If you ever want to know the difference between thinking and feeling take a glass of wine and describe the taste in words.
Then take a sip.
The words are representations of experience, always one step removed from the actuality. Taking the wine in your mouth and tasting it gives you the direct experience of wine through the knowing of your feeling body.
We live in a culture biased toward thinking. We train our thinking capacity from an early age sitting at a desk in school. More and more we experience our world through technological interfaces, this computer, for instance, which has us default to left brain cognition. We have become masterful at using our thinking to manipulate both the real world and the virtual world of our creation. In this orientation toward thinking we discount feeling, even though it alone opens the door to happiness and connection
As boys we grew up in a culture that linked male feeling with weakness. On the soccer field if we skinned a knee we learned to “suck it up”. To hold our breath, and not show the hurt or tears that are a natural response to injury. We may have been told that “ big boys don’t cry” if we returned home from school upset at being mistreated by peers.
Over time we learned to not show much of what we felt. To disown emotions like sadness, fear, and anger, or the tender side of love and care we have for others. Riding into the sunset, like the Marlboro man upon a well learned stoicism and invulnerability.
Problem is as social mammals we communicate important messages to each other about safety and acceptance through feeling and emotion. This happens underneath our practiced thinking whether we are aware of it or not. Emotion is our body’s way of communicating that something needs to happen.
Fear says be vigilant.
Love says come close.
We get these messages directly through the body, just like the taste of wine.
These messages can come in ways that are out of our control. We can get sick. The body can give us messages we don’t want to hear. Gut instincts we disregard. Emotional cues from our partners that we fail to pick up.
Instead of living fully in our bodies, many of us men live in our heads. Where we can maintain a semblance of control through our thinking.
Of course women can get caught in the mind as well, yet their connection to feeling is strengthened through mensuration and pregnancy Whether welcomed or not, women are forced to inhabit their bodies in ways that men are not. They learn, as a result, to read the body’s emotional signals more readily.
Moreover women carry the cultural expectation that they provide the safe harbour in which feelings can be held and accepted.
As men we are caught in a paradox.We push away feeling but we all want to feel alive. So we push the edge in competitive spots, with our risk taking, and for some of us, with drugs and alcohol. We want to feel energized and passionate, yet like chemotherapy which kills live cells as well as cancerous ones, when we suppress difficult emotions we suppress the emotions of vitality as well.
Because we have blocked off access to our own feelings in the body, we look to women’s bodies and sexual contact as a means to touch and feel that which we have lost in ourselves . This is the compulsion that underlies pornography and other forms of sexual addiction.
Lust is a primary emotional drive. It orientates us toward the deepest sharing that may be possible in the human experience. Where pleasure and creation mix together. We all came into the world through an orgasm.
But when sexual energy is fuelled by the blind spots of an unprocessed and unhealed emotional past, distortion and damage results. Harvey Wienstien and Jeffrey Epstien are gross examples of this.
It is time for us as men to begin the work of clearing up the disowned aspects of our emotional past. To turn toward the healing work that allows us to be more present with our partners and ourselves.
Women also have their own work to do, caught, as many are, between the body instinct that wants men to pay attention to their beauty, and the need, reinforced by experience, to protect themselves from the very attention they seek.
There is another form of malignancy that comes from the culturally learned denial of our emotional lives.
Just because we don’t feel our anger, or our grief, does not mean that we don’t have any inside us. The divisions in Donald Trump’s America, different from ours in Canada only by degree, show us how unacknowledged, unattended anger can fuel the destructive projections that get placed onto the shoulders of others to carry. People of different colour, immigrants, and those who hold different values.
To begin the process of repairing these divisions we need to be willing to look inside ourselves. Entering into the hidden places where old outdated emotional scripts were laid down and still give off their radioactive signature.
Healthy anger is a boundary against violation. it is meant to have us protect what we care for. It is not meant to protect old pain from the past. But that is what often underlies an angry outburst, when something in the present links up, and touches something unresolved in us of the past.
This inner work brings us out of our heads and into our bodies. It brings a certain humility, itself an antidote for the judgements and projections that are displaced toward others in the face of what we are not yet able to turn to in ourselves. Humility comes from the word humus, it brings us closer to the earth
This is not work we can easily do alone.
In fact, the time of the lone wolf is over.
We are tasked to break down the isolation, and the self-limiting beliefs that keep us as men from reaching out for the help we need, and the connection we desire.
This is a path that invites us to reclaim a healthy relationship to the kind of knowing our feeling states make available, so that we can link this up to our cognitive intelligence and experience a self knowing that we could call wisdom.
The wisdom that has fully composted our life experience so that it truly informs both our thinking and feeling. What the ancient taoists called our heartmind.