is a reflection of the individual life in the collective life of the natural world. We have drifted away from this connection, but Walsh feels this connection is critical to healing, growing, and maturing. He states,
The healing of my own shame began with the land. It found a foothold in the earth, the movement of the ocean and in the hard granite of the mountains beneath my feet. When this footfall became steady, when I knew for sure that Mother Nature would not reject or abandon me for my dark thoughts and deeds, I found the courage to write down my feelings of shame, to start to track them to their source. I got help from other men who were further along in their journey, from therapy, and from my writing.
Emotional denial and vulnerability are often difficult for men to accept in themselves, much less as others try to help them. Many men grow up with an opposite social script that poses vulnerability and authenticity are signs of weakness. Walsh gives us a way to acknowledge the emotions we have been told to hide—fear, grief, loneliness—so we can stop avoiding and suppressing our emotions and embrace them instead.
As society drifted away from the Family of Man, men stopped discussing their problems and challenges with each other, and the social script started to tell men to “man up;” it is no surprise that male emotional expression was repressed. The lone man went inside himself, swallowed his stress down, hid his fear. Is it any surprise when his stress rises to levels where anger, one of the few emotions men are traditionally allowed to express, manifests in fear-based explosions of rage, or that our society, which has been male-dominated for far too long, became oppressive to those other than the power holders, men?
As Walsh states:
Despite the widely-held belief that we need to conquer our fears, it is in identifying them, working with them, that our freedom from their debilitating power lies. It is that power that drives us to do things we regret, to treat people without respect and care, to live a fear-fuelled life looking only to serve our own needs.
We no longer have to be one man against the world, we can be one in the family of men within this world.
Male problems need male solutions, sometimes. We need at least the beginning of the trail blazed when we don’t know where to begin, or what to follow. However, the emotional disparity between what men feel and what men are stereotypically allowed to express has grown to the point that something must break. Unless it is the lone man who will break, that one man needs to reach out to a circle of men and be pulled into the family of men.
Walsh considers the authentic male ritual as the wellspring of masculine evolution which has its echoes in the far distant past:
At the centre of that journey was my discovery of the gift of secret male ritual. Something long lost and all but forgotten by most men. Something that understandably is often looked on with suspicion – men getting together behind closed doors in ritual and ceremony hasn’t earned a great reputation for creating and effecting positive change to society over the centuries. However, it is essential to be able to spend time with other men in a safe, held way. A way that helps us to reflect on what it is to be accountable, trustworthy, authentic. A way to relate to and respect and understand women, children, the rest of society, intimately and empathically. A certain way that can only come from a ritual time spent away with your own gender.
By growing emotional intelligence, opening emotional vulnerability, and receiving support from those who know and have been there before; we as men might grow into the positive social influence that is our potential. This could be a recipe for social inclusivity, not only for the Family of Man, but more importantly, for the family of humanity.
One lone man
A circle of men
The Family of Man
If you need a few trails blazed, or signposts to get you started on your way, The Mindful Man: Words from the Earth (Leaping Hare Press), will surely be the travel guide for a more enlightened you.