Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Can societal conditioning make it even harder for men to do the inner work?

We have just had Suicide Prevention Day yesterday as I write this. I couldn't help but notice that quite a few of the posts that I saw in relation to this mentioned about male suicides. It seems to be coming more and more to the surface that men are struggling. A lot. In fact, I believe that there is an avalanche of pain in men that is not that far off from being unleashed.

Image courtesy of
The reason why it is still a ticking time bomb is because so many males stay silent. Because men, apparently, should be strong and 'suck it up'. This culture still has some way to go before being reversed, but there are signs of progress. The group Andy's Man Club - which was set up by someone who lost their brother in law (called Andy) to suicide - has been a big success. It's a male only group where men are encouraged to talk about what's bothering them. And it has been a big help for some men. 

Doing the 'inner work' - facing your biggest fears, hurts and trauma - is extremely challenging and not for the faint hearted. As a man, in some ways it's easy to think that it can be even more difficult - because men are conditioned to be disconnected from their emotions at an early age. As a result, there is a disconnection from the heart. And there is definitely less support available for men on the whole. Women are generally much better at supporting each other than men. Even though I have a number of male friends now, I still find it hard to speak to an individual man if I'm struggling. It's easier to post on Facebook or speak in a group. There is far more support available for women in terms of relationship issues. Maybe a lot of men aren't interested in these things .. but I rather suspect it's more a case that men often try to deny their needs and their issues. It's easier to drink alcohol, after all. 

Image courtesy of Pixabay
So, often, as men, we can feel very alone on the spiritual journey. I am fortunate that I have connected with the Manchester spiritual community, where there are a lot of men - and indeed, one of the main reasons I am so keen to move over there is because there are a lot of like minded men. We need male company. Men's work is going to be vital over the coming years. A lot of men are emotionally illiterate and disconnected from their true selves, and this isn't going to change if we are relying on women to meet our emotional needs. Whilst it's true that women also have a lot of work to do in terms of allowing men to be vulnerable - it's not fair for men to expect women to meet all their emotional needs - just imagine if it was the other way round! We need male friendship if we are to be the strong, powerful men that we are called to be (and I don't necessarily mean strong and powerful in the way that society would depict). We need men in order to express some of our vulnerabilities - some things are far better said in a group of men. 

As much as I would like to think that I'm not a 'typical bloke', I've still been affected by male conditioning. I still find it difficult to cry - particularly in public. I've kept silent about some of my deeper issues for a long time - and believe me, what I've been through is enough to have finished anyone off - I was fortunate that I was (and still am) very resilient - and also would be too scared to attempt suicide. Anyone who calls people who suicide cowards need to take a look at themselves. My friend Nick had a lot of guts to jump off Scammonden Bridge - almost two years ago now. 
Like many men, I thought I could overcome a lot of things on my own. But often times, we need help - even if it's just a case of speaking to a trusted friend. For men in general, connecting to the heart is almost like a foreign language. It takes time - because men are so closed down. This is the reality. 

The patriarchy destroyed women for centuries. Thankfully, women are starting to redress the balance, although there is still some way to go, and many countries still treat women abhorrently. We can't ignore this. The other side of the coin, as a man in western society, is that men's issues can be easily brushed aside. I've seen the odd Facebook comment along the lines of 'men's issues aren't important, women's issues have to be faced first'. Actually, they should be faced hand in hand, by men and women who are mature enough to listen to each other without judgement. Unfortunately, this seems hard going at the moment - Brexit is proof enough of that. It's not politically correct to say that men might have it harder in some areas of life - but I would imagine a lot of men, particularly those who don't match up to society's expectations of what a man should be, secretly feel this way at times. There are reasons why I often wonder if certain issues in my life - particularly relationships - would have been slightly easier to deal with if I was a woman. But ultimately - we can only truly see things from our own perspective. 

There should be as many men doing the inner work as women. Society truly needs this. The abuse and mistreatment of women will only stop if men, collectively, are willing to change. I feel that how we raise the next generation is going to be crucial. We need strong men who are also heart centered. For many years, I have not been strong. Life's challenges battered me and almost destroyed me. But together, we will rise .. 

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Ramblings of a discombobulated mind

This has been one of the hardest weekends of the year. A bank holiday weekend close to payday - hence hardly any money left - and the end of a week where I have been physically exhausted.

Anyone who sets out with the intention of facing their shadow side and says that they never feel like giving up, is telling a lie.
Perhaps everything has caught up with me. I have tried my best to pretend that 'I've got this', but sometimes this journey involves letting go of this magic thing called hope. 

It's easy to talk the talk and intellectually believe the things that are supposed to change your life or help you .. but when push comes to shove and it seems like all this inner work is in vain and your dreams and desires seem cast away on a distant ocean .. what do you do then? Live in the now and pretend everything is fine? 

And yeah, this desire and craving for love from outside of myself .. never seems to go. Combined with the subconscious belief that I can never have this due to my shortcomings .. the feeling can be very sharp and painful at times and has been probably the biggest inner challenge of my life.

The biggest challenge this year has undoubtedly been loneliness. I made an investment in myself financially which was well out of my comfort zone and has left me with only just enough in the last few months for basic needs and the odd few trips and workshops here and there ... but there has been so much that I haven't been able to do due to financial limitations .. including some activities that are now quite important for my well-being. I doubt I will ever make this level of investment again. It has really affected me and I cannot wait for more freedom again. It is good to be alone at times, but there comes a point where too much aloneness can be a burden. 

Sometimes life can be a bit like .. this?
My own design using software on my laptop. 
Sometimes it seems like there are huge mountains to climb and I don't know how to find the strength to climb them. Part of me enjoys the struggle and suffering - of course it does - and it seems weird that our egos are like this. 

Trying my best to not get affected by all the conditioning about what a man is supposed to be .. and kidding myself that I don't care. In a world that suppresses men's emotions practically from birth, it takes strength to stand up and do this inner work. There is a reason why, overall, it's arguably even harder for men to embark on this journey, and emotional suppression and disconnection from the heart is the root cause. This issue has to be tackled as a matter of urgency. 

Of course, there are the good times too. It can be hard to see them during a wilderness period of life, which all of us go through. I am grateful for Facebook, as always. I don't know what I would do without this outlet. Grateful for my resilience - without it, I would probably be dead or in a mental hospital at best. Grateful that I have managed to physically connect with my tribe on occasion, even though this has been minimal. 

The end. 

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Lessons from 2019 .. so far

Fuck me.
That is all.

Okay, the 'that is all' bit is a bit tongue in cheek, however it is marginally tempting to just leave it at that. My ego would certainly like this.

But, whilst I don't wish to get all preachy and super inspirational and say 'there is good in every situation' - I also don't want to stick my head down a hole, never to return. For me, there is at least something that can be learnt in most situations. So I'll give this a go and see what wisdom has been gained from my experiences so far this year.

As I've hinted a few times, 2019 has not been easy so far. Certainly harder than 2018. In time, this will change - although I cannot put a definite timescale on it. The main challenge has been loneliness and isolation - and being unable to get to a lot of events which are important for my well being, due to financial limitations. It feels like I have been mostly 'cut off' from my tribe, most of which is not in the same locality as me. I cannot wait to truly be a part of the Manchester scene again - which should be in June, but I sometimes wonder how long I can go on like this, and can feel like giving up on some of my intentions. It would probably be hard to find local groups that resonate with me as much - I knew last year that Manchester was my spiritual home, for now at least.

As much as I could try and flower things up by saying 'The universe guided me to spend time alone so I could learn to love myself more', that would certainly not be whole story. In all honesty, I would not want to go through this again. Heck, it's not as if it's a massive crisis, but it hasn't been a lot of fun.

I guess the lesson is that some things come at a price .. when I was presented with an opportunity I couldn't refuse - and there have probably been some 'signs' that it was the right thing to do - the financial outlay has been tough and I have had to cut my cloth accordingly. So the question is - 'what sacrifices are you/I prepared to make?' I know I like my creature comforts and sacrifice is a hard word for me - but anyway it's a question to ponder.

I'm now properly starting to realise that it is not the ultimate aim of this 'spiritual' journey to be enlightened and have all your shit sorted. We are all human beings and most of us have suffered some degree of trauma - some more than others. We live in a world where we are expected to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, no matter what our background or life experience - and there is probably some element of this mentality in the spiritual community.

We still go through dark times if we are spiritual or religious - despite what the so called 'enlightened' teachers might say. If we feel emotional pain over something, this doesn't make us unspiritual or unworthy. It just makes us human.

The bypassing of our humanity is one of my biggest concerns of the spiritual community. Maybe we've been spoon fed that we should have an open heart at all times and be able to do the inner work quickly. Whilst there are some occasions where things can change almost overnight - this has happened to me - generally speaking, healing takes time.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Being honest about where I am at

Image courtesy of Google
This is not an easy post to make. But it is probably necessary. For me at least. And I hope other people can feel that they are not alone by reading this. 

Sometimes we make our inner state into a goal which we try and improve upon - yeah let's open our heart as soon as possible so that we become one step closer to true enlightenment. Or let's try and be like that spiritual teacher or friend or person we admire. Let's surrender more. 

And a lot of this striving can come from a place of not wanting to face where we REALLY are or not being happy with our current reality. 

I still have aspects of me that are very closed down, that feel like throwing in the towel and saying 'fuck you' to life and God. The ego is still in charge in some parts of my life. Sometimes I wonder if I can ever truly recover from the trauma that life has brought me. I sometimes feel like I'm nowhere near where I should be, or at least where my ego thinks I should be. 

And it can seem like a bit of a struggle to stay open and receptive and move forward. 

The crux of the matter is this: If you are on a healing journey, some aspects of you will be very difficult to face. You may feel like the most unspiritual, stubborn, resistant person. Self honesty may give you a bit of a reality check. 

And it's easy to see these difficult aspects of ourselves as wrong or even evil in some cases. It certainly can be scary to face ourselves. And we can fall into the trap of thinking we're doing something wrong. 

It's so easy to put on a front and pretend that life is good, that you are 'ultra spiritual' and that you have your life at least semi-together as your social media posts suggest. It's easy to deny where you are actually at. Recently I realised that I need to be a bit more real with where I'm at in life right now. Yes, I've done well considering some of the things I've dealt with. But, at this moment, I don't feel a huge amount of inner peace. My career and relationships are still a bit off kilter. 

And as much as I could flower things up by saying 'I accept and embrace every single aspect of me' - the truth is I don't always do this. I still have shitty thought patterns and parts of me that I am scared to face. I do have regrets and there are things I've experienced that I wouldn't want to experience again. 

And, to be quite honest, I find that trying to change or fix my feelings just doesn't achieve a great deal. 

I am very fortunate to have been exposed to a number of teachings from wise people. I guess I am fortunate that I had an interest in the spiritual and psychological aspects of life. I have the tools to deal with most situations to an extent. I have great friends and connections - although, as I have recently mentioned, I have not been able to connect with people that much so far this year. That has been hard. I know at least how I COULD respond to situations in a way that is beneficial. 

Putting it into practice, however, can be the challenge. It's also very easy to be influenced by what other people say and then think you should be in a 'higher vibration' than you are. 

I feel like I've been on this inner journey for years, but it's been slow progress. And there is a 'quick fix' mentality in the self-help and spiritual worlds to an extent. Some spiritual teachers (particularly the male ones) talk about enlightenment and living in the present, but they may not have even touched first base when it comes to dealing with trauma. From my experience at least, emotional pain and trauma does not disappear overnight - and we don't need to feel guilty that we aren't living in blissful '5D' reality. 

It's so easy to get the impression that some other people have it all together .. particularly the ones that have really done the 'inner work'. And yes, there are some people who really do embody what they teach and who have really faced themselves .. but there is no need to feel bad just because you aren't where they are. It's not a race to become as awake as possible. 

Where you are .. right now .. with all the 'good' and 'bad' .. it is okay. You are okay. 

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Blog Interview with Kelly Martin of Peace Within Radio

Today I welcome my friend Kelly Martin on my blog. I have known Kelly for a few years and she has been on a journey not that dis-similar to mine in some ways. More recently, she has been in the process of setting up Peace Within Radio, a radio station 'Bringing support for listeners suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD and low self esteem.'

I asked her a few questions relating to mental health and she answered. 
Hi Andy and thanks for welcoming me to your blog.

1. We often hear that it’s hard for men to open up about mental health issues, but how hard is it for women to open up? Women are often expected to work, raise children and do everything to the point of exhaustion - and still have it all together. How big is the stigma around mental health for women?

I think we can often have a different type of stigma when it comes to mental health.

We are often seen as erratic, over emotional, over sensitive and dramatic when we feel upset. Genuine mental health issues can be overlooked by friends, family, loved ones as simply being a woman who is ‘too hormonal’ and we are put into the category of having a ‘PMS day’ or being menopausal. And while pre-menstrual syndrome and going through menopause have elements of mental health challenges like depression and anxiety, we can dismiss what may be serious conditions as just the ‘time of the month’.

Opening up as a woman is still hard. While mental health may be talked about more among women, many still don’t talk about it with friends or loved ones, because when we do talk about it, most of the women we may know are also going through mental health stuff, feeling overwhelmed from issues to do with family and we may feel a burden for sharing it with female friends.

For example, I was going through a particularly bad depression in 2018. I felt in a very dark place. I told those who I thought I was close to as female friends that I was feeling seriously depressed, but none of the friends I had back then checked in with me after I told them or offered to talk or come see me. As a result I let those friends go. I needed people I could rely on during difficult times. I was drowning while they were so over busy and overwhelmed too.

I’ve never felt the rally of women around me to help me through mental health issues. And perhaps I am an enigma in this sense, but from talking to other women, I think many do feel seriously alone in their mental health issues.

So, while the media impression given is that women talk about everything with one another in a group loving hug, I think most are so overwhelmed that they share little about mental health issues because the feedback from friends and family hasn’t been that of giving or nurturing through that time. I think unfortunately in the west, women are just too busy to connect with themselves and they don’t have the time or energy to connect with others too.

2. Often it can be really challenging to truly listen to another person talking about their mental health struggles, as opposed to trying to fix them. What do you feel is the best way for someone to truly listen?

It is truly hard to do this, especially when you have an understanding of mental health. Also, feeling empathic and sensitive to others can be both a good thing and a tough challenge when trying to be a good listener. For me, simply, as you said, listening without thinking about what to say next. To know that the other person is completely unique and no matter what I or anyone else may feel, we can’t possibly know what or how that person is handling their life challenges. To know that holding the space so that another person can be totally human is probably the greatest gift we can ever offer.

3. What were your biggest difficulties in facing your mental health challenges?

The biggest difficulties have been stopping myself from trying to fix the feelings. Not allowing myself space and time to process the pain. Over-working or distracting myself because I couldn’t see the point in being with what arose for me, and judging certain feelings as bad, instead of simply as feelings. What I gained from finally facing the feelings was seeing that they were a gift that would mean I could empathise with others and that these feelings were like orphaned children that needed my love, not my judgement or criticism. Seeing feelings in that way was and still is both hard and yet deeply healing.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

A little update

Well I'll be honest here. 2019 has not been an easy year so far. However, it has also been a year of more clarity in some areas, and also becoming a bit more present (as opposed to being in constant thinking mode).

I am at a bit of a crossroads in life - which often seems to be the case. Sometimes it seems like we're in the middle aisle of two sets of traffic lights in the road, and are not sure which side to cross. One thing I am almost sure of is that there will be changes in location in the coming months - my heart is not in Huddersfield any more, and it has been difficult to not be able to connect with the people in Manchester much recently due to finances. Investing in oneself is worth it in the long run but boy it can present some challenges.

I met my tribe in Manchester last year and it was life changing .. and to have been mostly cut off from them has probably been the biggest challenge of this year. The vibe and the events in Manchester totally resonate with me and I feel like a fish out of water in Huddersfield now.

The opportunities this 'challenge' has presented are to spend more time with oneself and to embrace the difficult parts of myself .. which ultimately is what will make or break you. There are so many people who are traumatised but try to pretend that they are okay and use external objects or people to cover their feelings up .. people will do anything to avoid feeling uncomfortable feelings. Also, it is an opportunity to focus on what I have. So often, we focus on what we do NOT have - the whole advertising industry is built on this foundation - to get people to focus on something they are not happy with or do not have, and to subliminally convince people that the product on offer will make someone happy (without, of course, saying that any happiness is only temporary).

I'll be honest, I do find this a challenge, as for so long I have mostly been focused on what I don't have .. be it finances, friends, a lover, the career of my dreams, not travelling more .. and ultimately, deep down, the root cause of this is a deep feeling of unworthiness and 'not good enough' - which most of us can relate to.

I'm not saying that we should deny our feelings and desires either - to me that is just another form of ego - but happiness has to start from within - but that doesn't mean we have to pretend to be super positive - firstly, we have to feel all the uncomfortable feelings and get right to the root of what holds us back.

Have a blessed day.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

The journey to my true self ..

Life is getting interesting, for sure. I feel that the things that have happened for me this year - making lots of new connections, attending great events, taking up yoga - have been some sort of preparation for diving deeper into more of the crap that has held me back from living fully.

What I'm starting to realise .. which will likely come to the fore more and more .. is that, whatever issue is coming to the surface, the place to start is LOVE. Loving all the parts of you. And loving the beautiful being that you truly are. Everything really does start with you. Whatever your external situation, whatever your relationship status or bank balance - there is always the possibility of going within. And knowing that, at this moment, YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Note - this does not negate the necessity to face trauma if you are going to truly heal. However many times you affirm 'I am enough', this won't resolve trauma on its own. But also, keeping yourself down with negative affirmations and self-hate isn't a good idea.

There will be situations that come up to teach you about yourself, your behaviour and how you react. I have had one come up this week. What it's showed me is that I have some way to go in terms of how I react when I get triggered, but also that I need to speak when something happens that I feel is not acceptable. Spirituality is not about being a fluffy bunny or a doormat - but the ultimate journey is towards being peaceful within yourself so that, whatever others think or say about you, you will not react with misplaced anger.

Every time you get triggered, it reveals a part of YOU - and regardless of whether someone else's actions are right or wrong, the most important thing from your perspective is how YOU deal with it. And it is likely that, if you allow it, these triggers will teach you something.

I'm not perfect. I have had a shit load of shit to deal with. Whatever I say either in my writing, or live videos, doesn't mean I have my shit sorted. Far from it. It's an ongoing journey. Which will no doubt bring some interesting twists and turns in the coming months.

Can societal conditioning make it even harder for men to do the inner work?

We have just had Suicide Prevention Day yesterday as I write this. I couldn't help but notice that quite a few of the posts that I saw i...