Connect to your same sex ancestors

ancestor line

Here’s a powerful exercise that can help you feel rooted and connected in a time of change. In the modern west, we don’t think of the ancestors but they’re there, real lives lived. They’re often forgotten but they remain powerful in our psyche as you see if turn your attention to them. Ancestors are psychic roots and you can connect to those roots.

Play with this exercise to connect to the strengths in the sex you are and see how those qualities are available to you. It also helps you connect to the strengths and values in the sex you’re not, and see how the two sexes complement each other. It takes about 10 minutes or so.

This is a ceremony and a celebration, not a rigid protocol. Take it seriously by entering into it, not by trying to do it perfectly. You may notice that the ancestors very much appreciate the attention and have a lot to give you.

I’ll use male language but substitute if you’re a woman. A man could connect to is maternal line (and vice-versa) but perhaps the simplest way is to start with the sex you are.

Begin with the first direct forebear in the line who has died, your father if he’s dead, or his father if not, or his father – the first direct forebear who died in your line going back.

Chant the name of that first ancestor, “John, John, John, John …” until you sense you have his attention. When you do, pause a moment and say deliberately, “I see you, I thank you, I honor you.” Bow to that ancestor and allow yourself to receive his blessing for your life.

See him turn around, and face his father while you walk up beside “John.” Chant the name of the new ancestor, “James, James, James, James…” until you catch his attention and he turns to you. When he does, pause a moment and say deliberately, “I see you, I thank you, I honor you.” And bow to that ancestor and allow yourself to receive his blessing for your life.

Continue going back in just the same way for some number of generations that feels right to you. When you don’t know the man’s first name, which may happen very quickly, chant “Father, father, father, father…” and establish a connection. Bow to that ancestor too and allow yourself to receive his blessing for your life.

After several generations and when you feel it’s the right time, look ahead down the long line at all the men who are there going back into the mists of time, real men just like you. See them all and say, “I see you, I thank you, I honor you.” Bow to them all and as you do, receive their blessing.

Go back to the start of the line and bow before the ancestors and once again receive their blessing. It may or may not appear in a symbolic form, a gift for you.

Receive whatever comes with gratitude and humility and let it find its way in your life.

This exercise is most powerful if we thank and honor ancestors who may have, or who have, done things badly. There’s no need to whitewash what happened, but giving them a good place in the line is an alignment with reality. They belong there as you do.

Part of the way this exercise works is that it aligns with a fundamental truth about how things are: love flows down from the earlier generations down toward you. The ancestors are big and you are small; they give and we receive. By receiving from them you honor them and get in touch with a fundamental movement of life. Love flows down from the past to us. All that they learned and achieved has been passed down to you.

Our job is to receive it with gratitude.

Women and men love each other

Women and men love each other

Here’s a simple lens I find useful for looking at what’s going on in society and in Self. It presents an image of what balance looks like and​ what imbalance looks like. The ​consideration of the image presents a context for showing where imbalance is and what helps bring the system back into balance.

What helps bring the system back into balance brings us back into balance.

​The picture represents the love between the masculine and the feminine. Of course these are the yang and the yin from Chinese philosophy but I prefer to think of them as masculine and feminine​ because they are more easily felt into and seen as relevant to ​the modern sensibility.

When I look at the picture I see right away that the masculine and the feminine are out of balance in our time and very much needing to move toward balance.

I created this version of the image from two flowers in my living room, just what I have at hand. The geranium is the masculine and the African violet, not flowering at the moment but glorious when it is, is the feminine.  By extension let these two represent the two poles that make the manifest world everywhere. They’re the positive and negative magnetic poles, the light and dark, the above and below, the without and the within, the dry and the moist, the proud and the shamed. Each pole only makes sense because of the other, only exists because of the other. The masculine and the feminine, too, only make sense in terms of the other.

The masculine and the feminine are biological facts – male and female – as well as elemental principles. This is important because if we confuse the two we can get statements such as ​the feminist slogan, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” This is biologically true, at least at certain times, but the feminine principle will always need the masculine to be fully itself, as the masculine needs the feminine. The ​masculine and feminine principles are parts of the same greater whole and so parts of each other.

This isn’t a philosophical essay though but a practical one. I maintain that the awareness of the mutuality of the masculine and feminine principles is a necessary basis for effective action. It’s a ​map for understanding.

To read it and understand this, let’s separate the two poles and look at them individually. We’ll bring them together in a moment. When I say, “look​ at them” I’m bringing in a third party, the looker and his or her consciousness. This is important because there is no perception without a particular consciousness perceiving it. And women and men, being ​themselves different, will perceive each pole differently. So we’ll look at each pole from the perspective of both women and men. And each pole has a light and a shadow side so we’ll look at each of these. So we quickly get eight perspectives, the light and the shadow side of each of the masculine and the feminine as seen by the masculine and the feminine.

Look at the masculine from the masculine side. He experiences the light side of the masculine as upright, strong, honourable, in service. In short, potent. He experiences the dark side of the masculine as weak, dishonourable, shameful, useless.

The feminine experiences the light side of the masculine as light-filled, rapturous, exciting, inspiring. She experiences the dark side as aggressive, hurtful, domineering and frightening, or something like that.

Archetypally the masculine experiences the positive side of the feminine as beauty, eminently worthy of devotion, sacrifice and service. The shadow side he experiences as devouring, insatiable, undermining, enraged. She on the other hand experiences herself as deserving, cherishable, caring, worthy of being fulfilled. On the shadow side she may feel unhappy, unsupported, unloved, frustrated or vindictive. All the “un” words point to the emptiness, unable to receive.

When I stand back and look at the representatives for the masculine and the feminine, with the geranium and the African violet in the picture, what stands out for me is the beauty of the two together and generative possibility of the polarity. Also it seems clear to me, that women and men deeply love each other forever and alway, irrespective of whatever entanglements are going on. The relation to each other (either physically or archetypally) is what gives meaning to our lives. The polarity between the two is ​the dynamic curent makes love flow in ever increasing waves. It’s the great engine that underlies change, the underlying harmony in the world. 

It’s also clear that​ the flow of love between these two poles is seriously disrupted in our world. This disruption is an underlying foundational pattern that doesn’t just show up between women and men  but everywhere the yin and the yang, the masculine and feminine principles are involved.

Which is everywhere.

If you like you can contemplate the image of the two together and see how they are showing up in ​your life. You can see ​how you fit into this story. You can easily see where you are contributing to the balance, where you’re contributing to the unbalance and what you need to do to move toward more balance.

​Positive change happens when men or women act to support mutuality between ​​the masculine and feminine principles and work to ​​​support it. ​We don’t know if it will be enough at this stage, but it’s ​the right thing to do, action in accord with what is. ​We’re not separate from the system but part of it so what we do do ​will matter and have an effect. ​Anything ​less is abdication of responsibility and agency. ​

The outcome ​will depend on​ “the will of heaven,” the source that created whole system and the beautiful polarity in the first place. ​

Telling My Story

I’ve been avoiding telling my own story.

For several days I was writing a blog post about how we needed more honest personal story, more sex and gender in our  conversations. Then I noticed I wasn’t telling my own.

Telling is unfamiliar because I’ve been very close-mouthed about great chunks of my own story, forever.  Though much easier, it’s still difficult to talk about my early childhood and the pervasive experience of abandonment that persists from it. Hard to be fully with it and breathe and claim it, like the simple human thing it is. Hard to stay compassionate to self when I subtly re-abandon myself to go out into the world in search of belonging.  Because that depth feels from the inside as not normal and I’ve feared no one else could understand, I try and pretend it’s not there.

There’s something delicious in all of this though. The experience of not-belonging, so deep has it been, has made me very sensitive to it in my environment. I have an acute appreciation for other people’s sense of abandonment or belonging. It’s where I live and breathe. I’m continually drawn to people’s sense of belonging and how it lives in them. My early experience stamped this on my soul.

Often I want to intellectualize about this. Like now, I want to tell you about the gifts. And there are gifts and I’m very happy about them, but I’ll put that off for now. In fact, living in my intellect has been my relative safety and in recent years, I became a sort of lay scientist of belonging. (I wrote my book, Evolutionary YOU in the voice of that lay scientist and it’s probably the best description and celebration of how we belong or don’t. You really should read it.)

In that book I only alluded to my own story though and kept it at arm’s length. It didn’t feel safe to talk about. There were implied family secrets that a child’s sense of loyalty felt must be obeyed.

Part of the story from my childhood, and I’m speaking with a child’s partial understanding here, was that I was a keeper of my mother’s secret. She didn’t love her husband as much as she loved me. And perhaps another  man from before. Our bond was built of that secret and it was at the core of me. “Was.” It’s not right  to say “is.” Stepping out of that birth caul has been a long process and an incredible gift, the only one I ever wanted. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Everything comes together in the turning of the story. For a lot of my life I missed my father and wanted him to see me but he had his own abandonments. Not trusting women with my heart, I sought out safe companionship with men in men’s groups for personal connection. A long time in them helped me to start getting my attachment needs met because I was well accepted there. I saw and felt and knew that men were good and capable, and loving. They were not evil patriarchs. Even white men. Men are good, in so very many ways.

I edited and wrote for an alternative men’s journal over many years. We hosted numerous conferences for women and men to explore gender too and some of it was deeply experiential and helped me a lot, helped all of us a lot.  But the early pattern of abandonment, not being seen into being as a self, reasserted itself in my closest intimate relationships with women, in those love relationships where the early dynamic was rekindled.

I still feel called to support men. For me. The trashing of men and masculinity that’s in the courts, academia and now, in my country, the law, feels like a tremendous and dangerous burden for men, women and children. Part of claiming myself is speaking to that, making room for our gendered and sexual selves in new conversational spaces.

I want to make room for “trauma” too, for the equivalent of my early childhood experience. No individual is immune from “trauma” because trauma is in the race. It doesn’t show it’s scary face to every  individual of course but it’s somewhere in virtually every extended family and when it’s in the family, it’s in us too. It’s part of life. We are the products of a difficult experiment: World wars, unloved childhoods, forced migrations, famines and murder weave through the race along with the love and the beauty. All these hard things may be the bewildering face of love anyway.

I want a new conversation that makes room for all of these parts of ourselves. Not safe ivory tower conversations, the forms of which society has created for the very purpose of keeping out the stuff it doesn’t feel it can handle. Not spiritual-only conversations that seek unity and bliss and avoid the rough edges where we really live and breathe. Like sex and gender. Like early trauma. Like later trauma. Like love.

I don’t mean we have to talk about these things, like a project. I mean that it’s good to make them really and truly welcome because when they’re not, and because they’re real  for all of us already, we’ll live a guarded life, afraid of them erupting. We’ll be their jailers even as we put on brave faces.

We don’t know how to do this yet. Thank goodness. Because when we think we know how to do it, it probably means we’ll do what we’ve always done to keep the important stuff safely away.  We’ll try and manage the divine process.

The good news is, there is a “we,” brothers and sisters that want to do this. There’s also an unnameable evolutionary process at work that many in the “we” have felt. I put my trust in that as quickly as I can. I’ve tried running the universe but, as I’m sure you know if you’ve tried, it was no fun and it didn’t work at all.

More to come on this. Sign up above so you’re sure to get it. And note, a Small-group Intensive starting mid-October or early November. You can register now.

If you liked this, or even if you didn’t, consider leaving a comment!

When consciousness groups play nice

When consciousness groups play nice

When we’re in “consciousness groups,” do we tend to downplay our own agency, our “mission” so we can get along? Do we forget about our purpose or forget that we even have one? Do we unconsciously play it safe so we can be “liked” and not ruffle too many feathers?

More generally, does the consciousness community as a whole tend to do this playing nice?

I’ll raise my hand. I do it! And it’s not because I’m Canadian.

These two are ever-present and in dynamic tension. But at this time they’re out of balance. This is also the tension between feminine and masculine. I’ll leave that out for this week because it deserves its very own post. Or posts.

Here let’s think of it as the tension between co-regulation and individuation.

I love “co-regulation.” It’s a word associated with trauma researcher Stephen Porges whose amazing work shows how, through the vagas nerve, humans “co-regulate” with other, or fail to, regularly. We fall into  a sympathetic response in which we resonate and harmonize feelings and senses. Co-regulation is a word for what’s at the basis of social interaction. Consciousness groups and we-spaces and and group spaces are all about it.

Individuation is the movement toward going our own way, becoming our one-of-a-kind self, becoming ourselves.

Now it is true that neither of these poles exclude the other, that they’re both informed and partly defined by the other one.

But in practice, today, the co-regulatory movement is much emphasized. In the online world, peace, love, and harmony are in and get the likes. Individuation look rough and uncouth, upsetting.

Our personal missions need the roughness of individuation. The very idea of mission is an individuated notion. Many of us get-along folks can keep on putting it off.

In my work with systemic constellations, I’ve been excitedly diving into mission lately, how to bring it to the surface in a simple way that puts purpose first and connects it to the rest of our life. It’s exciting partly because I’m seeing my own life challenge in a new way.

Let me know if you’d like to chat with me about bringing your mission sense more into alignment with the rest of your life. You can schedule a 31 minute exploratory session here or reply to this email. I’d love to learn how this is landing for you.

As mentioned all this talk of the two poles is indeed related to the two poles of feminine and masculine.  Of course! This is a an important discussion for the consciousness community too, one that we haven’t looked at enough. We’ll have a peek inside that rich and beautiful Pandora’s Box soon.

Write to me personally or leave a comment and let me know what mission challenges you have. Or don’t!


Is there a place for #wetoo?

Is there a place for #wetoo?

As everyone knows who’d ever had a mother or a father – or a partner – the relationship between the sexes is anything but simple and one-sided. It’s complex, multi-faceted and goes to the heart of who we are.

You wouldn’t know about that complexity though, from listening to the conversation around sex and gender that’s playing out in our public conversations today. There unipolar certitudes rule the day!

We all have a deeply personal response to this conversation, and likely more  than  one. We may even have different voices ourselves at different times, a different one with our close friends or loved ones, for example, than we say publicly.

I’m curious about what the conversation looks like where we can get beyond that, where we can hear our own – and perhaps others’ perspective and get a fuller picture. I want to know what’s true for us around sex and gender in the deeper parts of ourselves.

Recently I had a beautiful experience of this in an exploration with Stina Deurell who does a multi-viewpoint exploration of different parts of our experience she calls Wider Embraces. Our exploration had sex and gender as a theme and it could be that there’ll be more of that.

The public conversation between women and men is an edge for me. Though I have many strong working relationships with women, I’ve solved some of my own problem by avoiding intimate relations and staying “friends.” And I can feel angry at what I see as misinterpretation of men’s experience in the media and sometimes fear speaking out clearly about it.

I know it’s not just me that finds the conversation challenging – and exciting. A listening place between women and men is evolutionarily new! Neither women nor men have never spoken to each other clearly about our experience of sex roles – certainly not in the way that we’re now expecting ourselves to have instant wisdom about. Instead, in the past women and men alike have been deeply immersed in roles we had little conscious understanding of. We have strong theories about that past now, with the wisdom of hindsight, but there were no theories just a short time ago.

Here’s the thumbnail sketch of that past that I subscribe to. It’s not the mainstream collective understanding but it’s firmly based in biology and a view that many who are experienced with multiple perspectives relate to well.

Men and women have evolved through a cooperative effort to provide a safe place for children to thrive and for the tribe to continue. Because the women are at the heart of child rearing, human culture has put her needs first. From this point of view, there’s no systematic attempt to suppress women, rather an attempt to support her in child rearing. Because of the centrality of this need, human culture tends to be centred around women’s needs. Men and women both have given their support to the common goal.

We’ve each done it differently of course. Women and men represent two ways of understanding the world. On the one hand there’s the nurturing yin aspect that is biologically and culturally most associated with women. On the other, there’s the agentic active way that’s most associated with men. This deep specialization has given unique benefits – and unique pains – for women and men both. A central point, for me, is that we’re all in it together.

At present there’s little social understanding of the mutuality of women and men and how our natures are formed by the other. Popular culture, and most of us because we’re part of that culture, don’t see that both sexes play an essential role in the every part of the drama that we call sex. (Here’s an overview of the biological co-evolution.) We’re all part of and responsible for what happens in the extraordinarily complex and mysterious human sexual dance. I’m not talking about criminal or extraordinary behavior here but about the common biological and instinctual drives that we’re all deeply rooted in.

How could we talk about this in a way that serves women and men of good will? A place for #wetoo! Stina’s work gives a hint and so does the work we’re doing in the We-Space Lab. The conversation around our sexual experience is messy, highly individualized, not simple and, because it’s so new, often not fully informed or conscious. We’ve lots to explore and learn!

Come join an upcoming WE-SPACE Open Space call!


Two Stories of Women and Men – Part 2

women and men part 2
plwhnawIn Part 1 I shared two stories of women and men that I’d heard in the previous week.
In one story a group of men supported a group of women who were defending a sacred site in Ireland. They stood outside the circle of women, protecting it and this gift was deeply felt by the women. In the other a mixed group of men and women who were exploring inner feelings and new consciousness gradually was reduced to women only. And the question was, why was that.
What a subject! To talk about women and men is to talk about everything and all in a little blog post! And what I did write failed to mail out due to a tech glitz caused by moi!
One reason for the difficulty is that the fascinating exploration of women and men isn’t best handled analytically.
Approaching it analytically or intellectually often makes it seem to be about two sides, which is pretty much where the conversation is in the developed west. Whereas what’s most useful – and true – about women and men together is our mutuality. Much better a safe enough place to deeply hear each other’s experience.
One entry point to the analytical conversation might be the little Viking fellow above.  A man with a helmet and a shield. His right hand is held up to his chest – perhaps he’s holding his heart. He looks ahead to his future with the small pupils that suggest fright. If he’s at all typical he has a name that celebrates martial ability because that’s how we named the men of old. And we still use those names. My own name Andrew means “strong;” my father Barry means “spear” and his father Louis’ name means “loud in battle.” If the little Viking is aghast at what he sees, who could blame him? He’s dressed to kill or be killed. There’s no pension, lousy pay, and a real possibility of not coming back alive. It’s not an enticing job opening. Yet men have always done it.
The view of evolutionary psychology is essentially that he’s fighting for his community and family and that he’s been bred for that in a survival oriented world. He’s been bred to put himself on the line so they can be safer.
Back at home his wife and the women of his community have a difficult job as well. She’s continually busy with feeding, clothing and cleaning for the children and making the home a refuge as best she can. She’s got little  time for herself and very little access to the affairs of the wider world, which after all, involve the negotiations that determine who fights who. But for all that, and because of both of their sacrifices, loves lives in the family. It was enough to make it safe for us.

These survivalist roles for women and men existed for a very long time. They weren’t optional, unless public scorn and censure of the cruelest kind is what you call a choice.  The roles weren’t socially visible either. Jane Austen for example, took the view she did, rather than the feminist viewpoint that came visible 150 years later, because the more modern perspective we see today wasn’t yet evolutionarily available. The old survival-based roles largely defined reality for women and men.

What about the story of the women who were defending the sacred site while the men were defending them. My guess is that the women inside the circle felt seen and held by the men – as a group – in a way they often didn’t in their usual lives. The men felt seen and valued offering that service. Each sex felt that they had a good place and a connection to the other. I’m guessing the women were “stunned” (as they described it) because this mutuality is seldom acknowledged in our time.

The story has some power, even for us who weren’t there, because we resonate with those archetypal roles deeply and bodily.

And yes the beginnings of change are upon us.

Maybe there’s a new world coming in which women can be fully agentic and in the world without being seen, by women or men, as less womanly or worthy. Maybe there’s a world coming in which men might permit a vulnerability that simply wasn’t possible in the survival-oriented world. (In that world, the name of the man who stopped to check his feelings when confronted with the tiger was often “Lunch”, as Ken Wilber and perhaps others have noted.)

This post-survivalist partnership hasn’t arrived yet.

What about the second story, the Focusing (body-centered inner inquiry) community in which the men dropped out until all were gone? (The “fewer men in personal growth areas” is often observed, of course, not only in this community.)

The short short answer is that men’s inner sense of vulnerability is still culturally hidden from both women and men alike. It’s in a position much like Jane Austen’s feminism was in its time, still invisible.

Men are slower because it was evolutionarily functional for women to ask men for help. She gets love, help and support by asking it of men. It’s part of her traditional territory to ask for help. It’s evolutionarily dysfunctional for him to ask for help. His role has been to protect and provide and he’s socially perceived as unmanly and unworthy for asking for help. Or to notice that he might like to have it.

A few notes towards the conversation we could be having in Part 3 very soon.

(I’ll share some news about my “Euro-pilgrimage” – which is already opening more doors than I dared hope for – soon.)



Two Stories of Women and Men

two stories of women and men

two stories of women and men

Two stories of women and men I heard this week got me thinking .

The first was told by an Irish friend in an online group conversation when the subject of women and men came up . . .

The powers-that-be wanted to build a motorway through one of Ireland’s ancient sacred sites. A woman called on other women to come to the site to stop the work from happening. But not only did she call the women, she called the men too, to come and protect the women. At the critical juncture, the women were on the inside of the circle and the men were on the outside, surrounding the women and facing out.

were on the inside of the circle and the men were on the outside, surrounding the women and facing out.

In our small group who heard the speaker (who was there) tell this, I think we immediately recognized the archetypal elements of the story and its power. I wouldn’t want to be the one charged with busting that circle up.

But the most interesting thing is what happened after when the women who’d been inside that circle talked about it among themselves afterwards: they described themselves as being “stunned” by the experience. They were amazed at how they felt being inside that circle, protected by the men.

I like this story. It gives a good place to women and a good place to men both. It emphasizes the nurturing, inward role of women and the protecting and outward-facing role of men. And it implies a mutuality in the two. The story is powerful because it resonates with our evolutionary history in some way. If it had have been the women on the outside facing out and the men on the inside facing in, would each have felt the same clarity?

As I’m imagining it, the women felt taken care of, respected, loved even, because the men were putting themselves on the line in their defense. They felt proud and useful and the women felt cherished and protected.

Further thoughts arose in the group hearing the story. How cool it would be if women felt appreciated, seen, and cherished for their life-giving gifts as they walked down the street! How cool if the men on the street knew the women were supporting them, cheering them on, valuing them. Loving them even! How cool if would be if that was the vibe we walk around in.

As we spoke of this in the group, some heartwarming relaxation and calming started to arise in the group “field.” We felt a body sense of the realness of that mutual support, at least among us, even if the street scene was still far away.

Here’s a quick sketch of the second story which I’ll leave with you to see how – or if – it “cooks” with the first for you. It’s a story I’d just heard in another context and I shared it in the listening circle.

A bit of set-up: I’ve long used an inner process called “Focusing” as a way of self-reflection. (Focusing developed out of a research project into what happens internally for people who are successful in therapy; it’s practiced by a million or more people worldwide.)

The story concerns my friend Bruce Gibbs who taught Focusing to a church group of ten men and ten women. Each year he went back to see them. After ten years the ten women were all still there – but none of the men!

A number of questions arise for me from the confluence of these two stories. What would it take for a world in which women and men feel seen and cherished “on the street” – or is that a laughable fantasy? Why do men leave, or show up less often, in many contemporary places of self-exploration such as Focusing? And is there a common dynamic that underlies both stories?

In the next two weeks, I’ll share some thoughts on the two and outline a conversational experiment to follow.