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Connecting

For us men, connecting is one of the five touchstones we want to advocate as being a necessary component in all aspects of our work. Truly connecting should be one of our highest goals. As such, we need to know what is meant by connecting. There are many nuances to connecting, but the purest sense of connecting is the joining. To be really connected is almost as if two separate entities become one—much like a marriage.

 

Of course this kind of connecting between men could be very uncomfortable. Most of us do not want or know how to be that intimate with another man. Most of us simply are not able to be that open with everyone and, in fact, it may be just one or two people that we truly feel connected to. Finding those people and maintaining those relationships are paramount when furthering the spiritual journey but, just like with many marriages, there are failed attempts to connect so we need to be discerning in our search.

  

A good starting point could be with a group of people. In AA, alcoholics are told to find a sponsor. Connecting with a sponsor is vital to maintaining sobriety. Newcomers are asked to look for a sponsor from within the local AA group, someone who demonstrates qualities that the newcomer would want in himself. Being part of the group and knowing there is this “other” out there gives alcoholics safe space and support to make healthy choices.

 

Ultimately our goal is to find these one-to-one relationships with someone who will truly listen to us — and to whom we will truly listen. Sakej Henderson says, “to truly listen is to risk being changed forever.” We are on a spiritual journey and we need someone who will be there, maybe not from start to finish, but someone who walks with us a significant way. So, like any man attempting to climb a high mountain, a good way to ensure success is to get yourself a good Guide (an Elder or a Mentor) who has been there before and knows the way. Some of us may need more than just a guide, possibly a Sherpa (Spiritual Director or Therapist) who can help carry some of the load when things get too heavy. Sometimes good guides are hard to find, but there is another man who wants to venture up the mountain with you. You decide together that you will start out, trying to find the way as a duo (Soul Brother).

 

It seems we all must undertake this journey, whether we want to or not. For many of us the journey has been hard, with lots of struggles and suffering along the way. But the mountain top will not come to us and usually, when we get to one peak, we see there is another. The journey never ends. Thankfully we do not have to venture out alone.

 

Other JOI practises:

 

Centering      

Gathering        

Releasing       

Serving

 

Releasing

Nothing changes unless something changes!

 

We are men who can let go of the thoughts and behaviors that no longer serve us. To release ourselves from our enslavement to past events or addictive patterns of thoughts or feelings is a necessary transformative act on the road to maturity. The word “release” has its root in the Latin word relaxare which means “to stretch out again, to slacken.” This is the opposite of “to brace.” Many of us live with a braced approach to life; the brakes are on and we wonder why we are not moving forward! Everything stays the same. We find ourselves blaming everyone and everything for our “stuckness.” How can we change? “Let go of your old way of life, put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusions” (Eph. 4:22).

Developing a regular practice of releasing can assist you in living a less tense or rigid form of life, as well as get you started with a more realistic approach to your humanity. These practices can occur daily, weekly, or monthly. Here are some examples:

 

•Mindful breathing

•Journaling

•Tai Chi/Yoga

•Clenching/unclenching of fists

•Exercising forgiveness

•Shadow work

•Solo time in nature

•Aerobic exercise

•Massage therapy

 

All of these practices can trigger a release of tension within us when done consciously and with purpose. Like a skilled landscape architect, we use discernment in choosing what fits the “environment” of our particular life. In the end it’s about creating the smoothest possible ride through the inevitable rough patches on the highway of life by letting go of patterns we no longer need.

 

Other JOI practises:

 

Centering      

Gathering      

Connecting      

Serving

Serving

Leo Tolstoy said through a character in What Men Live By, “I know now that people only seem to live when they care only for themselves…it is by love for others that they really live. He who has Love has God in him, and is in God — because God is Love.” 

 

Certainly, a circle drawn too close to the body is too small for love. Love always extends our borders and boundaries beyond and beyond. This is partly why all Wisdom traditions invite us to move beyond the concern for the small me to the larger Other, found not only in God, but also in our neighbor and even in the more-than-human world. Like the Na’vi, in the epic film Avatar, we greet the entire world and all its inhabitants with, “I see you,” humbly acknowledging the other as one with us. Our boundaries are enlarged to include everyone and everything, and, in the process, love has its way with us.

 

Our concern that inner work makes a difference in the world suggests that we cannot be satisfied with simply being good men — we must do good, because our inner and outer transformation are vitally intertwined. If our inner work has any meaning, we will leave a healthy footprint wherever we go that brings with it healing, reconciliation, forgiveness, peacemaking, generosity, kindness and generativity. We do this in every small act done with great love: a smile, making room for another, extending a helping hand, sharing resources, bringing our personal presence, feeding, clothing, giving water, as well as promoting systems of justice for all those who are hurting and oppressed. This includes a radical shift away from much that drives consumerism, materialism, war, inequality, poverty, and pollution to a more sustainable, just and ethical lifestyle. Simply put, serving is a loving way to move through the world.

 

In our spiritual work, an “urgent and persistent question” will always be, “What are you doing for others?” (Martin Luther King, Jr.). We cannot transform ourselves without transforming the world. Giving our lives away and finding our true selves in the service of others (Gandhi), we are serving to build a world that celebrates the beauty of all beings. We are men who know how to serve others.

 

Other JOI practises:

 

Centering      

Gathering      

Connecting      

Releasing

Gathering

Storytelling and story-listening are two halves of a life-giving art. Both are crucial in any relationship. In ancient China, we’re told, there were two friends—one who played the harp with exquisite attentiveness and skill, and another who listened with equal attentiveness and skill. When the one played or sang about a mountain stream, the other would exclaim, “Yes, I can hear it now splashing over the rocks!” Their playing and listening were part of a dance they shared together. But after a time the listener fell sick and died. In grief, the first friend cut the strings of his harp, unable to play anymore. To this day in China, the cutting of harp strings is a sign of intimate friendship.

 

Speaking from the heart and listening from the heart are the two most important prerequisites in practicing the Way of Council. Being aware of how we communicate is also crucial. It helps to remember that 55% of what we convey in talking to another is determined by body language (posture, gesture, and eye contact), 38% by tone of voice, and only 7% by the actual content of what we say. We therefore need to listen for more than the words. That means paying careful attention to the other person, not trying to think of how we’ll respond. We have to avoid “rehearsing” while the other person is still speaking.

 

If we do this with focused attention and spontaneity, then anything we share, coming from the heart, can be profoundly healing. Once a Hindu master was asked by his disciples to summarize the truth he had been teaching through the years. “All I’ve done all my life,” he replied, “is to sit on the bank of the river, selling river water.” His gift was to invite people to see the value and wonder in what they too easily dismiss as commonplace in their lives. His stories were able to turn into mystery what everyone else took for granted. The most moving stories are taken from everyday life. In receiving them, we don’t have to stay in our heads, analyzing their content. Jack Shea, the Catholic theologian and storyteller, says that our first question on hearing a story shouldn’t be “What does it mean?” but “What am I feeling?”

 

Other JOI practises:

 

Centering       

Connecting      

Releasing      

Serving

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