Frankly, I’m confused by the concept of self-care. As a man, I have experienced self-care to be a frightening venture. Partners become threatened by it. Family members have scoffed. The large and looming message a man hears in today’s world is: If you take care of yourself you will be punished, lose relationships, and die a selfless, narcissistic, asshole.
Guys, self-care is the most absent, yet essentially important thing you can do to improve your life. It is here that we fail most in our commitment, and ignoring self-care is an unfortunate by-product of our culture.
Self-care is our new Helen of Troy. Seek her fully erect.
Let us declare, we will:
- Love ourselves without condition. No matter what shade of thought or emotion enters our internal tide. We will lust, we will plot revenge, and we will face sledgehammering guilt, yet we will meet it with love as a Spartan meets his opponent in battle.
- Make decisions for our health. Rather than chew our nails or our lips, we will drop whatever we feel is our duty, and make good, nourishing food, take naps, book appointments with our naturopath, buy insoles, get STI’s checked, and exercise.
- Delete the abominable “shoulds” from our thoughts and words. There is nothing a man “should” do, but take care of his dreams and his health. Out of this fulfillment, the world will provide all else to bestow his excess affection and vitality upon.
- Rush to our own aid. If we are feeling lonely and unloved, we will seek first the power of solitude. In this silence, with our breath, we will quest for that which cannot be explained—the mystery of our existence—until the Sun rises with clear light from our confusion. If this does not work we will seek out the company of other men, our second greatest resource. There we will talk about how we struggle to with our long-term relationships and less frequent sex, our guilt for our wandering eye, the intense need and illusion around what freedom really means, our closet addictions, and our secret contempt for the careers we are in but do not love.
- We will take delight in our own self care. I will look at beautiful things. I will take pleasure because it is my birthright, not something to feel guilty about. I will eat my food and orgasm as if the whole world is watching, because we are not ashamed of pleasure.
- After working on a project, hobby, or idea, we will start our own business, write a book, and create a way for our pleasure to become vocation. By caring for our dreams, we will become conscious entrepreneurs, fathers, friends, and citizens.
- We will declare what we want and what we don’t like, for it is out of these two rivers, we are led back to Eden. We will first practice with validating friends and comrades, then, little by little, branch out. We will honor those who try to castrate us for having likes and dislikes, for they temper our will in the direction of our paradise. We will step boldly past them, and celebrate our victories.
- We will find new ways to have fun that do not involve drinking or chasing sexual partners. We will calm our anxiety in the pleasure obtained from a good walk, rest, meditation, reading, good friendship, and the remedial passage of time. We will take holidays and book massages.
- We will promise ourselves the delights of new experiences, either mentally, physically, relationally, or spiritually. In this way we connect to our mythological foundation as seekers of new worlds. We honor the fact that experiences are strong determinants of health, and that new adventure is the best immunization against depression and stagnation.
That’s it. Taking care of yourself may seem like a tall order, but once you start, you’ll begin to realize huge benefits, among them other people taking better care of you, too.
Dreams calibrate our inner disposition.
They teach us that our experience in waking life
is very important to our well being.
There are countless definitions of what a man essentially is. To be strong, safe, firm in resolve, compassionate yet driven, able to navigate the expression and cessation of emotional impulse, to make intelligent decisions in the face of calamity, well dressed, good with kids, etc. Yet the ideal that seems to rise like cream to the top, unflinchingly, is a man’s realization of and dedication to his true purpose, calling, or, to use a more antiquated term—dreams.
Dreams in this sense are thought forms and associated felt senses that live and breathe within each one of us as a precious seed. They ask to be germinated in the physical world, and fling stress and illness through our nerves if we ignore their impulse. Dreams are also illusions, or a word to describe a lover or an infatuation. But the dreams we are referring to here combine all of the above. They are the Universes we sail through during sleep.
In recent weeks I have had several clients report violently chaotic day or night dreams. Some reported dreams of war or malicious relationships. Others would close their eyes in broad daylight and witness severed limbs or fatal falls on the screen of the mind. Within the week I had a zombie dream.
Many men I know rarely go beyond, “I wonder what it means?” stepping short of the rich displays, images, and characters that communicate in cryptic symbolism.
To open the dream and apply its wisdom to our conscious everyday lives and encounters, we need to have a clear understanding about the purpose of the dream world, the nature of its contents.
Keep in mind—dreams are multilayered with meaning and messages. There is usually more than one arching message. I once fell asleep inside a dream, into another dream! Here are six ways to interpret your dreams, to get in touch with your life dream, and wake up from the life-hobbling dream most of us are living. Oh, and these may assist you in finding your dream partner as well.
1. Everything (absolutely everything) in your dream … is you. That drug dealer in the alley, the murderous monster who is driving a tank, the cloud, the colour of the water, your family, or your ex, even the emotions, are all different aspects of yourself.
I worked with a man who had a dream he was being chased by a helicopter. The pilot was mean-faced and bent on destroying this man who ran from broken building to broken building trying to find shelter. My client was suffering from small bouts of depression, and I asked him to close his eyes and become the pilot (which is fully possible since everything in the dream is you). His feelings of helplessness and victimhood were immediately replaced by power. Consequently, he didn’t feel so bad about hunting this part of himself that was no longer serving him.
Upon waking, try becoming each thing in your dream, have conversations between objects and characters, write stories about these things interacting, and try new ways of behaving that are impossible in the physical world. You might find that suddenly, they become possible.
2. Dreams Compensate. Their very nature is to make up for our lacks and excesses in the real world. If we are too nice, we will be faced with a situation where we might have to kill to save our lives. If we are celibate, it is common to dream of wild orgies or evocative vampires and succubi. Should we acquire great wealth beyond our need, we may dream of losing everything. Individuals who isolate suddenly find themselves in an overwhelming crowd.
Dreams calibrate our inner disposition. They teach us that our experience in waking life is very important to our well being. Dreams are like medicine that both heal and lend suggestion on how to navigate our outer world in a way that fosters health. They tell us when we are out of balance.
3. Symbols in dreams are personal and universal. Some folks who dare go past simple remembrance, look up the symbols in their dreams: lost teeth, missing a flight, a hole in a hot air balloon, or various animals, etc.
These can certainly be helpful, but not until they are reflected against one’s personal opinions, past experiences, or intuitive sense. Say for instance you have a tree standing the middle of the field. One person beholds the Great Oak, and fears falling from its limbs, should they decide to climb it. Another sees the tree and wants nothing to do but sit underneath its calming shade, nourished by the beautiful halcyon.
If you look up the symbolism of oak, you will find descriptions such as strength and wisdom, yet it applies differently to the two cases above. Some find strength in facing their fears, and overcome by moving through them—a challenge. Others find strength in yielding, and allowing. There is wisdom in both. Figure out the meaning of the symbol, but make sure it is decorated with your personal vestiges.
4. Dreams like your attention. The old adage that you get what you put into something remains true. The more you reflect on your dreams, the more they appear, the messages are more interesting, and the chance of having lucid dreams (where you are conscious as yourself inside the dream) increases. The best time to recall a dream is immediately upon waking, without moving or thinking.
In addition, the more we pay attention to our dreams, the more our everyday environment lights up with corresponding experiences. When this starts happening, your dreams are literally coming to life. Our dreams can definitely come true.
Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.
5. The Emotion of the dream is your key. Look back and ask yourself how you felt when you were being chased. What was it like being back in your childhood home, out on the farm? The emotion of the dream gives you a clue to how it is compensating for your waking life. Become the chaser. Feel its emotion. Become the house, and feel its emotion. You will find that many affective states can be experienced within the same dream, depending on where or who you experience it from. Perhaps as the old house you feel lonely, and forgotten, but as the sky you see that everything is beautiful and in its proper place. These are parts of yourself that are not yet acquainted, yet need each other for health and aspiration. Feel these parts of yourself alone or in the company of trusted friends, or talk to a therapist.
6. Utilize Free Association. Freud original developed this technique. While recalling your dreams, or writing them down (which I highly recommend), other memories or situations from waking life will emerge alongside the recollection. If you dreamt of a baker pulling bread from an oven, and suddenly you are back in your grandparents place, watching your grandmother do the same, write that down too, alongside it. Feel it. Become your grandmother and see how she is feeling while pulling the bread. Become the oven. Look up the symbols. Allow the meaning to emerge on its own.
May your dreams wake you up to a better and more enriched reality!
Harmony and passion are the Holy Grails of relationship. Whenever we see a romantic movie or read a love story, we are given a wonderfully arrayed glimpse of how intoxicating and vibrant a life of good love can be. In a two-hour Hollywood love story, we may see an argument or two where the man or woman realizes some defect in their character, find a way to become humble and repentive, and the two go merrily on, forever into the sweaty sheets of steamy and playful compatibility.
It is rare in cinema to see the continuous chain of effects from the character-challenging, wound-springing, trigger marathons that are both seasonal and frequent in long-term, healthy relationships. For many children, it is more rare to see these choppy waters navigated with grace and finesse in their parents’ dynamics.
What, then, is the point of relationships? This is a question the two-hour tale cannot encompass.
The purpose of any relationship that intends to endure the dunes of time must be growth, deep growth. What I am referring to is more than just a quick realization that one is being an asshole or has wounds left unhealed. The cavernous growth I am referring to here is the strength and size of the heart.
Many of us believe that if we leap past one harsh hurdle, that we deserve a lifetime banquet of relief and repose. Life adamantly delivers the opposite in the form of emotional energy. The more one can hold, the more life gives opportunity to hold more.
Thus, the moment comes in relating when one partner is being vulnerable and the other is triggered by the first partner’s truth. Then the first becomes triggered by having their vulnerability slammed, which sets off a chain reaction to the core of each partner until both diverge into a flight response (perhaps inter-spliced with some fight).
Here are five ways to wake up and use these so-called negative emotions to the benefit of all.
Stop. Hold the Charge. Sit, and do not leave each other’s company. The feelings are more than intense, definitely, but do not move. One partner is afraid the other will leave and withdraws, and the other wants nothing more than to get up and out. Stay holding hands. Touch each other. What is it like to touch this person on the other side of the lightning bolt? Take deep breaths into this dense atmosphere. Make short but sweet glances into the eye of your mate. Do not go to sleep or part until the charge has waned (and using the rest of these steps).
If you can do this, you will be much less likely to make impulsive decisions in life, you will have more patience for other people, and you will act with more precision in the face of conflict.
Do Not Try to Fix or Please. Hold strong in yourself. There will be some awkward silence and an opportunity to reflect. Search yourself.
Find the place where your wound first emerged. Was it the way your mother or father spoke to you when you were a child? Did your ex try to guilt you into being someone you are not? Once it is clear, then proceed to explain to your partner where you are coming from, that you own your own reaction, and let them know they are not the source of your issue.
Your partner’s reaction is also coming from a similar place. Like you, they must also find a way to take responsibility for it, to communicate their hurt without blame, and to request something that might help them in the future. If you can get to this place, deep growth is entirely possible.
Out of this basal acceptance, one begins to appreciate more the world around them. Delays are seen as opportunity, and crisis becomes a clearer road to opportunity. A life investigated gives meaning to what it means to be a human on this planet and is the source of empathy.
Use “I” statements. If you’ve ever been told by a parent or a partner “it’s all about you!”, they are in fact mostly correct, even though they are blaming you for some perceived selfishness. Regardless, “I feel …” is one of the paramount phrases of a healthy relationship.
For example: “I feel sad when you just said that. I don’t blame you, I just noticed that sadness (or anger, or jealousy) came up for me there.”
“I know you are nothing like my mother, although I felt defensive there and it reminded me of when she used to speak to me. However, I see that it was not your intention to hurt me.”
It’s easy to complain about our world. Yet to the one who owns his chunk of space, and claims responsibility for it with the formidable “I,” will find power where others only pedal in weakness.
Honor Space or Togetherness. If, once the dust settles, one or both of you need space, then it is good to do so. This is not “flight,” it is a demonstration of personal or relational respect. Sometimes, after the earthquake has settled, out of the once roaring abyss trots Eros, and a fine host of sensual and intimate energy. Make love, or part ways for a time, but let your partner know you are there, firm through squall or tempest. This is the essence of true intimacy.
The ability let go or to gather contains the essence of harmony in life and in relationships. People who have this mastered are game changers.
Nurture the Heart. The heart is both a physical organ in the body and an energetic nexus in the center of the chest. We often do not feel the pain of heartache and disconnection in the physical heart just to the left of the sternum (although it is possible). Normally we feel it in the center of the chest. When we sit through the storm with a lover in the crucible of emotional intimacy, the energetic heart will feel torn, like a muscle after a healthy workout. It needs wholesome food, rest, meditation, fresh air, sunlight, hugs from friends, a hot tub, massage, and anything that emanates from the repository of self-care.
It has been said that the only way to help other people is to know how to truly care for and love oneself. The greatest givers in the world found ways to sustain themselves, either through their faith, exercise, or their ability to receive love.
This is a difficult process, at first, like any healthy regime. If you have further interest in how to wake up through relationships, or on non-violent communication, find my contact information below and I’d be happy to work with you around these crucial issues.
To those who want to cry but can’t: Here’s How.
Shower, 10:00pm. I feel the drizzling beads break against my skin, as refreshing negative ions burst into the air (negative ions are healthy; positive ions are not). My newly installed water purifier bulges out the base of my shower head, catching mercury, lead, pharmaceuticals, and a host of other things.
My neck hurts, and I make sure the flow is directed there. It’s been tight for a couple weeks, and all I’ve wanted to do is stretch it and massage it—which helps—but the pain always comes back. I imagine it could be an old whiplash injury, or the tilted plate at the back of my skull. Yet these seem far off. I sense something else is happening.
I recall that I’ve been trying to cry for weeks, making modest attempts here and there—most of them fruitless. Mostly, I try a few moans and press my thumb and middle finger into the corner of my eyes to encourage a few droplets to ring out. I can get the sounds out, even feel a pulse of melancholy in the pit of my solar plexus, but I know I have not actually shed tears or released the sadness that flows with them.
It’s like this most of the time.
Why can’t I cry? Why can’t we cry when we want to?
Crying is operationally defined when tears flow, when sounds flow, and to stop it is painful. Crying is an act that reaches a natural conclusion, like an avalanche loosed upon a slope after a critical tipping point of mass and momentum, before a mountain of snow settles on everything below.
My crying hurt because it wasn’t crying, because it couldn’t start. Like the shower head, my neck was full of emotive muck. I’m blocked. I’m getting angry and losing energy more than usual. Not even the images of past hurts, betrayals, torn family, or deaths can spill me over to my grief. It’s as if I’d rather sleep, yell, fidget, or think really hard about something negative. Anything but cry (even though I want to)!
Eventually, with great relief, I did cry. Just after, the pain in my neck went away, and this is what I learned:
Crying is a commitment. While attempting to moan out a few liquid jewels, I realized my mind wandered, sometimes viciously, toward fantasies, sounds in the room, memories, sensations of the skin, or future anxieties. I realized that I had to take this seriously, and swallow the fact my commitment to cry can, in some ways, reflect my commitment to other ventures in my life that prove challenging. I knew I had to take it seriously and cut out the fringe material. The Zen art of crying.
Crying alone is something that takes time for many people. When I look back, my most potent watersheds took place in the company of others. There is something about the reflection of light off another person’s eye, or the way their face appears when they see you going for it. What I have found, without question, is that others are grateful for your tears. They want them, because it helps them feel human, like they are safe to be around, and it validates their own future tears. Sometimes having tears witnessed is more important than the tears themselves.
To start, locate the epicenter within the body. Somatic Psychotherapy (a.k.a body centered psychotherapy) has risen to great heights in the past decade due to the fact that people are finding more health when they connect to this wonderful mass of tissue, bone, and nerve below their necks. If one wishes to wail, the “knot” must be located (usually in the torso or neck). One must become acutely aware of that spot, and unwaveringly step into it, like forging ahead on a journey.
I have heard that sadness works differently from gender to gender. It has been said that when men are angry, they are actually sad, and that the opposite is for women. I can’t say how true this is, but I can claim that anger has turned into sadness many times for me. When anger comes first, sometimes there is enough force there to swell a good cry, if you can sink into it.
The Western world is very mind/intellect oriented. Sometimes we need to find a specific thought, which acts like a key to shed tears. It could be “I really miss him or her,” or “I just wish that person could have loved me the way I wanted to be loved,” or “he or she was so mean to me, even after I gave them everything.” There are thoughts that remove log jams and allow us to face our emotional reality through the portal of the mind.
What are your ways into tears? Watching a certain movie? Visiting a beautiful spot in the countryside? Do your dreams help you to cry? I would love to hear from you.
Photo Credit: Getty Images