Men are often taught that we can create whatever we want; that we only need a strong enough will to make things happen. Perhaps we can. But at what cost? That’s a question we rarely ask.
I’ve never tried to pull a caterpillar out of its cocoon, hoping to catch an early glimpse of the butterfly. I don’t recall ever ripping open the closed bud of a spring flower, desperate to experience its full bloom glory. I do, however, sometimes eat raw cookie dough before I bake the cookie. But if I always did that, I would never experience the sweet succulent warmth of crispy melting chocolate-flavored heaven swarming my taste-buds and rocking my entire being with orgasmic waves of sensual bliss … and I do love a good cookie.
Anyway, I know the caterpillar must emerge in its own time for her wings to be fully formed. I know that flower is under a contract with the universe for which I can only be a steward, guiding with proper nutrients, ensuring access to sunlight. I cannot force the fulfillment of that contract before its time by drowning it in water and chemicals. And I know that cookie … well, if cookie dough were truly better than the actual cookie, there would never have been cookies. Just cookie dough.
Despite knowing better, it’s amazing how often I force my will on life all around me, ripping open cocoons and flower buds, pushing things to happen before their time. Even when life clearly reveals that my will is not the driving factor—and I’m noticing more and more it’s pretty much never the driving factor—I’ll throw my will around as if I know what’s best for the entire Universe.
“It’s wise not to push the river, Bryan,” said Bob Duggan, a TEDx Speaker and founder of Tai Sophia Healing Institute in Maryland, to me years ago as I worked feverishly to make an event happen at his school. Although there was little actual support from his staff, I believed I had something profound to offer with that event, and I wasn’t genuinely willing to consider objections. What I had, I was convinced the world needed.
Long story short, that event didn’t come off.
Nor did the lesson.
Countless times since, I have worked myself to a frenzy in moments big and small to make something happen that just didn’t have Life’s clear support.
Men are often taught that we can create whatever we want; that we only need a strong enough will to make things happen in our vision. And perhaps we can. But at what cost? That’s a question we rarely ask.
I have successfully forced experiences, events, relationships, things, work, etc. into being. But far too often forcing my will on the world around me just creates a wake of resentment and disconnection, even if only in myself. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s obvious. Sometimes my forceful action makes things worse, even as I get my selfish way.
It’s as if the cookie gets baked, but the higher oven temperature I used and the compromises I made to hasten mixing the batter, leave me with a burnt, crunchy mound that tastes like a dry sugar biscuit. Despite not one orgasmic spasm in the tasting, I figure next time I just need to crank the temperature up a bit higher, shorten the mixing time even more … and I’ll definitely add extra sugar.
Result? Ever sweeter, charred stones of flour that began to chip my teeth.
About 6 months ago I crossed the subtle line from simply offering my talents and skills to pushing them on someone. It was an opportunity for which I had an incredible amount of enthusiasm and excitement. But instead of allowing the moment to unfold naturally at its own inspired pace, I grabbed scissors and started poking at the cocoon, impatient to drag the butterfly out and set her flying! Well, that butterfly never flew. The holes I poked leaked the nutrients she apparently needed for her wings to grow. I was deeply disheartened when I saw what I had done, but it was the perfect, bittersweet lesson. (No butterflies were harmed in the making of this metaphor.)
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, indeed.
The very same morning that lesson landed, I was about to crank up the temperature on another critical work project because I wasn’t convinced things were happening at the pace I wanted them to happen. Fortunately, as I saw myself reach for my phone to make the call, I noticed an ominous anxiety wrapping itself around me. I stopped. I allowed myself to breathe. I then told myself I had already performed my role in allowing the cocoon to form and the nutrients to be delivered. Now it was time to hold a safe space and protect the cocoon, not harass the caterpillar.
Later that evening, I received the phone call I wanted. It was so satisfying to watch the butterfly begin to emerge under her own power, winking playfully at me. She’s still emerging as I write this. I confess I’m still a bit nervous. Something in my thinking demands she be born by next Tuesday. I can literally feel the compulsive movement in my body to hasten the process.
But as I realize that it’s just not true, that she doesn’t have to be born by next Tuesday; that the world won’t stop spinning and no one will genuinely love or appreciate me less, even if she never emerges, I’m able to relax into my body and breath and simply be here … right where I am, right now, allowing these words to pour forth from the authentic, deliciously sweet depths of my own true heart, the same as your heart, in which there exists a profound love and enthusiasm for life no matter what actually happens.
This belief, that what I want to happen simply must happen … for the world to be at peace, function efficiently, spin, be round, be fun, be easy, be safe, love me, protect me, entertain me, etc. … it’s just a lie.
As I really allow this to sink in, I can literally feel my body, my thoughts, relaxing into an experience of causeless joy that Benedictine Monk, David Steindl-Rast, described as “that kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.”
I can even see how this plays out in my intimate relationships.
When my partner doesn’t act how I want her to do, my first impulse is often to just insist she do so. When I demand she act in ways that aren’t authentic for her, I unknowingly resist the true gifts—love, warmth, companionship, understanding, beauty—that she’s deeply yearning to give me. She’s either too busy defending herself from my criticism, often by counterattacking, or she’s exhausted from playing a ruse to win my approval (the women I choose usually do that counterattacking thing). I’ve chased off many a good-looking butterfly this way.
Imagine how amazing my intimate relationships could be if I simply let my intimate partners be who they authentically want to be? Why do I choose them only to want them to change, anyway? Once again, what am I rushing, and at what cost?
We men are powerful beings. Could there be an even greater power available to us when we choose to flow in harmony with the way of things?
What magnificent possibilities could open up for our lives, for humanity, if we allied our power to the course of the river, rather than against it?
I know at least my cookies would taste better.
— Want the best of The Good Men Project posts sent to you by email? Join our mailing list here.
— photo by Randen Pedersen/flickr