The Tragedy of Gender Roles

The older I get, the more aware I become of the pain and suffering caused by gender roles. They seem to cut both genders off from true power and the ability to experience the joy and beauty of life. When I was younger, I was too busy trying to live up to these expectations to question them. As I’ve gotten older, I just don’t have the energy to live in the box anymore – it’s my favorite thing about the aging process.the_birth_of_tragedy_by_mysticcharm

The males in our culture (and many other cultures) get socialized to be invulnerable. We are supposed to always know what to do, and never show weakness. The females in our culture are socialized to be “sugar and spice and everything nice”; to cheerily cater to the needs of others while ignoring their own needs. Men get to show anger. Women get to show vulnerability.

While it may seem like men have the better deal – after all, they can access their own power – the power they have access to is only shallow power (many women seem to know this about us). The deeper forms of power don’t come from us, they come through us. To allow this kind of power to come through requires that we surrender and become vulnerable to something greater, which men are prohibited from doing. As an inventor, artist and dancer, the most powerful expressions I’ve experienced have come from surrendering to something beyond myself.

Women have permission to be vulnerable, but not to express power, because power is not “nice”. However, because women can access vulnerability, many feel the deep power moving within, but feel prohibited from expressing it; like their spirit is in chains. Women have been given half the key to accessing deep power; while men have been given the other half. Women can feel it but don’t have permission to express it, men have permission to express it but can’t feel it.

The recognition of this deep power is encoded into our guts and into our bones; we know it when we see it; we write stories about it. To access this deep power requires that a person step out of their gender role, even if only temporarily.

Our ability to feel sadness and our ability to feel joy come from the same place inside: they arise from our ability to be moved by life. Men are not allowed to feel sadness because it’s seen as weakness; a weak man is no man at all, and ‘unworthy’ of love. Women are not allowed to feel sadness because it’s not nice; it’s seen as selfish and not feminine, and makes her ‘unworthy’ of love. But to avoid sadness requires that one shut down the ability to be moved by life, since that’s it’s source. We thus cut off our ability to experience the joy and beauty of life. Sadness and joy are two sides of the same coin.

The tragedy of these gender roles is that we are told we must comply in order to be loved by others. We all want to be loved, so we comply, and in complying, we cut ourselves off from the very things that people actually fall in love with. We don’t fall in love with cardboard gender role simulations, we fall in love with the living, breathing, vulnerable and powerful reality of our beloved’s deeper being. It’s time that humans of both genders team up to create a freer, more powerful, more joyful world.

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The Language of All Creatures

People may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you said it. What you said was written in human language, while how you said it was written in the language of all creatures.

Part of the reason we love our pets is because they speak fluently the language of all creatures. They can sense someone who is out of balance or with ill intent, no matter what words they are speaking. We humans get more easily caught in the web of words.

The words we use don’t always match with what we are saying in the universal language, and not usually because we are trying to deceive. If we use positivity as a way to avoid our pain and disappointments, then what we are saying in the universal language is about our fear of facing these things.

We would do well to learn to listen and speak in the universal language. Call it the language of energy if you like, it’s the only language that the whole universe can hear. I trust what is said in the language of all creatures more than I trust the words spoken. It’s a mark of spiritual maturity when our human words and our energy are in harmony.

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We find that which we seek

The law of attraction seems to state that if you think the right thoughts, you will get the right results in your life. This seems the ultimate in hubris and would tend to make someone a control freak. Life is not under the control of our thoughts. Who among us controls the weather or the economy or even your spouse? If you can control these things, I have a few requests for you. How about ending genocide, rape and child abuse?

Our thoughts are powerful things, and have a huge impact on how we experience life; some people seem to do well in life and get the things they want, and others flounder. How can we explain this?

Life is so full of information that our conscious minds cannot process it all. We must filter it down to a manageable level, and we do that by deciding what needle to look for in the haystack of information; everything else we filter out. If we look for confirmation of our worst personal mythology, we will find it. If we look for the silver lining within the black clouds of our troubles, we will find it. You can look for the good in others, or you can look for the weaknesses, or you can see both. It’s all there.

Maybe the truth behind the law of attraction is the law of selective filtering. That doesn’t make this a weak or unimportant effect in our lives, it is very powerful. We will meet both blessed and wretched things, so find a way of being that allows you to live a fulfilled life whatever comes your way. If your philosophy requires only the blessed things for your happiness, you will be surely be unhappy.

Instead of trying to control all your thoughts in order to influence what manifests, examine instead how you interpret the things that happen to you. How do you see the meaning within the events? We can set our filters up to tune into many different frequencies, and each frequency will have it’s own effect.

“Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts”. – Marcus Aurelius

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Yoga Is Not One Thing

Being a yoga teacher and with many friends involved with yoga as a practice, business, and philosophical system, I often encounter rants about the dumbing down of yoga within our culture. “This McYoga is not real yoga!” they seem to say. The implied message is that we should round up a posse and ride them out of town. While they make some good points and I admire their earnestness, I shudder to think that there would be some sort of yoga police running around enforcing a yogic orthodoxy. Whose orthodoxy should be enforced?

If there is one thing that has become clear in my yoga philosophy studies, it’s that yoga is not one thing. It is perhaps the longest running philosophical conversation on the planet, and spans thousands of years from at least the Vedic period into current times. Within it there is monotheism, dualism, pantheism, panentheism, and atheism, and perhaps other ism’s as well (Fanaticism? Narcissism? Perish the thought!). As I understand it, Buddhism was formed in part as a reaction to yogic thought, so one could argue that it’s part of the conversation as well.

Yet most of those I know, including most yoga teachers, seem to regard yoga as some type of monolith, like it’s one thing and we should all agree on what that one thing is. Any serious academic study will reveal that it is simply not the case.

Do we really need to decide between McYoga and the Yoga Police? If we choose either, we end the conversation. Now that yoga has become so popular in the western world, it behooves us to educate ourselves about the conversation so far, and then engage deeply with our own educated minds and experienced hearts to further the conversation. The first step in my view is to subvert the idea that yoga is one thing. It’s not, and if it ever is one thing, the conversation is over.

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Wild Things

We come out of the womb as Wild Things, with a diverse set of untamed energies, some of which are contradictory, and all of which are part of our life force. Through the socialization process, these energies get tamed, inhibited, or locked up, so that we can appear consistent in our presentation of self; i.e. so we can be an adult. This type of consistency shrivels our vitality, giving free reign to only a small fraction of our life force. Since life force is what animates the body, I think these socialized inhibitions might make us age faster than we otherwise would.

We spend the first part of our lives getting socialized to damp down the Wild Things, and then spend the rest of our lives wandering in the dark trying to find them again. Authentic spiritual practice can help us to find and reclaim them. If your practice is inhibiting your life force, it’s not really spiritual, even if it is religious.

The greatest spiritual practice for me has been dance. It bypasses the mind, and in the right environment, can allow all these suppressed facets of who I am to emerge and be reclaimed. Our essential nature is not one thing, it is many things: we are multifaceted beings. There is no need to be consistent, and no need to be entertaining, the only need is to be authentic to what is; to embrace our Wild Things. To be truly whole, we must embrace our contradictions.

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The Disease of Niceness

Act 1, Scene 1:

Mother: “Sally, give that toy back to your younger sister, she was playing with it first” .

Sally: “But I want to play with it!”

Mother: “Sally, don’t be selfish, no one will like you if you’re selfish. Give the toy back right now.”

This is an example of how we socialize our children. We shame them for their self interested desires and teach them to seek approval from others. This is well intentioned, but has negative unintended consequences. When the strategy is successful, it produces adults that have trouble acting in their own self interest. When the strategy fails, it produces the bad boys and bad girls of the world.

Consider the position Sally is in. She is presented with a choice of suppressing her desire and gaining her mothers approval, or continuing with her desire and facing rejection. If she keeps choosing her own desires first, she will be considered a bad girl. It’s a heart wrenching choice: loose the vitality that comes with embracing her desires or loose the love and support of those around her. It’s a lose/lose proposition.

I’m a recovering nice guy. Like most people, I choose to go the nice route and learned to stuff my desires and seek approval. To be nice means to conform to others expectations and to consider our own desires last, if at all. The desires don’t go away though, they stay there hidden or sheepishly expressed. This is what I call the disease of niceness. It’s a disease because we’ve socialized people to suppress acting in their own interest; what other animal does that? Desire is where our vitality comes from, and suppressing our desires greatly limits our ability to be happy and successful.

The pressure to be nice is applied to girls and boys, but especially to girls. They are supposed to be sugar and spice and everything nice; to not be nice is to not be feminine, or so society wants us to believe.

Those who go the other way and choose to be bad little girls and bad little boys grow up to become the adult bad girls and bad boys. It’s no accident that we don’t call them bad women and bad men; they are still caught up in that rebellious childhood dynamic. They’ve learned to forgo the approval of others in favor of embracing their own desires.

The appeal of the bad girls and bad boys to some of us “nice” people is that they’ve retained the vitality that comes with self interested desire; we are attracted to that because we want our own vitality back. The downside is that those bad boys and bad girls have turned away from acting with conscience; you’ll feel their desires, but yours will not be considered, except perhaps as a way to manipulate you.

As a recovering nice guy, I know what it means to be too nice. Too nice is too boring. In my niceness I’ve been on the receiving end of rejection from women more times than I can count; and they were right to reject me for that. I’ve also rejected women for being too nice. Who wants nice if it means someone who suppresses their desires? I want to feel a women’s desire!  I think we all want that in a partner.

To have the disease of niceness or to be a bad boy or bad girl means to still be a child. The choice presented in childhood is a false choice. We can keep our self interested desires AND have consideration for how our actions affect others. The golden rule – to treat others as we want to be treated – is sage advice that has been around for thousands of years and is thought to be in some form in almost every ethical tradition. If we can find a way to socialize the next generation to following the golden rule AND retaining self interested desire we will raise a generation more able to live fulfilling lives. It’s no easy task, but our future may depend on it. The first step is to create that for ourselves.

To have genuine self love, we must transcend the good/bad dynamic. When I was in nice guy mode I was seeking approval rather than fulfillment. This is now the key for me to recognize when I’ve been re-infected with the nice guy disease. People seeking self actualization seek fulfillment rather than approval. Approval is good to have, but a self actualized person knows you can’t get approval from all the people all the time. They don’t need it and they don’t seek it because they already approve of themselves; that is self love in action.

When I’m was in approval seeking mode, it’s like I wanted some sky god (or earth mother) to show up and tell me that it’s OK to go for what I want. I wanted an external source of unconditional love so that I could start loving myself. I now know that waiting for external love means waiting forever; it’s never going to happen.

I realized that loving myself was not about meeting some external standard of beauty, intelligence, accomplishment, or any other criteria. I’ve seen plenty of beautiful, intelligent and accomplished people that still need the approval of others. I had to love myself enough to believe I deserved fulfillment, without qualifications. If I wanted it I had to give it to myself. A voice inside began to say:

“YOU ARE THE PERSON YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR!  YOU ARE THE ONE WHO NEEDS TO LOVE YOU ENOUGH FIRST! You are the only one who can decide that you deserve fulfillment in your life. It will NEVER come from the outside because that’s not how it works. It never worked that way and it never will; not for you; not for anyone.’

It’s cliché because it’s true: we can’t completely love another until we first love ourselves. The love that’s shared between two people when neither has self love is all mixed up with insecurity and the need for approval. It’s not that fulfilling, even if it does feel better than being alone. To be fulfilling, love needs to come from someone who already loves themselves. If I don’t love myself, then I don’t embrace my own fulfillment, so how could I fully support my partners fulfillment? Seeking approval for helping someone does not feel quite the same to the partner; more burden than treasure.

Niceness is a thin veneer, a facade that insulates us from genuine intimacy with others. It covers over and hides our true feelings. Niceness and authenticity cannot co-exist at the same time because being nice requires twisting who we are to fit others expectations. Don’t be nice, instead be kind.

When we are afflicted with niceness, we think of our own desires as a burden, and we don’t want to burden others, so we keep them to ourselves.

Act 3, Scene 5:

“What do you want to do for dinner tonight honey?”

“Oh, I don’t care, whatever you want dear.”

Our desires are only a burden if we expect their fulfillment without consideration for other’s desires; the bad boy/girl scenario.

As long as we are acting with conscience, our desires are a gift, not a burden.  Don’t deny the gift of your desires with those you love. Share your desires, for it’s desires that forms the notes of the beautiful music you can make together with others.

Don’t love your neighbor more than yourself. Don’t love yourself and trash your neighbor. Love thy neighbor as thyself.

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Parvritti

Believe it or not, the universe doesn’t care how you or I think life should be. Expecting life or other people to conform to our “shoulds” is a formula for creating our own private hell. Judge (discern, evaluate) how life is, but never reject how life is; that’s not judgment, it’s condemnation. When we condemn life for not conforming to our ideals we are rejecting a part of this wonderful universe and we make our own world a little smaller. I believe that this is what Jesus meant when he said “Condemn not that ye not be condemned.”

We all make the choice a thousand times a day: We can turn away from how things are and make our world a little smaller, or we can turn toward how things are and step deeper into the mystery.

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