Thursday, October 2, 2008

"Male and Female...

... created He them."

Do I have the Biblical quotation right? Genesis, I think. Before the arrival of what Bill Maher refers to as the "talking snake."

Last evening I sat with a group of elders from The ManKind Project, the men's organization with which I have been involved for many years. The purpose of the first hour was to invite other, younger men to bring current issues in their lives and to sit in silent contemplation with an elder--not to find solutions, but simply to become mindful of the mental and emotional attachments involved. The idea was to have them write their issues down on a card and sit in person, or to mail them in and share them out among participating elders for their meditative attention, in a place of serenity and calm. This session was to be followed by a talking circle, to which I unfortunately had time enough only briefly to check in.

I thought the idea of sitting in silence with a man in some kind of distress or turmoil was a wonderful one. There are ways to share compassion other than in words, and I have found that the breath is a great tool for creating inner peace. Since this was the first time such an hour was offered, response from the larger community was limited at best. I sat with one man for about a third of the hour. There is a Tibetan Buddhist practice called tonglen, in which the practitioner breathes in the pain of others, processes it internally, and breathes it out as pure compassion. (This is a much simplified understanding, I'm sure.) It's a hard practice and my attempt yesterday reflected my own limited experience, but the effort I put into it was richly rewarded both from within, and from the response that it received. I spent the other two thirds of the hour in silent contemplation of several other men I knew to be in sickness or in trouble of some kind.

I take great pleasure in sitting in a circle of men. Not that I don't appreciate feminine energy, but it is different in a way that I'd be hard put to describe or even define. We have tried so hard in our modern world to rid ourselves--rightly!--of the old demeaning stereotypes and prejudicial distinctions that we have risked sacrificing some important part of our differences as human beings. I look around the world and see so much evidence of masculine energy gone awry--amok?--in the form of religious extremism and social domination, not to mention the wars that scar the face of our planet. In this context, it is good to experience powerful AND positive masculine energy, directed towards healing rather than competition and destruction.

Which brings me to tonight's much anticipated debate, which pits a woman against a man--each in contention for the vice-presidency of this country. The funny thing about this is that the woman, in this debate, projects more masculine than feminine energy: to date, she has proved herself combative, sarcastic, absolutist, dismissive, self-assured, "tough," and generally pretty much heart-less in her attitudes. I believe that Hillary Clinton might have been more successful had she not felt required to suppress the feminine energy in favor of the masculine. As my wife has on occasion pointed out--and she means this in the best of all possible ways--Barack Obama in fact is more in touch with his feminine energy than either of these two women, and is the more powerful and persuasive for it. I hear others complain that he is not sufficiently in touch with his masculine energy--that he's not sufficiently loud in his opinions or combative. I disagree. As I see it, he projects both strength AND compassion, the ability to listen and hear what others say, as well as to speak out forthrightly. The blend of the two makes him, in my book, more fully human.

I suppose this may all be subjective nonsense, and I suppose that some may find the argument offensive. It's a tricky, touchy area and one that does not lend itself to easy definitions or great clarity. But I'd sure be interested to hear if others share this feeling. It would be reassuring to know that I'm not alone. Meantime, I await this evening's debate with suspense and curiosity.

* image by Fernando Botero


Naval Langa said...

To Mr. Peter Clothier

I have just read some of your posts. I liked the writing style and the richness of the subject.

If you are interested in reading short stories and other writings by an Indian author, do visit my blogs.

Naval Langa

Dhamma81 said...

I look forward to the debates as well. I can see what you mean about Hillary Clinton sometimes seeming more masculine. I think that is what made her seem so unapproachable to a lot of people and in my opinion could have been part of what cost her the nomination. She always seemed kind of threatening to me, but that might have been just a personal bias or perception.

In all honesty I am far more conservative so I am hoping Sarah Palin doesn't screw this up but I wouldn't be surprised if she did. As for Joe Biden, I don't know much about him at all so this might be a good way for me to get a feel for him.

I wonder if some of the qualities that you used to describe her(Sarah Palin) could be a defense mechanism she uses in the face of all the crtiicism she usually gets from people who don't expect a woman to have the views she does. Her and Hillary were as far apart on views as it gets and that is a tough sell for women Clinton supporters.

Maybe a better woman candidate would have been a marriage of the best of both Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton but that is just a thought.

I look forward to watching the debate and seeing what both of our reactions are. In some ways I feel that McCain is out if Sarah Palin botches tonight so this will be interesting. Be well in your practice.

Cardozo said...

I've always very much enjoyed hopping back and forth between my masculine and feminine selves.

It is the most fun when the two selves can share the stage, so to speak. This happens, for example, when I find myself debating forcefully and passionately, but with an open mind.

mandt said...

Thank you for reminding us of Buddhist practice called tonglen. Once that is known, even if only once, all following breath is a measure of compassion.

PeterAtLarge said...

naval--thank you... and I will check in on your site

dhamma81, thanks for checking in. A conservative view is always welcome, when expressed in a thoughtful and compassionate way.

Good point, Cardozo. That's a fruitful dialog!

MandT--thanks for the reminder!

carly said...

A rather brilliant explanation of colliding forces in the economic world of man, can be found here:

and is the analysis of an astrologer. Try it, you might like it.

TaraDharma said...

Good for you, Peter, for daring to speak about the topic . You're right: there is so much room here for misinterpretation and it, like race, is a conversation often avoided out of fear.

While I understand your characterizations of masuline and feminine energy, I must say that both with Hillary and Sarah, I've always observed a healthy mix of both in both of them. I think Palin plays on the stereotypical female behavioral traits in order to 'soften' her message. The mouth says one thing, the body language another.

We tend to jump on the gender issue whether it is a man or a woman -- pity the poor male candidate who sheds a tear. They (he) gets ripped apart for this perceived 'weakness.'

Perhaps someday we'll all evolve to the point, like you say, where we can all just be more fully human. That works for me!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I hadn't considered Obama from the viewpoint of masculine or feminine energy, but have noted that he seems unusually balanced and self-confident without any trace of self-aggrandizement.

True masculinity includes gentleness and compassion as well as the ability and willingness to defend others forcefully when a softer approach will not work.

Disturbingly, I have heard many people refer to Palin as a new feminist, which she clearly is not, and also as an unabashedly feminine woman in contrast to Clinton. It worries me that with our rock star culture, voters might be blinded to her true qualities (or forgive them)just because she is pretty.