In the last few decades, men have been schooled by male icons such as Clint Eastwood to act tough, know all the answers, and never show weakness. Lately, however, that expectation of a strong veneer is cracking; acknowledging vulnerability, the susceptibility to emotional or physical injury, is a hot topic.
In fact, vulnerability is now being celebrated as a sign of courage. Perhaps this topic has been best studied by Dr. Brene Brown who, in an uber-successful TEDTalk, and in her book Daring Greatly, has taught that only with vulnerability can we advance in love, joy, belonging, courage, empathy, and creativity.
While it may not be fun to expose yourself to risk, she provides advice that serves both men and women:
- Let go of the constant worry about what others think of you. Most people are focused on their own struggles, not you.
- Feeling overwhelmed? Focus on your breath and the sensations in your body for a few moments before returning your attention to the task at hand.
- Don't worry about being perfect! In fact, don't even consider it. No one is perfect, and the more you hold yourself to an impossible ideal, the more easily you'll give up.
As welcome as it is to recognize that we can Live Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, (also the title of Pema Chodron’s book of wisdom), most discussions about vulnerability, including the ones on this website, have been generated by women.
What's a man to do?
In my own life I have taken a zigzag career path at times, switching practices more than I planned and exposing myself to additional stress and economic uncertainty.
Looking back, however, those periods of exposure led to spurts in opportunities, skills, and creativity. In particular, the last three years in my life have been a period of purposefully ripping myself out of a successful job, returning to university for additional training, and reentering another practice ... while most just shook their heads and wandered what I was doing. I didn’t have the courage to tell them that I wasn’t sure, either, but I had faith it would all work out.
However I would not advise men to seek out lessons in vulnerability by regularly leaving successful jobs! I recently have found a place where I can experiment with being open and exposed and I recommend it to my male warrior friends: Kundalini yoga.
While I will leave it to the experts to teach about the history of Kundalini yoga as a royal form of yoga that has been called "the fast path to energy," I was invited by a friend to join her practice in a local yoga studio by a well-known yogi certified in Kundalini.
After more than a dozen years of regularly practicing Vinyasa yoga, I was game and confident. However, in a just a few minutes, I realized this yoga was a world apart. People sat on sheepskin rugs, wore white gauze clothing and many had crocheted white head coverings. The music wasn’t the latest Usher or Brett Dennan, but spiritual songs by women (all with the last name Kaur), which seemed to raise my spirit.
Candles were lit. The female-to-male ratio was far higher than in my typical hot classes (a bonus). Yogi Bhajan was quoted repeatedly. We chanted several mantras and I felt that I was the only one in the room who didn’t know the words. The teacher never stopped smiling and teaching words of wisdom that were very uplifting and new to me.
We started the practice by rubbing our hands together to generate energy. What happened to downward dog?
We did timed asanas of three minutes each, and almost none of them were familiar. We did cat cows and spinal balances, rotating on our sit bones, beating our bodies, beating the floor, snoring, whistling, balancing with our arms up, boat poses, planks and other positions called out by the instructor from a notebook she had from teachings of Yogi Bhajan. My favorite part was the constant reminder to tighten our sex organ locks. I felt like Sting! We ended in a magical state of savasana with the gong vibrating through the room and our bodies.
I have gone back to Kundalini yoga many times, mixing it with other practices during the week. It's more familiar now but never the same.
I had a great lesson in vulnerability this week when near the end of a great class we stood up and were instructed to dance wildly with our arms flailing. Thank goodness our eyes were closed. The freedom of this motion was so exciting I continued it at home!
So men, where to look for inspiration between Kundalini classes? Surprisingly, one of the manliest of men, President Theodore Roosevelt, gave a famous lecture in 1910 known as "The Man in The Arena." We would all benefit by choosing this as our credo:
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
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