I’ve just returned from a week in Costa Rica where I got up close and personal with the feminine and the masculine. My dreams were full of messages about the relationship between the feminine and the masculine, and conversations between the women I gathered with often included explorations of the relationships between these two archetypes.
When I talk about the feminine and the masculine, I am not talking about women and men but about qualities that come from the feminine archetype and qualities that come from the masculine archetype. Most 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 was sometimes a man appearing masculine, sometimes a man appearing feminine, sometimes a woman appearing feminine and sometimes a woman appearing more masculine.
In helping MSC become more accessible to men, generally-speaking, the masculine within the program needs to be apparent to men.
So, as MSC teachers like Chris Germer wade further into developing and promoting Mindful Self-Compassion for Men, it leads me to consider how to talk about the dualism of gender within the context of this program that I love so dearly. The intention is to make self-compassion practice accessible to men in an environment of self-development group work that traditionally attracts mostly women.
In helping MSC become more accessible to men, generally-speaking, the masculine within the program needs to be apparent to men. Of course there are already men who come to MSC, partly because they have learned to dissolve the boundaries between the masculine and the feminine and they are comfortable embracing both to some degree. This ability to embrace both is, unfortunately, often not taught or valued in our Western culture. Men are generally taught to hold the masculine while women are generally taught to hold the feminine.
We create guiding principles (masculine) for group safety so that we can relax and release (feminine) into our emotional landscape.
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. My friend, 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, to me, helps in exploring how the masculine protection allows the feminine creation and exploration to take place in an MSC group.
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 MSC. 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 guiding principles (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 caregiving 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 softer emotions (feminine) that it protects.
So now I find myself wondering how these understandings would help make MSC more accessible to men. The answer comes in the concept of balance. If I look down the brief list above, I’d see that if I were to cultivate all masculine qualities, I’d be hard, angry, disciplined, light and closed. I’d have guiding principles, 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 to a greater or lesser degree.
So, why would a man want to do MSC? Because in order to protect those he loves and to take his place as a truly valuable member of his tribe, he needs to be balanced.
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 because they can’t get to 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 to their own spiritual nourishment. When Yin and Yang are not in balance, we get sick – as individuals, as communities, as cultures.
So, why would a man want to do MSC? Because in order to protect those he loves and to take his place as a truly valuable member of his tribe, he needs to be balanced. He needs to be courageous enough to be with his emotions, flexible enough to know when yielding is more productive than striving, open enough to let his partner into his emotional life for the survival of the relationship. If he cannot do these things, then what is he protecting in the first place? What is a relationship, a family, a tribe without the love and the creative power of the feminine? How will he be able to truly embrace and lean on the feminine figures in his life if he can’t see and embrace the feminine as well as the masculine in himself?
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