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For the longest time, it seems, I have struggled with shame.

Like the invisible bars of a prison, the fear of being seen – for who I am, for who I am not, each the other-bound – has held inside it the never-to-be-released captive of my belonging.

My particular shame seems like a high school-type shame. A childhood and adolescence that left me hungry for the crumbs of peer approval, into my 40s still riddling the floor of my adult psyche, long after the cafeteria had closed and the school doors slammed shut.

Shame works to keep us – to keep me – imprisoned by brandishing a fate worse than death to the human soul: exile. In the eyes of those who would approve or disapprove of us, we are held like the gaze of Sauron: being seen, wanting to be seen, yet unable to move for fear of that sight.

I got to thinking about shame because of a conversation with a friend about men. He is a coach specializing in erectile disfunction in men. It occurred to me that his must be a tough niche to play. Coaching is mainly a referral-based business. Yet how many men do most of us know who struggles with ED? We probably do, but we wouldn’t know it. When was the last time a man confided in his friend that he struggled with erectile disfunction? It’s a private problem, and 95% of men would want it to stay there.

It occurs to me it’s the same with all of us men, regardless of our particular malady. We are, to the man, like Tony Soprano in the last episode of The Sopranos, against the wall of our identity-defenses with an automatic weapon, left to defend our empire alone.

Maybe that’s a grim image, but the idea is there. Men are siloed, alone – together but apart – in the very human experience of our perceived separateness.

What I might dub my “personal” work lately has been to bring my authentic self – unrehearsed, truthful, sometimes weird or half-finished – to whatever interaction I’m in. Especially the kinds of ones I would used to have hid it from. I make a bit of an exception for social media, from which I am currently hiding out, because I think it’s a hard place to make effective experiments in authenticity, which I’ve written about here.

This is all to ask, how are we men to get better – at whatever may be troubling us – if we won’t connect with each other? And herein is implied perhaps the core trauma or hallucination of the modern man: that we are actually separate, and that our problem is ours alone to suffer from. What we might discover from sharing it – that we are not alone – would both shatter us by ending our defensive campaign and set us free by dissolving the need for it.

I’d love to see a revolution in authenticity among men, not in wallowing publicly in our problems, but in embodying the willingness it takes to hold the discomfort of our imperfections alongside the dignity of not judging ourselves for it. Who knows how much of our power, and human culture’s potential itself, is held back by our fear of being seen for what we are: complex human beings, works in progress, willing to “go first” at being seen, even judged, for being all that we are, and all that we are not.


  • Harold says:

    Thanks Pieter, great insights. Being authentic and vulnerable in our shame and discomfort is definitely a prerequisite to our personal and collective growth. And it is scary. And it requires a sometimes exhausting amount of awareness and honesty. And it asks that others be there with us. As you said, to prove that we are not alone or separate. I’m glad that you are here voicing these reflections to provide a mirror to us that demonstrates as crisply and irrefutably as the image in a mirror: we are not alone. I wonder what you might offer as practices to ensure our honest presence in uncomfortable situations. Thanks again for putting this down!

    • Pieter Van Winkle says:

      Hey Harold
      Great question. I’m getting a bit of mileage out of paying close attention to my emotions, and keeping close contact with my self before, during and after what might be a challenging encounter. I haven’t got it perfected, but it seems to me there’s a direct (inverse) relationship between how much I maintain contact with my little boy (self) and how much the “inauthentic” fear-based parts try and take over. On the days I start with meditation and self-nurturing/embodiment practice, it’s much less likely I’ll be taken over (by those parts). On the days I skip practice, the likelihood is much higher. Essentially, without looking after myself, I’m asking for trouble in the form of reactive, fear-based responses, like shame, for example.

      • Pieter Van Winkle says:

        In terms of practices themselves, 15 minutes of any personal embodiment practice can set us up for a day of self-resourced success. If we miss the chance to practice, even 2 minutes once we realize we need it can help- any time of the day. Here are a few:

        * three-part deep belly breathing
        * slow yoga, dance or chi gong
        * somatic meditation, like vipassana
        * simple dialog with the little boy within us, however we access that (I have tips)

        I find that somatic presence goes with slowness which goes with authenticity. Shame is heady and fast. Authentic presence is embodied and slow.

  • Andreas says:

    Hey Buddy, I dropped the ball!
    Been so busy dealing and preparing selling my home.
    Super stoked to connect once things settle down and I get a moment.
    Phone Convo would be Great!!
    Until then, Stay wild and Stay True, Andreas (aka Paul from California)

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