What Happens in a Men’s Retreat?

Last week, I was the lead assistant at a Men’s Retreat called Ascending the Sacred Mountain, led by Christopher Sunyata. It was an honor and a gift to assist this workshop after years of preparation by participating in and leading many men’s and couples’ workshops.

Throughout the week, staff at the event center where our retreat was hosted mentioned that they had no idea what we were doing together, in contrast to the usual women’s yoga groups that pass through the same venue. I also receive similar questions from people in my life. One friend even wondered what the benefit of a retreat with the same gender was. Why wouldn’t teachings on meditation, purpose, sex, and death be of benefit to all people regardless of their gender?

Why are men spending time with men seen as confusing or threatening?

It’s my strong opinion that everyone benefits when men spend time with men in a container of growth, introspection, and reflection. Every retreat I have been part of has been unique. Some focus on giving men space to learn to speak their emotions and feelings safely. Others focus on spiritual development through meditation and enlightenment practices. Finally, there can be a focus on relating to women,  finding one’s purpose, and many other permutations.

One of Christopher’s gifts is that he is very attuned to the needs of the men in the current group, and there is no prescripted curriculum. Instead, each evening our staff would meet and brainstorm and plan the following day based on the current state of the men in the retreat. I won’t speak to the specifics of any exercises because the element of surprise and novelty for the men participating is essential. However, there are several key areas that we work with:

Posture, Breath, and Presence:

Most men are unaware that their trustability in the world, whether with a potential intimate partner or business partner- is rooted in their posture, breath, and presence. What happens when they are unaware of their body, breathing shallowly, and their head is pushed forward such that their ears are no longer over their shoulders? I’ve witnessed men being ‘tuned up’ by teachers and the other students โ€“ simple things like rolling shoulders back, bringing their ears over their shoulds, and having their weight balanced over their feet suddenly appear to be a completely new man, and rated as much more trustable.

Relaxation:

Many men hold an incredible amount of tension in their bodies. This can create health and sexual performance problems, which is not a comfortable way to be in the world. Working with men to open their hips, relax their breath, release body tension, and move and live more freely. This is often achieved through slow, relaxing yoga sequences.

Death and Purpose:

Being present with our mortality and impending death is a way to become immediately present, whether with a lover, our families, or alone. A relationship to death can bring our true purpose into the light and prevent continued procrastination and distraction.

Sex and Relationships:

Sexuality and relating to partners and families are big themes for men. Therefore, understanding the basics of masculine and feminine polarity and how to communicate through their bodies and words maintains this polarity for attracting the partner a man seeks or enriching sexual experiences and intimacy in a current relationship.

Meditation and Enlightenment Practices:

The capacity to sit comfortably and deeply inquire into who we are and why we are here is deeply connected to masculine presence and growth. Therefore, offering men meditation techniques, helping them find a comfortable physical posture, and exploring silence together is a critical part of any men’s retreat I’m participating in.

 Brotherhood:

I recently heard that in our 20s, men tend to have a similar size or even more extensive friend networks than women. By our 40s, this plummets, and men often find themselves with very few male friends outside of those they work with. Discovering that other men are seeking to live a more fulfilling life, men that have similar struggles and pains is deeply healing.

 Wholeness:

The above sections are a very rough outline of what happens โ€“ there is so much more. So many men are broken today โ€“ for a variety of reasons. The sheer act of taking a week of their lives and investing in themselves in the company of other men is a process towards becoming more whole, embracing all parts of themselves, and becoming better human beings that can serve their partners, their families, and their companies and their societies.

To conclude, I want to share one of the more touching moments of this past retreat. On the fourth day, I led the men on a walk through the woods to the neighboring retreat center, the Haidakhandi Universal Ashram. This day auspiciously fell on the new moon, the most masculine day of the lunar cycle. At the ashram, the men participated in a fire ceremony, paying homage to the Mother and offering a part of ourselves to be relinquished at her feet. After the formal ceremony, as we were offered delicious chai dahl, a woman who also attended the ceremony approached our group. Visibly shaking, she bowed and expressed deep gratitude towards our group of men. Then, in a very devotional tone, she shared how much it impacted her to see a group of men transforming themselves, and she saw our work as a beautiful gift to the world. Many of us felt very validated and honored at that moment.

Thank you, Christopher

Thank you, all the men who participated

Thank you, all of the men who pioneered this work

Thank you, all of the men doing this work

Thank you, to everyone supporting this work.

๐—œ๐—ป๐—ฑ๐—ฒ๐—ฝ๐—ฒ๐—ป๐—ฑ๐—ฒ๐—ป๐—ฐ๐—ฒ ๐——๐—ฎ๐˜†

I am pondering the word independence today, on a personal level. What exactly does it mean to be independent, and is it something to strive toward?

Last night I participated in a relational practice called T-Group: where the focus is on noticing present-moment experience, owning that experience, and then expressing it in a small group container. It’s a rich, illuminating, often uncomfortable, but frequently nourishing practice. When done well, it celebrates and acknowledges our impact on each other and gives one permission to make explicit the more hidden and unrevealed aspects of our relational field (attraction/frustration/judgment/care/appreciation/etc/etc.)

In both groups I participated in last night, the group’s attention fell on me at different moments โ€“ and a collective noticing that ๐พ๐‘’๐‘–๐‘กโ„Ž ๐‘–๐‘  โ„Ž๐‘œ๐‘™๐‘‘๐‘–๐‘›๐‘” ๐‘ ๐‘œ๐‘š๐‘’๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘–๐‘›๐‘” ๐‘๐‘Ž๐‘๐‘˜ was expressed. In one group, a friend described how she notices wearing a shell when interacting with me, that in her experience, is her meeting my protectors and walls. Another person expressed ๐‘Ž ๐‘‘๐‘’๐‘ ๐‘–๐‘Ÿ๐‘’ ๐‘ก๐‘œ ๐‘ ๐‘’๐‘’ ๐พ๐‘’๐‘–๐‘กโ„Ž ๐‘๐‘Ÿ๐‘Ž๐‘๐‘˜๐‘’๐‘‘ ๐‘œ๐‘๐‘’๐‘›.

After reflecting on these moments and ๐‘š๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘ฆ like them in the past, what arises in me is the reminder of the importance of the subtle, nuanced calibration of dependence/independence in relationship. And the necessity of fine-tuning the needle between being impactable and sovereign. When questioned and prodded last night, I felt several contradictory feelings. First, some shame around a story I have that I overprotect myself, keep my cards close, and don’t reveal for fear of being vulnerable and powerless. Then there is the other side of me that experiences those interactions with anger and frustration, coming from the part that feels annoyed that someone cannot accept that I’m sovereign and independent and doesn’t react to everything said or done in my vicinity.

AND I know the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

It feels really f’ing good when someone deeply sees and notices me and our relational space attunes me to more fundamental aspects of my being. It also feels good not to be expected to be anything other than what I am at any given moment.

Time to get outside and into the creek (with a friend ๐Ÿคฃ ).

What is your relationship to the polarity of dependence & independence?

Incubating and Creating

** Overdue update! In late April, I left Mazunte, Mexico, and spent a beautiful month in Portugal visiting a lover in Lisbon and exploring the country’s northern half on a solo backpack. While there is a lot to say about my time in Portugal, what is most alive is what is happening now in Boulder. In early June, I returned to the US and rented a room in a beautiful home with a close friend, my first permanent-ish home since spending the last two years at my Zen Monastery and then abroad.

I have been thrust back into community and activity in a way that has validated my decision to relocate and live here again, a place I have not entirely resided in since 2009 when I packed up after 8-years of corporate ‘do as you are supposed to do life,’ sold all of my possessions and traveled to Asia.

Last week, I co-led two workshops called | OPEN | โ€“ Authentic Relating Meets Sexuality that were so popular that we will offer a third one next Saturday that is also nearly sold out two days after announcing it. This is the fruit of a long-developing bond with the incredible human, Michaela Smail.

THIS beautiful, fierce, devotional, and focused woman has evoked a creative spark in me as I have never experienced before! I feel confident to explore, offer and create in the rich, edgy, controversial space my life has followed: ย intimacy, sexuality, consciousness, and communication. Our recent collaboration convinced me that my path is collaborative, and planning a company, a movement, or a dynasty together is so enlivening! She inspires me personally and professionally to realize and actualize creating and birthing something in the world: a task that I have been hiding from and fearful of until now, preferring to play it safe and avoid potential humiliation or failure. It’s been an honor and privilege to facilitate and create alongside this legendary human.

This is just the beginning. I hope to see you at the next one! Are you in? It’s time to | OPEN |

Freedom and Love

Thank you all for your continued feedback and thoughts on my writing โ€“ For the last two days, I have been sitting patiently in front of my laptop, noticing the urge to write and connect but not feeling a specific impulse or topics. So what is most alive for me recently? Possibly, the pendulum swinging from the angst of not doing or giving enough(in my recent posts) towards more self-acceptance? 

The Hologram is a beautiful concept from the Authentic Relating corpus that I teach regularly. My friend and mentor Jason Digges has a wonderful definition in his book, Conflict = Energy: The Transformative Practice of Authentic Relating (IMHO the best book available on Authentic Relating!):

Our “hologram” is the lens through which we experience and make meaning of the world. It is unique to every one of us, yet ubiquitous across our lives. As the old adage goes, The way we do one thing is the way we do everything. Thus, when we begin to perceive our hologram and to work directly with it, powerful change can happen remarkably quickly.

Another way to look at the hologram is as a fully three-dimensional picture, giving us a full view of something in its entirety from any angle. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a hologram is worth a million. Yet in Authentic Relating terms, “seeing our hologram” means much more than simply seeing the details of ourselves. It means welcoming each detail as both valid in its own right, revealing and ultimately transforming the parts that aren’t serving us. Through this process, we become more aware, awake, and wholeโ€ฆEach of us is limited in what we can perceive, and we need each other to be able to clearly see ourselves. Community is the primary resource we have for waking up to, integrating, and beginning to free ourselves from the past relational limitations we were not consciously aware of.

These epiphanies can show us the internal patterns that have been shaping our entire lives. Often, we discover patterns that have been directing the course of our relationships for years and even decadesโ€”hidden in plain sight. These realizations, however humbling they may be, are in fact an opportunity to radically change our relational habits for the better.

As I have reviewed your comments and received feedback from close friends in conversation, it is clear that I have a personal hologram around not doing enough or giving enough, being enough, showing up enough, or accepting myself. In addition, my online audience and friends often reflect that I am doing a lot – constantly leading courses in-person and online, studying and participating in new training, and still in the aftermath of an intense healing process from a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

With this feedback and a slow, dawning realization that I seek validation and worth through external sources and success, I decided to start examining if I could source what I needed internally. Easier said than done, I began exploring this topic again through the concepts and language of polarity and the masculine and feminine aspects of my being.

What does my inner feminine seek? To be seen as light and felt as Love.

This subtly connects to my relational realm (my unconscious definition of being a man requires being in a relationship, needed by, loved, attached to a woman). First, I see that this continued efforting to seek external validation from a partner/lover/friendship originates in the part of my shadow that rejected, did not trust, or acknowledge my inner feminine. And if I cannot see myself as Light and Love, what business do I have seeking to be seen and known in this way by another human being? This is one of the reasons I took a long break from romantic/sexual relationships and recommitted myself to more flow, more invitation and surrender, and more self-nurture. I splurged on a beautiful home in Mexico that I would not have ‘allowed’ myself to in the past. I enjoy more time in self-pleasure and indulgence (in all the ways)! I am allowing my body to rest and sleep and go slow. I’m growing my hair longer than usual. I am committed to saying yes to opportunities and invitations regardless of cost or sometimes practical considerations. So far, this has been a delightful dance. Highly uncomfortable at times as this territory of flowing and lack of control is when my masculine would typically come in and dominate โ€“ make a plan, a budget, manage, control, and direct my life! I’m committed to this experiment for a while โ€“ at least through the summer.

What does my inner masculine seek? Direction, purpose, and seeking freedom amidst challenges.

This is where I operate most of the time โ€“ and what I have been writing about recently. The masculine heart responds most fully when aligned with a mission to advance freedom: financial, artistic, or spiritual liberation. The masculine heart often opens deepest when facing death, immense challenge, or going beyond all forms in a spiritual discipline. Rather than write more here โ€“ I’ll say for now that I am softening and widening my approach. After noticing how this advancement of freedom, immense challenge, and spiritual liberation is where I direct most of my attention, I’m allowing myself to accept that the outcome of such masculine endeavors may look very different than anything I can imagine at this moment. This freedom is likely utterly personal and may have very little connection to my place or position in society.

I’ll share a few words from David Deida on this dance of the masculine and feminine ( from chapter 31 of Blue Truth:

Feminine spiritual growth is about opening to receive allโ€”all people, all situations, the massive presence of the entire momentโ€”deep into your heart, surrendering open to breathe and move as the full force of Love, aboundingly alive, appearing as all. Whereas the masculine grows by realizing identity with emptiness, boundless consciousness, the unchanging ever-present witness of life, the feminine grows by realizing identity with ever-changing light, radiant Love, or the very love-fullness of all life and every moment.

The masculine craves unchanging nothingnessโ€”if not as eternal consciousness, then at least in post-ejaculative peace or zoned out in front of the computer. The feminine is drama, volatile passion, an ocean of tumultuous and ever-fluid light, changing shades, dark and dazzling, concealed and exposed, longing to be seen, felt, entered so deeply as to be overflowed beyond fullness.

Emptiness and quietude are masculine obsessions. The masculine often wants to resolve feminine turmoil and conclude in unadorned openness, the one taste that feels like home to the masculine. But the feminine opens as cinnamon and garlic, as salty, sweet, and bitter, as every possible flavor.

 Since we embody both masculine and feminine energies, we all can benefit from opening as BOTH unbounded emptiness and love’s fullness. Sitting in the open silence of meditation and surrendering open as love’s dance is helpful for each of us. At different moments in our lives and journeys, we may be required to emphasize one over the other. An important point I want to make in my inquiry into these topics is that it can be easy to assume or oversimplify this journey and think that if you increase your masculinity, you will decrease your femininity and vice-versa. Nothing is farther from the truth! Both can be expanded to unimaginable capacity โ€“ and even though we will very likely have a preferred way to enter and meet the world, we may be asked or demanded to call upon the other polarity to meet life’s uniqueness and dynamism.

This is enough for today โ€“ next time I want to inquire with all of you what happens when we can develop and satisfy our inner masculine and feminine ourselves โ€“ and then walk forward in the world from this place of wholeness? Love and Freedom, expressed in their uninhibited fullness.


Your thoughts and feedback are welcome and always greatly appreciated.

An Unremarkable Scrotum

Two weeks ago, I had a routine CT Scan (X-Ray) as part of a scheduled series of tests after my cancer treatment in 2020. Marking two years since diagnosis, the scan and all my blood work indicated continued remission of any disease and is an encouraging sign that I have moved beyond a significant window of risk for recurrence. I will likely do one more exam in six months or a year and then say goodbye to the treatment center for good.

As I walked out of the cancer center and towards my car in the brisk winter air, my celebrations were cut short: I glanced at the printed copy of the scan results, and my eyes jumped straight to the last line:  โ€œThe scrotum is unremarkable.โ€ Not to take anything away from the more relevant statement earlier in the report: โ€œThere is no evidence of pathology, no evidence of disease,โ€ but my scrotum (and my prostate and seminal vesicles too) labeled as unremarkable โ€“ was very upsetting to me and I found myself quickly deflated! I personally always assumed my scrotum was, in fact, quite remarkable. More on this later. First, an update:

Iโ€™ve shifted locations from Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, to Mazunte, Mexico. Mazunte is a small (but currently very crowded) pacific coast village that I first visited in 2011. It is one of the most naturally beautiful places Iโ€™ve ever been, with endless beaches, rocky cliffs, and wild nature everywhere. One of my meditation teachers is here, Sahajananda, the founder of Hridaya Yoga, and a few friends who are here for various reasons. Unfortunately, I arrived a bit later than expected โ€“ I missed my flight (for no oneโ€™s fault but my own) for the first time in a long time. Clueless that the plane had already boarded, I was hanging out at the gate drinking water, eating a snack, and even taking a selfie (which Iโ€™m far too embarrassed to post) with the open gate and agent behind me. In the end, I had to fork out $250 for a new last-minute ticket and spend a sleepless night in the Mexico City airport, all the while going through a wild shame spiral for being so careless and unaware. I notice I am very hard on myself when careless actions cause me a significant financial loss. This feeling is related very much to my relationship to control and a masculine-oriented view of life. I used to think and say, โ€˜how can anyone miss a flight,โ€™ sitting in a cafรฉ or whatever. Now I understand โ€“ and a story I have been unfolding for myself that I referred to in my last post is shifting from a masculine-oriented worldview to incorporating more aspects of the feminine worldview. A friend even reflected that I feel more like Iโ€™m allowing myself to be penetrated (feminine-oriented) by the world, which is new territory. I’m not saying that missing a flight is feminine, rather that there are more non-linear aspects of life that take on more aliveness and make things like time and money less interesting.

And this brings me back to a conversation about my scrotum, as it symbolizes masculinity. I know I speak a lot of masculine/feminine polarity, and I will continue to because of its connection to my life, interests, teaching, and mission. And a significant goal in my life is to be in a partnered, committed relationship, so I feel my life path and this goal are aligned. Iโ€™m currently involved in two Menโ€™s programs, a Coupleโ€™s intimacy course a tantric consort course for couples. And my mission consists of this desire for healing, depth, and healthier, more alive relationships. A word that summarizes this is wholeness. I seek wholeness in myself and want to be in a position that invites others into their wholeness.

And from here โ€“ I feel some vulnerable words about to come forth. I notice an imposter syndrome as I navigate this sphere of my life. Iโ€™m helping men with their purpose, their sexuality, and their hearts. Iโ€™m teaching couples how to communicate better, AND here I am, 42, unsure of where I will be living in a month from now, single, and with an insecure income stream. Despite now wanting to admit it fully,( even to myself), COVID and CHEMO were like putting on a weighted blanket that I am trying to crawl out from underneath. On the positive side, they significantly strengthened my resilience, brought me an incredible amount of humbleness, slowed me down, helped me narrow my focus and goals. However, it also left me slightly dizzy, with 15 extra pounds, decreased vitality, and more financial burden and stress than I would prefer.

This imposter syndrome manifests specifically in the lack of relationship/partnership in my life. I am teaching men and couples how to IMPROVE โ€“ intimacy, sexuality, communicationโ€ฆ.and I know myself to be a confident lover and excellent communicator, yet lacking clear direction and stability. Therefore, I often feel unattractive to potential partners.

For me, there is a crux, an edge that I am exploring related to staying authentic, congruent, and in integrity with my values. The values of simplicity, non-materiality, freedom, and service. The importance of a quiet, meditative life of practice and contemplating my scrotum.

Yet, I believe that to mate signal for a potential partner properly means I need to develop other values: physical fitness, financial stability, owning a home, etc., thereby defining myself through a career or capacity to provide to be marketable. Even if becoming more marketable means losing touch with my inner life and practice. As I type this, my heart knows the answer โ€“ it does nobody a service to be inauthentic to gain and enter a relationship only to find oneself removed from oneโ€™s values. I think the answer to my question is trust and patience. And the clarity that the very act of remaining true to my principles and values is the most attractive thing in the world to the type of woman I believe I am attracting. This feels like a good moment to pause.

Thanks for being with me.