"Hysterical Men: The Hidden History of Male Nervous Illness" by Mark S. Micale
The James Bond image is a masculine myth. Male psyches get shaken and stirred. But society didn't want it that way.When times get pretty tough, the tough can't be pretty.
They can't be female, that is. Because at crunch time, women—according to myths, songs, poems, movies and some three centuries of medical opinion—are flighty and dithery and nervous, prone to fainting and screaming and panicking. Not exactly what you want in a crisis.
What you want is a man: A hard-nosed and clear-eyed man, holding his emotions firmly in check. What you want is James Bond: all fist, no feeling.
But if an associate professor of history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign gets his way, Bond might be out of business. Or at least forced to be a little more sensitive when he blows away the bad guy.
"James Bond sees himself as totally motivated by rationality and calculation, and hiding his emotions," said Mark S. Micale, author of the newly published "Hysterical Men: The Hidden History of Male Nervous Illness" (Harvard University Press). "Popular culture helps generate ideals of behavior for men and women. It's a pool of images we draw upon."
And throughout much of history, Micale added in an interview, those images—backed up by a male-dominated medical profession and the fledgling field of psychiatry—included a strictly enforced gender breakdown: Woman got hysterical. Men—allegedly—didn't.
Even the word "hysteria" is derived from the Greek word for uterus or womb "and served for the millennia of medical history as a male-authored commentary, often blatant in its misogyny, on women," he writes in his book. That led to the over-diagnosis of neurotic illnesses among women and the ignoring of such maladies among men.
Why did physicians from the 17th through the late 19th Century go along with the erroneous notion that only women were susceptible to nervous illnesses? Because it served what some saw as the greater good: a stable society. "The critical construction of a civilized, respectable and rational male subject," Micale writes, "was crucial to the ascent of middle-class politics and economics across much of Europe.
"Widespread medical recognition of rampant neurotic weakness in the male sex obviously would have undermined the image of a strong, mature, self-possessed species that in turn was entitled to master the rest of the world," Micale continues.
As he has done in previous books on the history of psychiatry, Micale traces the ways that the medical profession reinforced the dominant paradigm of stout-hearted men and helpless, fluttering females. Only in the 20th Century were those stereotypes challenged. "Popular culture today is going through this amazing reassessment of what masculinity is," Micale declares.
Yet such a change would have terrified Freud's forebears.
"To explore the possibility that hysteria was not a woman-only disorder," Micale writes, "risked uncovering the elements of mental and emotional 'femininity' in the 'male' psyche itself."
Wait a minute. Is he calling Bond a sissy?
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Friday, November 28, 2008
I admire his focus and intensity, but mostly I feel that he is raising some of the traditional masculine traits (strength, focus, pushing through limits) into more refined and spiritual levels, taking them beyond the merely "power" orientation they have held in our past,
Go read the whole article.
Igniting the Flame of Intensity
The Spiritual Journey of a New Kind of Bodybuilder
An interview with Shawn Phillips
by Ross Robertson
“My life, while out of the ordinary, does not feel like a hero's journey to me,” wrote bodybuilder, businessman, and fitness author Shawn Phillips in an email to me the day before our interview. But as someone who has seen pictures of Phillips with his shirt off, I reserve the right to disagree. If heroism can be measured by the size of a man's “six-pack,” Mr. Phillips would give Hercules a run for his money. Yet for this truly original yogi of the weight room, a jaw-dropping Olympian physique is but the material reward of a lifetime devoted to the mastery of an inner fire.
“Focus is the spark that ignites the flame of intensity,” he writes in one of his more than seventy-five articles, and he's not just talking about muscle development. Sure, weightlifting is his profession, and he made a name for himself by helping to bring the sport into the mainstream with his brother Bill, founder of both performance-nutrition company EAS and Muscle Media magazine, and author of the New York Times bestseller Body for Life. But in the gym, Shawn Phillips is more sensei than jock. His principles of Focused Intensity Training, which he has developed over the course of the last twenty years, are designed “to deepen the impact of people's training—physically, mentally, and spiritually,” he says. “Simply stated, I'm seeking to integrate the principles and practices of the martial arts into an activity that millions of people already do each day.”
Coming from a man who sees strength training as a legitimate path to spiritual deliverance—and whose generosity and lighthearted humor are every bit as noteworthy as his muscle definition—it's no surprise that the title of his book, ABSolution (2002), is a conscious pun. Founder of www.nutros.com (a resource for expert knowledge on performance supplements), Phillips is currently finishing up a new book officially introducing Focused Intensity Training to the world, and he's also developing a complete ITP (Integral Transformative Practice) program in conjunction with Ken Wilber's Integral Institute.
As we began our conversation, this reluctant hero did admit to at least some measure of greatness: “I do accept that in a field that is without the structure and heritage of martial arts, I am considered a 'master' by many.” But nothing could have prepared me for just how innovative, just how limit-smashing, his journey across the inner frontiers of weightlifting would turn out to be . . .
Excerpted from the interview:
WIE: How did you first get involved with the practice of strength training?
PHILLIPS: I took up weightlifting in college, and it soon became my passion. I was getting into intense daily workouts— all-encompassing energy events—and I'd spend hour after hour studying the body. I wanted to be a professional bodybuilder, and although I knew I was never going to be Arnold Schwarzenegger—I didn't have the genetic capacity to be huge—I also knew that I could have a great physique. So I thought, “What about this Frank Zane guy?”* At 180 pounds, he looked amazing, like a living Greek sculpture. And at the center of his perfectly symmetric physique were abs that just pulled your eyes in like a magnet. He had a trademark pose called “the vacuum” where he could literally draw his entire midsection up into his rib cage. His abs seemed to disappear right before your eyes. It was actually a bit on the freaky side, but I was inspired by the power of the connection between mind and body that gave him this amazing ability to control his abdominal muscles. So I decided that's what I would do. I spent two hours a night in the gym for six months learning to independently control every muscle fiber in my abs. I could literally pull up one ab at a time and drop it down again like a shutter.
WIE: That's amazing!
PHILLIPS: Yeah. These days I like to say, “That and two-fifty will get me a cup of coffee at Starbucks.” But it did teach me the power of single-minded focus, and the clarity that comes from that. For those times, I was free of the stresses and concerns of a young life. You know, an intense workout could cure my ego ills for two or three days. It was just like armor plating. When I would leave the gym, it was with all the confidence and ignorance of a warrior. I mean, I felt like there was nothing I could not achieve. And that was a lasting sensation—a tangible, incredible, deep state of ecstasy. When you train like that, it makes you feel so strong and powerful that you can walk into a room and your little tiny fear-based self actually recedes far enough into the background that there's space for you to be present. I didn't have to be aggressive physically and I didn't have to be outspoken. I didn't have to be anything, because my presence alone made its own statement.
WIE: How did you develop such an unusual intensity of focus?
PHILLIPS: It was mostly an intuitive thing. When I was nineteen, I had to drive twenty minutes to the gym, and on the way there I'd go through a preparation ritual—snacking on a baked potato, meditating on the challenge, setting my intention for the day, and visualizing the result. I also developed breathing rituals—I was very specific in how I would breathe and engage the weights. At the time, it wasn't unusual for me to squat 750 pounds, and when you're pulling that kind of weight, it absolutely demands a ritual level of focus. You have to pull every bit of energy from everywhere you can in the world. And you know that if you allow anything to come into your head other than what you are doing, there is no way you will be able to do it. You will be crushed.
I was very fortunate to engage and ingrain this depth of intensity and focus early on, because now I can access that space at will. When I give lectures today, I tell people it's not about the amount of weight you lift—I can take a five-pound weight and just fire every single cell and fiber in my bicep. It's about developing and mastering a mind-body neurological connection. From the beginning, what I was connecting with in the gym was a universal energy source. I would just feel it flowing. Even when I was twenty years old, I called the gym my church. When I was there, it wasn't about being social; it was about doing my practice. I was in it. I was in the zone. I remember being so tuned in to people's energy levels, I could read the emotional state of every person who walked by me. If I traveled to New York City, I'd have to go in and out of the stores because I couldn't handle being on the street too long.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
What does it mean to be and feel masculine?
What does it mean for me to be and feel masculine? Masculine qualities in my life look something like this:
Courage & Determination
An important masculine quality that has emerged in my life is courage and determination to go into difficult places to find what might be found about myself, about others and about life generally. These places can be inner places, they can be difficult life realities, and can be any of a variety of social situations and circumstances. In my 20s, I decided I would build in my life an attitude of facing squarely anything I might encounter, and to seek to the best of my ability to draw whatever implications might arise from what I saw and experienced. Seeing clearly is very important to me.
So what kinds of things have I faced and how? When I was in my early 30s, a feeling of shame began building in my life around incidents and happenings that occurred in my 20s. I began feeling I didn't want to talk about my life. At that time, I met a woman I loved dearly, and in the spirit of that love (!), I began in small ways hiding my life from her, which soon led to lying about aspects of my past. Six months into the relationship, she noticed this and reacted strongly to it. Through her reaction, which was probably exquisitely tailored to what I needed, I saw what I had been doing and decided without reservation for consequences to turn course, which I did. I had little guidance from others how to wrestle myself from a dishonest habit, so I bumbled through with a certain unremitting honesty about anything I'd covered up, and to people other than my girlfriend. I lost her trust, as I suspected I probably would, and the relationship eventually died.
In another experience, in my early 20s, I felt and saw clearly the element of death in life. An apprehensiveness, and sometimes terror, followed me in three years of examining the implications, and studying books I could find, about this life reality. The experience changed me permanently. I could not deny the truth of matters I saw and experienced. I turned toward them.
Focus & Directedness
These qualities relate to those above, and probably are counterpart, in some regards, to a woman's ability to multitask. As a man, I have developed a strong ability to focus, to disregard noise and irrelevance and to stay with a thread. An important guide arising on this value, for me, has been thinking. Thinking has led me, over time, and with patience and persistence, to see, experience and develop the value of feeling, which has in turn led me to appreciate my body, to listen to and care for body and feelings, and ultimately to see the unity of thinking, feeling and sensation.
Feeling is my guide. My feelings are my best friend. They tell me about me in every relation—whether to people or life—and their qualities make themselves known sensorily. Thinking helps unfold implications from what I might be feeling about areas in my life that need care and attention, or some adjustment, or just simple recognition or expression. My thinking, feeling and sensation are all friends in this unity, and work as a whole. Focus has tremendously aided this bridge-building and evolution.
Stand With My Values
My masculine aspect stands with my values, and protects my space and the space of others. I feel a real warrior element and charge even just saying that. Aided by courage and focus, I have learned the values important to me, which continue to evolve. My masculine element stands strong, with firmness and not without care, to protect what I have found, have grown and ultimately just am.
A related masculine value is to hold space, to hold a still, unmoving space and reference for myself, including my feelings and vulnerabilities, and for any who might appear in my life. In this holding, I desire to create a safe space in which others may show up—in who they are in fact, and in who they want to be. Important to this value is a respect for difference, which for me is a fundamental human, life and universal trait.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Episode 39: Guy Sengstock: Pt 2 - Jesus was not a Family Man
Why didn't Jesus or the Buddha have a family?
Does becoming a father mean your spiritual life is over?
This week we continue our conversation with Guy Sengstock about integrating spiritual development and a healthy family life. In this candid and open conversation, Guy gives us an inside look at where he finds the balance point of these two seemingly opposite pursuits in life.
Listen to the conclusion of our dialogue with Guy as he shares with us the challenges and benefits of practicing parenting and personal development.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
American Thinker posted this article by Ed Kaitz - The Testosterone Crisis - last week. Kaitz feels that the Obama victory signals a national trend toward more effeminate men, the end of John Wayne style masculinity. He sees this as a bad thing. Some thoughts below.
You can read the rest of the article if you like, but I'm calling bullshit.
The Testosterone CrisisBy Ed Kaitz
The sweeping Democratic electoral victory has left many conservative Americans concerned about their children's future. With the federal government, educational establishment, entertainment industry and media thoroughly in the hands of the left, disturbing questions surface concerning the kinds of values our children will begin to accept as "mainstream." Matters get worse when one considers what might become forced indoctrination in "community service" organizations as a prerequisite for college admission.These concerns were on my mind during a recent outing with my young children to a local playground. While I watched my kids try to scale walls, climb ropes, and navigate through other challenging structures various male voices I had obviously missed on previous visits to the park suddenly resonated. "Try it on your own" or "you don't need any help with this one" the gaggle of fathers would say as their sons and daughters sized up various obstacles. And while many of the moms cringed on the benches the young ones tripped, fell, clawed, and cried at times but they usually ended up victorious.The ancient Chinese thinkers would have called my local park a microcosm of nature -- a dynamic reciprocity between the forces of feminine yin and masculine yang. It is as natural for the moms to be overly concerned about the bumps and bruises as it is for the fathers to be encouraging independence and self-reliance. Yin and yang represent two complementary energies in nature, the balance of which determines the health and harmony of a marriage, a family, a village, and even a nation. These same Chinese philosophers warned however that unhealthy families, like unhealthy nations, are usually the victims of an overabundance of either the feminine yin or the masculine yang.Chinese emperors for example attempted to head off this underlying and menacing threat of imbalance by castrating their ministers. Why? Too much yang testosterone in the palace would lead to dangerous factions and competition. More eunuchs around the court meant the palace would be a better reflection of the harmony in nature. Imperial concubines would also be sheltered from potential male rivals of the potentate, but this was entirely incidental to the theory.)While an excess of yang energy was considered explosive and dangerous, what happens in a country like contemporary America when there seems to be a dangerous oversupply of feminine yin?
In his book The Suicide of Reason Lee Harris argues that our present state of liberal democracy has led to "eliminating the alpha males from our midst, and at a dizzyingly accelerating rate." Instead of supporting and valuing testosterone's virtues we're "drugging our alpha boys with Ritalin." In addition, one could view Barack Obama's election as the triumph of yin over yang. Obama's policies promise to cast the father out of America's parks and replace him with the more "caring" and yin oriented federal government.
Kaitz laments the yin society that Obama might be symbolic of, and also laments the loss of alpha males. He's caught in a false model of masculine development, which might be seen as follows:
egoic - violent and possessive
authoritarian - law and order, rigid
expressive - rational self-interest, exploring
post-modern - egalitarian and sensitive, softer
integral - balanced and secure, individuation
Kaitz seems to think that Obama represents the unhealthy aspect of the expressive / post-modern mode, i.e., the sensitive New Age guy, or SNAG. I tend to think that he represents a healthy version of the expressive transforming into the post-modern.
Yes, he brings more yin than any past president, more compassion, but he still is an alpha male in the traditional sense. Whatever Kaitz sees on his little playground, it has nothing to do with Obama and a lot to do with egoic / authoritarian men having created this culture over the past 3,000 years, as it needed to be created. Now it's time to address a rebalancing of masculinity, which means it will look "soft" to old school, stiff-upper-lip style men.
As far as I can tell, Obama is actually a good masculine model, not the "effeminate" one Kaitz thinks he is.
Monday, November 24, 2008
This was the initial question that spurred the discussion:
Here is a taste of the responses:
What does it mean to be and feel masculine?Michael said Nov 20, 5:41 PM:
I want to throw this question out to everyone including Robert and get your feedback. Masculinity is something that I've struggled with feeling especially with growing up around some very abusive men in my environment. As I've been working through the trauma they caused me I am integrating into my life a sense of masculinity but feel challenged because of the steriotypes of society of what a man is supposed to be along with the very destructive role models I've had. So, if you're up to sharing your story, your thoughts and feelings on this please do… oh, and anyone's input is invaluable… male and female.
Re: What does it mean to be and feel masculine?
adastra said Yesterday, 10:18 AM:
As a child I didn't have great male role models in my life. My father was a great guy in some ways, and I love him; and when I was growing up he drank too much, tended to be loud and aggressive, had outbursts of anger, and on rare but memorable occasions beat me on my bare ass with a belt. I felt afraid of him. I didn't gravitate to the things he was into – hunting, fishing, all that traditional “guy” stuff; unfortunately, as a result he and I didn't bond very well; at that time he just didn't know how to relate to me as I was (for the most part; I did really get into his interest in weird topics like UFO's and the supernatural, which lead me in some interesting directions.) I also remember being shamed for feeling “tender” emotions (in other words, being “unmanly); e.g. once as a teenager I had an argument with him, and when I started to tear up he said angrily, his voice dripping with contempt, “Go ahead, cry,” as he left the room in disgust.
I was extremely shy and introverted as a child, and generally didn't get along well with my male peers at school, tending to be ostracized, mocked, and sometimes beaten up. I tended to have only one or a few friends at any given time. There was one uncle I liked a lot, even to the point of hero worship for a while, but he didn't model strength and presence; he was more of a shy, sensitive, intellectual type (like me). At family parties the group would sometimes divide into men in one room, women in another, and as a child and teenager I would often spend most of my time in the room with the women.
When I was young it felt easier and safer to feel anger than other emotions; generally, though, I wished at that point to feel no emotions whatsoever, to be cold and logical. At that point in my life I despised myself for feeling vulnerable or needing other people. Although it seemed “easier” to feel anger and even hatred, anger seemed to be a dangerous, hard to control force, especially in men (and very much so in myself).
As I grew up I came to loathe men and masculinity, and associate being male with anger, aggression and domination. I sometimes hated being a man, and wished that I had been born a woman instead. (I wasn't a transsexual, however; I didn't believe I was, in actuality, a woman born into the wrong body.) As I got older I tended to form friendships with and/or develop crushes on women who disliked or even hated men, a position I substantially agreed with at that time. I tried to be more like women, as I perceived them to be – sensitive, caring, nurturing, good listeners etc. Women loved me as a friend but didn't want to be more intimate with me (and who can blame them?) I learned a lot about women through these close friendships.
Through my childhood, my teens and twenties I strongly overdeveloped one aspect of my self while repressing another. Somewhere along the line, probably sometime in my twenties, and picking up steam as I got older, I began to appreciate that being a man is not intrinsically a bad thing, that women are not superior to men (interestingly, I still feel some resistance even now to making such a statement; something inside me says are you sure about that? and I feel strongly compelled to qualify it, as in, “…women are not necessarily superior to men…”
I feel this post has gone on long enough, but it gives some idea of what my experience of growing up male was like; perhaps later at some point I'll write a bit about the journey of learning to be OK with and eventually even start to enjoy being a man in the world.
I haven't read any of the responses to this thread yet, preferring to sit with my own feelings around this topic. I may do so for a while longer, but eventually I'll read through everyone else's responses.
Re: What does it mean to be and feel masculine?Rich said Yesterday, 11:40 AM:
Thank-you SO much for your post.
I resonate with some of the things you say, like feeling vulnerable or needing other people was simply the worst thing I could experience and the most shameful thing I could be.
In my early teens I wanted to be a soldier and pretty much everything I did in my life became influenced by that. I read that the guys in the regiment I wanted to join and read about all the time, the infamous SAS, only did exercises in a minimum of 50 reps. So guess what? Everything became 50 reps, at least. I read they didn't wear any clothes while sleeping, so of course I didn't do that either! I asked my biology teacher in the middle of class if it was safe to drink urine becase, I thought, one day I could be in the desert and have no water. The list goes on!
Anger and aggression for me was often the only way to express myself other than my private creative work like poetry and painting/drawing. I was a bully, I was desperately sad, lonely, confused, frustrated, scared and without a male role model. I didn't really respect my step-father much at all.
However I did find a role model when I was 16 and consider him in some very real way my first, and so far only, guru. I say “guru” because I very did idolize him and have gone through, and am going through, a period of digestion over the 8 years since meeting his work and him. We've recently had some amount of relational choppy waters (which is great) and it's lovely for me to feel the “stabilizers” being taken away and finding that my legs are strong and flexible.
Without sayign more about “masculinity” (whatever that is) I find I have a lot of “feminine” qualities and I really really LOVE them. I like music penetrating into me, I like my teachers mind opening me, I love being responsive in many interwoven ways with my lover, I love music and food, paying very close attention to how a room feels and my orchid.
I also don't have a “point” to this post other than to share and learn through dialogue, which could be seen as very “feminine.”
Re: What does it mean to be and feel masculine?Rich said Nov 21, 4:53 AM:
I really feel gender, sexuality, biological sex etc. is a really important reality for us all to understand.
For me something that has come up relatively recently is “how can I be informed about wider gender issues and contexts that inform my own gender without at the same time falling into some sort of 'blame game'?”
Sometimes gender study seems to fall into the “who has it harder?” mode and it quickly gets some tires stuck in the mud.
However at the same time both David Deida and Warren Farrell have recently said that “women are currently more evolved than men.”
Why is that? I think surely one reason is that, as you say, we have some crappy ideas about what it means to “be a man.” If a male is crying and someone says to him “be a man,” what do they mean? They mean repress your emotions and return to being a producer.
Of course when we look at perspectives such as Roberts' one possible reply to that could well be “I'm crying because I'm in touch with who I am and it actually makes me stronger in my purpose, clairty, trustability and heart. I AM being a man.”
I am of the opinion that we all need to learn to be men and women beyond discrimination while also honouring whatever genuine different expressions each person wants to express through being a gendered being.
I think it *could* be possible that at the moment more people are learning to be women than learning to be men. Maybe.
If that is the case then it *could* be because of a crucial main theme of Feminism, that history is defined by unconsciously male narratives. The interesting spin that I would put on this in addition to “therefore we need conscious female narratives” is that “therefore we need conscious MALE narratives as well!”
Where are they? For me I am looking for mine in my own life, in my own meditation, work, love(r) and sense of smell.
Something personal for me to share is that I am noticing the way in which I have been so heavily conditioned that to feel like “a man” I have to be muscularly bulky. It is very refreshing for me to see video of David Deida and how potent his energy feels while also seeing him being small framed (which doesn't mean physically weak).
Well, ok, enough excited typing from me.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Male and Female Spiritual Potential
In men this merging of male and female within oneself means the advent of tenderness, nurturing, and trust. Having a woman supply these qualities is not enough. Male attributes of force and violence have become grotesquely exaggerated in this world because men leave the feminine energies to women. Aggression and violence will become unnecessary as the shadow energies they disguise–fear and impotence–come to the surface to be recognized and healed.
Being vulnerable will then be seen as a human quality, not a weakness that makes a man only half a man. Competition based on raging (and insecure) ego will diminish with healing, and the ability to cooperate will increase.
The worth of women in men’s eyes will rise as men stop defining themselves as the opposite of female. Spiritually, male is the complement of female. Once this is accepted the awakening of male spirituality can come about, since it takes an infusion of female energy before our bodies and minds can totally merge with the silent field of pure awareness.
For women, the journey to wholeness is different, because it first entails raising female qualities to full dignity with male. A woman must build up her energies, so long forced into submission by society, whereas a man typically has to diminish the dominance of his.
In both instances what is being achieved is balance.
Adapted from The Path to Love, by Deepak Chopra (Three Rivers Press, 1997).
Saturday, November 22, 2008
That said, here is the review:
See the book at Amazon.
Testosterone for Life: Recharge Your Vitality, Sex Drive, Muscle Mass, and Overall HealthDr. Kevin Keough, host of the Warrior Traditions and North Star Guardians podcast, interviews Abraham Morgentaler, MD, author of Testosterone for Life: Recharge Your Vitality, Sex Drive, Muscle Mass, and Overall Health published by McGraw-Hill.
Abraham Morgentaler, MD, is a urologist who specializes in male reproductive and sexual health. He is an associate clinical professor at Harvard Medical School, and director of Men's Health Boston (MensHealthBoston.com). His book, Testosterone for Life (McGraw-Hill/Harvard Health Publications, November 2008) is the culmination of 30 years of research. It is the first consumer book about low testosterone by a nationally noted specialist in the field, and it explains every aspect of this common medical condition and it's treatment (testosterone therapy).
His other books include, The Male Body: A Physician's Guide to What Every Man Should Know About His Sexual Health and The Viagra Myth: The Surprising Impact on Love and Relationships. Morgentaler is a regular contributor to television and radio shows, and has appeared on NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, CNN with Anderson Cooper, and NPR's The Connection.
His work on testosterone has been featured in The New Yorker, and his opinions about men's medical issues are regularly sought after by such prominent magazines as Men's Health, Newsweek and US News and World Report. His primary interest is the interface of sexuality, relationships, psychology, and biology. Visit his blog.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Read the rest of this moving article.
Grief, Meditation and TherapyPosted November 16th, 2008 by Richard Munn
By the time of arriving here, at the well-tended front garden of Robert’s home near Vancouver, I have been intensely experiencing grief, arisen through the heat of intimate relationship, for the past ten months. I have been working with this grief in the context of contemplative practice, paying attention to what Trungpa Rinpoche called the ‘soft spot,’ the innately open, connected and empty reality of the heart. Trungpa characterized the soft-spot as being “sad-joy;” the joy of energetic, tender responsiveness to the world and the sadness of things always fading, changing and dying. It has been incredibly useful for me to be aware of this articulation and to be instructed that this experience doesn’t need altering but rather can become part of the display of what is during meditation, with no additional fabrication.
Through holding the dark, hot, glowing ember of tender-sad-joy in my heart with as much precision and care as I can, I have been noticing the ways in which I habitually contract. With either tightness in my body, energetic shutting down, familiar emotions such as anger or, more subtly, through placing a layer of thinking in between myself and the direct experience of my wounded-open being, I veil myself from the vividness of my heart. It’s been a rocky, unpredictable and wild journey characterized by the blossoming of an underlying sapling trust that I can return to and directly face my experience, however joyful, devastating or insulting that experience may be to my self-image or my ideas of how things should be.
A short while after ringing the doorbell I am greeted by Robert’s wife, Diane. Her grounded, glowingly centered warmth brings me further into the simplicity of the present as we say a brief hello, before I am shown where the room Robert works with clients is. I walk through the dimly lit corridor and feel like I am entering an underground treasure cave as I move through the doorway into a well contained space of simple richness and aesthetic resonance.
Noticing two meditation cushions on the floor, near the wall on my right, I choose one and sit down. I intend to use the time before the session to create supportive conditions so that I am more receptive to and engaged in the work I am about to do. Taking my posture and beginning to breathe, I notice I am excited and slightly rigid, I’m not breathing as deeply as I could and am holding tension in my face, especially around the eyes. Through the meeting of an-Other, a thou that can help me brokenly dance in whatever direction needed, if only for a short time, I believe gates will be unlocked that I have found almost impossible to unlock in isolation. While I literally ache for deeper work I am also aware of a slight habitual guardedness to it, revealed to me by my tightness; the embodiment of somatically “holding myself together.”
After settling into this awareness for a few minutes I hear the door open inwards. Standing and turning around I see Robert for the first time in the flesh and feel him as strong, stable, present and energetically big, with attentive sky blue eyes and a smile; we are both happy to see each other. We sit down, I on a tan brown leather couch and he on a matching chair opposite me, and I start to talk about how things have been going with the intimate relationship, which ended seven months ago.
I interact with Robert and various aspects of myself, guided by Robert’s intuitive direction, which I trust to usefully raft on the streams and eddies of emotion and meaning-making I am journeying with. Spontaneously arising ways of working, such as empathic, full person attention and awareness flavoured with dream analysis and sentence completion, act as a vanguard on the overgrown path to revealing what is already the case. The path reveals itself on a moment-by-moment basis in congruence with where my foot lands on the ground, which is shown not a moment sooner. As we organically and responsively attune to each new step, the structure of the session emerges in an organic flow, alive with freshness and discovery.
After what feels like one third of the ninety minute session, Robert shifts gears towards working with my body, my embodied reality of experience, with the words: “It’s really important to directly include the body with the emotional work we are doing. The way I work with the body is both physically and energetically done in a way that resonates intuitively and organically with the person I am working with. If things become too intense for you, you can say stop at any time.”
I feel so happy to hear that we are taking this direction and notice that part of me literally aches for a fuller, more deeply embodied resolution of the grief I’ve been attending to, quite mindfully, for nearly the last year. I need to feel the resolution not only in my mind but also right in the middle of my heart, so this inner ice-cube of sorrow can begin its thawing.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Interesting article on gender theory over at The Smart Set. Jessa Crispin, of Bookslut fame, mentions several interesting books on the topic of intersexuality.
This topic raises many intriguing questions about how we define sexual and gender identity. Very clearly, for some people, even sexual identity is not clear at birth (or later). Without clear biological markers, clear gender identity markers are even harder to take for granted.
We have yet to come to terms with traditional gender identities as a culture, but intersexed people are pushing some of us to think in even less well-defined terms. As much as it sucks for them (sometimes), it is a good thing.
Let's Talk About Sex
For some, neither "male" nor "female" is quite the right fit.By Jessa CrispinAs I was filling out Kate Bornstein’s My Gender Workbook, doodling in the box that says “Draw a perfectly gendered person,” taking the quizzes to find my Gender Aptitude, and learning to adjust my definition of “transgender” to include anyone who breaks with the traditional portrayal of gender, which would include everyone from drag queens to boys in eyeliner, I started wondering how the me of five years ago would answer these questions. Obviously, I would be drawing “my gender” a bit differently. In my present drawing my gender has a cloche and a fur stole. But five years ago I was in the final throes of my Boy Phase (or, giving my current tendency towards glammed-out femininity, what a friend has recently titled my Pre-Op Period), a span of several years of dressing in men’s clothing and cutting my hair short. Even when I was forced to put on a dress for a work function, I was frequently called “sir,” no one noticing the dissonance created by my skirt.
The last century of gender theory has expanded the idea of binary masculine-or-feminine gender: It’s more of a spectrum — not one on which you are assigned a place to occupy for the rest of your life, but one on which you can shift like a be-socked child sliding over a newly waxed floor. From tomboy to cheerleader, from boy drag to girl drag, there are myriad influences on your gender expression, some more socially palatable than others.
But what about the idea of sex itself being a spectrum, rather than the binary of male or female? If you try to write out the criteria for the sexes, it quickly gets complicated. What makes someone male? The first obvious answer is genitalia. But take that away, due to a birth defect or an accident, and is the person still male? Of course, but why? Next answer probably goes to the chromosomes. But there are physical reasons why a child born with XY might have female genitalia and think of herself as female. Is maleness then caused by androgen exposure in the womb? Testosterone production? All fetuses start out as female, and things can happen during the pregnancy that prevent masculinization, or will masculinize a fetus with XX chromosomes. Currently, the word used to describe people born with physical traits both masculine and feminine, or with gender variations like Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) or Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (PAIS), is “intersex.”
Some, like Thea Hillman, the author of Intersex (For Lack of a Better Word), are not diagnosed until early childhood, some not until puberty. Hillman was four when she began to grow pubic hair. After a battery of tests, she was diagnosed with a mild form of CAH and put on hormonal treatment in an attempt to inhibit the growth of body hair and to allow her to grow to a normal height. The mildness of her CAH means she will not have the infertility, dwarfism, hermaphrodism, or facial hair that can occasionally result. But she is still poked and prodded her entire life, and every doctor’s visit begins with her pulling down her pants. It is a childhood of feeling ashamed of her body, of feeling there is something wrong with her.
In her collection of short autobiographical pieces, Hillman recounts a youth in and out of doctor’s offices, her parents’ acceptance of her coming out as gay, and her later involvement with intersex activism. After a lifetime of regulating her gender with hormones, she begins to wonder, what are the costs, and what are the benefits?
My whole life, my CAH has been discussed as a health problem. But now I realize it’s a sex problem as well. To what degree have I taken medication to maintain girl chemistry, to attain girl attributes and keep boy ones suppressed? To what degree have doctors done this, and in what ways have I become complicit? My medication suppresses the overproduction of 17 hydroxy progesterone, a precursor to testosterone. What else is being suppressed?
For others, these questions are not even possible. Many intersex children are born with ambiguous genitalia, meaning that a doctor cannot visually determine whether a child is a boy or a girl. The labia might be fused, or a baby may be born with a micropenis or an enlarged clitoris. Doctors may do chromosome testing to assign a gender, or they might use the presence or absence of internal sexual organs to make a decision. But the standard for years has been to assign a gender at a very early age with surgical intervention.
It’s a controversial issue. Doctors and parents think they are sparing children embarrassment and pain. But now intersex activists are fighting to create a new protocol, one that waits until the child can participate in “hir” (forgive me — I know the pronoun is a clumsy compromise, but one that comes up a lot when you start reading about gender theory) own treatment.
Katrina A. Karkazis opens her new book Fixing Sex: Intersex, Medical Authority, and Lived Experience at a speech by Intersex Society of North America founder Cheryl Chase. Chase proclaims, “[Early genital surgery] is wrong. It’s torture. These children are subjected to involuntary surgery. Intersex people are not sick, they are not in need of care, but so-called rational medicine is coming after these kids with knives in their hands.” No one is arguing against treating quality-of-life or fertility-affecting maladies like hypospadias, in which the opening of the urethra might be located between the penis and scrotum. But if a child is born with an enlarged clitoris, which might look like a small penis, what exactly is the harm in waiting until puberty to decide whether to operate for cosmetic reasons?
Read the whole article.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Most of us don't really want BIG muscles as much as we want to look fit, strong, and healthy. Or maybe that's just me. Seriously, I don't train for size. I want to be fit for any sport I want to play, look good naked, and be stronger than most people would give me credit for. I stay around 190-195 lbs most of the time.
But there is a lot more pressure now for men to look perfect, with washboard abs and bulging pecs. We don't need that pressure any more than women have needed it for the last 50 years or so. And we are starting to suffer from the same body dysmorphic disorders generally thought of as a "woman's issue."
The Diet Blog took a look at this topic recently.
Read the rest.
Men: Do You Really Want Big Muscles?by J. Foster
There is a common thread in many male transformation stories. A guy starts off overweight - he eats poorly and is sedentary. Then he discovers how to eat right, how to lift weights, and before you know it - new words like cardio, metabolism, and HIIT become part of the standard vernacular.
At some point along the journey - fat loss turned into bodybuilding. Is this the answer for every man?People who undergo a physical transformation using diet and exercise are amazing. It takes courage, dedication, consistency, and plain hard work. It's impressive and worthy of respect. But what makes a man? A ripped physique? Great guns and a shredded six pack?
I would argue that few men would deny wanting a muscular physique. It's not just women that have body image issues. The sculpted models in magazines like Men's Health or Men's Fitness shout out from the magazine racks. They catch your eye and play on your mind.
The basic principles for muscle building include:
The supplement industry would love it if you spent hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on shakes, Meal Replacement Powders, whey protein, creatine, glutamine, and anything else you can think of. There is no denying that many of these supplements are effective - but where does it end? When do you stop? Is it sustainable to live like this? Does every man have to be heavily-muscled - or lean and ripped?
- Eating 5-6 meals per day
- More protein (pref. eaten at every meal)
- Intense weight training workouts
- Plenty of sleep.
Final thought from the post: We must aim to look after our bodies, but the prevailing cult of physical perfection can distract us from simply enjoying life, recreation, and good health.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Here is the introduction to the article, followed by a small piece of the interview.
Read the whole interview.
Painfully Masculine: An Interview with Benjamin Percy
[24 April 2008]With the rise of the metrosexual and the fall of the patriarchal society, some men, lost in a gray zone, compensate by joining Gold’s Gym, screaming at Packers games, and driving big-ass Hummers
In person, this is one of the things that one notes first about the man. Ironically, such a noticeable mark of masculinity has often been cited by critics who have only met Percy through his fiction.
Percy’s short fiction collected in The Language of Elk (2006), and his newest collection Refresh, Refresh (2007), has provoked interest in the author’s emphasis on maleness and masculinity in American culture. Indeed, PopMatters‘ own Matthew Fiander called Percy’s fiction “almost painfully masculine.”
I sat down with Percy to talk with him about this notion of his presentation of both pain and masculinity as well as some of the other ideas that populate his often brutal, often melancholic visions of contemporary America.* * * * *
Aside from your interests in nature, your writing has been associated with the concept of the “new masculinity.” I have heard a range of definitions for this concept from an emphasis on more sensitive men to a more hyper-masculine model of “uber” men like those in 300. How do you define this idea? Is the concept of the masculine in need of a revision?
We no longer live in a society that sends its sons into the wilderness to slaughter large beasts to prove they are men. Instead, parents buy their boys a Nintendo and ten, 20, 30 years later they’re still not sure if they’re all grown up. And when they are all grown up and weighed down with responsibility, they aren’t sure where they stand anymore as gender lines continue to blur like wet fingers drawn across newsprint.
You can talk about Mars and Venus ad infinitum, but these days, more often than not, the sole thing that distinguishes a man from a woman is what dangles between your legs. For proof of this, look no further than the Bravo network or GQ magazine or Banana Republic, where men go for their style tips and face creams and hair gels and silken underwear.
Look no further than your local multiplex, where women are taking on roles traditionally reserved for men: Demi Moore as G.I. Jane, Angelina Jolie as Laura Croft, Jennifer Garner as Elektra. With the rise of the metrosexual and the fall of our formerly patriarchal society, you’ve got a lot of men who are lost in a kind of gray zone, trying to find ways to compensate—by joining Gold’s Gym, where we pick up large pieces of metal and put them back down—by screaming a little too loud when the Packers, our modern-day gladiators, score a touchdown—by driving a Hummer that burns 20 gallons a minute.
I could go on, but that’s a healthy enough dose of man talk.
This does bring me back to one of my earlier questions as well, though. Many of your specifically male characters seem driven to violent impulse. How do you view the relationship between masculinity and violence?
Men internalize much of what they feel, much of what they think. And I’m interested in the non-verbal communication that occurs between me—a heavy clap on the back translating to love, a tightened fist and narrowed eyes translating to hate. Many of my stories concern men in pain, and because they don’t know how to talk their way through it, they swing it out of their system. It’s the equivalent of lancing a boil to release the poison building up inside you.
Can you talk about your approach to the process of writing fiction?
I try to write at the same time in the same place every day. You must condition your imagination, in a Pavlovian way, to salivate. My mind is comfortably empty and humming in the morning, so I hunker down with my cup of coffee, and the bell rings, and I’m off.
There are no tricks to what I do, really. Planting my ass in a chair everyday is about it. And not checking my email, not answering my phone, not getting up for a break when the writing gets difficult. Talent matters, but discipline matters more, I’ve discovered.
I always begin with the image. If you think about writing as a subject, most of us are trained, from grammar school through college, to write thoughts. That, after all, is the essence of the essay: here is what I’m thinking. Cerebral writing has a cerebral effect.
And I don’t want my audience to sit and ponder their navels. I want them to feel. I want to drag them down the rabbit hole. I want them to be alive twice: once in their world, once in the world of the page. How do I try to accomplish this? Through imagism. Every moment in my stories I can imagine happening as if a film reel is turning slowly in my skull. My job is to replicate that with ink and paper. Which ain’t easy.
Monday, November 17, 2008
I liked this post from the Integral Strength pod over at Gaiam. Damon touches on some ideas that I believe transcend the realm of strength training into a more expansive idea of finding balance in our lives.
Damon poses some questions through his own experience that each of us can reflect on in our lives, especially in the realm of body. Do we train as a practice toward greater sense of self and being, or is the training itself the object, perhaps with some shadow elements compelling us to work out? I know I have my own shadow stuff that sometimes motivates my workouts.
And can we ask these same questions in other areas of our lives?
Walking on the edge of strength and spiritDamon said Oct 27, 5:56 AM:
This is a reflection more than a beginning of a discussion thread, but would be interested on anyone else view on a similar subject.
The nature of any practice is to develop capacities beyond the limits set by our self - to transcend. Be it meditation, yoga, philosophical study, religious introspection, or as the subject here is a focus strength training. Any system of practice has the capacity to set us free from the normal waking consciousness and into different states or stages of development. These same systems of practice also have the capacity to limit our capacity of growth through attachment, routine, egoism, illusion, delusion, lack of mindfulness and of minimal spiritual intent.
This is where I have found myself with my own practice. No longer do I feel connected to strength training in a developmental capacity, rather I feel limited in pursuing lifting as a form of strength and body training without reflection. Its the same reason I needed to leave a yoga asana practice - the common link is me.
So I find myself thinking about the edge between practice as a focus on to itself and practice as a form beyond itself. Is it natural to fall in and out of attachment within these practices, and how does one recognise the signs before we feel we have drifted too far from the edge and into a maya of form over real substance. I don't want to withdraw this time, deny the nature of my true self and the relationship to a practice I know instinctively has a deep and profound capacity for deep introspection. So what do I do from here…..continue, change, withdraw (maybe all three).
When you walk the edge of strength and spirit maybe this is natural, a falling in and out of spirit. Maybe a consistency of a strength training practice is important to reveal this evolution, reflecting that spirit may not always be the focus, but a dedicated intense path that strength training is will break us down spiritually only to build us back up.
Here is a piece of Rob's response to this, which I think is spot on (be sure to go read the whole response and the rest of the thread). He gets to what I was trying to say above.
So you've got your conventional purposes to strength training, these are important and to be integrated into the larger activity of Transcendence Dancing with Resistance, but as you articulate so well, conventional purposes can entrap and ensnare your conditioning such that the vitality and emergent novelty of who you really are becomes the forgotten dream.Integral practice and strength training must embrace the post-conventional purpose which is radically non-linear. So it throws purpose in the conventional understanding on it's head. There's no purpose outside of this direct immediacy.To leave this out is to live your life without a heart. To leave out this most essential component is to fall into a training that seeks not to unfold and awaken your larger sphere of identity, instead your training has the purpose of keeping you in a slumber, shackling your body-mind to cave walls, shadows and the distorted life too afraid to face the radiance of their authentic calling.So how do you know if you've fallen into habituation?Ask yourself this one question: do you seek other than what's here?If the answer is yes, then you're deluded and fundamentally stuck on at least some part of your conditioned history, if not huge sections of your conditioning.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
It's hard to agree with some of his points (for me, at least), but many men are finding validity in what Farrell is preaching these days. As far as I can tell, it seems like the green mean meme run amok.
An example of the green meme issue:
Intro to Dr. Warren Farrell - pt. 1 of 2 Video
Intro to Dr. Warren Farrell - pt. 2 of 2 Video
Friday, November 14, 2008
Good leg strength can keep knees stable and injury free, not to mention the core strength these require and help build. To build really strong legs, do these on Monday, deadlifts on Wednesday and full back squats on Friday.
The Greatest Quad Builder... That Almost No One Wants To Do
By Tom VenutoIt’s axiomatic that the exercises which give you the best results are always the hardest ones to do. If you want a huge back… you row and deadlift. If you want huge legs, you squat… OR… you do THIS leg exercise – that almost no one wants to do because its one of the hardest of them all.
Author of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle
Which one am I talking about?
In my opinion, front squats are one of the absolute best quad builders. Back squats are a tremendous mass builder as well, but front squats introduce an additional level of challenge because they require flexibility, technique, and core strength because the bar must be held and balanced on the front of the shoulders. As such, the front squat does everything the back squat does and more.
One great advantage of the front squat, especially for someone like me, having previously suffered a low back injury (herniated L4), is that the torso can be held in a more upright (vertical position). Since there is less forward trunk inclination, this removes some of the stress and shear forces from the lower back. At the same time, this upright position is closer to a bodybuilding squat and throws much more emphasis on the quads and less on the hips. It is truly a superb bodybuilding exercise.
There are two styles of front squatting, the Olympic lifting style and the crossed arm style. I find that most athletes, and of course Olympic lifters, use the former, while most bodybuilders seem to prefer the latter. The barbell should generally be your weapon of choice, but for bodybuilders, front squats on the smith machine are an outstanding alternative.
The Smith machine front squat takes some of the balance issues out of the picture, which allows the physique athlete to really focus on working the muscle rather than worrying about balance and stabilization. Be sure to rotate between both versions, however– barbell and smith machine – because long term overuse or dependency on machines may lead to stabilizer weakness or muscle imbalances and variety is never a bad idea in the physique game. Incidentally, the barbell front squat is an outstanding “core” exercise.
A third version of the front squat worth considering is the dumbbell front squat (especially the sumo or wide stance version). These can be performed holding a single dumbbell with both hands on the front of the shoulders, cupped between both hands (goblet squat) or with two dumbbells, one in each hand, resting on top of each shoulder.
The limiting factor on these front squat variations is often the poundage, as holding heavy dumbbells can become unwieldy. This can be partially overcome by performing the dumbbell front squat last in a leg workout or second in a superset, or by manipulating tempo and range of motion so the exercise is made more difficult. The dumbbell variations are also a great choice for women who usually don’t require as much weight as men for stimulation.
I find that the front squat is particularly effective at developing the tear drop shaped vastus medialis portion of the (“lower”) quads, and you can emphasize this effect even more by elevating your heels on a board or a wedge. Elevating your heels is considered controversial and some say that this is damaging to the knees.
I’m not convinced that this is the case with a slight elevation and very strict form and controlled tempo, although I would not recommend this method to anyone with existing knee problems. There is certainly a risk to benefit ratio of every technique variation, and you have to decide if the added potential benefit is worth the potential risk, depending on your particular situation (consult the appropriate medical or training professional if you’re not sure)
You can also emphasize the medialis and increase overall effectiveness by working FULL squats (breaking parallel) and only coming up three quarters (no locking out). Have you ever seen Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman’s workout videos? I realize that Mr Olympia’s bodybuilding video tapes are not “workout instruction” nor do they really have anything to do with us mere mortals, but I pay attention to everything in the world of bodybuilding, and I did find it very interesting to watch Ronnie front squatting 500+ pounds.
I also found it interesting that he went rock bottom and he did ¾ reps without releasing tension for even a single rep. Although he certainly has some advantages over other bodybuilders, everything is relative and he has some ridiculous quads, even compared to other IFBB pros. Indeed, continuous tension ¾ reps are a tremendous technique to employ with the front squat exercise, regardless of whether you’re a novice or a pro. Be prepared to leave your ego at home, however.
In addition to the ¾ reps, try manipulating your tempo. It will limit your poundage even further, but what you sacrifice in strength you will make up in hypertrophy. Whereas a regular rep might be 2011 or 3011 tempo, or even a full-out explosive concentric with a controlled eccentric, bodybuilders may want to try utilizing a tempo of 3020, or (even harder) 4030. With sets of 10 -12 reps, this will give you a minimum of 50-70 seconds of continuous time under tension.
The lactic acid burn around the 10-12th rep has to be felt to be “appreciated.” The only thing more difficult than continuous tension/non-lockout ¾ reps are continuous tension, non-lockout reps with a slow tempo. Truly a quad killer!
Note: 4-point tempo prescriptions are as follows:
3020 tempo =
3 = negative/eccentric action
0 = pause in stretch/bottom position
2 = positive/concentric action
0 = pause in contracted/top position
So if front squats are so good, why don’t more people do them?
Simple – because they’re damn hard. Here is what I usually see happen: Someone will start front squatting (or try to), and they inevitably put on way too much weight. Their form is horrible, it feels totally uncomfortable and unbalanced, so our novice front squatter quits and writes off front squats for good after only one try, and heads back over to the leg press machine.
I usually advise them to unload the bar and master the form first with very light weights, but invariably, ego gets in the way, and 315-405 squatters and 1000+ pound leg pressers don’t want to be seen with a single “wheel” (45 pound plate) on each side of an Olympic bar while they patiently master the technique for a new exercise.
Alas, they never learn to front squat, they go back to what is easy and familiar and they never gain all the benefits of this awesome exercise.