Emotional Endurance Training

This is an excerpt from Conscious Men, a book I co-authored with John Gray.

As we grow more in conscious masculinity, we discover that we can transform pain into pleasure simply by staying present. The charge of negative emotion dissipates just by holding it and by not resisting it. A man who has learned to endure painful experiences, both physical and emotional, becomes an enduring man, a man others can count on.

This is not only something modern; it is part of a process of initiation in many old cultures. At puberty, a boy enters into manhood through a rite of passage:
sometimes an excruciatingly painful event by learning to feel pain without taking action to remove it. In the Mandan Tribe that lived along the Missouri River, for example, the Okipa ceremony involved piercing the breast of a boy with a wooden hook before the whole community. He could not cry out; he would have to learn how to endure pain and to hold it. The word “endure” comes from the Latin root “in” plus “durus,” which means to make hard. Enduring any difficult feeling causes a man to become stronger. They would then throw a rope over the limb of a tree, tie the rope to the stick, and pull the boy upward from his chest, so he would lift off the ground. He was hanging in the air all day but not able to cry out. If he could go through this process, he became a man. He learned to feel pain, not to seek out comfort, not to run away, and not to express feelings. He had to learn how to hold it, how to feel inside himself, and how to endure. In this way, a boy became a man: by learning that when he stays present with something as long as it exists, it will dissipate. If you feel pain in your body, without reaction, it will produce endorphins and give you bliss.

Today, many men are constantly running away from pain. We were not encouraged to feel pain as boys if nobody was listening to us, so we stopped listening to our own pain. However, if a boy has a parent who can embrace and hold him when he is in pain, he will gain the ability to hold his own pain. Rob Allbee tells us that the prisoners he works with in San Quentin never had that. They did not learn how to embrace pain. So either they have to run away from their pain or inflict it on someone else. Once you learn to feel, you know that when your pain levels go up and you can stay present with them, endorphins get produced. 

There are all kinds of ways to help a man increase his capacity to endure painful feelings, long enough that they transform into pleasure and into presence. We have learned a lot about how a man can develop emotional endurance.

One excellent method is to hold your body in the same position for several minutes without moving. Many people today are discovering the powerful benefits of the ancient Chinese discipline of Chi Kung. Putting your body into the “tree posture” for five or ten minutes will feel uncomfortable at the beginning, but even after a few weeks of practice of learning to endure uncomfortable feelings, you develop greater inner strength as well as the ability to hold presence for another person. Yoga works in the same way.

From Conscious Men by Arjuna Ardagh and John Gray. You can order a paperback copy or Kindle edition on Amazon here.

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