I am an empath.
What I am sharing is my own experience and my own truth: use it, don’t use it.
I have read a number of articles about empaths which I feel foster myths that are disempowering and tend to distort what an empath really is. Empaths are potentially such beautiful powerful souls but can also be a real pain in the ass; I know this because I can be both.
For a long time in my life I felt that I needed to guard my sensitivity and feelings to protect myself from the ‘world’ and that my purpose in life was to take on other peoples plights and pains. I did this to the point where I blocked myself entirely from being able to feel in my body, instead I tuned my ability into my creative work as a theatre director guiding people to tell their own stories and connect to their deepest emotions. In the rest of my life however I was closed up in a hard shell of intensity and thought, I was not emotionally present to the love, connection of the people in my life, I was not playing.
The reason was I had misunderstood what it is to be an empath which caused me a lot of suffering, anxiety and trauma. Over the last few years as I have been coaching others and been on a profound spiritual journey intensively processing my own healing; I have worked with many empaths and truly come to understand myself as an empath.
There are some truths we need to face about ourselves because empaths can actually become very painful, prickly, obnoxious and easily offended people to be around.
This is because we as empaths tend to hold this narrative that we are such highly sensitive beings who can feel and literally take on the energy and emotions of other people. But the reality is that most empaths disassociate from the responsibility of their own emotions and instead feel compelled to deflect by managing other peoples moods and emotions in order to feel better about themselves i.e. only when everyone else is happy and at peace, can we be happy and at peace.
Empaths therefore become easily overwhelmed by emotionally obtuse people or large crowds because they occur to us as unmanageable. We then develop the belief that in order to feel safe or emotionally stable we must isolate ourselves from certain environments, be careful about what we watch and listen to and be very particular about the kinds of people we have around us in fear of how they will poison us with their vibes or infect us with their ‘entities’. Some empaths even go so far as to believe that it is their job to absorb and digest other peoples pain like energetic earthworms.
What empaths don’t realise is that through this saviour narrative that we can become quite prickly, negative and serious people and while we so strongly believe that we are the ones needing to guard ourselves from the energies of others, we are actually ones ones who become energetically heavy and uncomfortable to be around.
The mantle of empath that we take on often includes that attitude of martyrdom where we carry the pains and burdens of the world on our own shoulders. We act as if the world is always happening to us that we are these gifted sensitive flowers being swept around by the storms of unconscious and brutal energies. People close to us the ones who really care eventually have to tip toe around us so that our sensitivities are not disturbed, that our great sacrifices are acknowledge and our passive aggressiveness is not triggered.
But the reality is that an empath’s condition or ‘ability’ stems from childhood usually with emotionally unstable or volatile parental environments. At a young age out of fear we learn instinctually how to tune into and read the micro expression and gestures of our parents in order to anticipate their moods and manage them. Many kids automatically feel responsible for how their parents feel and if parents are dealing with their own unhappiness, suppressed trauma or depression (which most young adults are) they instinctively believe they are somehow the cause. Of course we do this because at that age we are the centre of the universe, everything is about us! We then learn how to manage our parents moods by adjusting our own states and in the process we give up the capacity to be fully responsible for our own emotions and become unable to define our own experiential and narrative boundaries.
As we grow up we bring this into our adulthood where we bump heads in relationships with the narcissistic personalities that we invariably attract into our lives. Somebody who is not fully present to their own emotions or boundaries and tries to manage other peoples’ happiness, is needless to say, a sweet flower to a narcissistic bee to manipulate.
But then over time, after much suffering, what happens is that the empath begins to compensate either by defensively adopting learnt narcissistic qualities and/or becomes overly obsessed with self protection managing their external environments so that they can feel safe and at peace. Empaths can then become very controlling and unforgiving people, holding on to resentments and grudges for years, blocking people out of their lives, running complaints and rackets about others, creating walls and barriers, becoming brittle in their personalities, having closer relationships with animals and plants than people etc. Any bells ringing yet? And yes they can also be very defensive and stubborn in their interpretations and perceptions of reality. ‘This is how it is’ and no one can tell them otherwise.
At the core of it is a person who has not been able or willing to take responsibility and own their emotional states, their beliefs and most importantly their own personal boundaries. They will rather sit with their sufferings, illness, ailments and peculiar needs than actually embrace flexibility, openness, joy and opportunities for personal healing and responsibility.
And so the question is this: is your narrative of being an empath an empowering one or a disempowering one? Does being an empath open your heart to all or does it isolate you and make you fussy person? Does your attraction to patiently sit in the space of suffering and lack make you and asset or a liability for those around you? Really think about it.
We often tend to be believe that just by being an empath and ‘taking on’ the suffering around us that we are a gift to humanity. This is an invitation to reconsider that notion. You end up hiding your true awesomeness and power from the world.
On a Vision Quest retreat recently I had the experience of working one on one with more than 15 people in one day holding a deep space for them as they each went through an intense range of emotions dealing with deep traumatic issues from rape, neglect and violence. Their energies were all over the place, there was pain, resistance and lots of tears. At some point one of the participants came up to me and asked me, ‘aren’t you completely drained taking on everyone else’s energy?’ And I realised I was not drained at all because I hadn’t internalised anyones’ energy, not one. I held the space where I was in an energy of unconditional love where I could be compassionate about where they were yet not confusing myself with them, I was not in the way. I believe this is the only way one can truly hold space for others; being fully present.
It has taken me years of inner work, practice and training to get to this point, years of bumping my head over and over again. I used to be washed out and drained after every single session be it a ceremony or coaching work until I realised I was not being responsible for my own boundaries and my own state. I had this idea that I needed to energetically sponsor other people to help them, but nothing could have been further from the truth, I was not helping them rather enabling them and merging my pain with theirs. Out of pure self preservation and with the guidance and examples of some powerful teachers and facilitators around me I have learned to define an entirely different distinction about my role and purpose as an empath… it does not mean that I don’t regularly slip up.
But what I have realised is that the only thing that is ever truly draining me, triggering me or making me anxious or overwhelmed is my own distortions of reality, my own shadows, my own doubts and fears. I own that I have neurotic sensitivities and that I am prone to anxiety attacks which can become defensive rage and in owning it I am no longer ruled by it. The only work I ever need to do is around my own happiness, my integrity and my well being for then I can open my heart and feel everything compassionately without feeling threatened or unsafe by my environments or other peoples behaviours or moods.
It does not mean that I am not mindful about who I interact with, where I go, what music I listen to, what movies I watch, what news I read etc. I have learned to do this with discernment not out of fear but out of choice for what I enjoy, honouring my values and boundaries.
It also means I have the capacity to hold big spaces and tackle difficult subjects like gender based violence, shame, death, trauma, things that most other people would run or turn from.
I discern that the gift of being an empath is not that I can absorb peoples emotions or energies, it is that I can instinctively read their gestures and micro expressions, understand and have deep compassion for whats really going on, sense when they are being inauthentic or hiding out from what they are really needing to deal with. It allows me to guide people to see what they cannot see so they can do the work that they need to do if they are willing to be responsible for their own lives.
At the end of the day it is all about responsibility and choice. As an empath if you really want to hold a healing space for others, learn to hold the space of joy, love and wellbeing for yourself first, then learn to hold that vibration in your listening for others no matter what place they are in, they truly feel supported and understood.
The rest is about recognising that while we are all separate containers of perception and narration we are also one. When we can deal with our own stuff and truly get it out of the way we can be compassionately present to the exquisite oneness and shared experience of each and every living being we encounter and thats when we can make a difference.
That is my definition of being a empath.
Heinrich is a life and spiritual coach, shamanic facilitator and theatre-maker
To be honest I still suffer from anxiety and negativity. I battle with my own sense of worthiness and am very hard on myself. I tend to struggle with my experience of discontent and lack of appreciation from others. I am aware that I often attract into my life relationships that mirror what is in me and it shows me what I need to deal with in my self.
This is what I found myself constantly grappling with and you can hear it in these words I used: ‘suffering, battling, struggling …” How many of us speak like this about our lives? For the last while I have been asking: when is enough enough? When will I get the message? And the answer I get is always the same… when I choose to.
I have realised something very simple and yet profound, there are essentially two ways that we as human beings perceive what is happening around us, we either see what is there or we see what is not there. Now this may seem like a really silly kindergarten statement but this distinction is the difference between us being happy and thriving in our lives or why we suffer resentment and anxiety.
So many of us have become experts in our ability to see what is not there that we believe that what we are seeing is real. We see what people are not doing, what is missing in ourselves and others, what is lacking, what we don’t have, how we are not being met, the imperfections in our society, we see how others let us down and we see how we let ourselves down as well. We then attempt to organise, control, fix and manage our environment through this mode of perception and we believe that this makes sense, that this is how we create what we want.
But are we actually seeing? Is it really possible to see what is not there? I really had to pause and think about that question and I invite you to too. Can we truly SEE what is NOT there? Of course not! What is not there is not there so how can I be seeing it?
So then what am I perceiving when I open the fridge and feel disappointed that there is no more milk? What am I seeing when I check my bank balance and I feel deflated? What am I watching when my spouse Is not behaving the way I prefer and I feel betrayed?
I realise that my perception is not interacting with my reality rather my filter of expectations and comparisons; I am actually interacting with the narrative in my own mind. As human beings we are so convincing with our narrative that we can actually turn interpretations and distortions into hard facts and call it seeing reality when nothing could be further from the truth. We then create a world around us imbued with this narrative.
This is the reason why we then struggle to sustain satisfaction no matter what we accomplish, why we then experience depression, anxiety or anger. We are so engaged with managing the narrative of what is absent that we are completely blind to what is actual and present. This is why our relationships eventually fall apart and why so many beautiful opportunities are missed. We are so trained to recognise what we don’t have, that what we do have will eventually leave, be taken away or we will destroy it. Why? Because we are essentially life blind.
What is happening on this planet is exactly that. Humankind has been so preoccupied with chasing the mirages of absence through the channels of our dissatisfaction and greed that we have neglected our connection with all that is real, life-giving and nurturing: our air, our water, our climate, our living natural environment and each other. We have neglected it to the point where one day soon it will no longer be there.
It seems so obvious and it is something that we often claim we know, but regardless of how much wisdom we accumulate about manifesting, positive thinking and gratitude how many of us have actually mastered this as a conscious practise that has us be holistically present in this world? I realised that regardless of how enlightened or progressive I believed I am, I have to be brutally honest about my own narrative focus in life, my way of being and ability to truly see.
I realised that I still wake up each morning from anxious and restless dreams where I am grappling with all the lacking’s and missings in my life. Its a mental habit that I unconsciously cultivated over a lifetime such that it is practically a part of my personality. In the beginning it is what had me be successful and hard working in my career because it gave me blinkers to strive and push to fill my hot air balloon of gratification. Now it’s more like an affliction that drains the very life force from my body and steals the wonder from my eyes. I acknowledge that it will take practice to rewire these patterns of thinking and to transform my own life blindness.
Each morning once I wake up, I meditate for 20 mins and in that meditation I simply allow myself to be with the discomfort I sometimes feel in my body. It allows me to disengage from my regular momentum of morning thoughts to simply be with the experience in my body. I then take my prayer beads and walk outside and as I run each bead through my fingers, I thank and appreciate something actual that I can see or feel in the world around me. I say thank you to the sun the way it shines on the mountains, thank you to this green bark tree and the way the leaves shimmer in the morning light, thank you to the cool air blowing the hair on my legs, thank you to my feet how I balance so amazingly as I walk, thank you to the person walking their dog and how our eyes meet… and so it goes for each and every bead. And as my gratitude practise expands my eyes open to the beauty of the day, my anxiety dissolves like a mist over the ocean and the light of the day shines into my eyes and heart.
I start to see such wonder and miracles all around me, what a magnificent place I live in, what opportunities abounds all around me, what love is presenting itself to me like little flower buds, what a gift it is to be alive and healthy. I am here today! I am alive and this day is full of possibility as well as the challenges for my expansion and creation. I reflect on my life mission and how this day is my canvas to express it.
What I see is perfection in the world and that any loss or change I am experiencing is all part of that perfection. There is an ancient Sanskrit mantra that says “Om, that is perfect, this is perfect, when perfection is taken from the perfect, perfection alone remains.” There is never absence, nothing is ever missing, nothing is ever lacking except for our thoughts afflicting us with the perceptions of absence.
Over the years I have done countless processes, modalities, read countless books on self realisation and enlightenment but I truly believe that the greatest daily spiritual practise of all is the sustained practice of gratitude, this is the most powerful healer for true sight.
If there is only one practice for enlightenment that I ever get to fully master it will be gratitude for all that is right here, right now.
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih
Do you have fear in your heart at the thought of being betrayed by someone you trust or love, does it conjure up feelings of deep hurt, humiliation or even anger and rage? Consider that how you perceive betrayal will characterise the way that you will one day betray another unless you are willing to face your own Judas heart.
The story of Jesus and his twelve disciples is distinct: Judas sells Jesus out to the High Priests and the Romans effectively sending him to a very painful crucifixion and death. My invitation is to entertain this story as a perspective of our collective human condition. Why would Judas do this if not for his perception that Jesus had somehow sold him or his cause out. He must have believed or felt that he was the one being betrayed and that his actions were righteous. This was a pre-meditated act that he probably played out over and over in his mind particularly each night as he watched Jesus sleeping. You can picture him restlessly lying there consumed by resentful voices in his head drowning out empathy and love in his heart. The details of his justification be they political or personal are not relevant here, only that his planned betrayal must have felt undeniably justified.
Judas cannot be dismissed merely as an evil or greedy man; he was after all one of the twelve chosen men to walk at Jesus’s side as he spread his gospel of love. Yet Judas’s true attributes, his intention, his contribution and his greatness will always be over shadowed by this one regretful act that effectively scattered this tribe and movement into the winds. The name Judas is forever vilified and associated with betrayal, it is the name that conjures images of the snake in the grass or of a werewolf allowed into the sheeps pen.
But who is this Judas? Is he some lone figure in biblical history who hanged himself in deep regret for what he did or is he actually an aspect within each of us? It is that part of each of us that harbours a deep wound of unresolved betrayal feeding our insecurity, doubt and jealousy. It is that aspect that will one day will compel us to sabotage and destroy our very own relationships, family or community and create someone we love as our enemy.
With a modern psychological understanding of how and why people do what they do we understand that it is most likely that Judas had an unresolved ‘father wound’ from childhood that he then had projected on to Jesus. He had an expectation of what he wanted from Jesus; possibly his version of love, acknowledgement or agreement and similarly he also had an unconscious fear of feeling betrayed again. This aspect or ‘wound’ had him turn on the man he most claimed to love and who he committed his life to following.
How else do we attempt to understand how Judas would be willing to betray a human being who in our understanding is the very embodiment of love, compassion and kindness. Judas is you, Judas is me, Judas is the part of each of us that kills off and sabotages our own love because our deepest fear and insecurity of betrayal and rejection. This is the same aspect that killed Gandhi, John Lennon and Martin Luther King Junior.
All you have to do is look at marriages and the resulting divorces to see this very dynamic unfold. We walk into our marriages with the Judas wound already hidden in our hearts, it lurks behind the mask of our seemingly unconditional love and veneer of romance waiting for it’s cue and then it erupts in the sheer destructive ugliness that we often see in divorce and separation. It is always experienced as justified at the time but the damage done in those moments resonates for years if not decades.
And for Jesus the man, what was it like to have someone in his family, in his tribe knowing that this person will betray him, be the cause of a very painful and humiliating death and ultimately end their entire movement? With Jesus’s wisdom and insight he would surely have known what Judas’s heart carried from the moment he met him. And yet even at their last supper together he does not reject or withdraw his love from Judas even after acknowledging what will happen. Jesus perceived Judas’s impending betrayal with utter compassion for this is what it is to have a sacred heart.
What do we take away from such a story? Do we simply vilify and deny Judas or are we willing to recognise him in our own hearts and minds?
Consider again that how you perceive betrayal and it’s threat will characterise the way that you will one day betray. This is how you will hurt the ones you once claimed to loved if you have not done so already.
Would you be willing to examine your thoughts and your actions to look at the narrative of betrayal that you hold on to? Would you be willing to embrace the Judas within you with the same compassion, kindness and understanding as Christ? Would you be willing to keep doing the work of forgiving your own past wounds so that the perception of your current reality no longer occurs as fearful or threatening in any way. Would you be willing to humble yourself to walk this path or will you continue to deny your Judas heart and pretend it is not there? This is a life time of work not a weekend workshop or a few Vision Quests.
You do not have to be a Christian or even a believer in any way to appreciate the depth of this teaching. And it does not mean you need to knowingly put yourself in any position of potential harm; by all means take mindful actions to secure your safety and wellbeing. It means that sometimes people close to you will invariably seem to ‘betray’ or hurt you because of their own movie of reality and with empathy you can forgive them. Understand that they are not present to the distortion of their own perception nor the impact of their actions and as the book says: ‘Forgive them for they do not know what they do’… and love them anyway. This is how we dissolve this Judas aspect in our hearts. It is then that we shall know what Love truly is, to feel it’s miraculous power in our lives and how it transforms the world. The greatest lesson we will ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.
Easy to talk about, harder to do. There is pain for me as I share this as I am facing my own Judas heart but I believe with all I know and feel that this is how we create the world we say we really want.
I read a compelling article recently that said if we want to successfully avert climate collapse and our potential extinction, we must primarily deal with the root of rampant over population and not just our pollution impact and land use footprint.
I think we all essentially know this, however this subject essentially remains the elephant in the room of climate change conversations. Everyone, climate activists and political campaigners included, seem to be avoiding this subject for fear of the very unpopular implication that it might require us to consider legislating restrictions on the right to procreate. Imagine having to apply to your government when you want to have children or imagine having ‘illegal’ pregnancies forcefully terminated by population police; people would be up in arms and there would be riots. Our right to procreate as humans is precious and fundamental to us above all other rights, yet this is what is literally choking our mother planet, we are mindlessly breeding like a parasitic infestation and we can't even take care of the population we already have. How do we transform this knowing that our very survival and the quality of our existence on this planet is at stake?
What this article proposes as a solution, however, is something completely different to the common thinking. It outlines that if we truly want to reverse the trend of population we must focus our efforts on empowering and educating woman globally.
Research worldwide shows that when woman are educated and culturally, politicly and economically empowered they are naturally less inclined to have as many children. This makes complete sense as woman are by nature more sensitive to the order and harmony of their environment as well as the needs and future of their children. We then realise that this out of balance, this epidemic of over population is fundamentally a symptom of patriarchy. Men have dominated the decision making with regards to woman’s reproduction for centuries under the guise of survival and protecting lineage, race and culture of family, tribes and nations. The old adage ‘keep her pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen’ is exactly how we got to a world population of 7.7 billion people. Over population has everything to do with the striving of men’s desire for 'more', more land, more wealth, more power, more status and of course more children.
We simply do not need more people on this planet in fact we need to reduce. With mechanised technology we no longer need the quantitive labour force to manufacture or build, we do not need large ranks soldiers to protect our boundaries, medicine is improving lifespan and reducing the impact of disease. One by one we have removed the usual population and lifespan regulators. Our new value system of aspiration needs to be about the shared quality and depth of our living experience not the quantitive value of having. To do this we need to return to the most effective population regulator of all: a woman’s choice.
In this context gender equality and woman’s liberation takes on a whole new significance for it is now actually about saving our planet. With that sense of urgency in mind it should fundamentally change the way we perceive and approach woman’s liberation. In this context governments worldwide should be mandated to provide quality and compulsory education for girls, woman should be preferred for major career opportunities and daughters should even be getting the lions share of their family inheritances. Is that really such an unrealistic possibility to embrace given what we are facing?
Should we rather not do what it takes to restore a natural environment for individual self regulation and self governance. It's either this or we get to the point where dictator styles governments will be justified to declare a state of emergency on a woman’s reproductive rights. That will take us back to the stone age of patriarchy and the oppression of the feminine.
When we empower and educate woman as a priority, the future of humanity will undoubtedly stand a better chance. We don’t ultimately stand to lose, it will be like learning to write with your other hand and shifting dominance over to the other side of the brain; it ultimately serves the same body, its just learning a different way of being.
The time of the masculine principle dominating this planet is over, as men in power we have done all the competing, fighting and expanding that our planet can possibly tolerate; patriarchy has truly had its day. I believe our job as men in this new age is to clean up the global mess we have created; to start with ourselves and then extend that transformation and healing to all. We need to be willing to resign our majority stake in decision making positions of politics, economics and religion and focus our expertise and energy on on nature conservation and restoration, sustainable technology and present child rearing. We also need to do a lot more singing and dancing to learn to get out of our heads and into our bodies to connect once again to mother nature and to understand how we can serve her instead of serving our own egos. This not as radical as we may think, many men are doing it already, this is what the emerging sacred masculine of the new earth will look like. Right now now we just need to get over our fear of losing our privilege and dominance; it can be done.
The German nation is a great example, it went from being a Nazi dictatorship in the last century hell bent on taking over the world to one of the most prosperous humanitarian nations in the world; it took less than two decades.
Men of all nations, races and cultures can likewise transform the character of masculinity to become more ecologically connected, emotionally sensitive, nurturing warriors of our planet and woman can deal with the lions share of decision making and finances. I am not even kidding or being ironic, I believe its actually the best chance we have of restoring wellbeing to our civilisation. With woman around the world being liberated and holding the majority of decision making positions not only will this naturally resolve over population but also change the context of political and economic policies particularly affecting pollution, land use and the need for wars.
The well known prophecy that the “meek shall inherit the earth”, is mostly likely pointing to phenomena that the feminine shall inherit the earth... and they should.
The priority of climate change activism efforts should be a woman's liberation.
What do you think?
Who is not moved by seeing orangatangs stripped of their home by the deforestation of palm oil plantations?
Many years ago the production of palm oil was already linked to environmental destruction; there was a call for multinational companies to find eco friendly alternatives or sources. But these companies and the governments regulating them did what they do, they promised to change and then quietly continued doing what is best for their financial bottom line which is what businesses are ultimately all about. Its business, nothing personal. We are slowly learning that we can campaign as much as we like to get companies and government to change laws and policy but most often what we get is window dressing and new packaging to make us feel better. How is it that we expect anything else? After all this is how businesses and governments are designed to compete and succeed in a short term environment. By their nature these organisation do not map their strategies generations into the future, they run on annual financial reports and five year plans. Business decision makers will always trying to find another shortcut to fast profits, it is their job; they will simply find another way to sneak the same ingredients and unethical activities past ‘inspection’ and back on to our consumer shelves.
Why is that? Consider that it is about our hearts. The hearts of these business and political leaders are not transformed and likewise we the consumers are still hypnotised by the lure of advertising, entertainment and the culture of short term materiality; our hearts too are not awakened.
What is killing our planet and endangering our future generation is not policy, lack of awareness or even technological solutions, it is our lack of resolve we don’ want actually want to give up our addiction and that is the matter of the heart.
Addiction cannot be transformed by laws, policy or even a moral pronouncements, it is inside of each of us. It is symptom of a fundamental spiritual disconnection from our hearts, from each other and from grandmother earth. We are so disconnected from nature we don’t have clue where our food and consumables actually come from and how it was made unless we read it in an article somewhere online or in the newspaper. I am not sure how much we really care as long as we get it and the price is good. We are consumers, we cannot even tell he difference between our bodies basic needs and the voracious appetite of our minds, this is our addiction.
It is the disconnection from our hearts that leaves us feeling unhappy and empty to our core which leave our egos running the show. We don’t know how else to fill this bottomless void other than chasing more and more things- this is our fundamental spiritual malady.
Our purpose and work is to reawakening our own hearts, our own sacred wholeness and our feeling connection to our planet. Our job is then awaken others especially the hearts of business and government decision makers as they are human too as we are, they are born of this earth as we are, they have children as we do who will inherit this earth.
As we all can rediscover our primal and divine connection and wholeness, we will realise that our bliss and satisfaction was always within us and around us. It is then that our insatiable appetite and our addiction for more will simply begin to fall away.
So while it is vitally important that we take action and campaign for environmental change, the most important campaign I believe is our own hearts transformation otherwise change is just another word for window dressing.
There is this popular belief in our modern age that woman now need to control and train their men in order to have the relationships that they really want. I have heard it said so many times in workshops and empowerment seminars; “ladies, you must train your men and teach them what you want.” Personally, I welcome that woman can and should openly express to men what they really want rather than wait for it in expectant silence; us men are admittedly slow, stubborn and often not very perceptive. But where it has gone pear shaped in our society is when woman believe it is now their role to raise and train men how to be men, to presume to define masculinity and male vulnerability or even to attempt to heal a man's pain.
There is nothing more disempowering for any man to hear than “man up”, “grow some balls!” or “be more of a man” from a woman. It is simply not a woman’s role to tell a man how or when to be a man because no woman can ever give a man his balls or even define his vulnerability. I believe it is as destructive to the cause of raising healthy whole men as is the misguided messages we have gotten from patriarchy.
I am speaking specifically to the generation of men like me who have been raised by powerful and independent woman, single mothers, the dominant woman in homes where the father was not fully present in his role as a man. We have a generation of men who now look for permission and cues from woman on how to be men or who get influenced by the media and act out distorted and toxic notions of masculinity. We have lost the linaege of the sacred masculine in our modern society of men teaching men how to be men, love between men, men passing on the ancient wisdom of men, men holding the space for men, men calling other men out when they break their sacred contracts of manhood. This imbalance is at the heart of the chaos we are currently experiencing where some men are either behaving more like woman, cowering in guilt and apology, shutting down emotionally, running away to work or compensating in the opposite extreme by becoming overly assertive, aggressive and macho. This is a complex global transition period we are in that few truly understand.
I found myself on a shamanic journey, a vision quest this last weekend, connecting for the first time to the deep whispers of my masculine ancestry and I experienced so much anger and hurt at where I had been left and isolated as a man. My masculine heart was opened for the first time and I had no language and understanding for it. I had no true context of inheritance except for the legacy of the sins of our brothers, fathers and fathers’ fathers. In my own experience growing up men showed up poorly as role models, they were simply not powerfully present and were unable to truly teach me about love, spiritual connection, integrity, nature and male sexuality. As a result my narrative of men and being a man had primary been crafted by women. What I am pointing to is that this is not about parenting, I know that both my parents love me and did their absolute best, this is the collective narrative of the age that we are in.
I had only known and trusted woman in my life because they were the ones who were present and dominant. I was raised by a strong independent single mother (who played the role of mother and father) and so I only understood how to connect to woman; I have only known feminine strength, love and pain. I met my father for the first time when I was 15 years old and I thought for a long time it was because he did not really care for or love me. What I later discovered was that he loved me very much but was essentially waiting for permission to be involved in my life again. He is part of the generation of fathers who believe they need permission from mothers or the courts to be the father and so miss out on the most important years of their child's growing up. One of the biggest disasters of our age is both men and woman underestimating the critical importance of a fathers presence in the raising of a child.
As I grew up I have realized that much of the independent female power, this feminine strength or force that I experienced was mostly rooted in deep hurt and mistrust, in stories of past abuse, abandonment and violation mostly by the actions of men. I realized, as a result, that I as I grew up I was mitigating my own masculinity in an apology of being a man to assuage this feminine upset. The biggest fear, the thing that disturbed me, the thing I avoided most was a woman’s upset because that meant for me a withdrawal of the only kind of love I had ever been familiar with.
I found myself, particularly in my marriage, looking for permission from my wife to define what was appropriate male behavior in order to make her feel safe, happy, to get her to trust me and to avoid her upset. This had been the cause of so much frustration, inner conflict and anger within me. In our altercations my wife would sometimes yell at me: “step up and be the man!” and I would yell back at her “step down and be the woman!” I felt so emasculated and confused by these words. I would experience such a rage rising in these conversations that I would want to break and destroy everything in our home. In those moments I can fully understand how domestic violence is possible even though it goes against the grain of all my values. How else do we know how to express our manhood other than by a physical show of force or by leaving especially when we have not been taught how to hold our own space and peace as men.
On this weekend for the first time I realized that it is simply not my role as a man to heal a woman’s pain or solve her upset; that is not the space we need to hold or even know how to hold. In a feminine sense that role is for other woman. This is worth repeating: It is not the role of a man to heal a woman’s pain or solve her upset. It is women who need to step up for woman to hold that sacred space; this was a huge revelation and relief for me. So many men burn themselves out trying to hold the space for injured woman and the same is true for woman trying to hold the space for injured men.
My focus as a man is to heal my own pain and masculinity with other men so that we can be better men. More than anything in our society, especially as the sacred feminine power remerges, we as men need to heal our own sacred lineage and our ancestral connection. We need to heal our hurt, guilt and disconnection and discard the habits and substitutes we picked up and learnt along the way to mitigate this. We must re-create our sacred fires in a urban context where men can collect, share wisdom, embrace our darkness and our light and create spaces to initiate the young ones. Only men can truly teach men to be men and this transcends sexual orientation, its about deeply connecting to the wisdom of ancestry. This does not look like men standing around a braai drinking copious amounts of beer talking about sports, concepts and complaining about politics. Men need exclusive spaces to be vulnerable with men about what they are dealing with and to hold a firm space of love for each other; to connect to the primal source of our wisdom and strength. The vulnerability of a man is distinct from that of a woman and it does not look like being apologetic or walking with our tail between our legs. For too long now woman have been trying to solve men and men have been trying to solve women, it is simply not our business. We have had it all the wrong. We try and do that in our romantic and marital relationships and it simply does not work.
When men can powerfully and with integrity hold an enlightened and sacred circle, to define and own our roles as men without waiting for permission to be the fathers, husbands and leaders that we have the potential to be, then woman will have the space to step once more into their true feminine power. As the masculine confidently holds the outer circle, the feminine will feel safe once again to hold the inner circle and bring forth the healing we all need. That is the true space we need to learn to hold for that is when we start to restore the divine balance of the feminine and masculine.
That weekend at the fire ritual which brought the last ceremony to a close, I burnt my permission slip. I have taken my permission back to define my own contract as a man, as the head of my marriage and my family, to be a leader of men even though I do not have a clue what that looks like in reality. I am grateful for my journey into the feminine landscape but it is time to return home with the gifts I have received and to cultivate a new masculine sensibility, one that embraces gender equality and the shifts of our age and fosters a healthy balance of all life. I call forth the ancient masculine ancestry to assist us to reconnect and to guide our way forward with wisdom and power.
A new journey has begun and I call on all the men who resonate with what I am saying to join this conversation and movement even if you do not know what it will like moving forward.”
This post was written in early 2017 after I participated in a San Pedro Ceremony as part of a Vision Quest that I was co-facilitating. While the shamanic facilitator who gave me this this gift to my masculine lineage was a woman it was clear that my journey of healing and reconnection through that door would need to be with men. This was the motivation for me joining the Mankind Project and starting #JustMen project in early 2018. While the initial focus of #JustMen was to interrupt the epidemic of gender based violence in our country, I am ultimately passionate about guiding men to awaken their higher purpose and to rebuild a tribe of connected, integrated men who are a benefit to humanity. I believe, more than ever, that what we need to create are safe spaces where all men can get together to do their inner work, reclaiming their wholeness, purpose and love. This is the space I create in my one on one coaching sessions and through the events that I promote with the #JustMen project such as the Mankind Project New Warrior Weekend Training and IMBADU men's workshop.
To find out more about men's coaching go to: http://www.heinrichreisenhofer.com/coaching.html
I never understood what people meant when they said ‘get out of your head.” It was a frustrating phrase that I never quite grasped, ‘I am not stuck in my head’ would be my mental retort, ‘this is just me, it is how I am.’ It was only later that I got it; I was profoundly disconnected not only from myself and my relationships but from my experience and greater purpose in life. It was only when I could connect to my emotions, my vulnerability and face my hurt did I realise that I had barely been present in my own life. I was actually walking around dead inside and it was the main reason I was struggling on and off with depression, why I overworked and why my relationships never lasted.
In these many years of doing transformation work, being a coach and facilitator I have seen the same thing over and over again. When I ask men what they are feeling, the common answer is “I am fine” “ok” or “good” or they will give a conceptual answer. They struggle to actually identify what sensations and emotions they are feeling in their bodies and when they do: ‘numb’ or ‘anxious’ is one of the first words that emerges. Most of the international coaches and facilitators, I have met, who come to run workshops in South Africa say the same thing: South African men are notorious for being stuck in their heads and we think it is normal; we struggle to orientate to our heart centre. We believe that all issues in life are either sorted out by rational and conceptual solutions or physical force and as a result we have one of the most emotionally suppressed and therefore explosive societies in the world.
And this is a big issue, in fact it is a national epidemic. It sits at the heart of why men have not been showing up well. It speaks to why we have such a violent and unequal society, it speaks to our crime statistics, it speaks to our divorce rate, it speaks to the huge absence of involved fathers, it speaks to the concerning rate of addictions with alcohol, drugs, eating and gambling, its speaks to the alarming rate of gender based violence and the rate of depression and suicide. Disconnected men are, essentially, unsafe.
It has everything to do with our country’s violent and oppressive history, just as it has everything to do with the demands and impact of industrialisation, patriarchal culture, western education and information technology; all these causes are relevant considerations. But the core issue remains that this is how we have been raising our boys… to be machines, to be soldiers, to be conquerers and to be time bombs. We don’t teach boys how to connect to their sacred masculinity, to understand their relationship to the sacred feminine nor do we teach boys how to process their hurts or communicate their vulnerabilities. What we have engendered instead is a disempowering, ambiguous and confusing narrative of what it is to be a man. It is no wonder that we as men withdraw into our heads, cut ourselves off from our hearts and from our greater consciousness. Its no wonder we find ourselves now in all kinds of trouble.
Fortunately a new narrative is emerging, birthing itself into our modern culture. The tribe of men is slowly beginning to redefine itself from the inside out reincarnating ancient and indigenous distinctions of sacred masculinity and wholeness like a phoenix rising from the flames. It is finding shape in processes loosely defined as men’s inner work. It is in these spaces where we are being shown a world where we can shed this matrix that has kept us trapped in a flawed and dysfunctional design of what it is to be a man, where it is safe for us to step out of our heads to be magnificent, whole, compassionate, powerful and contributing men again.
This is why I do the work I do and support the initiatives that I do. This is how we change the world one man at a time. So if you have ever wondered about doing men’s inner work, I invite you to get curious. Mens work ranges from workshops, shamanic journey work to private coaching and guidance.
Join the FB group #JustMen to find out more.