“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.” ~ Joseph Campbell
Want to know what men think?
In short, we think about way too much. I’ll even argue that we operate exclusively from our head more than our female counterparts do.
The correct question to ask is what do men feel?
Now, that’s a tough one to answer, even for this man.
Here’s the theory that I hear quite often:
Most of us have our own personal dark side, man and woman alike. It’s often referred to as a shadow, which consists of the things that we hide, repress, or deny. Many of us don’t realize this about ourselves.
Some may know about it but are indifferent to its existence.
Fortunately, more and more people are beginning to acknowledge this shadow side and attempt to do the work to uncover what’s been hidden in there for so long.
We call this shadow work, and it’s not everyone’s favorite activity to partake in, especially men.
If you are curious about what may be hidden in our shadow, Jack Kornfield wrote, “Unhealed pain and rage, unhealed traumas from childhood abuse or abandonment, become powerful unconscious forces in our lives. Until we are able to bring awareness and understanding to our old wounds, we will find ourselves repeating their patterns of unfulfilled desire, anger, and confusion over and over again.”
Keep in mind that what’s in our shadow may not all be considered bad. Our best, yet hidden, qualities may be in there. Think of the introvert who fails to let his artist out, fearing that he will be mocked and ridiculed by his macho friends. That hidden artistic gift can be his shadow too.
Based on my observations of men’s shadow work, especially my own, we tend to cut ourselves off from our emotions, making it even more challenging for us to see what’s going on internally. That’s why most men’s circles that I’ve attended, start with meditation and feeling into our bodies as well as we can in that moment.
We are trying to ground ourselves and be present so that we may feel what’s really coming up for us. We’re not trying to process it with thoughts or fix anything; the goal is to feel whatever we can without judgment.
Trust me when I say that most men have no f*cking clue how to do this on their own. They’re stuck in their thoughts of past and future—always planning, creating, and solving, and hardly ever feeling. What they do feel is judged and repressed, hidden, or denied, strengthening their shadow.
The men in the circle then try to give a name to their core emotions, such as joy, anger, fear, or sadness. These are felt from certain parts of their body. Feeling these emotions somewhere specific is the goal, and they seek to acknowledge that openly—another action not easy for many men to do.
As asserted by the ManKind Project, “We’re here to cut through the bullsh*t.”
This group activity sets the stage for the deeper work that men may or may not be ready and willing to explore later in the process. No matter how much a man succeeds with feeling his raw emotions in that round, he’s better for doing it than he was before he tried. It’s a muscle that needs to be strengthened over time and with practice.
When that muscle gets strong, there’s a huge payoff.
“Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ~ Brené Brown
So, what about the men who won’t attend an open men’s circle near them, whether that be face-to-face or online? I found that having a meditation and yoga practice helped me, and there are a wealth of other helpful resources. What I would caution is that mentors are essential to the healing process, and men probably won’t find these elder men easily on their own.
These men may fall into the group of people who either don’t see the shadow for what it is, or they are indifferent to it. Keep in mind that the longest journey that a man can make is from his head to his heart.
I’ll step up and say that most men are not yet ready to make that journey on their own.
Having worked in security and some law enforcement for a few decades, I’ve seen many men’s shadows in action.
Sometimes I try to put myself in their shoes to see what they were thinking and gain a better understanding of the reason behind the action. I want to know what they were repressing, because if I can see their shadow, I can act as a mirror and maybe they’ll see what’s causing them to suffer.
When I think of my personal experience, I know of the direct outcome of my repression. It usually comes in the form of explosive or irrational anger triggered by someone else’s words or action, and it’s hard as hell for me to contain it.
Doing shadow work for several months now has helped me to see and face the rising emotion and then sit with it. For those times that I don’t catch it, I take the next hardest step and keep myself accountable for my behavior—another lesson learned from doing the work in men’s group.
Whether I acted on the angry impulse or not, I’m now looking deeper for a cause as opposed to shaming myself for having these feelings or this type of response.
Without fail, the trigger was a mirror reflection of my repressed self showing up in someone else’s words or actions. My response to the situation had absolutely nothing to do with the person who evoked the trigger. They may have fired the first arrow causing me pain, but I fired the second one and brought on the suffering.
So, it was all me operating from my head instead of my heart.
Thankfully, there are ways in which we can help ourselves and other men in our lives.
We can start by not shaming ourselves or the men in our life. Seeing our shadow and working with it is no easy task for anyone, but don’t make it worse with subtle shaming.
Never tell a man to “man up,” “don’t be a sissy,” or “toughen up.” This only strengthens their conditioning toward eliminating their emotions and any form of self-compassion.
Instead, men can grieve and sit with their raw emotions.
So don’t try to figure out what men are thinking; instead, see if he can open himself to the core emotion and where he feels it in his body. Let it serve as a reminder to him that he can feel his emotions and receive great joy and gratitude from that.
I’ll leave you with this:
“God created the child, that is, your wanting,
so that it might cry out, so that milk might come.
Cry out! Don’t be stolid and silent
with your pain. Lament! And let the milk
of Loving flow into you.” ~ Rumi