Why do I compare myself to others?

man-thinkingFacebook is minefield of potential comparisons with other peoples’ lives (or what they choose to present of them). If we are not feeling great, seeing news from people who appear to ‘have it all’ might lead us to descend into envy and despondency. But we can choose how to respond to these inputs. Just because other people seem happy and fulfilled, that doesn’t mean we can’t be. There is not a finite amount of happiness to go round. We can share in the love and fulfillment we see at a distance, be inspired by it and feel glad for people.

This is a list I wrote to remind myself how to interpret other peoples’ news on social media, tailored to what is important to me in my life. You could do your own.

Musical success
It’s exiting that Liverpool acts are getting recognition. How nice that people I like are getting recognised. How nice, how happy that must make him feel inside. Good to see happiness.
Achievement in projects
That’s interesting. Great idea. They must be very organised! Admirable. I can learn so much from that.
Who’s getting paid gigs
Very good. It’s good to get paid gigs. Well done.
Female attention
Ah, so much love and connection.
Disposable income
That’s their life, this is mine.
Holiday pictures
Beautiful. I’m happy anywhere.
Friendship networks
Lovely to see connection. We’re all the same, all have the same needs. And all are connected.
Coolness.
Fun for them. That’s their thing.
Well-readness                                                                                                                                 Wow. Amazing wisdom they have absorbed!
Poetic reputation/acclaim
Well done!
Magazine success
Not interesting for me. But enjoy what you do.

Do We Need a ‘Men’s Day’?

With International Womens’ Day being celebrated across social media, our phones and computer screens are resplendent with pictures of female icons, inspiring messages and news of IWD-themed events. And with it, there come the usual voices from the wings, exemplified by comedian Richard Herring asking on twitter when there will be an International Men’s Day.

These grumpy calls are often met with derision, as if they are actually attacking the idea of female equality, but they actually represent a cry for help, an almost desperate response to a gaping void in men’s lives.

There’s no doubt that women still face financial equality – battles over equal pay and conditions pay continue to be fought, while sexual violence and sexism in the media are ever-present. And that’s just the UK. Globally, the oppression of women in many countries has not changed in centuries and in many cases is getting worse – we all know about Boko Haram. But the idea that global patriarchy only damages women is the great myth of feminism.

From the dawn of humanity ‘men’s work’ has always been the most dirty and dangerous, with the highest rates of death, injury and illness. Male workers are invariably at the sharpest end of costcutting and lax safety standards around the world. During the 34-year construction of the Panama canal, an estimated 28,000 workers lost their lives, many due to malaria. And this is not just a historic phenomenon; almost 1,000 workers were killed in Chinese coal mines in 2014 (and that was one of the safest of recent years), while a similar number have died in Quatar building facilities for the 2022 World Cup. I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of these would have been male deaths.

This is the legacy of a system that has historically used men as the primary providers in the family. It’s a system that gives no choice of options, any more than women are given the option of whether or not to bear children. Men, as a result of their gender, have been locked into a brutal regime of back-breaking and particularly dangerous toil. But it is not just men’s bodies that have been sacrificed in such huge numbers; men’s roles in the industrialised era have subdued the nurturing and compassionate side of their nature, diminishing their ability for self-care, and creating a world of damaged and dysfunctional behaviour.

For the intensity of mens’ torment, you only have to look at the suicide figures – in the uk three times as many men kill themselves as women.

In general, women have a wealth of support systems to call on, both officially and through age-old family and friendship networks, whereas mens’ camaraderie often only extends as far as back-slapping and friendly bravado. The suppression of the nurturing, feminine side in men is perhaps the biggest, unspoken, loss that patriarchy inflicts on us.

Most men only find an outlet for sensitivity through the women in their lives and their male culture gives them no access to this. Men know that their societal role leads them to suffer worse mental and physical health than women. Herring’s envy over IWD – a widespread one, I believe –reflects a male need for the kind of solidarity and self-love that women do so well.

What might a men’s day look like? The most high profile recent mens’ movement, Fathers for Justice (a charity demanding rights of access to children of separated fathers) was, rightly or wrongly, perceived as an outlet for a vindictive kind of male anger. Any celebration of mens’ empowerment needs to acknowledge that anger itself is one of challenges that many men need to overcome.

Such a movement would need to acknowledge, without guilt, the impact that that mens’ dysfunction has had on women and at the same time celebrate the leadership and inventiveness that men bring to the world. These characteristics don’t have to be seen as solely inherently male, just as nurturing and co-operation are not the sole preserve of women. What we need is a new vision of manhood and womanhood that softens these gender constructs.

Men are not the winners in the patriarchal system, and women are not the only ones that need to transcend it. No more talking sides; we have to advance together.lonely-man-boat-galaxy_223886

Journal entry 15/1/16

Recently an acknowledgement that the ‘wanting to know the great texts’ is connected to the egoic thing of having missed out on learning and wanting to feel well-read and wise. Realised that there’s a lot of reaching and wanting in my exploration of old texts. Remembered zen approach of ‘leave all this – too much mind-work’. People can reach enlightement spontaneously by themseles. Hui Neng was illiterate after all. A lot less about reaching and wanting, more about being where you are and uncovering. Getting close to the enlightened soul within. Looking at the Tao Te Ching, feeling yet again, I am struggling with a difficult text that I’m gonna have to put some time in to study and understand. Stopped myself there and then. Decided not to struggle to finish it or understand it all, just go with whatever catches your attention and speaks to you. Saw a single line –  “without desires, there will be peace”.Old_book_library_ladder_bookshelf_books_desktop_1920x1200_wallpaper-7274.jpg

Walking the Fog

fog park nightI walked through the park at night in the fog, past the faint white ghosts floating on the lake – the sleeping swans. As I walked I brought my attention to every sense. I have realised the word ‘attention’ works much better for me than ‘mindfulness’, which sounds like a conundrum from the off. We all know what attention is, and we can direct it where it’s needed.

The trees were dripping their foggy wetness on my face, the river was rushing in the distance. The dark grey of night fog was impenetrable. I brought my attention to its void without fear, accepting its blankness like a mirror of no-mind.

Every so often, voices in the distance would push through the fog, or footsteps would emerge behind me – people still need to empty their dogs no matter what the weather. But I resented the presence of humanity encroaching on my dark wet solitude.

As I walked toward the long straight path out of the park I breathed consciously while reciting a version of Thich Nhat Hanh’s breathing mantra: “Breathing in, I am the body…breathing out, I am the body”. I have realised that centring in the body is the most reliable way of finding presence, for me. Presence – one of Eckhart Tolle’s favourite words. I haven’t visited his teaching much over the last year, having spent time exploring some its sources, such as the many Buddhist doctrines, which are insightful but don’t massage my heart in the way Eckhart can.

Walking up the path, centred in my body, I felt that my ‘mental and emotional complex’ – a phrase that spontaneously occurred to me, maybe derived from the ‘military/industrial complex’ in the USA! – was hanging in front of me like a hardened shield or something attached to the front of me or hanging around my neck. I could see that it wasn’t me; and every ratty little bit of frustration or anxiety that was still buzzing around was happening inside of IT, not me. Since my time away from Eckhart, I could see that I had slipped back into identification with it.

I sat down on the wall outside the park, and fully stayed with where I was, not in my shield, with all the battles it wants to fight and all the enemies it sees. I wasn’t concerned with the cars driving past me, not imagining their drivers’ opinion of me: thief, wierdo, alcoholic – how I normally worry that I appear when I let myself wander and drift. I was content to watch it all like a child – the headlights swishing through the fog as the leaves floated down from the majestic trees. I was thoroughly in the moment. That elusive NOW that we never actually leave.

Fathers and Sons

2006ak9833_shiva_dancing
Shiva – male Hindu deity

For reasons too personal to go into here, it is very important to me to regain some sense of confidence and pride in being a male. My reconnection with the natural world and a sense of wildness in nature are part of that. I have recently been reading Robert Bly’s “Iron John – Men and Masculinity”, which takes its name from a German fairytale that tells of a young prince who is mentored by a ‘wild man’ in a forest.

Bly’s thesis is that myths and folk tales can offer clues and paradigms to help modern men reorient themselves in a culture which has lost touch with its mythic identity. Bly spent years researching traditional societies and their mythologies; he believes that industrial societies lack the initiation processes needed, particularly for boys to become men.

Although I found parts of the book hard to grasp because of the poetical nature of Bly’s musings, some sections were riveting to me. Particularly his reflections on fathers and sons:

“When a father and son do spend long hours together…a substance almost like food passes from the older body to the younger…I think a physical exchange takes place, as if some substance was passing directly to the cells. The father gives this food at a level far below consciousness…(the son’s) cells receive some knowledge of what an adult masculine body is. The younger body learns at what frequency the masculine body vibrates. It begins to grasp the song that adult male cells sing, and how the charming, elegant, lonely, courageous, half-shamed male molecules dance.

father_day_photos_02

 

During the long months spent in the mother’s body, his body got well-tuned to female frequencies…Now, standing next to the father, as they repair arrowheads, or repair ploughs, or wash pistons in gasoline, or care for birthing animals, the sons body has the chance to retune. Slowly, over months or years, the sons body-strings begin to resonate to the to the harsh, sometimes demanding, testily humorous, irreverent, impatient, opinionated, forward-driving, silence loving older masculine body. Both male and female cells carry marvellous music, but the son needs to resonate to the masculine frequency as well as the female frequency.”

fathers 2

 

Bly believes this masculine learning process has been disastrously disrupted since industrialisation:

“…by the middle of the twentieth century in Europe and North America a massive change had taken place: the father was working, but the son could not see him working. Throughout the ancient hunters societies, which apparently lasted thousands of years…and the subsequent agricultural and craft societies, father and sons worked and lived together…in all these societies the son characteristically saw his father working at all times of the day and all seasons of the year. When the son no longer sees that, what happens?…a hole appears in the son’s psyche. When the son does not see his father’s workplace, or what he produces, does he imagine his father to be a hero, a fighter for good, a saint, or a white knight?…demons move into that empty place – demons of suspicion. The demons, invisible but talkative, encourage suspicion of all older men. Such suspicion effects a breaking of the community of old and young men.”

I’m sure many men will relate to that.