Thursday, September 30, 2010

Male Writes of Passage

There are many, myself included, who bemoan the lack of ritual in modern life. We've lost those rites of passage that have guided us like beacons through the darkness of centuries. How ironic then, that on my birthday, I taught a yoga class composed solely of men. It wasn't planned, yet it happened. In a decade and a half both practicing and teaching yoga, I've never attended a class that wasn't at least 80% women.

More interesting for me was that it was my Monday night meditation class, my most gentle class. In my asana classes, I would've presented a more dynamic 'yang' class to challenge these guys, but tonight I had to stay along the softer edges. And funny how this fact made me uncomfortable, having to lay myself open and present this less "masculine" energy to a roomful of men.

Where does this discomfort stem from? I am always more comfortable amongst women, able to be more myself. With men (aside from my closest friends), I still feel the need to show toughness, to be hard to a certain extent. This feeling to prove myself could be based in a poor relationship with my father. But poor relationships with fathers are so common these days that they could almost be considered rites of passage in themselves. While around men, I often catch myself trying to impress them in some way, most often relating tales of things I've accomplished.

My dual 'careers' could be considered by many to be soft, being both a writer and a yoga teacher. I consider myself to be pretty in touch with my feminine side, and make no apologies for that. So why do I still fall in the trap of measuring my masculinity in materialist terms: the aforementioned hardness and emphasizing my deeds. My generation in particular was the last that seemed to have decent male role models, before the days of the fallen hero that we read about every day in the sports pages, in the celebrity rags, and in the political coverage of the New York Times. Mine was probably the first generation who didn't want to become president when they grew up (thanks to Richard Milhouse), but how could one chose between the soft-talking Georgia man of peace, dubbed weak by his opponents, and his Movie Star successor who rode into DC with tough talk and nukes in his holsters? History sided with Cowboy Ronnie, who ushered in the beginning of an era where a man was measured by his ability to win. To win, that most American of afflictions, shaped our foreign policy and cultural zeitgeist from then on.

So, is to show softness a sign of weakness, or is it a sign of balance? I began my yoga as a counterpoint to my martial arts training, as a means toward better self-care. And even those alleged 'manly fighting arts' taught me to deal with my anger, to act rather than react, to flow like water through the hardness of stone. I have become a man who learned to walk in peace through the world. Or better yet, how to sit still. And to breathe.

On the turntable: Donald Byrd, "Black Byrd"
On the nighttable: Aldo Leopold, "Aldo Leopold's Southwest"

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