Presence exercises like the one in my last blog are great and can really help when we have the time to sit and be quiet with ourselves. What happens if we don’t have that time? What if emotions are high and because of them, you can’t see that you are not present? Being not present shows up in things like reaching for a beer or wine, zoning in on your phone and scrolling away an hour or more, binge watching your favorite show. None of these things are really that terrible unless used as a way to distract and not feel what is currently going on. How often do you tap into your phone when someone starts talking about something you would rather not? How many times have you felt stressed and decided to shut off with 4 or 5 hours of your not so favorite show on Netflix? Have you needed to retire to your “happy place” to bang on shit? Or just needed to take the edge off with whatever choice of self medication is available? These are activities that take us away from our current feelings and in the end, only prolong the inevitable. At some point we must face the things that continually come up and learn to feel them. Otherwise, they rot us from the inside out and lead to things like divorce, dui’s, poor life choices and loss of friendships.
The good news is, there is a way to be able to feel these things and have them not have such an impact. This allows us to be present with the current tough situations and not have to fade into some sort of disassociation or unhealthy coping mechanism. It is a preemptive strike, it is the helpful process behind the toxic masculinity phrase “Just Be A Man!, Suck it Up!”
This right of passage of being a man, has taken a terrible turn for the worse. The idea that we should not feel pain or emotion is absurd. We are human and we feel things. The actual process is not about not feeling or not expressing. The process is about feeling things often that are uncomfortable, so that when the big things do come up, we can be better prepared to stay present with it and feel it, instead of shutting down or running to our coping mechanisms. This process is called Tempering.
When a sword or armor is tempered, it is repeatedly placed in the fire for short periods of time. This process heats and cools the metal over and over again making the sword stronger, more durable and able to withstand much more pressure. Life continually tempers us in many ways. When we take ourselves out of presence, we are actually doing the opposite of tempering. Think about how many things in your life you do for the desire of being comfortable or not feeling. Maybe it’s grabbing that cup of coffee first thing in the morning before anything else. Maybe it’s lazing around all day Saturday or Sunday watching football. It could be any number of things. Now, what do you do on a regular basis that is uncomfortable? Do you do these things from conscious awareness or do these uncomfortable things just show up and piss you off?
Part of growing up is maturing and getting stronger. In all ways. What if you could choose the things you do that make you stronger. I am not talking about just going to the gym and lifting weights, going through the motions because you “gotta stay healthy.”. (although that is a great idea). I am talking about the things that make us tougher, more resilient, more able to handle the hard shit that shows up. I am talking about simple disciplines that are always uncomfortable and make other tasks seem easy. Here is a brief list of things you can do that won’t kill you, that are uncomfortable, and can make some of the more challenging aspects of life seem easier:
Taking cold showers, everyday.
Qi Gong-Stand Like a tree meditation
Training toward a goal you have never achieved
Find an activity you will repeatedly fail or will always be uncomfortable. I personally go to the bouldering gym 2 to 3 times a week and always take on routes I have no business doing. I fall. Repeatedly. It is humbling, and every time I learn about getting up, swallowing my pride and trying again. It also makes me stronger/tougher in every way. I know many men who toughen and humble themselves by practicing Jujitsu or road biking. The thing that all of these practices have in common, is that they all put you into a physically uncomfortable or challenging place that you get to choose how much you can take.
You must be conscious about how you do these things though. Go about them with honor to yourself. If you have never practiced Qi Gong, don’t expect to stand still for an hour. Start with five minutes. We must slowly and methodically temper ourselves by pushing just slightly past our comfort zone. If we push too far over our edge, we will fall on our face. I for one am sick of falling on my face. With each practice and over time we gain clarity, strength and the ability to allow many things to roll off of our shoulders that used to shut us down or fire one of our triggers. That does not mean we don’t feel these things; it means we are able to be fully present with them, feel them, and move on anyways.
So what are you choosing today to use as your tempering? I would hate for you to continue losing it.
Nate Ewert, RMT. Owner of Somatic Synergies Integrated Bodywork and Intentional Path Wellness; Founder of Denver Hiking Club.