What would start to blossom inside our families and neighborhoods, and what would happen to our social ills, if more men were trained and supported to push thoughts, questions, and fears from the safety of binary slicing-and-dicing of the mind? If they moved into the expansive, ever-widening reaches and edges of the bold heart? As a student of the Living School for Action and Contemplation, one of the most profound and critical things I have learned, related to what men can do for themselves, for loved ones, for the world, is to practice the art of vulnerability, of leading with an open, undefended heart.
I have shared a video at the end by one of my teachers, Father Richard Rohr, whose experience working with men is long-lived. The video relates this invitation to freedom with religious tradition, specifically that of Christian contemplative practice, and the need for vulnerability, humility, and presence.
I have also shared a hint of my story.
I mostly grew up with Catholic and Evangelical Christian roots. I left them both in middle school. Meaningful connection never took the place of showing up for services—also it 'wasn't cool'. As someone who moved every two years while growing up, and was shy, sensitive, and often insecure, I found that when it came to shaping any personal sense of belonging, being liked by my peers felt too critical and too much like survival.
Later, in my early to mid twenties, I became involved in non-denominational Christianity as a practice and tradition. This absolutely, and without question, began to heal, form, and shape important aspects of how I would learn to love others and myself.
Truly learning to love other people, especially in their pain, while also learning to love my whole self, was not an easy journey. Life took many hard turns and I found myself on many ledges. I could cling on with what limited control I had; to fit in, to be liked, to be what others wanted me to be, to keep the peace, to keep the boat from rocking, to be on pins and needles protecting the pain of others, or I could let go. I had to choose. Retaining control would have eventually killed me. Giving up almost killed me. So, with enough breath and trust, I chose a path of life where I had no other choice but to be intimately woven into the unknown.
The days that followed became a plea to live out a whole new foundation of acceptance and love of self. To be a man and to be sensitive is beautiful and good. To see others as divine and loved unconditionally, regardless of belief, tradition, race, age, ability, and sexual orientation, is beautiful and good. To be a man and an artist is beautiful and good. To be a man who can talk about spirit, silence, and emotional healing is beautiful and good. To be a man inside a healthy, same-sex relationship is beautiful and good.
I started a journey where deeply living, and trusting the vulnerable and often scary places of what swirled within, both for me and others, became the only real destination. My walls began to fall and my heart could only open. I longed for a new education, one that would bury a sense of knowing so deep in my body that no fleeting thought, or term, or theology, or opinion could jar it.
I decided to walk for 242 days across the United States of America in 2010. This would be where I would find my new skin, an upgrade to the hardware. It would be a 3,030 mile commitment to wake up every morning, knowing that I have what it takes to be a beautiful, healthy, loving, forgiving, and strong man.
While walking, my new teachers, pastors, and gurus became:
- the pure and simple whispers in nature and in silence,
- the freedom and exposure found in releasing and trusting pain,
- the harp-like harmony found alongside, and in-between, my interactions with hundreds of people who represented every kind of background and spiritual practice that one could imagine.
The structures of my early understanding, and specifically that of my former Christian practice, began to blur.
Today, I have been graced and gifted to infuse the fruits of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, Native, and other traditions, to hold and guide my steps, my relationships, and my ever-evolving concept of love, longing, and spirit. I have come to find meaning and truth in endless non-religious spaces, in simple human connection, in the vibrations of nature, and in a renewed love for the Christian tradition that looks to Jesus for deep and intimate guidance.
I am skipping so much, but to drop a video link, like the one I have below, begs for just a hint of personal context.
I do believe, however, that this kind of work, that this kind of trust, especially for men, will soften our edges and help us see one another, and ourselves, in new, needed, healing ways—center to center, heart to heart, subject to subject, love to love.
As Father Richard Rohr so famously says, “If we do not transform our pain, we will surely transmit it.”
—Photo Credit: Flickr/Festival of Faiths