Through practice, you learn to move beyond your genetics and your conditioning, and you begin to transform your ability to love into a deliberate art form.
We can understand this better by thinking about your body. You might have been born to muscular, stocky parents. Then you are naturally a solid and muscular guy. You don’t have to do anything. You might equally have been born to tall skinny parents, so you resemble something like a stick insect. (“Just Like me,” says Arjuna). If you just eat and sleep and go about your day, you will probably end up looking like a blended version of your parents and your grandparents.
Some men choose to put energy into sculpting their bodies into a consciously chosen work of art. Arjuna says: My oldest son, Abhi, is a great example. In his teen years he looked just like me. When he started to spurt up, he had matchstick legs, just like mine. But at some point he said “I don’t think I want to just have the body I was born with, through genetics. I think I’d like to craft my own.” At 16, he started to go to the gym. He worked out religiously. He has learned a tremendous amounts about nutrition. He has studied how to do weightlifting consciously, so he does not damage his body. Now he weighs about 190 pounds, instead of the 150 pounds he would have weighed otherwise. When he shows up in a room, his physical presence is not just the hand he was dealt. It’s the result of conscious choice, and skill and discipline. You are seeing his commitment to creating something consciously chosen.
You might have been born into an incredibly dysfunctional family, where your parents were fighting, drinking, even being violent. You might have grow up and started to duplicate some of those same habits. And then you might have had the terrifying thoughts that you are turning into your parents. Or you might have been born into a loving, beautiful, harmonious household, when Mom and Dad were kissing and cuddling, and saying “Honey.” You might have grow up to marry your high school sweetheart, and to live the same life.
Those are two kinds of conditioning. One looks pretty, one looks ugly. But living out either of one of them, as a genetic inevitability, would be equally unconscious. Conscious masculinity means that you learn to love as a deliberate practice.
In this sense, an unhappy childhood gives you an advantage, because it makes it really obvious that you need to learn the practice of love. When everything was rosy most of the time, you may grow up with what we call “unconscious competence.” It means that you have the perfect training to create a positive relationship, if we were still living in the same environment that existed thirty years ago. But we are in a constantly new world. The traditional roles may have taken thousands and thousands of years to develop, but most of them do not work anymore.
So whether you were born into a very functional family, or whether you were born into a very dysfunctional family, both can be formulas for disaster unless we become conscious of our masculinity, and recognize that every day is a choice to practice the art of love.
Presence is the Key
As a conscious man recognizes his need to practice love, he comes to discover, through experimentation, that love is not just created by saying the right things, or even doing the right things. Of course, saying “I love you honey” or buying a dozen red roses does help. In fact they help quite a bit. The spirit in which all of that occurs is much more important. It all comes down to being present. Everyone in your life is craving, more than anything, for you to show up with all of you, in your body, and be present. That is what actually gives nourishment.
Sometimes I walk into the room and Chameli is disturbed by something. She might say “The place is such a mess.” My unconscious habit is to start frantically running around the room cleaning things up, to try to get her approval. I’ve learned that the first thing to do is to drop more deeply into my body, and to come back to feeling connected with myself. It is only possible to do that if I have a daily practice of taking space and withdrawing. Then I can look right into her eyes, I can smile, and I can let that smile come all the way from my lower belly. I can say “I am definitely going to clean up this mess,” but those words are just floating on the surface. Right under the surface is a wave of presence looking right into her and saying, in an unspoken way, “I’m right here. Feel me. I’ve got this. You can relax.”
That is the key. You don’t always need to say those exact words out loud, but that is the greatest gift that a man can give to a woman.