When a man first encounters “men’s” work – does an MKP retreat, reads a David Deida book – there’s a simultaneous tendency to bring more intensity to relating with women. As if the book and the talk and the seminar unleash a latent capacity in him and he feels more powerful, more potent, more present. Which he is…
Pretty soon, the old patterns re-emerge. The familiar temptations arise. The comfortable habits and routines – whatever they are – that lead a man to numb, to close, to avoid. He may not even realize it’s happening. What’s the problem with a little ice cream? A beer or two? A little porn? A day off from meditating? I deserve it, he thinks. I’ve discovered a new way of showing up as a man, and these things are my little rewards. I can handle a little break.
Which they are, and he can, in a way… and I’m not preaching ascetism! But the fact is in the wake of a transformational men’s weekend or a powerful new insight into his ability to stay present amidst conflict, there is still a dulling of the blade. After all, what can a newly honed blade do besides become dull? It has no other option.
The folly of relational insight for men is thinking one can rely on insight alone to carry one through. The folly is compounded by the belief one can “muster” extra presence in the moment, on a dime, in conflict, in intimacy.
The truth that cuts through both of these confusions is, as stated by Archilochus, ‘’We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.’
It’s like walking up to a 50-lb dumbell and assuming you can curl it because you have decided you should be able to, and you want to be able to. The reality is you are only able to lift – especially in moments of stress – as much as you have trained to lift. In conflict and intimate relationship, you are only able to hold as much emotional and energetic charge as you have trained your nervous system – in men’s group, in solo practice, in meditation – to hold.
A man can only be as present as he has trained to be. His cup will runneth over, and probably sooner than he would like to assume. A man cannot think his way into deeper presence, wider capacity, deeper love making. He must live there, for a little at a time, day after day, running the body of his practice up against the icy banks of the lonely river of his pain, and, in his ability to stay, feel those banks smooth, soften and expand.
He must practice his presence.