What does it mean to be a man in today’s world? Limited ideas of masculinity, propagated by the media and socio-cultural norms, can be stifling for men who want to explore their spirituality and discover new ways of expressing themselves. To create a shift, men are banding together to question old paradigms and find support through conscious community and engagement with nature.
“Men often have a hard time articulating their deepest needs,” says David Odorisio, PhD, a Kripalu Yoga teacher with a background in teaching and pastoral counseling. “They need a space where they can let down their guard and let go of their hyper-responsible roles—parent, spouse, breadwinner.”
When they relax their personas and social obligations, men can begin to relate to each other in ways that are more authentic, more vulnerable, and ultimately more empowering, as they redefine masculinity for themselves. Creating circles and groups in which to commune and examine their needs, in their own language and at their own pace, allows men to foster emotional, social, and spiritual growth.
“Men are mostly isolated from each other,” says Harshada David Wagner, a meditation and spiritual teacher. “When men are together, their masculine energy is matched, honored, and enhanced.”
Some men struggle with trying to conform to conventional stereotypes of what they think they should be: macho, aggressive, tough, ruggedly individual, and non-emotional. “Men are conditioned to not have needs,” says David, “and to be mistrusting of one another because of competition and fear.” It’s rare, he says, to see men gathered in trusting camaraderie. That’s why building conscious communities for men can be so important for healing and for the integration of a fuller, more nuanced male identity.
One profound way for men to reconnect to themselves is through wilderness-based experiences. Tim Walsh, a therapeutic outdoor educator and life coach, notes that “the typical representation of masculinity is in straight lines: square shoulders, chiseled jaws”—reflections of civilization, industry, and society (think skyscrapers). These representations can be confining and claustrophobic for men. Spending time in nature connects them to their more fluid intuition.
“Nature’s landscape is more expansive in form,” Tim says. “It’s soft, rounded, curved—feminine.” Open spaces can foster receptivity and allow new perspectives to emerge. “Returning to nature can help men relate to the world around them, helping them with their relationships and with intimacy,” Tim notes.
Tim says many indigenous cultures have a more symbiotic and symbolic relationship with the natural world—they’re part of it, not separate from it, stewards of nature rather than its conquerors. Men from these cultures honor and celebrate the feminine through their reverence for the earth. By turning toward nature, men in Western society can regain a sense of balance, and integrate their coexisting masculine and feminine qualities.
Through community and connection—connecting with each other, with themselves, and with the natural world—men are redefining what masculinity means to them and moving beyond limited views of what a man “should” or “shouldn’t” be. Their self-definitions welcome all aspects of the male (and human) experience, creating space for a fuller picture of what it means to be a man.