A Note on Masculine Healing and Wellness
Take good care of your whole self. Learn how to do inner work. ...Gather a team of experts within a solid community to support your total wellness--mind, body, soul, spirit. ...It's important to heal, inside."
In the course of the last year I've found myself interfacing with a great number of people in times of some of their most acute personal struggles and life changes. A lot of what I've encountered has been simultaneous to my own cluster periods of trauma and healing. In these exchanges I've experienced a complicated mixture of feelings to include sadness, compassion, anger, triggering and disgust. In every case, I've felt honor to be the bearer of sacred witness while being in intimate spaces and indeed holding space for people who are seeking refuge from physical and emotional abuse or who are contrite abusers themselves; people who have lost loved ones or who themselves are dying; people who've been betrayed within their marriage or long-term relationship, or people who are the sorrowful betrayer; folks struggling with depression, low opinions of self worth, miseducation about and misunderstanding of self worth, addictions, fear, anxiety, aging, faith crises and fatigue in all forms--physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. I have made many observations while in and coming away from these interactions. I imagine as I continue to live, I'll make many more. This collection of blog entries is a portion of my discussion of some of those. This bonus post, I think, will be a special dedication to remembering to keep watch over, in particular, masculine wholistic wellness--of the body, mind, emotions and spirit.
My last two blog posts (this one and this one) have already been about much of what I'm about to say. I've noticed with those entries that even though they were not intended to be for a gender-specific audience, they seemed to resonate most demonstratively (as seen in levels of engagement) with women or primarily female-identifying individuals. I find this sort of thing is also true in in-person group settings. When I talk about self-care and self-love, men don't think I'm talking to them! I often either hear the entire absence (silence) of a masculine voice or a frustrated, curious and sometimes desperate inquiring from the same about where spaces and resources are for a man's learning to practice and better understand the idea of self-care, self-appreciation and self-love. I see this across ethnicities but most pronounced among black, primarily masculine-identifying people. I have a few conjectures about this. Mostly though, I wonder: why?
In my city, there is a brilliant wellness initiative for women that offers a free bi-weekly walk-in talk therapy clinic--for individuals and in group configurations--as well as eventual placement with a long-term therapist who is in most cases trained in PTSD recovery modalities. There are also meditative and physical activity gatherings centered around feminine healing and wellness. I have a note pinned in my phone's memos with links and direct contact information that I forward along on a frequent basis to women I encounter in crisis scenarios. Just last week I asked my own therapist why no such initiative exists for men in our locale, citing my desire to push along such resources to the male-born people I encounter who are experiencing difficulty. My therapist shook his head, seeing and agreeing with the legitimacy of my concern and seemed to regretfully then pass along to me the bureaucratic answer: "the general thought is that men already have enough resources."
I heard what he said but his statement sat all the way wrong with me when I held it against what I have personally seen and known. What men was he talking about? Rich men? Men who are already embedded within self-contained, largely financially independent ethnic groups? Men who don't have to look far to see platonic displays of affection being expressed by and between their gender? Men who have platonic displays of affection built into their cultural mores? Men who can easily see and glean cues from an array of glamorized depictions (in books, television, music and movies) of romantic displays of affection playing out between individuals of the same race as them? Men for whom attending a therapist is normalized within their community? Was he talking about highly-educated men or men who have plentiful same-level access to thoughtful, educated, well-read, well-traveled company? Men who aren't grossly mis-recognized as aggressors or deviants? Men who haven't grown up in the context of economic and people space disenfranchisement--in the health care system, (in)justice system, (mis)education system and/or housing system? Because if he was talking about those men, then yes, I too think resources are arguably abundant.
Do not confuse my point here. Male-born people in primarily self-sustained ethnic groups who can easily see people who look like them modeling healthy behaviors in popular culture and who have access to physical, mental and emotional health resources have issues too. The difference here is knowledge about the resources, degrees of access to the resources and stigmas associated with the resources.
What about the male-born individuals among the disenfranchised and socially misrecognized ethnic groupings who have difficulty associating touch (their own or anyone else's) with anything other than athletic activity or fighting, a shameful history of abuse or steps toward sexual gratification; sexual gratification with anything other than conquest, entitlement, entertainment and/or an alternative to processing intense thoughts and feelings; and intense feelings with anything other than "being too soft"? What about the men who are traumatized by witnessing and/or having endured themselves damaging and/or deadly interactions with authority figures? What about the men who've been taught not to cry, not to feel--much less to actually sharpen the skills needed to name and effectively communicate those feelings? What about the men who've been taught to not put up with or listen actively to others' feelings, taught not to love and never taught to pay honoring attention and loving care to their own selves just for who they are and not necessarily for what they can be, do or give to another or to others?
Many subcultural and religious systems --the military, church, Greek organizations, athletic associations--serve as grounding and structure for the American male-born individual who doesn't live first by the code of the streets. These tend to do a decent job in the practice of building and cultivating an outward appearance and establishing an ideal of strong character. Unfortunately, far too many of these also seem to somehow miss vital opportunities for discussions and exercises in supporting exploration and mastery of the complexities of the deep inner self--understanding the many nuances of human sexuality (not just sex), encouraging critical thought and accountability in this life for the impact of one's personal choices (not escape, detachment or pardoning from those), placing/expressing a broad range of intense emotions in constructive ways, sitting with and processing grief and loss in healthy, supported ways and not attempting to explain or platitude it away, a balanced concept of divinity and power that makes room for the appreciation of both masculine and feminine attributes to define what is worthy of worship, reverence, honor and praise. (The feminine is often seen second, subject to, weaker or less prominent than the masculine. This phenomenon does its part to downplay the need to balance the importance of the two and esteem both parts equally within the same being.)
In so many ways our society is in desperate need of balance. I wonder what impact might be felt if we took more deliberate care to heal and better integrate, in particular, the largely neglected (not the already well tended to) portion of the American masculine aspect:
What if we saw some damaging behaviors as the products of deep inner brokenness, injury, imbalances and deficits that might truly be able to be effectively addressed at certain points with the right kind of emotional, mental and/or physical support instead of just with isolation, incarceration or abandonment?
What if we offered community and willingness to help our friends and loved ones find good counselors and therapists when we notice instabilities in their behavior and thinking in the same way we'd refer them to good dentists, physicians, barbers or stylists?
What if we sincerely said "good for you" or asked "how can I be supportive" when a friend or loved one tells us they're seeing a therapist or counselor or physician to oversee bridge meds for mental and/or emotional instabilities?
What if we stopped calling charming children "heartbreakers" and instead called them to awareness of a more conscious and considerate level of conduct, a level that might make for fewer broken hearts in this world?
What if we came together to cultivate safe masculine spaces in our communities where individuals young and elder could see walk-in counselors on a bi-weekly basis, participate in support groups for post trauma recovery, attend yoga, guided meditation and other offerings that reinforce a wholistic approach to mind, body, spirit wellness?
What if the adolescent, young adult and adult masculine found out what incredible power, grounding, healing and fullness is in the expansive and varied space between safe, comforting touch (one's own or another's) and sexual climax--as opposed to one always having to lead to the other; rushing to one or the other or always artificially or externally enhancing/augmenting one or the other?
What if we figured out how to make conscious relational agreement-making a course of study so that young people would have a better chance at going mindfully into both healthy platonic and healthy romantic relationships--having taken some initial time to sort through and get a good sense of who they are inwardly, as individuals, before connecting their selves to other people, ideas and things?
Take good care of your whole self. Drink more water, Love. Take deep cleansing breaths. Get sunshine. Let your bare feet touch the earth. Push your body. Rest your body. Rest your mind. Read enriching books. Listen to enriching podcasts. Listen to music that elevates your vibrations. Figure out who you are INside. Ask thoughtful questions. Offer your voice to discussions. What you think, feel and say matters. Sing! Dance! Find support if you need help with something. Be honest with yourself and with the people you say you love. Live what you believe because it's in your deepest being, not only because it's implanted in your heart or rehearsed in your mind. Have quiet time. Touch your whole body intentionally, with love, care and appreciation. Enjoy and appreciate your whole self--in sexual and non-sexual ways. Don't let porn and pop culture be your main relationship teachers if you let them teach you at all. Know that you're a treasure and everybody--every body--does not deserve a piece of you. Know that you are loved. You don't always have to be hard. It is good and okay to cry sometimes. Don't be ashamed to ask for help with that dark cloud hanging over your head. It's good to talk to someone safe. It's okay to love and love deeply. Learn how to do inner work. Learn and practice safe, non-sexual and non-violent touch. Add those to your relational repertoire. Learn about boundaries. Gather a team of experts within a solid community to support your total wellness--mind, body, soul, spirit. Learn and practice thoughtfully saying what you feel. More breaths, Dear One. More water. It's important to heal, inside.