Letters To A Young Man In Search Of Himself
There are 21 Letters. Here is an overview and a sample letter.
I Question Everything. This explores the importance of identifying and holding “essential questions” until we live into the answers. To break from the cage of our conditioning, we must examine our life and what we have been taught, the unskillful ways in which we have been trained.
II Being a Man. We have been taught to be a sturdy oak who feels no pain, and does it all on his own. We have received heavy doses of negativity around the violent and destructive qualities of manhood. How does one break out of this cage to embrace an aware, empowering vision of masculinity?
III Awareness. Mind and body are not separate entities, despite what we have been taught. In what ways do you regularly care for and nurture yourself? Life is about learning lessons.
IV Parents. We do not have to live out their unrealized dreams. Dealing with the inevitable wounds of childhood is part of the road to being a conscious man.
V Demystifying Emotions. Emotional fluency is not just a theoretical concept, but a skill enhanced through practice. The “allowable” masculine emotional keyboard is often limited to anger and occasional raucous happiness. Centering, reframing and other tools are presented to assist in managing difficult feeling states.
VI Anger. Beyond the notion that anger is always bad and destructive, this chapter explores the anatomy of anger with practical tools to aid men in being curious about how it operates in their life. What might you do differently to tame and flow with the inner beast, that often unwelcome guest in your emotional living room?
VII Fear. Fear comes in many disguises and the notion that real men don’t get afraid is absurd. Every fear teaches us about what we cherish.
VIII Sadness. Every man experiences grief and loss. We live in a culture that does not promote the healthy expression of feeling sad. We have been taught to repress or deny it, to bury it with drugs, alcohol or our favorite addictive escape.
IX Forgiveness. Self-forgiveness is a cornerstone of optimal emotional health. In no way does forgiving condone the heinous action, but it becomes a healing balm available once we process the guilt, regret and unpleasant emotions attached to the original wrongdoing.
X Being Stuck. This is such a common experience, that one would think we would all be better at managing it. Beyond the cognitive imperialism that makes us believe we can “figure” out the dilemma lies the creative intuition inherent in just letting it be.
XI Altered Consciousness. Even though you have been taught that all mind altering drugs are bad and that you should just say no, society’s behavior does not suggest this is true. This letter inquires as to how one might shift awareness safely and consciously.
XII Solitude and Friendship. Every man needs a sanctuary and a tribe, yet few take time to create them for themselves. Generating time and space to connect to ourselves, and to dear friends, serves us well in many aspects of our journey.
XIII Sexuality. Most men have received very negative conditioning around this vital aspect of their lives. This letter debunks the common male sexual belief systems that cause so much suffering. Beyond examining pornography, rape and homophobia, it opens the door to an authentic expression of healthy sexuality.
XIV Love. The idea that true love just happens, no skills needed, is often part of our destructive conditioning around love. The importance of appreciation, healthy boundaries and conscious communication are examined in the context of intimate relationships.
XV Fatherhood. Fathers interact differently with their children than mothers do, and both perspectives aid in their development. The essential areas of awareness for being a skillful father are explored. Material goods, while important to some extent, are not the best measure of fathering success. Being an active participant in their lives is essential.
XVI Desire. What will you do with desire as a driving force in your life? Does it serve you or keep you trapped? The concept of “deep desire” as a stimulus for personal evolution is presented.
XVII Purpose. Explores the notion of right livelihood, and living a life guided by values. Everything belongs, since ultimately it serves your personal evolution.
XVIII Habits and Intention. The practical ABCDEF of changing habits and manifesting intentions is presented in this letter.
XIX Creativity. Explores all those inner voices that, in various ways, declare you are not good enough to create. Examines how to bring forth your creative voice, and suggests practices to keep those imaginative, artistic juices primed.
XX Happiness and Freedom. While influenced by outer conditions, both can be cultivated in whatever circumstances you find yourself, and are intricately linked to each other. This letter investigates how to strengthen the keys of kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.
XXI Spirituality. Do you understand the crucial difference between religion and spirituality? What is your relationship to the great mystery? Whether or not they manifest after death, heaven and hell certainly exist right here and now.
Letter XII Solitude and Friendship
Being lonely and being alone are not the same experience. Loneliness is about not feeling connected, despite the desire to do so. Solitude is connecting to yourself, entering into the depths of your own inner world, where eternity stretches before you, spacious and welcoming. This unique landscape invites you to just be, and to touch the fertile soil of yearning and recollections, where the seeds of your destiny await your attention before they can manifest in the external world. There you will find both struggle and peace, just as in the outer plane of existence. But you must claim this far-distant inner realm, which will never leave you, in order to truly make it your own. Whenever and wherever you might access it, you come home again and again.
Mind meanderings—the spirit of sauntering through the garden of your own secret contemplations. Meditative investigation—the simple pleasure and freedom of taking a walk with no other end in mind than opening yourself to your surroundings and allowing whatever wants to arise within you free reign. Create the space for unstructured moments within moments, surrendering to an innate wanderlust, an inner and outer walkabout. No doubt you have had the sensation of déjà vu, of experiencing something that seems so familiar, as if it has happened before. In the prescient kingdom of your innerscape, with its sleeping and waking dreams, mind wanderings and fantasies, you get a glimpse of your own future in all its sweet potential.
Stillness is not so much the absence of noise and activity but rather the presence of transparency and openness to the immediate world about you. Heaviness falls away from you and a richer deeper life appears. Time alone, in which you can be curious and question everything, is the only true way to get to know oneself. When you take a spell away from the daily race, quiet the turbulence of your normal pace, and slow down to the speed of life, you stimulate a different part of you, which opens you to new ideas and puts you more in touch with what you really love. The sense of spaciousness to just be, in a world so consumed by doing, is good for you on every level. When combined with being outside and connecting with the intricacy of the planet, it is powerful elixir indeed, aligning your self with the very rhythms of life. You stop and resonate with the primal beat underlying normal everyday existence. Such fine-tuning gradually brings inner and outer life into harmony.
Welcome the gifts of solitude and establish a sanctuary for yourself, a place where you can always go, not only to contemplate, but also to completely relax and renew. Where do you take refuge, refresh your spirit and regain your strength? What places and practices always welcome you back, like the shade of a tree where you might rest and feel safe? Everyone needs a sanctuary, yet few take time to create one. Many people have favorite spots in the natural external world they enjoy visiting where they revitalize themselves: a garden, beach or forest path. For others it might be a city sculpture garden, a cozy library nook, or a tranquil café. A pen, a journal and a quiet place suffice—they are all the inner gizmo gear you need. Turn off everything else! You can also use your creative imagination to build and enjoy an inner haven that is extremely calming and empowering. The setting and overall structure are changeable and located anywhere, with any special features or chambers you might want to conceive. Perhaps there is a waterfall feature, where you can allow whatever quality you need at the moment to penetrate every cell of your being. Maybe there is a transporter allowing you to visit special locales, a real-life screen to replay various parts of your life, a costume closet, each disguise carrying its own special superpower, a healing grotto, an expansive play space to bring forth childhood innocence and curiosity, a wisdom altar, a gazebo where various guides come to offer advice on dilemmas. You are both architect and interior designer, determining how grand and elaborate, or little and cozy. Your sanctuary – inner, outer, or a combination of both – is your own personalized private enclave of possibility. The cave of your own solitude holds many treasures just waiting for you to discover them.
It can be a difficult, unsympathetic world, indifferent and uncaring to your unique suffering. What do you do when you are confronted with a past that hurts, a present that disappoints and a future that terrifies? The great lie is that, in your quest to be independent, you have to deny your human need for deep connection, that you have to do it all on your own. The reality is that you have to do it yourself, and you need not do it alone. The social nature of life is a deep-seated human value, and everyone craves connection through compliments in the wonderful moments, and compassion in the more challenging ones. The bonds of friendship, invisible loving threads, extend through life’s journey, nurturing through storms and sunshine alike. Build and enjoy great friendships, seek out excellent people, beyond kin and kith, who contribute to your vitality and your capacity for growth. You will encounter the possibility of friendship through shared circumstances and circles of already existing connections. Do what you love and you will discover other like-minded folks through meet ups who also share your passion: outdoor pursuits, chess, poetry, dancing, world languages, gardening, playing or listening to music. Initiate more contact with someone who is still a stranger, with whom you feel some affinity. Respond positively to another’s invitation to share time and common interests. Some of the strongest bonds between people are forged in the face of extreme adversity—wartime, natural disasters, fighting cancer. Friendships born in the midst of such challenges have a depth that often lasts a lifetime.
Good friends deepen the value and meaning of life, and best friends know the song of your heart and can sing it back to you when you forget. What qualities do you value most in a friendship? Perhaps they include integrity, enthusiasm, humor, positive attitude, and dependability. Trust between friends develops over time, through increasing openness and sincere sharing. Its foundation is built through mutual respect, vulnerability and honesty. A good friend is someone with whom you can be your authentic self, with whom there is no need for masks or mirrors. You share the rarified air of radical honesty, the music of your own truth telling takes wing, and voices sing with sincerity. Your own perception of your actions may be filled with illusions. Friends can provide feedback, reflect back on what they observe, helping you to see your blind spots. Friendship is one of life’s greatest graces, and the profound communion of friendship is a supplement, an endearing counterpoint, to your essential capacity for solitude. The joy of meeting and the sorrow of separation are both gifts, and friendship offers the chance to embrace with gratitude all the sweetness or bitterness as the case may be. This existence seems so fragile at times, and the tender trembling of a friend’s caring is extraordinary.
Now Go Deeper
Who do you consider your best friends and why?
To have good friends you first need to practice being a good friend. Make an effort to remember birthdays, and uniquely special events. Your close friends can act as your support system when you need it, but put energy into returning the favor. Small gestures that show you’re thinking about the people who love you go a long way. Take a few moments to regularly express your thanks and appreciation, especially when others have extended themselves. Good friends know how to listen intensely. Active listening, like any other skill, improves with practice. Listen as if there is a thief in the house. Listen with the intensity normally reserved for speaking. If hearing is the act of receiving sound, then listening is the art of decoding messages. A best friend listens to what you do and don’t say. He carries in his heart – as you do in yours – those special phrases or even a single word that can elicit volumes of shared memories. A good friend embodies safe space, is nonjudgmental, and does not discount your feelings nor invalidate your experiences. They have a healthy respect for your boundaries, and honor confidentiality. They remember your beauty and wholeness when you feel horrible and broken. While they accept and validate the real you, their loyalty, support and authenticity demand that they be real with you. Because they know you, they have good bullshit detectors and can assist you in honing your focus, honoring your purpose, priorities and commitments. They invite you to examine your habits and risk adventure, to keep your center and explore your edge.
Everyone is different in terms of what they want in both quality and quantity of friends. Disposable affinity is commonplace, found in an airplane seatmate, with a fellow patient at the doctor’s waiting room, or another hiker on a desolate trail. There is the large field of acquaintances and a smaller one of good buddies. Some are just play friendships, people with whom you enjoy certain activities but share a limited range of relating deeply. Others are takers and disappear when the giving part is needed. Finally, there exists the circle of often just a few, really close heart friends. As you mature, so should your relationships. Perhaps it is time to drop fair-weather companions and cultivate only those who are positive forces in your life. Does it make sense to keep engaging with people who will be harmful rather than helpful in your pursuit of your future goals? Those who are draining more than nourishing? Of course once a friendship has matured, it is almost always worth continuing to nurture it, even when very difficult conflict arises. Lifelong deep friendships are immeasurable treasures, and there is much truth to the adage that you can’t find new old friends.
Being and having good friends begins with loving yourself, being your own best friend. In what ways do you befriend and love yourself? By taking the space, time and energy to do what you know is good for you, such as regular exercise, meditation, time alone in nature, and by asking for what you would like to be different, you embrace an inner simpatico. This allows you to risk and experience the fine violence of breaking out of yourself. Build strong relationship bridges with others, because you never know when you might be looking to cross them. The bonds of belonging are expanded whenever you open yourself to interacting with those whom you might normally perceive as a threat to your internal clamor of identities: gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or different social class. Strive to always spend some time with people who make you uncomfortable, because they are so different, or are light years ahead of where you want to be in some particular arena. And be available to those people you can inspire to make a positive shift in their lives.
Love yourself enough to find a mentor or guide—someone who has been where you want to go and can offer sound advice for that specific journey. Invite someone you admire, male or female, to assume that role. More than a coach or instructor, the mentor relationship is a much more intense student-teacher interaction, a person who actively pushes you to enhance your skills. A mentor may use her influence to further your advancement, or offer counsel in discouraging times. A mentor inspires your inner dream by who he is, how he lives or what he has accomplished. Most elders are honored to have a chance to pass on their wisdom, to share their expertise, and to contribute to the unfolding of a younger man’s potential. You lose nothing by sincerely asking and have much to gain when the response is a resounding yes. Maybe you have to open six different doors, starting with someone you know, in order to find that wizard who might illuminate your view of the universe. Tapping into successful people’s ideas and connections is just being smart, and can dramatically accelerate your own progress, as well as contribute to theirs. Think big and create your own dream team of supportive individuals to magnify your success. Who you know is often as important as what you know in achieving results.
Love yourself enough to find your own tribe, your special crew, and create a band of brothers and sisters who will not only celebrate your successes, but also support you in challenging times, helping you discover more of who you really are. Every man wants to be appreciated for who he is, and to contribute in some way to the greater whole. Groups of friends are uniquely important. As they openly share together their individual journeys to become more aware, they are gifted with highly nurturing moments of deep affection, sweet connection, and the magical brew of laughter and tears. Establish regular contact with others with whom you feel kinship, a certain inexplicable bonding, a resonance that seems natural and easy. This breaks you out of the isolation that engulfs so many men. Just start with one or two friends and go from there to form a group that meets regularly to discuss what really matters in this life. Not politics or sports, but your most intimate dreams and passions, the landscape of your struggles and stuck places.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder regularly with other men has increased my listening skills, my ability to be present and open, and has helped me to work through some of my issues—qualities that have tremendously enhanced intimacy with my partner. More than a drop-in meet up, a level of commitment to each other can develop wherein it is possible to be both vulnerable and secure, to depend on others without losing your independence, to enter new territory as a man where the joys of a truly empowered community await you. Learn to dance between going within and reaching out, to offer support but also to request and receive it into your life. The world needs you to be yourself, to simultaneously own your uniqueness and fully inhabit your ties to your fellow human beings. Be both monkish in your solitude and gregarious in your myriad connections. An old tribal proverb remembers that shared joy is double joy, and shared sorrow is half sorrow.