My belief these days is that we need all kinds of people working to bring sane solutions to the problems we face in the world. And one of the things that I see as missing from the dialog about current events is an acknowledgment of the well documented reality that our bodies, and the sensations and feelings that arise in our bodies, have a huge impact on the thoughts and motivations and actions that we all take. Our bodies process information faster than we can formulate thoughts. We are, in large portion, often unknown to ourselves. Our motivations, the foundation for what we believe and how we act on those beliefs, is not being looked at in our intellectualized discourse.
So bringing awareness to the body, to the emotional and chemical information stream that is often overwhelmed in today’s world, can help all of us bring some added information to any decision, reaction or response. I see this as valuable.
I especially see this as valuable in working with youth. I know that my teachers, mentors, bosses and even my parents often overlooked the impact that my emotional reality was having on me during my teen years. A lot of what happens to boys as teens is about the constant effort to repress the natural emotional state in order to maintain the illusion of agency in the world. The interactions reinforce a kind of competitive arena sometimes devoid of natural sensate interaction. And this certainly holds true in the interactions between boys and men. I know that I was interacting with men in two primary ways as a teen; either I was rebelling against them, or seeking to impress them with my intelligence – often both. I had several great teachers and mentors – and even these men and women did not seem to have any connection to their emotional realities.
So we act. Often I believe we act with only the most rudimentary amount of information that is available to us. I see the work that MKP does as a highly effective way to begin to utilize more of the data stream that we have access to in all our interactions.
And what I am saying of teen boys of course still applies to grown men – who are in many ways more detached from their feelings than boys are. We really know two accepted emotions – Happy and Angry. It’s fine for a guy to be happy – “I’m GREAT, how are you doing?” or angry “That asshole really pissed me off!” beyond that we are faced with the threat of rejection as a man. For a man to engage with his vulnerability (fear, sadness, shame, guilt, powerlessness, anxiety) with other men is highly taboo in most arenas of US male culture. We are allowed to talk about what we think … or to make proclamations about what is good bad or indifferent, but to actually engage from a place of emotional reality, untethered to to a Left brain logic map – is regarded as highly suspect.
Now I simply have to show you why this is necessary or desirable.
Because what we deny comes out in other places. I can begin to name examples from all areas of the society, Elliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton, Mike Tyson, Michael Vick, George W. Bush, Mel Gibson, Robert Downey Jr., Joe Scarborough, Randall Terry, Mark Foley, Britney Spears, the list goes on. The unconscious revelation of denied emotions come out in ways that are readily recognizable … dominance, aggression, duplicity, unpredictability, violence, addiction.
The denial of the ‘shadow’ side of our personalities often guarantees their inappropriate expression. We are, all of us, human beings. I don’t believe that we are born flawed or born perfected, we are born into the possibilities. Man and woman are infinitely capable of both acts of beauty and acts of horror. Mostly we exist somewhere in the middle. These polarities are not limited to some of us … we all contain the seeds of glory and the seeds of destruction. This is reflected in religious and spiritual teachings handed down since the birth of thought. The very existence of religion – of gods, goddesses, creation and destruction stories – all arise from this perceived split in the psyche between creation and destruction, form and nothingness, order and chaos, good and evil. When confronted with the unknown, internal or external, we as humans have created stories to explain and reflect what we see in the universe.
My belief is that as our logical and intellectual prowess has grown, we have discounted something necessary to our healthy existence as complex psychological beings. We have lost ritual. In the early cultures of our world, all the emotions and their parallel actions would have been accessible on a daily basis. For men – there would be no need to repress anger, because that rage was useful in the process of hunting or war-making to amplify aggression, to help prevent injury, to allow us to run further faster longer. Our emotions are useful evolutionary adaptations. Sadness, fully expressed, flushes the lungs, the sinuses, releases toxins stored in the muscles, exercises the gut, increases blood flow to the brain. Fear, as it originates in our body with spikes in hormones makes us more aware, prepares us for fight or flight – in ancient society it kept us alive. Happiness develops as one of the first expressed emotions in babies – human beings respond to smiles and laughs at a cellular level. A baby’s smile invokes in the core of our cells the desire to help, to nurture and care for. Happiness shared between people with surface differences united us in common humanity.
So many of the developmental and evolutionary reasons for our range of “negative” emotions (fear, rage, sadness, shame) have become in some sense obsolete in the developed western world – so why then do we see so many of the negative impacts from this kind of emotion? Drug addiction, Violence, Abuse, Duplicity, Dominance, Aggression – all these negative actions flow even from people who we think are “good people”. My belief is that in the denial of all these negative expressions, we have created a situation that is impossible for our psyches. And that is where the loss of conscious cultural ritual has its greatest impact. Acting out the “negative” impulses in a safe ritual space is a way to resolve and explore the inner conflicts occurring in the psyche in a conscious way. Human beings create the stages on which to explore these shadowy realms – they are widely visible in society – Pro Wrestling, the saturation of Pornography, Violence in video games and movies. These are all archetypal expressions of the shadow looking for an outlet in the real world.
But without the CONSCIOUSNESS about these acts, they are more psychologically damaging than helpful. We have, as a culture, largely indulged ourselves in the shadow rather than learned to honor it in intentional ways through healing ritual. It is not the movies, the porn, the video games that are damaging society – it is the constant sublimation of the necessary safe containers for acting out the shadow side of the human psyche. And so we continue to see that the people (usually men) who speak most stridently against the shadow – who urge its destruction and repression – often become trapped by it in their own lives. It is tragic and sad, but should be expected.
One of the powerful gifts that working with a circle of men can provide is the space to explore the shadowy part of the psyche safely and without damaging self or other. This intentional ritual, adapted and brought into the modern age through use of simple techniques like voice-dialogue, non-violent communication, role play, and various processes commonly called “shadow work” can help any person get a grounded new approach to emotional integration in their lives.
And with these tools a man can reclaim his emotional reality without the fear that it will somehow “take over”. Integrated men have the ability to stay present and focused in the most difficult situations, facing the most difficult obstacles. I believe that we need lots more of these integrated men AND women in order to truly tackle the problems that face our society. Because with the skills to handle personal and interpersonal conflicts effectively without shame, blame, victimization or demonization, our energies can truly be put to solving the puzzles.