The one thing men need most but rarely get–gentleness.
The other day, a friend of mine was talking about a book he was reading on staying present and keeping positive thoughts.
“I notice that when I’m with my son playing Legos, I often check out and think about other things. It’s frustrating and exhausting to continuously remind myself to stay in the moment,” he reflected.
I suggested he gently remind himself to come back to the present–gentleness being the key word.
“I do remind myself, but then I start thinking about all those stupid things like work, bills, vacation,” he said shaking his head.
What I have noticed in my own life and the lives of many men is that we are rarely gentle with ourselves. Ironically, in order to be gentlemen, we often beat ourselves up about not being kind, present, productive, accomplished, or successful. I used to literally slap my forehead and say, “stupid, stupid, stupid,” when I thought about something ungentleman-like that I did in the past.
Gentle is not a word or action that comes easily to men. We are socialized to be anything but gentle. Even though we are taught to speak softly and carry a big stick, our soft talk is rarely gentle. Clint Eastwood always spoke softly when he asked, “Do you feel lucky punk?” but it was never gentle.
I used to watch my mom tenderly wash her face and put make-up and lotion on every evening. Yet when I was instructed to go wash my face, I would scour it like I was sanding the skin off my cheeks. I used to pride myself on my high pain threshold–how I enjoyed scrubbing coral cuts with betadine after hitting the reef while surfing.
Then one day an older surfer came up to me after a long session at an Indonesian surf camp.
“I’ve been watching you surf. You pull into anything. You surf like there is no tomorrow,” he said.
“That’s right oldtimer–no fear,” I said puffing my chest out.
“The problem is that there is a tomorrow, and if you keep surfing the way you do, you won’t be here to see it,” he said and walked away.
Although this encounter stuck with me, I kept on my reckless path for another 15 years. Looking back, I can see how this elder was trying to teach me a very important lesson. “Be gentle with yourself. Life is a marathon, not a sprint,” I could hear him say between his words.
Decades later, I discovered a Hawaiian-based practice called Self-I-Dentity Ho`oponopono. This form of ho`oponopono consists of saying, “I’m so sorry; please forgive me; I love you; thank you” over and over. What I have found is the immense amount of gentleness I felt in this practice. I felt nurtured in a way that I have never been nurtured before. I also found that I became a lot more gentle with my sons, my ex-wife, and everyone around me.
When I offer this practice to men, I am often confronted with skeptical questions. “How long is this going to take?” “Will that really work?” One man said bluntly, “I don’t buy it.”
Why this resistance to something as easy and nurturing as apology, forgiveness, love, and gratitude? Some people think it is too easy. “A man has to work hard to get ahead in life and succeed” is the socially conditioned myth. One of the secrets I learned about gentleness is that it is never hard to do. Gentleness also doesn’t have a time schedule or hidden agenda.
When my friend told me how he was getting exhausted trying to stay in the moment with his son, I suggested to gently stop trying. “Perhaps try again another day,” I offered. Being gentle with ourselves sometimes means not trying to be good all the time.
If you are reading this, then you are interested in being a good man. That is enough. Be gentle with yourself on the path back to who you already are. You were born a gentleman. Deep down, you will always be a gentleman. Now all we have to do is act like the gentlemen that we already are, and this requires us to be gentle with ourselves.
Photo:flickr.com/Jenn and Tony Bot