What is it to be a man in modern society? It’s a complicated question, but I would hazard a guess that many of us are just going through the motions as husbands, colleagues, fathers, sons and brothers. Perhaps all of these things and more. But the truth is that these are all simply part of our outer conditions in life. They are all vital and fulfilling, quite clearly, but they are constantly subject to change and as such are largely unreliable sources of longer term contentment.
If you fall into the trap of believing these roles you play are actually ‘you’, how will you respond when they are fundamentally altered, or even taken away? Is it any wonder that so many of us fall apart when a marriage ends or when we lose our job?
As it is, suicide statistics paint a very bleak picture for men in Australia, being approximately three times higher than for women. Why? Men have very fixed expectations about how they are supposed to be as men. The breadwinners, strong and supportive in a crisis, the practical ones. The fixers.
That’s all fine, we can be these things and more, but we simply don’t need to attach ourselves to these criteria so doggedly or measure ourselves against some social stereotype of masculinity by them. Doing so can often lead to mental anguish, and when men encounter depression and anxiety we also often enter a deep cycle of anger and frustration that can be very difficult to manage.
For many of us, it doesn’t have to come close to reaching that critical stage before it begins to impact our lives. We might simply be feeling a bit disconnected; that something isn’t quite right. As famed American novelist David Foster Wallace so eloquently put it in This is Water, it is an “unconsciousness, the default setting, the ‘rat race’ — the constant, gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.”
And so we begin to look for what we think will appease this condition. We eventually learn it’s not about success – however one defines that – or the acquiring of material goods. Do you notice in life that even when you attain the things you desire, they are never enough, there is always something more or better that is needed in order to satiate you? It’s not about finding a partner or having children either, for as life-affirming as that is, we can’t expect others to be responsible for our happiness.
And so we carry on searching, looking externally for some missing piece to complete our existence. Many of us are totally lost as a result without even realising it. Stuck with some vague notion that ‘if only I could achieve this or attain that, then everything will be great’. That gnawing sense…
The point is we aren’t even looking in the right place. The answer won’t be found in outer phenomena. That’s all just relative truth and it’s not lasting. It will not serve us in the long run. We need to turn our gaze inwards and become conscious of the fact that the only thing that determines whether or not we are enough is us.
According to Foster Wallace, this level of consciousness means “being aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”
What Foster Wallace is in essence referring to is the inescapable truth that we must understand the nature of our own mind. And stemming from that, we must consider our thoughts, words and actions – the only tools we have at our disposal to create our life’s conditions.
Thus, in beginning to realise our full potential, we must first simply slow down and observe our thoughts, without judgement. Meditation is a technique that allows us to do this. It’s like holding up a mirror to our mind and becoming curious and interested in what we find.
Meditation is a practice that is useful for men from all walks of life. Centuries ago, warrior classes across many different cultures used meditation to instil a clear mind and a courageous heart. The Samurai are perhaps the most famous, meditating upon death on a daily basis.
Famous thinkers such as Charles Darwin and Immanuel Kant practised a form of ‘walking meditation’ and both proclaimed they had their biggest breakthroughs during these times.
These days we find business leaders and elite athletes alike all practising meditation and from a male perspective, it’s clear that it continues to be an effective tool in connecting us to our masculinity. Our warrior within.
If any of this resonates with you, I urge you to seek out other men and sit together. Have conversations that go beneath the surface. Find strength in sharing your vulnerability. Listen. Talk. Laugh. Cry. Meditate.
Before long you will begin to see fundamental shifts occurring. You will learn to take responsibility for your actions, get in touch with your innate intuition, act more decisively, communicate more clearly, attain the deepest levels of respect and honour for the feminine, feel profoundly connected with yourself, others and the universe and start manifesting your own warrior potential – one borne of strength, love, purpose, joy, fearlessness and compassionate wisdom.
Asher Packman hosts a fortnightly "Warrior Within" men's circle which includes discussion and meditation on the true nature of masculinity. Based on ancient Shamanic principles, the circle draws inspiration from major influences such as Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and Robert Bly. Please contact him for more.