Men Are Vulnerable TooBY CHRISTINE
My parents grew up in Greece during World War Two. My father was in the underground by the age of 12, living a very adult life. He was a good man, a man who took care of his family and who provided after he came into the United States as an immigrant. But his mindset was very patriarchal. He was not emotionally accessible and not a person I could have a conversation with. Certainly, he did not welcome me sharing my emotions with him.
Being an art-oriented creative child, this was difficult for me. I used to do jewelry design, and when I was a sophomore in high school I won this state award for a jewelry piece I created. I remember being so proud and showing the piece to my dad, and he couldn't even admire it or share that moment and be proud of me. I was crushed because I’d put all this time, effort and energy into sculpting it and having it cast and then refining this piece of art, and all he could say was, “Oh, it’s nothing.”
As a result I grew up seeing men as having a hard edge and being critical, as not being receptive or open. As an adult, I developed a Daoist practice where I taught yoga and meditation, and I worked with some great teachers, most of them men, who were fairly vulnerable. But by that time it had reached the point where I was the one who wasn't vulnerable.
My relationships with men weren’t very open or satisfying, and I was picky. A real change happened after one long distance relationship didn’t work out. I felt rejected and took a big timeout from intimate relationships. Instead I started doing tantric practices, meditation and self-stroking.
After three years self-stroking, I definitely hit my limits. Even though I would step into different communities of practice, at a certain point a wall would go up. I didn’t feel as if I was being heard and seen. And I realized, “How is anybody else going to be able to feel me and see me and hear me, if I’m actually not actually providing it for myself?”
I did some reading and saw that to grow I needed to connect in my practice—I needed another person, a counterpart to work with. I felt hungry, missing the partnership and the connection on the other end. Then one day, after I had come out of a meditation class and gotten on the subway, I met five people on the train. I was buzzing because I just came out of meditation, and they were totally buzzing too. There was something different about them. So, I asked, “Where did you guys come from?” And a woman pulled out a business card about OM and handed it to me.
“Check it out,” she said.
My first OM was intense. I could feel heat building up in my body just thinking about what I was about to do, starting a practice that I typically would be doing on my own. I thought, “Wow, we're going to share orgasm together.” And even though it wasn’t romantic or sexual, I felt really really vulnerable going there. I said this to my partner and he said, “You know, I feel the same way. I feel vulnerable.” And I was so startled. Because in my reality only the woman should feel vulnerable—only the person undressed from the waist down about to be stroked should feel exposed!
That was six years ago, and I still vividly remember standing next to him looking at him. I can still see his face as he looked at me—his big brown eyes looking directly into my big brown eyes as he said, “I feel vulnerable.” And I felt that next wave of heat roll through my body as I thought to myself, Wow, men are vulnerable. I was definitely not expecting that.
It was in my very first OM that I realized my learned behavior of how I perceived men was just that—learned behavior because that is how some of the men in my life showed up. And I went on to project that idea onto all men, but people aren’t like cookies made with a cookie cutter. Vulnerability exists for us all, and we all handle it differently.
My relationship with men has shifted as a result. At this point, I’m willing to have uncomfortable conversations with men. If something feels weird or I’m not understanding a communication, I will name it or ask about it. There are times where I definitely fall back into habitual patterns where I project onto men, because I am human. But the more vulnerable I become, the more that bleeds out into the world. Just the other day I got into a tense exchange with a guy friend, and I noticed I was sharp in our interaction. I circled back and said, “I didn't mean to be harsh.” He was really receptive and sweet about it, sharing with me what triggered him. I probably wasn't that harsh, but I knew something happened. It felt right to clear my end of it up, we both felt closer to one another afterwards, as though we could move forward from a place of being intimately connected in an uncomfortable situation.
OM gives people permission to be open about their vulnerability. It’s given me permission to be open with my own vulnerability and to take responsibility for my part in arguments or subtle moments of disconnection. OM allows me to just share and feel safe and to feel safe with others. It has given me permission to be real with another person. For example, I was talking with a friend one day and his eyes were all over the place—they were bouncing around, and I called him out on his level of inattention sitting in the room with me. “I don't think you're giving me the attention that I want,” I said.
I would never have said something like this before. But this practice has taught me that I have to be responsible for myself as well as be responsible to another human being. It gives me permission to connect to my emotions, to be emotive and to vocalize those emotions. And that ends up creating real moments of being seen and heard and felt in this moment of being, both inside of my OM practice and in the rest of my everyday life.