In helping self-compassion practice to become more accessible to us all, we need to be able to balance the masculine aspects of our practice with the feminine. Qualities that come from the feminine archetype, like nurturing, soothing and emergence, need to be balanced with qualities that come from the masculine archetype, like protecting, holding, and supporting through structure.
Many spiritual traditions refer to these archetypes: for example, the Taoist notion of Yin and Yang refers to the two archetypes, with each archetype having a drop of the other within it. Kuan Yin in the Buddhist tradition has, at various times, appeared as a masculine man, a feminine man, a feminine woman, and a masculine woman, depending on how their manifestation would best support the people at the time.
This ability to embrace and balance both masculine and feminine energy is, unfortunately, often not taught or valued in our Western culture. Men are generally taught to value and embody the masculine traits and belief systems while women are generally taught to hold the feminine. But the two are not separate and were never meant to be. As the Yin and Yang symbol represents, the two are very intimate and organic with each other. One of my teachers, medicine woman Maritza Centena from Nicaragua, talks about how the masculine in her culture was originally meant to offer protection so that the feminine could create and nurture. This understanding helps in exploring how the masculine quality of protection allows the feminine qualities of creation and exploration to take place in our contemplative practice.
To take this consideration further, it’s useful to look at some of the qualities of the masculine and the feminine as they relate to processes in contemplative programs. Here are some musings of my own:
- We talk about how contrast helps us to understand anything conceptually: We know hard (masculine) because we know soft (feminine); we know dark (feminine) because we know light (masculine); we know opening (feminine) because we know closing (masculine).
- We create community agreements (masculine) for group safety so that we can relax and release (feminine) into our emotional landscape.
- We hold the discipline (masculine) of a set period of time to meditate in so that we are supported as we open up (feminine) to our inner emotional landscape.
- We learn boundary setting (masculine) in relationships so that we can protect our ability to nurture (feminine).
- We accept the protective power of our anger (masculine) and come into relationship with it so that we can validate it and move on to being with the information offered by the softer emotions (feminine) that it protects.
If I look down the brief list above, I see that if I were to cultivate all masculine qualities, I’d be hard, angry, disciplined, light, and closed. I’d have community agreements, boundaries and structure but no organic group process, exploration, nurturing, or creativity. This is not balance. Similarly, if I had all feminine qualities, I’d also be completely out of balance. Wholeness comes from embracing all qualities variously, as they are needed in a given situation.
Also, as I look down the list, I see our culture’s ailments in it. I see women who feel too much shame to express their anger because it’s not seen as a desirable feminine quality. I see men acting out of anger and confusion because they can’t get to the information of the softer emotions that lay underneath. I see women burning out in caregiving roles because they feel it’s not culturally sanctioned to practice self-care and boundaries. And I see men creating systems of discipline and structure in their workplaces that they then come to worship as false gods while their emotional and family life is neglected to the detriment of their own spiritual nourishment. When Yin and Yang are not in balance, we get sick – as individuals, as communities, as cultures.
In order to care for ourselves and others, we need to be balanced. We need to be disciplined enough to hold a container of non-reactive awareness for our internal experiences, courageous enough to be with the range of our emotions, flexible enough to know when yielding and receiving is more productive than striving and achieving, and brave enough to allow old patterns of survival behavior to be replaced with new ones of growth.
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