A Warrior’s Tale

I engaged.  I battled. And I triumphed.  So it was with my own hero’s journey this past weekend. My family and friends say that my eyes are now warmer and that I carry myself with greater confidence.

These are the outer signs of a dramatic inner shift. They are just a few of the gifts from my 48 hours as a participant in the ManKind Project’s New Warrior Training Adventure.

The ManKind Project (MKP) is a men’s global nonprofit that hosts personal development events, challenging and transformational trainings, and sponsors local men’s groups.  It is not a religious organization or a cult but an international collection of men committed to becoming more self-aware, and in the process becoming more emotionally mature and more skilled in relationships at home, at work, and at play.

I don’t want to give away details about what happens on a NWTA weekend because entering the experience without preconceptions or mental rehearsal is part of the program.  Let me just say that the weekend brought many physical and emotional challenges to overcome. There were points during the weekend when I wanted to cut and run.  But I stayed…I stayed with the other 23 men who, like me, burned for something to bring freshness and vitality to our safe and stale lives.  We stayed because we knew that what we hungered for was more important than fear.

And we were right. The intensity of that weekend shook us awake from the sleep of society’s conditioning.  In the fires of MKP’s training, we emerged re-forged as men.  This is the efficacy of the ancient initiation ceremonies that for millennia have powered the rite of passage for boys to become men.  Tragically, they are absent in our culture except in the often sadistic initiation practices of gangs and fraternities.

But they find renewed expression in MKP.  More specifically, the weekend brought to life for each of us the hero’s journey that American Mythologist Joseph Campbell popularized.  Campbell was credited by George Lucas as the inspiration behind Star Wars.

Simply put, the hero’s journey is about departure, initiation, and return. In honoring this journey, the MKP staff empowered us to depart the work-a-day world, to awaken the warrior within, to enter the arena of our fears, and to battle our self-defeating beliefs.   As I returned from the journey, I felt transformed as I proudly proclaimed to my fellow warriors, “I stand victorious in the truth of who I am.”

Campbell said, “The cave that you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”  For me, that treasure was coming to terms with the shame that my rageholic father burned into me as a child.  I have always felt less-than others because that shame taught me I was a bad person…that I deserved his verbal abuse.

I was not alone in living with dysfunction.  Each of us brought to the weekend wounds that have kept us sidelined to our own lives.  It was absolutely awe-inspiring to be present to the sights and sounds of these 9-5 men breaking through their barriers to cross the threshold from ordinary to extraordinary.

I have walked away from that weekend ready to engage in life with a new sense of purpose, appreciating myself for who I am, trusting myself, and believing that I can make a difference in this newly expanded arena that I now celebrate as my life.

In parting, I highly recommend the amazing YouTube video called Finding Joe that pays homage to Campbell’s hero’s journey.  If it resonates with you, then what is keeping you, my friends, from reaching out to MKP and reclaiming your inner warrior?

Shadow work is scary stuff

I was about ready to scream.  I’d begun to work through a Ken Wilber shadow integration exercise when I could feel my frustration and anger reaching the shouting stage.   It was bizarre because I rarely get to this point.

 

Then it came to me: it wasn’t Wilber’s exercise itself that had angered me.  It was my ego-mind’s panic about what I was undertaking.  The ego does not want me to get into the shadow elements of my unconscious mind—you know, those parts you’ve hidden from yourself.   My ego likes things just as they are.   Even if the shadow is causing suffering in my life, my ego does all it can to keep me from shining a light on what it has kept in the dark.

 

I see the ego as a barrier between my conscious mind and my unconscious mind.  It’s like the floor between my living space and my basement.  My ego tells me that there is nothing I need from the basement so why go down there.

 

Over the years, I have come to respect how my ego tries to protect me and how it is key to my survival in the world.  But if I am going to thrive rather than just survive, I feel compelled to integrate all parts of myself.  This means facing the unsavory shadow parts of myself that I have locked away in the basement of my unconscious mind.

 

I was still torn though.  While my ego violently objected, Wilber’s words implored me on.  I was at a painful choice point.  Will I be a man or will I be a mouse?

 

Wilber says if you don’t own our shadow, you will be “owned by it.”  This means letting “your disowned drives and feelings shape your life outcomes, entirely apart from your conscious choices.”

 

“Dammit,” I said out loud. “I’m not going to let my shadow push me around!”

 

I continued to read Wilber’s words to steel myself:  “The energy it takes to animate and repress shadow elements and keep them out of awareness is the same energy that cannot be available for developing to the next stage of potential…we must come back into association with that quarantined aspect of the self.  In other words, we enter into relationship with that which was disowned.”

 

Like presenting an FBI profile on some crazed killer, Wilber had informed me how to recognize the shadow:  “It makes you negatively hypersensitive, easily triggered, reactive, irritated, angry, hurt, or upset.  Or it may keep coming up as an emotional tone or mood that pervades your life.”

 

“Crap! I’ve got this shadow stuff bad,” I said to myself.

 

Then I suddenly felt compelled to act.  With Wilber’s 3-2-1 Shadow Process in hand and the cry “I’m going in!” echoing in the room, I descended the “stairs” to face my shadow…And I am so glad I did.

 

Below is Wilber’s process as I have adapted it from his book Integral Life Practice.  I followed the process on my own and then took it to the men’s group I belong to where we took turns applying it.

 

The Shadow Process:

  1. Face it.

Imagine the difficult person sitting in a chair opposite you. Observe that person very closely, and describe the person using 3rd person pronouns like “he,” “him,” “she,” “her.”   This is your opportunity to explore what it is that bothers you about that person.  Don’t hold back—be raw and real as you state out loud your criticisms of this person.  Take the time to describe them fully and in as much detail as possible.

 

  1. Talk to it.

Enter into a simulated dialogue referring to this person as “you” and “your.”  Talk directly to him or her.  Bring a sense of curiosity to your questions.  You may start by asking questions like “Why do you treat people the way you do?  Why are you so defensive?  Why are you so hostile? What happened to you?”  Answer each question you asked by playing the role of that person.  Imagine what the person would say and say that out loud. Allow yourself to be surprised by what emerges in the conversation.

 

  1. Be it.

Now, using the pronouns “I,” “me,” and “mine,” become the person that is sitting in front of you.  See the world, including yourself, entirely from his or her perspective, allowing yourself to discover not only your similarities but how you really are one and the same.  Finally, make a statement of identification: “I am___________” or  “___________ is me.”  Take time to sit with that statement.  The statement will feel “wrong” because it is what you have been busy denying.  However, be willing to try it on for size since it contains at least a kernel of truth.  Find three examples of how that statement is true in your life.

 

The last step of integrating your shadow is to fully re-own it.  Don’t just see the world from the perspective of your shadow for a brief moment; deeply feel the reality of this new awareness for however long it takes to resonate clearly as your own.  Then engage it and integrate it until it becomes you.

 

Wilber says, “You’ll know that the process has worked because you’ll actually feel lighter, freer, more peaceful and open, and sometimes even high or giddy. It makes a new kind of participation in life possible.”

 

Those words rang true for me. I can say with confidence that this is a powerful process.  I really did feel a sense of peace and wholeness when I was finished with it.  Those in my men’s group found it very effective, too.

 

If you’d like to engage this life-altering process, go to my Facebook page where I have posted an example session that also includes my recommendations for the process.   Go to https://www.facebook.com/RJHandleyLifeCoaching.

 

I would love to hear your feedback about the Shadow Process, if you have a moment, so I can make it better!

If you would like to work one-on-one on with me concerning an issue that is robbing you of your happiness such as depression, anxiety, relationships, negative thoughts, or esteem, contact me.  I’m at rjhandley.com.  Google my name if you’d like to find out more about me.

Kind Regards,

RJ Handley

Spiritual Life Coach

 

Why Advice Hurts Others

Unsolicited advice implicitly says, “I’m offering you a solution because you’re incapable of coming up with a good one on your own.”

 

Yes, it’s very difficult to watch loved ones make a mistake.  Often, we rush in with both guns blazing, trying to save a person from what we perceive as an error in judgment.  It’s especially difficult for those of us who have a long history of advice giving.  It seems like there is an unstated moral imperative that we use the wisdom we’ve learned from our own mistakes to save others from their mistakes.

 

And that’s a problem.  When we offer others unsolicited advice, we are not only implying they are incapable of making good decisions for themselves but also depriving them of an opportunity for personal growth. The hidden power of mistakes is that they are the very ore from which wisdom is produced.  It is the alchemy of turning the base metals of error into something precious—and lasting.

 

Before offering unsolicited advice, we may want to ask ourselves, “Would I really want to deprive another of what created my own wisdom?  And can I really be confident that what I believe is right is also right for another person?”

 

Consider this as well.  When we offer unsolicited advice, two things may result: shame and blame.  People may feel shame because unsolicited advice is inherently saying that the other person’s decision making skills are poor.   Also, unsolicited advice can harm a relationship because when someone takes your advice and things turn out badly, who are they going to blame?

 

For those of us who are ambivalent about unsolicited advice, we often rationalize our decision to give it by combining it with one of our “pearls of wisdom.” However, wisdom is contextual and, therefore, subjective because it is based on our own limited interactions with life.  Even though wisdom feels like ultimate truth, it really conforms to a formula: my knowledge + my experience = my wisdom.  Not anyone else’s. 

 

So what’s the alternative?  After all, we want to help those we care about.

 

Spiritual author and self-help guru Byron Katie says that whenever she is asked for advice, she responds: “I have no idea what you should do.  I can only share what worked for me.  Are you interested in hearing that?”

 

The honesty and humility inherent in Katie’s response invites others to consider our experience as a possible solution without the pitfalls of unsolicited advice.

 

Another useful technique in avoiding unsolicited advice comes from my own work with the ManKind Project, an international group of men committed to developing greater emotional intelligence (EQ).  I have learned that when someone has given me the honor of listening to his or her issue, I briefly pause to ask, “Do you want me to just listen or to listen and help you come up with solutions?”

 

As a former “advice provider,” I have been seduced by my desire to solve other people’s problems.  It’s easy to assume that when sharing a difficult issue with us, people want our advice.  Men are especially prone to the temptation to immediately fix the person or situation.  Although we have heard women say from the advent of language that they “just want to be listened to,” we find it extremely difficult to avoid jumping in to solve the problem.

 

As an enlightened male, Buddhist monk and Nobel Prize nominee Thich Nhat Hanh, says that we listen to others with compassion rather than judgment in order to relieve another’s suffering. We listen with only one purpose: to allow that person to “empty his heart.”  And we remember that we “are helping that person to suffer less even if what he is saying is full of misperceptions or bitterness.”

 

Then what about the misperceptions?  He suggests that we set aside another time to address those—if, in fact, that is what the person is seeking from us.

 

There is also great wisdom to be found on the advice frontier from support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon.  Members are taught to share their “experience, strength, and hope” rather than their advice when working with others who are still suffering. Addiction to our own negative thinking has a way of making us all members of the “still suffering” whether we consider ourselves addicts or not. Key to their approach is valuing and respecting other people, recognizing that “we are all equals, but we are not the same” (Al-Anon’s Twelves Steps & Twelve Tradition).

 

When operating from the belief that others are equal but not the same as us, we are less likely to impose our advice on them.

 

But habits are often difficult to break.  And advice giving is no different.  To prevent us from slipping back into automatic advice mode, Katie suggests asking ourselves three-questions: “Am I in their business? Did they ask me for my advice? And, more importantly, can I take the advice I am offering and apply it to my life?”

 

A motif common to all the advice-busting techniques presented here is time.  When feeling the urge to give unsolicited advice, pause and take a moment to consider its pitfalls. That momentary “time out” is all you need to apply the technique that will help bring about the greatest good for each person —friend, family, or colleague—who has honored you by confiding in you.

 

In sharing this blog with you, I hope I haven’t violated my own intentions.  It seems that it’s an inescapable irony that in writing about unsolicited advice that I have given it.  But it is my hope that by joining me in this article, that you have implicitly given me permission to share these insights and techniques regarding uninvited advice.  You may find that as you become more sensitive and skillful in helping those who have confided in you, that they may return the favor.

If you would like to work one-on-one on with me concerning an issue that is robbing you of your happiness such as depression, anxiety, relationships, negative thoughts, or esteem, contact me.  I’m at rjhandley.com.  Google my name if you’d like to find out more about me.

Kind Regards,

RJ Handley, Life Coach

 

 

 

 

A Message to Men

I have often felt broken inside.  At best I felt fragmented.  I have sought alcohol and drugs to make me feel whole.   Recovery allowed me to reclaim my life, but I still felt partial as a man.

As I cast my mind across the expanse of my life, I see that I have always struggled to forge close connections with other men.  This includes my father, my friends, my colleagues, and my bosses—all the males in my life.

Like some of you, I was raised by my mother because my father was often absent. In that absence, I was deprived of the masculine role model I needed to nurture me, shape me, and define me as a man.

In this feminized world, I often felt much more comfortable trusting and sharing my thoughts and feelings with women. Though women can teach me valuable things, they cannot initiate me into manhood. For that, I need the company of other men, as men’s leader Wayne M. Levine points out in his article “The Importance of Trusting Men in Your Circle.”

I have often demanded too much masculine support from my female partners, a common issue that Levine says often leads to the breakdown of those relationships.

Men need men to be men.

As men we are aware of the efficacy of the ancient initiation ceremonies that for millennia have powered the rite of passage for boys to become men.  Tragically, however, they are absent in our culture except in the often sadistic initiation practices of gangs and fraternities.

There is an answer.  It’s the ManKind Project.

The ManKind Project (MKP) is a men’s global nonprofit that hosts personal development events, challenging and transformational trainings, and sponsors local men’s groups.  It is not a religious organization or a cult but an international collection of men committed to becoming more self-aware, and in the process becoming more emotionally mature and more skilled in relationships at home, at work, and at play.

I recently attended their New Warrior Training Adventure (NWTA), which is as close as men today can get to those ancient initiation ceremonies into manhood.

I don’t want to give away details about what happens on a NWTA weekend because entering the experience without preconceptions or mental rehearsal is part of the program.

What I can tell you is that the weekend brought to life for each of us the hero’s journey that American Mythologist Joseph Campbell popularized.  Campbell was credited by George Lucas as the inspiration behind Star Wars.

Simply put, the hero’s journey is about departure, initiation, and return. In honoring this journey, the MKP staff empowered us to depart the work-a-day world, to awaken the warrior within, to enter the arena of our fears, and to battle our self-defeating beliefs.

It was absolutely awe-inspiring to be present to the sights and sounds of these 9-5 men breaking through their barriers to cross the threshold from ordinary to extraordinary.

In the trust and safety this circle of warriors, I felt for the first time that I could shed the costumes I have worn for the world and could step off the stage into my authentic self.  Within this circle, I could finally claim my title as a man.

Men need men to be men.

So welcome, brothers, to the company of MKP men where trust allows us to re-forge our broken selves and to emerge from the fire whole.  This is the place of trust where we become the men that our family, friends, and colleagues depend on us to be.  Welcome, men, to the sacred and magical space of MKP.

If you would like to work one-on-one on with me concerning an issue that is robbing you of your happiness such as depression, anxiety, relationships, negative thoughts, or esteem, contact me.  I’m at rjhandley.com.

Kindly,

RJ Handley, Life Coach

Living Life in Disguise

I was amazed to recently learn just how many men struggle to connect with other men.   When asked to answer the question, “What don’t you want other people to know about you?” a surprising number of the 24 men I had joined for a weekend training stated that they had difficulty creating deep and lasting friendships with other men.

I must admit that I was one of those men. And I was also one of those men who felt a tremendous sense of relief to be reminded that I was not alone in this struggle.

It’s been just over a week since I attended what’s called the New Warriors Training Adventure hosted by the ManKind Project, an international nonprofit that seeks to empower men to become more self-aware, and in the process become more emotionally mature and more skilled in relationships at home, at work, and at play.

During that weekend, one of the most transformative of my life, I realized at a deeper level that I can survive but never thrive without connection.

I remember the show Cheers with its theme song saying, “You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name.”  I felt a temporary connection with Sam Malone and company while watching, but it also left me feeling hollow in the absence of those connections in my real life.

It wasn’t until I entered the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous ten years ago that I began to witness the power of connection. Yes, our troubles were all the same, and we learned from the old timers in the group that you can’t save your ass and save your face at the same time.

Facing death by alcohol has the power of waking a man up to living life by honesty.

Like with my experience with AA, the ManKind Project has helped me realize that I have a choice: I can live life fully by allowing others to really see me as I am or I can live life partially by pretending to be who I am not.

I admire the spiritual teacher Ram Dass. He said as a challenge to those who live their life playing a role rather than themselves, “Are we always going to meet on the stage? Don’t we ever take off the costumes?”

When asked why he cherished working with people who were on their deathbeds, Ram Dass said that imminent death had a way of removing the mask of who we pretend to be to reveal the beauty of who we are.

Many of us don’t want to remove the costume because we have invested a lifetime in creating it. Others may believe that living the illusion is more exciting than living the reality of who we are.

I was moved recently by learning the top regrets of people who are in hospice care. In the top five was the regret of not allowing others to truly know them, to experience the truth of who they are.

I’ve learned that it’s an impossibility to live our lives with any deep connection if we hide from others who we really are. We need to “get down from the stage so that we live out, not act out our lives,” says Joyce Block in her book Family Myths.

We must dare to be vulnerable if we dare to connect. In our early days together, my girlfriend expressed her frustration with trying to read me.  She said I was often opaque to her.  She asked, “So RJ, you don’t like small talk and you don’t like being emotionally intimate.  How do people connect with you?”  Ouch.

But I ask you that same question. How are men or women going to connect to you?  Are they going to connect superficially to the actor? Or are you willing to take the risk of removing your costume and descending the stage into your genuine self?

Help another person out by sharing in the comments what you have done to shed your costume.

If you would like to work one-on-one on with me concerning an issue that is robbing you of your happiness such as depression, anxiety, relationships, negative thoughts, or esteem, contact me.  I’m at rjhandley.com.  Google my name if you’d like to find out more about me.

Kindly,

RJ Handley, Spiritual Life Coach