How darkness grows in small hearts.
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How darkness grows in small hearts.

I’ve always had an interest in the impact of violence on the human psyche. I often wonder what it would be like to sit opposite Hitler or Nero in the therapy space.
Josef Stalin, later to become the tyrant dictator of Russia and the USSR responsible for more deaths than Hitler, was beaten by both his alcoholic father Beso and his mother Keke. Josef was known by the nickname “Soso.” Yet this was far from the only violence he experienced growing up in Georgia — he had almost daily fights at school and as a very young member of a gang. Even holidays were filled with violence — town holidays were punctuated by brawls in which almost all the men and boys participated:

“Soso suffered bitterly, terrified of the drunk Beso. ‘My Soso was a very sensitive child,’ reports Keke. ‘As soon as he heard the sound of his father’s singing balaam-balaam from the street, he’d immediately run to me asking if he could go and wait at our neighbours until his father fell asleep.’

“Crazy Beso now spent so much on drink that he even had to sell his belt — and, explained Stalin later, ‘a Georgian has to be in desperate straits to sell his belt.’ The more she despised [her husband] Beso, the more Keke spoiled Soso: ‘I always wrapped him up warmly with his woollen scarf. He for his part loved me very much too. When he saw the drunken father, his eyes filled with tears, his lips turned blue and he cuddled me and begged me to hide him.’

“Beso was violent to both Keke and Soso. A son was the pride of a Georgian man, but perhaps Soso had come to represent a husband’s greatest humiliation if the evil tongues were right after all [about Josef being the biological son of another man]. Once Beso threw Stalin so hard to the floor that there was blood in the child’s urine for days. ‘Undeserved beatings made the boy as hard and heartless as the father himself,’ believed his schoolmate Josef Iremashvili, who published his memoirs. It was through his father ‘that he learned to hate people.’ Young Davrichewy recalls how Keke ‘surrounded him with maternal love and defended him against all comers,’ while Beso treated him ‘like a dog, beating him for nothing.’

“When Soso hid, Beso searched the house screaming, ‘Where is Keke’s little bastard? Hiding under the bed?’ Keke fought back. Once, Soso arrived at Davrichewy’s house with his face covered in blood, crying: ‘Help! Come quickly! He’s killing my mother!’ The officer ran round to the Djugashvilis to find Beso strangling Keke.

“This took a toll on the four-year-old. His mother remembered how Soso would take stubborn offence at his father. He first learned violence at home: he once threw a knife at Beso to defend Keke. He grew up pugnacious and truculent, so hard to control that Keke herself, who adored him, needed physical discipline to govern her unruly treasure.

‘The fist which had subdued the father was applied to the upbringing of the son,’ said a Jewish lady who knew the family. ‘She used to thrash him,’ says Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana. When Stalin visited Keke for the last time, in the 1930s, he asked her why she had beaten him so much. ‘It didn’t do you any harm,’ she replied.”

Young Stalin (Vintage)
by Simon Sebag Montefiore by Vintage
Paperback ~ Release Date: 2008-10-14
Copyright 2007 by Simon Sebag Montefiore

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Tigers, mice and strawberries.
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Tigers, mice and strawberries.

Pema Chödrön teaches in a way that I understand deeply, fully, first time, every time.

It’s like tapping into a universal source of knowledge that has always been there.

Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by so many bloody ‘things’. Problems, goals, dreams, behaviors, neuroses, people. All of it.

And what are we to do when there are problems above and problems below?

Eat a strawberry, of course.

From The Wisdom of No Escape, page 25:

“There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly, blissfully even. Tigers above, tigers below.
This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”

This is my favorite story from the chapter in the book that explains ways for us to cultivate joy inside ourselves—to learn to serenade and tame the tigers we struggle with in our heads.

Whether we are literally eating strawberries and enjoying their intense color and sweetness, or choosing to cultivate joy and happiness—just for a moment—we also need to develop physical and soulful ways of coping with the ‘darker’ emotions of sadness, grief, hopelessness, stress and anger. We don’t get rid of these emotions, says Pema Chödrön. We make friends with them in order to control them with precision, gentleness, and our ability to let them go.

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Camino or bust…
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Camino or bust…

Tax, maintenance, bond payments, insomnia, constipation…really?! This is it?! This is what the pinnacle of human evolution has to offer me?! Incredible, we are capable of such exquisite expressions of potentiality and curiosity coupled with such mind numbing drudgery and pointless repetition. I haven’t written for a while because quite frankly I’ve felt uninspired, a droll torpor has descended on me that is difficult to shake. It wears the heavy mantle of responsibility and it threatens to choke the very life blood from me. Many of my clients are choked by responsibility and its ever present familiar, guilt. Some ancient internal Calvinist fueled dictum appears to proclaim that God forbid you should ‘shirk’ your responsibilities, you will be devoured by the fires of guilt. Responsibility to what exactly? God? Country? Family? The company you work for? Where does responsibility to the Self come into the hierarchy, near the bottom? Wrangled below by guilt and self aggrandizement? To care for oneself has been mercilessly shackled to the core belief that it is selfish, that to martyr the self in service of the other is what “good” people do. What bollocks. The weary responsible (and I count myself amongst these fine suffering folk) are rarely inspired or enlivened by the crushing weight of the accumulated dross they are crucified to.
I am fighting for my life, for my freedom. I will not be enslaved indefinitely by insipid mediocrity. I will gather my thinning shekels and walk the Camino for a while in an effort to shake this psychic lethargy from my marrow. I’m not sure exactly how it’s all going to come together, but it must, for when we have no hope, then surely the battle is lost.

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The Empathy Revolution
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The Empathy Revolution

Influential philosopher Roman Krznaric shares his tips on expanding our empathy.

An Empathy Revolution

Empathy – the imaginative act of stepping into the shoes of another person and looking at the world from their perspective – is a more popular concept today than at any point in human history. It’s on the lips of everyone from the Dalai Lama to agony aunts, from business leaders to happiness gurus. And it’s no surprise, since in the last decade neuroscientists have discovered that 98% of us have empathy wired into our brains: we are homo empathicus. Our selfish inner drives exist alongside a more cooperative, empathic self that seeks out human connection.

1. Practise Empathic Listening

We all know, instinctively, that empathy is a great tool for maintaining healthy relationships. Just think of all those times you’ve been arguing with your partner and thought, ‘I wish he could see my point of view!’ or ‘Why can’t she understand what I’m feeling?’ What are you asking for? Empathy of course. You want them to step into your shoes, if only for a moment. That’s why it’s worth practising empathic listening. How do you do it? Next time things are getting tense with your partner, simply focus intently on listening to their feelings and needs – without interrupting (and this might just induce them to return the favour). You might even ask them to tell you about their feelings and needs. It’s amazing how doing this can prevent niggling annoyance turn into serious resentment or full-scale arguments. Ultimately, most of us just want to be listened to and understood.

2. Get Curious About Strangers

We need to take empathy out of the house and onto the streets by nurturing our curiosity about strangers. I recommend having a conversation with a stranger at least once a week. Make sure you get beyond everyday chatter about the weather and talk about the stuff that really matters in life – love, death, politics, religion. You might strike up a discussion with one of the cleaners at the office, or the woman who sells you bread each morning. It’s surprising how fascinating, energising and enlightening it can be to talk to someone different from yourself. Conversations with strangers can really help challenge our assumptions and prejudices about people, so we get beyond our snaps judgements about them based on their appearance or accent. And you never know – you might even make a new friend.

3. Try An Experiential Adventure

Back in the 1920s the writer George Orwell – who had a very privileged background and went to Eton – decided to rough it on the streets of East London, dressing up as a tramp and spending his time with beggars, unemployed labourers and homeless people. It was an experience that totally blew his mind, shifted his priorities in life and expanded his moral universe, as he revealed in his book Down and Out in Paris in London. We can all try out similar experiential empathic adventures. Maybe you could sign up to sleep rough for a night as part of a charity appeal for your local homeless shelter. Or if you are a strong believer in a particular religion, try a ‘God swap’ and spend a month going to the services of other faiths (and maybe a Humanist meeting too). Next time you are planning a holiday, don’t ask yourself, ‘Where can I go next?’ but instead ‘Whose shoes can I stand in next?’

4. Become A Revolutionary

Empathy isn’t just something that happens between individuals. It can also flower on a mass scale and start shifting the contours of society itself, creating a revolution of human relationships. Many of those who took part in the Occupy Movement and Arab Spring were motivated by empathy – empathy for those whose lives had been ravaged by the financial crisis, or who had suffered police brutality. An important way to boost your empathy levels is to join with others to take action on empathy-related issues that matter to you – whether it’s child poverty or the fate of future generations whose lives will be affected by our addiction to high-carbon lifestyles. Even taking part in your local choir or playing five-a-side football are ways to engage in communal activities that break down the barriers between people and promote a more empathic world.

5. Travel in Your Armchair

If all of this is sounding a bit strenuous, you can always throw a little ‘armchair empathy’ into the mix. This is about reading books and watching films that catapult our imaginations into other people’s lives that are vastly different from our own. Think of a movie like City of God, which reveals the violent world of two boys growing up in the shantytowns of Rio. Or the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, with its classic line, ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

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Another day without drugs by Russell Brand

Another day without drugs by Russell Brand

‘I cannot accurately convey to you the efficiency of heroin in neutralising pain.’
The last time I thought about taking heroin was yesterday. I had received “an inconvenient truth” from a beautiful woman. It wasn’t about climate change – I’m not that ecologically switched on – she told me she was pregnant and it wasn’t mine.

I had to take immediate action. I put Morrissey on in my car as an external conduit for the surging melancholy, and as I wound my way through the neurotic Hollywood hills, the narrow lanes and tight bends were a material echo of the synaptic tangle where my thoughts stalled and jammed.

Morrissey, as ever, conducted a symphony, within and without and the tidal misery burgeoned. I am becoming possessed. The part of me that experienced the negative data, the self, is becoming overwhelmed, I can no longer see where I end and the pain begins. So now I have a choice.

I cannot accurately convey to you the efficiency of heroin in neutralising pain. It transforms a tight, white fist into a gentle, brown wave. From my first inhalation 15 years ago, it fumigated my private hell and lay me down in its hazy pastures and a bathroom floor in Hackney embraced me like a womb.

This shadow is darkly cast on the retina of my soul and whenever I am dislodged from comfort my focus falls there.

It is 10 years since I used drugs or drank alcohol and my life has improved immeasurably. I have a job, a house, a cat, good friendships and generally a bright outlook.

The price of this is constant vigilance because the disease of addiction is not rational. Recently for the purposes of a documentary on this subject I reviewed some footage of myself smoking heroin that my friend had shot as part of a typically exhibitionist attempt of mine to get clean.

I sit wasted and slumped with an unacceptable haircut against a wall in another Hackney flat (Hackney is starting to seem like part of the problem) inhaling fizzy, black snakes of smack off a scrap of crumpled foil. When I saw the tape a month or so ago, what is surprising is that my reaction is not one of gratitude for the positive changes I’ve experienced but envy at witnessing an earlier version of myself unencumbered by the burden of abstinence. I sat in a suite at the Savoy hotel, in privilege, resenting the woeful ratbag I once was, who, for all his problems, had drugs. That is obviously irrational.

The mentality and behaviour of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction and unless they have structured help they have no hope.

This is the reason I have started a fund within Comic Relief, Give It Up. I want to raise awareness of, and money for, abstinence-based recovery. It was Kevin Cahill’s idea, he is the bloke who runs Comic Relief. He called me when he read an article I wrote after Amy Winehouse died. Her death had a powerful impact on me I suppose because it was such an obvious shock, like watching someone for hours through a telescope, seeing them advance towards you, fist extended with the intention of punching you in the face. Even though I saw it coming, it still hurt when it eventually hit me.

What was so painful about Amy’s death is that I know that there is something I could have done. I could have passed on to her the solution that was freely given to me. Don’t pick up a drink or drug, one day at a time. It sounds so simple. It actually is simple but it isn’t easy: it requires incredible support and fastidious structuring. Not to mention that the whole infrastructure of abstinence based recovery is shrouded in necessary secrecy. There are support fellowships that are easy to find and open to anyone who needs them but they eschew promotion of any kind in order to preserve the purity of their purpose, which is for people with alcoholism and addiction to help one another stay clean and sober.

Without these fellowships I would take drugs. Because, even now, the condition persists. Drugs and alcohol are not my problem, reality is my problem, drugs and alcohol are my solution.

If this seems odd to you it is because you are not an alcoholic or a drug addict. You are likely one of the 90% of people who can drink and use drugs safely. I have friends who can smoke weed, swill gin, even do crack and then merrily get on with their lives. For me, this is not an option. I will relinquish all else to ride that buzz to oblivion. Even if it began as a timid glass of chardonnay on a ponce’s yacht, it would end with me necking the bottle, swimming to shore and sprinting to Bethnal Green in search of a crack house. I look to drugs and booze to fill up a hole in me; unchecked, the call of the wild is too strong. I still survey streets for signs of the subterranean escapes that used to provide my sanctuary. I still eye the shuffling subclass of junkies and dealers, invisibly gliding between doorways through the gutters. I see that dereliction can survive in opulence; the abundantly wealthy with destitution in their stare.

Spurred by Amy’s death, I’ve tried to salvage unwilling victims from the mayhem of the internal storm and I am always, always, just pulled inside myself. I have a friend so beautiful, so haunted by talent that you can barely look away from her, whose smile is such a treasure that I have often squandered my sanity for a moment in its glow. Her story is so galling that no one would condemn her for her dependency on illegal anesthesia, but now, even though her life is trying to turn around despite her, even though she has genuine opportunities for a new start, the gutter will not release its prey. The gutter is within. It is frustrating to watch. It is frustrating to love someone with this disease.

A friend of mine’s brother cannot stop drinking. He gets a few months of sobriety and his inner beauty, with the obstacles of his horrible drunken behaviour pushed aside by the presence of a programme, begins to radiate. His family bask relieved, in the joy of their returned loved one, his life gathers momentum but then he somehow forgets the price of this freedom, returns to his old way of thinking, picks up a drink and Mr Hyde is back in the saddle. Once more his brother’s face is gaunt and hopeless. His family blame themselves and wonder what they could have done differently, racking their minds for a perfect sentiment; wrapped up in the perfect sentence, a magic bullet to sear right through the toxic fortress that has incarcerated the person they love and restore them to sanity. The fact is, though, that they can’t, the sufferer must, of course, be a willing participant in their own recovery. They must not pick up a drink or drug, one day at a time. Just don’t pick up, that’s all.

It is difficult to feel sympathy for these people. It is difficult to regard some bawdy drunk and see them as sick and powerless. It is difficult to suffer the selfishness of a drug addict who will lie to you and steal from you and forgive them and offer them help. Can there be any other disease that renders its victims so unappealing? Would Great Ormond Street be so attractive a cause if its beds were riddled with obnoxious little criminals that had “brought it on themselves”?

Peter Hitchens is a vocal adversary of mine on this matter. He sees this condition as a matter of choice and the culprits as criminals who should go to prison. I know how he feels. I bet I have to deal with a lot more drug addicts than he does, let’s face it. I share my brain with one, and I can tell you firsthand, they are total fucking wankers. Where I differ from Peter is in my belief that if you regard alcoholics and drug addicts not as bad people but as sick people then we can help them to get better. By we, I mean other people who have the same problem but have found a way to live drug-and-alcohol-free lives. Guided by principles and traditions a programme has been founded that has worked miracles in millions of lives. Not just the alcoholics and addicts themselves but their families, their friends and of course society as a whole.

What we want to do with Give It Up is popularise a compassionate perception of drunks and addicts, and provide funding for places at treatment centres where they can get clean using these principles. Then, once they are drug-and-alcohol-free, to make sure they retain contact with the support that is available to keep them clean. I know that as you read this you either identify with it yourself or are reminded of someone who you love who cannot exercise control over substances. I want you to know that the help that was available to me, the help upon which my recovery still depends is available.

I wound down the hill in an alien land, Morrissey chanted lonely mantras, the pain quickly accumulated incalculably, and I began to weave the familiar tapestry that tells an old, old story. I think of places I could score. Off Santa Monica there’s a homeless man who I know uses gear. I could find him, buy him a bag if he takes me to score.

I leave him on the corner, a couple of rocks, a couple of $20 bags pressed into my sweaty palm. I get home, I pull out the foil, neatly torn. I break the bottom off a Martell miniature. I have cigarettes, using makes me need fags. I make a pipe for the rocks with the bottle. I lay a strip of foil on the counter to chase the brown. I pause to reflect and regret that I don’t know how to fix, only smoke, feeling inferior even in the manner of my using. I see the foil scorch. I hear the crackle from which crack gets it’s name. I feel the plastic fog hit the back of my yawning throat. Eyes up. Back relaxing, the bottle drops and the greedy bliss eats my pain. There is no girl, there is no tomorrow, there is nothing but the bilious kiss of the greedy bliss.

Even as I spin this beautifully dreaded web, I am reaching for my phone. I call someone: not a doctor or a sage, not a mystic or a physician, just a bloke like me, another alcoholic, who I know knows how I feel. The phone rings and I half hope he’ll just let it ring out. It’s 4am in London. He’s asleep, he can’t hear the phone, he won’t pick up. I indicate left, heading to Santa Monica. The ringing stops, then the dry mouthed nocturnal mumble: “Hello. You all right mate?”

He picks up.

And for another day, thank God, I don’t have to.

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Why men withdraw emotionally.
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Why men withdraw emotionally.

In a relationship, having your partner withdraw at an emotional level can bring confusion, pain and frustration.

Women who relate to men that do this are often bewildered by why and how this happens.

Speaking as a man, and one who considers himself sensitive and emotionally available, there are particular situations and scenarios that cause me to withdraw. And I imagine that other men, regardless of how in-tune they are with their emotional nature, would respond in similar ways.

Just because a man withdraws does not mean he is withdrawing from you.

Often when a man seeks solace or withdraws from a conversation, it probably has nothing to do with his partner. It has more to do with the emotional intensity and confusion around emotions than with any particular person. It just takes men more time to integrate and understand the watery realm of emotions. And understanding emotions isn’t something that happens for us spontaneously in the midst of a heated discussion.

Often we need space and time to figure out what is happening, both within our own self, and with our partner.

Men have been discouraged from feeling emotional. We have been mocked, attacked, and belittled when showing emotions. Big boys don’t cry, toughen up, and bite the bullet are all phrases men grow up with. So when we are faced with emotional situations, we are novices.

The biggest harm that is not recognized or appreciated for the depth of damage that it causes at the emotional level to a man, is that men are expected to be tough, to protect, and kill to defend their family. Violence, and the expectation of violence, mandates an absence of emotional sensitivity.

It is a quandary for a man to be emotionally available and to have him be able to harm another human being.

Have compassion and understand the kind of conundrum that a man faces when being emotional vulnerable and awakening to deeper sensitivities. It is rare enough to find a man who wants to delve within and unleash his inner passion. It doesn’t mean that he is going to be masterful at it. For men to be comfortable in their own skin and accept their feeling nature takes a growth curve.

A woman has a lifetime of experience navigating the oceanic tides of emotional states.

Women grow up with emotional states and are accepted as sensitive, feeling beings. She is able to observe, feel, recognize and better communicate her feelings than a man. Women are also adept at observing and recognizing the emotional states in other people. And when a woman finds a man who loves her, at some level, she feels a great deal of hope because she has found an emotional match, somebody who understands those hidden tides and influences. Women will share all their heart and feelings, and not understand how this can impact a man. And when a man doesn’t respond as she needs, feelings of being hurt or misunderstood arise. How those feelings are expressed matter a great deal.

The best men want an intimate connection with women, and often don’t know how to do that.

Men don’t fall short in the emotional realm because we are emotionally immature. We are emotionally inexperienced. Men face expectations and pressure about emotions that are confusing and contradictory. And when we find a woman who loves us and we love in return, it brings to life a living fire that had been suppressed for a lifetime. Yet fires burn, and the burgeoning sensitivities is akin to a child learning to walk. We fall down, we make blunders, and we are blind as to how to listen and communicate our emotions.

Men experience a learning curve when awakening to their deepest sensitivities.

And just as any beginner, they make mistakes. Sometimes the mistakes are colossal, and sometimes laughable. Men need an emotional example, how to live with and operate with emotions in a healthy way. We also need to be accepted as we are, beginners with beautiful intention. To demand for a man to have the mastery over their emotions is an outrageous expectation. For most men, mastery over emotions means suppressing them, hiding feelings behind a mask of stoicism, or just turning off the emotions entirely. It takes time to even identify the subtle emotions, let alone to know how they function and their influence on our own self and those around us.

Any teacher knows that mocking a beginner or putting them down, criticizing them or their approach, will stunt the learning curve, if not completely stopping it.

The beloved woman becomes that guide into the mysterious realms of feeling emotions. When she expresses anger, puts down her man, belittles or mocks him, a man feels attacked. When she demands him to be sensitive, a man feels not good enough.

And when a man faces a womans wrath he will respond in the ways he has been taught to feel emotions since early childhood ; with anger. Anger is one of the few emotions accepted in men because it is a necessary emotion to be a soldier-killer. Anger is a natural defensive response for men. And once we become angry with our beloved, there is a host of problems that arise afterwards. Guilt, shame, inadequacy, failure, and fear. These siblings to anger are inevitable when fury shows its face, especially when we know that our loved one has been hurt as a result of our anger.

The words spoken in anger harm the recipient and the speaker.

It takes time for a man to feel comfortable feeling emotions. After all, such a man is challenging the tenants and pressure of an entire society and its deeply in-grained training.

A man’s natural response when being hurt or confused is to withdraw. Almost everybody knows about the masculine need to retreat to the cave. And whether this is physical space, or mental space, or even silence, the cave is an essential healing tool for a man’s mind. The cave allows integration of the experience, introspection to see what is happening within, and understanding to know how to better respond in the future.

Women set the example and emotional tone that allows their partner to feel safe.

When a man faces a woman who is emotionally stable, it allows him to understand his own emotions. The depth of understanding that the woman has with herself and her own emotional nature will give him the security to express and unveil his own strengths. The woman who is emotionally secure brings a presence of emotional security to the relationship. A well meaning man will appreciate this and do his best, and grow faster and reveal the depths of his spirit with increasing strength and confidence.

Granted, the ideal is that a man can figure out his emotional state and come into his own emotional maturity through his own self-generated willpower. Yet the reality is that teachers, guides and mentors accelerate this process and help a person navigate the confusing and mysterious realms of emotions. There are a great many pitfalls and bewildering mirages when it comes to the shifting sands of sensitivities. And as man learns his emotional state, he is also facing the additional challenges from his friends, family, and world that challenge that awakening at every step.

The woman who is insecure with her own emotions will see a man who withdraws as a threat and denigrate him and go on the attack. This is the antithesis of supportive behavior.

She will not realize that he is a man who is brave beyond measure to face his own soul and bare his spirit with vulnerable trust. When a man doesn’t respond as she needs and demands at the emotional level, lashing out will only cause harm. Gentle understanding and compassionate acceptance brings healing and deepens the relationship. One of the best qualities women have, is the ability to nurture.

Nurturing is not aggressive. And with a man, directing aggression at him will generate an aggressive response. He will either fight or run. The flight or fight response is deeply ingrained into every human being. In essence, attacking a man who is opening his heart will trigger a survival level instinct. Once that survival level power fully awakens in relationship, the dynamics in the relationship change and may never come back to equilibrium.

Nurturing is not forceful, instead it is accepting and allows for a natural growth curve. Be patient.

Just as a tree takes time to come into its fullness and blossom, a man who is learning to embrace his deeper truths will need time to fully ripen into his potential.

Appreciate the men who take the time to stand up against society to discover, feel, live and unleash their sensitive side. It takes a lion’s heart full of courage to face down societal expectations and programmed beliefs. Give him gratitude, honor his spirit, thank him for being available with his sensitivity in ANY way that he is able.

Such a person is one of a kind, a warrior in the truest meaning of the word.

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Growing a brave heart.
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Growing a brave heart.

This is a hard one to articulate, but its important to try and get it out there.

I don’t think I have ever encountered any psychological pain that rivals the intensity of what I’m currently feeling. Every weekend as I separate out from my daughter, my heart breaks.
No… it shatters…like thin, fragile glass.
Nothing brings me to my knees with more ferocity.

Yesterday when we parted, she screamed for me, her little body contorting as she reached for her dada…I eventually turned my back when she was safely secured in the car, still wailing-and walked into the house with my own hot tears streaming down my face. They formed a small pool at my feet as I sat staring vacantly. I can still see the stain on the wooden floor. After another hour of being in the void, I began to pick up her toys, each one burnt with the memory of her smiling little face.

I still don’t understand what the lesson in this is supposed to be?
I can’t live with my partner, nor can I live without my children.
what a crucifying dilemma.
Sometimes relationships disintegrate a long time before separation happens.
A thousand small wounds eventually bury us in recrimination and disappointment. In our case I hold no blame, just pain and acceptance.

Does one stay together for ‘the sake of the children?’
Does one sacrifice ones self at the altar of family, grimacing and simmering in resentment?
Always wishing for another life?
Was being part of a family just a reparative fantasy?
So many fathers I speak to know this pain. My practice couch is stained with the hidden tears of men. Some stay in irreparably broken relationships, fearing the intensity of the pain of loss, they soothe themselves with addictions (work, women and whiskey). Others sell off primary parts of their personalities, or anatomies (i.e. balls) at the negotiating table, become domesticated, wrestling crumbs of autonomy from their ‘bitter halves’. A pale death. Some flee into the arms of another woman and painfully recreate extraordinary repetitions. Either way the path is dark.

And yet men suffer in silence, maintaining appearances, often poorly. It is still rare for men to share their emotional pain with other men. There is still an antiquated paradigm that we appear to slavishly serve, “I will not under any circumstances show my vulnerability”…

Sometimes I would rather experience physical discomfort than sit with emotional pain. It is difficult for many of us to know what to do with emotional pain as we are not familiar with its parameters. Historically, men have relegated the world of emotional discomfort to the territory of women and the ‘weak’. Many men will do anything rather than feel or communicate their uncomfortable emotional injuries. This often leads to a variety of relatively predictable enactments…avoidance, denial, repression, fantasy. Anything but dealing with that which is.

So how do we start talking to other men about the pain of being separated from our children without it being viewed as something distinctly unmasculine? Can we not begin to entertain the notion that feeling these intense emotions is just a part of being human? Something that we can perhaps learn and grow from, something to face…even as our hearts tremble.

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