One analogy I like to introduce in my men’s work is to picture ourselves as the CEOs of our own personal companies. Our bodies and our psyches, as well as the world around us, are all part of our own company, and we’re sitting in the “corner office” that is our brain, trying to make decisions for the company.
When we feel like we know all the answers, we have all the data, the narratives, and the explanations for everything going on in our life, we don’t want to let others in who might disrupt that narrative.
When someone mentions that it looks like we’re struggling with something, we immediately go into explanation mode and we say, “Oh, thanks for mentioning it, but I know why that’s a struggle: it’s because my mother did this, or because my father was too critical, or [insert excuse here]. So, thanks but no thanks – I’ve got it covered.”
Think about how long a company would last if every time there was a problem with the supply chain, the CEO just said, “Oh don’t worry about it, I’ll fix it, I understand it, I’ll take care of it. I’m the one in charge.” That company wouldn’t last a day.
Men want everyone to think they have it under control
It sounds obvious when we look at it that way, but this is how we are as men. I’ve talked to so many men who are so sure, so confident that they understand what’s going on. And they don’t want help. A lot of this comes from not wanting to be seen.
It’s actually founded in shame; there’s a little wound in the center of a man that says, “If I’m actually seen as being someone who doesn’t have the answer, or who is not in control of that answer, then I won’t be OK.”
So we put on this performance to convince others that we are in control.
I want to offer you three questions that can help you learn how to be more open, and more willing to accept outside perspectives. They all have to do with increasing your permeability to other voices in your world, other people or systems within your “company”, that might influence you in some way.
1. How is your physical permeability?
This first question deals with your relationship to the physical plane. Check in with yourself about your felt vulnerability, physically. Ask yourself, “Am I willing to be uncomfortable, to be cold, to be wet, to be hot? To be messy, to be emotional, to be upset?” There’s a way in which, when we get up and do some breath work, move around the room, go for a run, we are actually saying to the intelligence, the information that exists in the environment around us, “I am open to being in more communion with you. So enter my body.” It’s all about connection, and this helps us learn to connect more fully with the totality of our world, not just our mind, our phone and our room.
2. How is your mental permeability?
This question deals with our willingness to open our minds to the opinions of others around us. Are we making ourselves available to the support of others, and are we receptive to other viewpoints? Using this question in practice could be simply asking three people today, “here’s my problem – how do you see it?” Then, the key is to simply listen.
It’s important to remember that when asking this question, you can’t assume you already understand their point of view. That defeats the whole purpose. So, be genuinely curious in your question, and be willing to discover what it actually looks like from where they sit – even if this is completely different from your own perspective. In the end, it’s not about whether or not you implement what they say. What you’re doing is practicing the ability to let in other viewpoints. Feel free to reject all of them, but celebrate your willingness to listen.
3. How is your spiritual permeability?
Lastly, this question may sound a bit new-agey, but bear with me for a moment. Using this question in practice may look like prayer, but not necessarily to a god or named force of some kind. We need to say to the universe, “I need help, and I don’t have the answers, and I’m willing to believe that some force beyond what I understand, beyond my rational mind, is going to be able to help.” Try this: a few times a day, say out loud, “I am open to some intelligence from the unseen world to reveal itself and help me with my problem. I’m listening.”
Don’t get discouraged if nothing happens, but try to be genuinely willing to be permeable, spiritually. Of course, this question is the hardest of the three because it requires another journey of asking yourself, do I even believe that such a thing exists? Do I believe that there’s a spirit, or a consciousness, or a god, or something else that is listening and is real?
This is something that many alcoholics go through with the 12 step program. Step one is admitting you’re powerless to alcohol, and step two is coming to believe in a power greater than ourselves. For some members of the program, that power is nothing more than the group of drunks (g.o.d.) they meet with regularly in the church fellowship hall.
As men, we can relate to this in that we tend to be ego-holics. For us, step one is admitting we are powerless over our own controlling egos. A lot of people get stuck on step two, because they think it means you have to believe in god. But that’s not true. You just have to believe that maybe, just maybe, your ego – your own thinking, rational mind – isn’t the only game in town. There might be something else, some kind of unseen intelligence out there that can communicate with you. At the very least you might not be able to see all your own blind spots, and that admission might be enough. If we think we can’t see around a corner, we’re more willing to ask someone who we think can for their perspective.
Give these questions a try in your own life, and let me know what you think. I truly believe that when men think they know it all, and that they have to know it all, it’s the number one thing that stands between us and a life of more fulfillment, more joy, more meaning, more connection, more intimacy, and more empowerment. We must learn to be vulnerable, to be permeable, to be in contact with some “other-ness” that we don’t understand, comfortable with the knowledge that this vulnerability and willingness to be permeable can help us find true understanding.