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Executive Prajna Image.HEIC

Executive Prajna

  • Ted Rose

We're starting to get to know each other, starting to learn things, but we are doing it in a different way. I want to explain what we're doing, why we're doing it, and how we plan to do it.


I also want to invite questions and dialogue when I’m finished. This is something which I never had when I started. I’ve been doing men’s work for 25 years, but I never received this context. There's no book. When we had the inspiration to do this group, we quickly realized that we wanted to answer certain questions.  


First and foremost: why gather as men? That’s a big one, especially when one of my biological male children is now identifying as non-binary. What does it mean to do this? So I want to address that, but first, I want to give you a quote which I've been sitting with for a couple of months and I feel like it is very much a window into this work and raises themes that I wanna come back to. It is from Way of the Superior Man by David Deida.


“Unadorned suffering is the bedmate of masculine growth.”


The first time I read this quote, I hated it. And I felt like it wasn’t true.


So much of the growth I’ve experienced has been fulfilling and rich — the opposite of suffering.  But I keep coming back to it. So I want to explore why it is so provocative and probably useful to explain, at least partially, what we're up to.


What are we doing here? We're going to engage in this communal practice that allows us to create a space that allows us to reveal who we are, right now. And then reveal who we are in the next moment. There's no expectation that you're going tp feel the same way at any time. That's part of the opportunity here is to keep reviewing and revealing. 


Structure


We're going to have these 12 sessions together. We're going to have six in the spring and six in the fall. In the Spring, we are going to learn basic tools, make sure that we sort of understand why we're doing it and then how we're doing it and then practicing it. In the fall, we will practice just as we have in most of the men’s groups I’ve been in. 


For the last meeting of the spring and then the last one of the fall, we will have a celebration where we bring in food and do things a little bit differently. This does not have to be all completely serious all the time. Sometimes it will be, but sometimes it won't be. 


But that is also a basic rhythm: spring learning tools, nurturing, and cultivating and then in the fall, harvesting.


Practice


I've mentioned this word practice a few times. That word means a lot of different things to a lot of different people and it is a really key concept for what we're doing. So I just wanted to take a moment on that. It goes back to this quote. Practice is not focused on the quality or satisfaction in this particular moment. 


Practice is a cultivation game. Practices, like the ones we were doing, might be enjoyable. But they also may be boring and tedious. It is best to think of it like homework.


When we did homework as kids, we didn’t expect it to be enjoyable, even though it was sometimes. We understood we were working. We're putting something in the bank for the future. When I meditate, I'm not necessarily holding each session up to scrutiny. I can choose to but the term “practice” reminds me that my judgment of my experience is not necessarily so important. I’m meditating because I’m investing in a particular long-term outcome. It could be having more perspective and space from my emotions and thoughts or calming myself. But I’m not expecting that every time I finish meditating. Because it is practice. 


When I decide to go to an NBA game, that isn’t practice. That’s an experience. If I don’t enjoy myself, if the team loses or I get in an argument with my friend, that is an unfortunate outcome. Because I understandably had expectations for the evening. It was an experience..


But if I'm sitting on a cushion, I have a different expectation for my experience than I would if I'm going to a basketball game. 


So we are going to be practicing. And some of the practices are gonna be hard, some will be easy. Some practices will be enjoyable, some will be unpleasant. The invitation is simply to not make so much of either. It is quite easy for most of us not to be bothered by enjoyable satisfying practices. But somehow we are less tolerant with uncomfortable practices. So those may in fact get more of our attention. 


And that is by design. We are going to welcome some unadorned suffering into our space. It will be unadorned because we are not dressing it up with meaning or complexities or a relationship. It is just simple. 


My knees are hurting from sitting and that's literally all that's going on. So we're going do that. We are going to do that together. We are going to do that in a way that makes us more comfortable with these experiences we tend to avoid in our lives. You could say that we are looking to get so comfortable with discomfort that we can sleep next to it. You could say we are looking to make this unadorned suffering a bedmate. So that we can grow as men. 


When you sleep next to someone, you don’t become that person. When you sleep next to suffering, you don’t become suffering. But you do need to be able to relax and recharge next to a bedmate. So can you relax in relation to your own experience of suffering? Can you bed down next to your suffering without running away from it?


We want to expand our capacity to handle all varieties of experiences, good or bad. We are practicing to expand our capacity to both experience and witness all types of emotions. You lift weights to train your body to hold heavy things. You sit with discomfort to learn to sit with discomfort and not have to react to it. This is men’s work.


Why Work with Men?


But as I mentioned at the start, this does raise a question: why is this men’s work and not human work? So I want to spend a little time addressing that question. 


What is the distinguishing feature about us getting together as men? The stuff that we're doing anybody to do. I've done it with women.


I have two answers, one societal and one more personal. 


First the societal. We live in a patriarchy. I don’t say this to blame anyone, I say this to be clear. We live in a society where men have made more decisions than women. Men have also enjoyed more of the privileges of society. That’s why even today most boardrooms and political capitals are dominated by men. And I feel that the patriarchal society has not only harmed women who have been robbed of power, it has harmed men as well. But it has also given us certain advantages. 


Think of it like a bicycle that is transformed to an electric bike. Everytime you pedal you have a little more power. That power can take me farther — or it can drive me into a ditch faster. I have access to more power, but that doesn’t mean I will use it in a good way. 


Anyone who has the opportunity to engage with this society as a man and chooses to do so has that power. Those of us who have white skin have even more of that power. It is a bond. Learning how to navigate that power consciously and effectively is another bond. 


These practices and this container is designed to hone all of our power. So that we can be the best men we can be, to borrow from the army. The world needs strong and good masculine energy. It craves it. Men have the opportunity to penetrate this world. And you can either do it or not.  


The other reason is a little more pedestrian. And less important honestly. But worth mentioning. As a largely heterosexual man, I find it easier to do this work with other men. I find it easier to do this work without the complications of sexual energies and wants and desires. It is part of what makes this container a little safer. That doesn’t mean sexual attractions are wrong in this space if you experience them. But it is definitely not the focus of our work together and, as I said, it can be counterproductive.


So what I'm offering, what the desired outcome is of these practices for men, is promoting awareness, curiosity, capacity to reside in emotions and thoughts and experiences that are wide and deep so that we can bring forth our work in this world, whether it's intellectual or physical or emotional or spiritual. 


So we are not constrained by our capacity to sit with our own emotions, our own judgments, our own stories, our own physical experiences. And also we're not constrained by our capacity to sit with those of the people around us. And like, so that to me is like a man.


Examples


It is easier to see this in the real world. So let’s look at some examples. Let’s take the Oscars which were on last week. When I watched the Oscars with my kids, they literally knew one thing other than what they were watching on TV. 


The Slap. The Will Smith slap. I asked my older son what he thought of it. He said, “I thought it was funny.” 


I said it was not funny. I sat with him and explained to him. I said it was sad. It was sad because Will Smith didn't have the capacity to handle the situation he was in. That’s a judgment but hear me out. 


What happened? It was 2022 and Will Smith is sitting in the front row of the Oscars. Even a novice like me understands that means you are literally and figuratively part of the show. He watches while a comedian, Chris Rock tells a pretty poor joke at the expense of Smith’s wife who is sitting next to him. 


I understand the impulse to defend your wife. But in that context, what does defense look like? I would suggest it is probably making a visible sign of protection, perhaps putting your arm around her. Shaking your head. But his “choice”? He chooses to go up on stage and slap Chris Rock. 


My guess, and his subsequent apology suggests I might be right, it wasn’t really a choice. The next day he wrote: “My behavior…was unacceptable and inexcusable…(the) joke…was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally…I was out of line and I was wrong.”  


It was an instinct, an instinct he didn’t really have the power to evaluate or control. 


That, to me, is toxic masculinity. It’s toxic because it wasn’t considered or thoughtful, it was instinctual aggression. If you whip out a knife, you want to know that you are whipping out a knife. You don’t want to be left sending a sheepish message to the world the next day: I had no idea what I was doing. It's also toxic because it actually is pretty compelling. It's pretty interesting. It’s memorable, so it will take hold in a kid’s imagination, but it is not healthy. It is the exact opposite of what I want to cultivate in a space like this. 


I contrast that with somebody who is, who is in my first group, I, you know, my group in New York 25 years ago, his name is Mark.


Because of confidentiality, I won't say what his work was at that point. But I will say that that man was trying to figure shit out and he was looking at ugly shit about himself and he was working really hard to see the parts of himself that he had avoided in his life. 


He was working on his capacity to tolerate himself and the people around him. He was working to understand what he wanted to accomplish. And wrote a script and  collaborated with his romantic partner who directed the film. It became a major motion picture. It was titled The Hurt Locker. And Mark ended up on the front on the stage of the Academy Awards having accepted best picture and best screenplay. 


I remember watching him that night and thinking, “That guy did his work. Look what a man on his mission can accomplish.” 


That’s entertainment. But you can look at any career. Perhaps the most consequential would be politics. 


Donald Trump is the definition of toxic masculinity. Why? He is always the victim. He never takes responsibility for his actions. He blames everyone else for his circumstances. And he isn’t afraid to mock, aggress or cut off anyone who gets in his way. And he is compelling. 

It's not very complicated. It is the dark side, as articulated in the Star Wars movies. You let fear and hate control you and you focus on making yourself comfortable, protecting yourself at all costs from disturbing thoughts and circumstances, even though disturbing thoughts and circumstances generally pile up the more you act like this. 


It reminds me of an old Buddhist story about the man who was barefoot and so he set out to cover the entire world in leather. That way he could walk wherever he wanted without pain. A wise monk observed him and said, “You can try to cover the world in leather. Or you can simply choose to wear shoes.”


Donald Trump is trying to cover the world in leather. Good luck with that. So you can be Donald Trump…or you can be Alexei Navalny. 


Navalny spent years protesting an unjust rule by Vladamir Putin in the face of unimaginable pressure. He was intimidated, threatened and ultimately successfully poisoned. He was taken to Germany for medical treatment. I don’t think anyone in the world would have blamed him if he had chosen to stay in Germany upon his recovery. But he did not do that. He chose to get on a plane to go back to Russia knowing that almost certainly he would be arrested and likely killed. He left behind his two young kids and his wife. It's just an unimaginable act of mission.


To make these choices, he clearly developed an extraordinary capacity to tolerate his own adverse experiences (unadulterated suffering) as well as the pain and confusion emanating from others. 


One of the last videos we have from him is in a trial court in Siberia. He is smiling, joking with the judge who is incarating him about his low pay. He is not mocking this man who, arguably, deserves to be attacked for his role in enforcing an unjust system. Instead, in his levity, Navalny is transcending the system and the people that confine him. He uses his deep capacity to be free in these final moments, even as he is imprisoned. 


I just see this direct line between that and the smaller choices we all make. When we choose to not give space to our emotional reality and just avoid discomfort, we are on the Trump side. When we expand our capacity to tolerate discomfort so we can advance priorities we truly believe in, we are on the Navalny side. 


I don’t want to go Full Navalny. I am too attached to my family to do that. But certainly I aspire to be closer to Navalny than Donald Trump.


And if it means that I have to risk something, if it means I have to encounter some difficulties, if it means I have to experience unadorned suffering to be closer to the Navalny side than the Trump side, then I'm going to choose to do that. 


That means I work to expand my capacity through practices like the ones we are introducing so I can be more available to pursue my work in the world, whether that is showing up for my family or whether it is helping bring sanity into the workplace. 


Q & A


So that's the context I wanted to provide to our work together. And now I think that it might make sense to pause. Because we are going to move into how we are actually going to practice today and how to practice moving forward. But I'm just curious whether there are any questions or comments about what I’ve said. Because as I mentioned, I really did figure a lot of this out for you.  


Question 1: When you talk about the patriarchal society, it has been a train wreck for the planet. And, and so when I, when I first heard about men's work, I'm like, no, no, no more men. Men need to be done. 


David: The invitation, as I understand it, is to step into and embody this new form of masculinity. We have an opportunity and a responsibility to do it and co create it and live it. Yeah, that's what the work means to me, for sure.


Question 2: What makes this men’s work versus women’s work?


Ted: It's complicated. Because all of us, men and women, have both masculine and feminine energy. 


A shorthand for the way that I've come to understand this is like this: Masculine energy is about depth and consciousness and holding. And feminine energy is about love.  That's why I emphasize capacity and invite us to practice expanding capacity. Capacity is a masculine trait. The feminine is the emergence, it's the flower, it's the expression.  Masculine energy is pure consciousness, and feminine energy is pure love.  


In a classic form, you have a man holding space for his woman. She is dancing and he is witnessing her. That’s classic. So men’s work has a heavy emphasis on expanding capacity. 


But at the same time, to be good men, we need to identify with, understand and express our feminine side. That means being able to understand and express our emotions. It means practicing being in our bodies. 


There’s something strange about this one, but it is true: all of the strongest, most powerful men I’ve encountered also have a strongly developed and articulated feminine side. 


Again, Navalny was a great example of a developed feminine in a very masculine man.

He was a voracious reader and conversationalist, which are feminine expressions. When he was imprisoned he fantasized about food he wanted to eat. Enjoying food is a feminine trait that many of us share. 


There's definitely a difference between men and women. It was definitely a difference between masculine men and feminine women, you know. But then there's all these things that we're finding, you know, then there are feminine women, feminine men and, you know, feminine leading men and then masculine leading women.


But this work is for men who are masculine because, back to the electric bike analogy, we are brought together by our place in society and our desire to harness this inherited power in a good way. There may be a lot of grayness on the  margins and I don’t want to dismiss that, but I still feel it is important to acknowledge these basic truths that we can really hold on to and utilize so that we can refine and accentuate both our masculine side and our feminine side.


The Men’s Circle posts are talks and elements from a program run by Ted Rose and David Hughes, designed to introduce men to the context, intention and experience of men’s work.

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