Battle of the Sexes - part two
I haven’t been avoiding writing this blog I swear. Ok, I have. But I have good reasons! Firstly, my beautiful Nan passed away this month. I was incredibly close to her so it has been a difficult time of grief and letting go. Nan will be getting her own blog post next time around as there is so much to say about her life and what I’ve learnt from how she lived it. Secondly, and I feel this is also very valid, this conversation is downright difficult to have. We are in a time of rapid growth and awakening and the challenges between the genders had been at the forefront of our ongoing evolution. And while I don’t find it easy to address this issue, I do find it necessary.
Many years ago when I first stepped into the rooms of AA I would continually hear a teaching that resonated with me deeply… It’s your secrets that make you sick. This philosophy, and its invitation to uncover what simmers beneath, is particularly relevant to this topic. The oppression and abuse of women, and the denial of men’s feelings and expression through patriarchal constructs, aren’t exactly secrets. But if we avoid the uncomfortable conversations around these issues we will continue to support the ill health of our society.
I love the above quote. It’s an extension of, “What you resist, persists” by Carl Jung and these guys really knew what they were taking about. Part of our journey as spiritual beings on this planet is to go into the very underworld, into the darkness, and investigate what lies there. Our responsibility is to get responsible for the bedrock of misperceptions and mistruths that shape our worldly experience. The practice of yoga is a powerhouse of a offering because it goes to the root of the matter. As Tias Little put so poignantly is his book, Yoga of the Subtle Body, “There is no transformation unless we go into the very depths of our being”.
Our collective has got some murkiness and unwell programming at the depth of its being. To do the work to lift that which is unconscious and bring it to the surface is our strategy for healing. Quite simply because that shit ain’t going anywhere on it’s own. Whatever we push away, ignore or resist, we will continue to stay bound to. We need to do the uncomfortable work of looking at it directly in order for it to shift and open us up to new and more harmonious ways of being.
As much as there has been advancement in many areas we are still in bondage to our thoughts and ideas. Ideas like, ‘you run like girl’, ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘women are untrustworthy’ and ‘all men are bastards’ continue to erode the truth of who we truly are and creates much conflict and ill rest. We are placing others, and are placed ourselves, in boxes, rather than honouring that we are each fleshed out, complex and completely unique expressions of life. We forget that the differences between men and women are something to celebrate — not something to judge, attack or fear. Never before in our history have we been in a better place to begin to open up this conversation and create a bridge of understanding and acceptance within this realm. So, in order to create an evenness of expression in this conversation I have co-created this blog post with my friend and fellow seeker of gender equality, James Gill. James and I will be doing a retreat next year that will invite inquiry and healing for men and women around this subject so it seemed appropriate that he, and the male voice, be represented here. I have asked him two potent questions as to what we can do to create healing and open communication within our personal relationships and our global dynamic concerning gender.
“What do you see as the biggest challenges facing men in the awakening around gender issues, the #metoo movement and the history of oppression and abuse that women have faced for centuries?”
Firstly, we will need to become skilled at distinguishing responsibility from blame. I saw, in reaction to #metoo, outcry from men who felt a sense of personal blame for the pain brought to women through sexual abuse. No one wants to be blamed, for anything. It’s a shit feeling even when we are at fault, let alone when we feel blamed for what we ourselves didn’t do.
It takes a level of skilled insight for each of us to step into a place of responsibility for the pain in the world that men have brought, even though it may well have had little or nothing to do with our actions; the disempowerment of women, the forced removal of Aboriginal people from their land and culture, the mistreatment of refugees… the list goes on. Yet that is what is required from men so that men and women can heal and move forward; we need to generate within ourselves a willingness to step into being responsible.
Secondly, we can learn to be more able to be with our shame and sadness. As we step into responsibility we will begin to listen deeply to others’ pain, and let’s be honest – that’s not easy. I’ve noticed that the more open, compassionate and curious we become about the pain of others, the more we have to be aware of the tendency for shame and grief to rise within us. It takes skill to identify these feelings as they surface, and make space for them so that we don’t need to scuttle away to the safety of fixing it, or giving advice, or any of the other unhelpful distractions we might take from really listening and being with someone else’s experience.
Wow. You can see why I want to work with this epic being right? I’m very interested in the masculine views and feelings within this arena, as I know many women are. We really want to hear from you guys! The male voice has been stifled and unable to find its way through the anguish and pain that women are now being given a space to communicate. But for a balanced society we need balanced expression of both women and men. We all need to be heard and nurtured. As I mentioned in the first blog, if there’s an wounded feminine then there’s also a wounded masculine.
So my second question for James was of a more personal tone. I know for myself that it’s when we get up close and personal that the pain can overwhelm the possibility of relating in healthy and loving ways.
What do you see as the most important offering a man can give to a woman in relationship? What do you and men in general need from your women in this time of flux and change? What tools would you suggest to develop listening without reacting and holding space for one another?
I’ll share some ideas that come to me as I reflect on my 15 years of marriage, and the two other beautiful relationships I have had. To me relationship is kind of like a river; the longer it flows the deeper it carves its channel into the landscape, and the deeper it carves the more likely the river is to encounter bedrock, rapids, resistance.
I think there are times when men retreat to the peace and solitude of our cave to recharge and find our power again. This cave can often be a solitary experience and can easily become addiction, secrecy, avoidance, where we can feel more powerful but be in fact deeply disconnected. Esther Perel, in The Future of Love, asks us to consider that pornography is a place where men can go where we will never be rejected, we will never risk failing in our power and performance, and where (at least by a stretch of the imagination) our woman is always fulfilled; in essence where the boy in us can stop hurting.
Alternatively the cave can more constructively be retreating into the company of strong, wise, warm, loving men for rest, for playfulness, for challenge around our integrity, for acceptance, for honesty, and for clarity and wise guidance, in essence to be buoyed and refuelled by the masculine.
I think there are times when women become the fury of a tornado, a violent storm that cannot be reasoned with, cannot be harnessed, squashed or denied. This is the beauty and power of women, of the feminine, and of the earth. I’ve loved the three most magnificently fierce women I’ve ever met, loved them deeply for their tornado-like strength. At the same time, it has been the greatest challenge for me to be in the face of that fierce power without feeling damaged by it, blamed by it, or wanting to stop it.
So, I think women can get better at supporting men in their retreat, and men can get better at supporting women in their fury. I say supporting, but that feels limp. I really mean honouring the fuck out of each other’s need to go to those distant places regularly, so we can equally celebrate their return and adjust accordingly. Finding ways to be each other’s strongest ally in growth.
How do we do that? Good question. I think it’s about invitation. We need to find creative ways of inviting each other’s growth by making it safe to reveal our challenges – what is now being referred to as ‘psychological safety’. I’m reminded of a line from The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer: “I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.”
Typically, our points of withdrawal or fury can be the sites of conflict between us and our partner, and 10 years of working with interpersonal conflict tells that when conflict arises we automatically adopt a stance of right and wrong, the perpetrator and the victim, which becomes immediately risky, full of blame and unsafe — rather than skillfully enquiring about the needs of each of us that have gone unmet.
I think healthy, thriving relationships might rely to some extent on rituals of skilfully inviting each other into a space where the health and growth of us as individuals, and then together, is primary, where the flavour of communication becomes less of “I need…” and more “What do you need from me, and from others, to feel powerful, valued, loved again?”
By ritual I mean that there are words we can use that say: This is a sacred space free from judgement, and we are here to be open and curious, and to support each other to be loved, felt, fulfilled. I’d love to hear the ways people create the ritual that opens this space for growth. I expect we’ll be sharing ideas with each other on the retreats.
Inviting each other into growth conversations like this is supported by having a strong community behind us; that in order to show up for the growth a relationship demands of us, we need our women/men at our backs holding us to account so we can love fiercely.
James and I will be continuing this conversation on our retreat in early 2020. The offering is for men and women, partnered or single, and we will be coming together through yoga, mediation and open sharing. We are both incredibly excited to be a part of this movement towards wellness and healing in our world. The full details will be up on our websites soon but if you have any questions regarding the retreat please contact me directly on email@example.com.
I think the wonderful Margaret Mead should have the final word… “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has”.
Yours in yoga,
Aimee and James xx