Suit and tie on mannequin

Lost in a feeling

In Insight and Experience by Terry BishopLeave a Comment

Editor’s note:

If you’re about to read this article and you are, like me, a strong woman, accustomed to commanding your own domain, I’d like to give you a warning:
The material you are about to read may be offensive at first.

Please enter the article with a sense of openness to what you will learn about the dance of women and men. For instance, when I first read Terrence’s boardroom illustration, I was angry and wanted to refute it. So I breathed, stilled myself and put myself back in the scene again, replaying in my mind what it felt like to enter an imposing room full of suits. He was right.

Author’s introduction

This is an examination of the struggle that men are engaged in to try and find a way to integrate their feeling states into a worldview that is built by perceiving patterns and structures. This article unpacks the essential masculine and feminine essence in a simple but compelling way that explains much of the strained dynamics we observe between men and women. It also reveals the next step on the journey forward for both women and men. At this moment in history, men are behind the 8-ball and in need of support, which women are in the best positioned to offer. This article offers concrete steps on what to do.

I have been a curious but quiet witness to the antics of men and women for some decades and in dozens of different cultures around the world. Lately I do a lot of men’s work. The same pattern is emerging everywhere. Men in the Western world are in trouble. We have fallen out of balance in the dance with the feminine – certainly not all men, but, as a collective, we are in a spot of bother. No doubt about it. We used to know who we were as men, but not any more. It’s all confused, and we don’t know what we really should be doing.

And the women are feeling it, quietly yearning for a way to bring healing and balance back. Meanwhile it’s not getting any better and the kids are confused and acting out and there are some rather big problems to be dealt with in the world. No-one seems clear about what to do, and more than a few among us have given up. No wonder the divorce rates are so high.

Through the lens of a theoretical model known as the Integral Approach , gender appears as a rich aspect of human nature that flows like a raging river through our lives and our culture. It cannot be ignored or fixed, but it can be seen, and only then can we become more skilful in riding the gender waves within and around us.

Integral Theory – an integral map of human potentials

Who am I?

How did I get here? Where am I going?

How should I live?

For millennia, human beings of every culture have sought answers to these big questions of life. Different answers have been revealed through spirituality, philosophy, psychology, sociology, the sciences and dozens of other fields. Until now, their insights appeared like random pieces of an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. Until now. Based on the genius of Ken Wilber, Integral Theory is the picture on the front of the jigsaw box, bringing together the wisdom of the ages into a coherent map of the amazing possibilities of human existence.

The integral view reveals that, like all challenges, the paradox of men and women is comprehensible. It’s just a matter of time. Men are not a lost cause – just in transition between major growth states. Women are in transition too in a different way, and that brings its own glory and challenges.

The theory points out that only recently have the structures of consciousness emerged that are capable of holding such delicate and complicated worldviews in which men and women sit in harmony with their differences. The confusion before was inevitable. We just had to grow a bit. Understanding and mutual support is not only possible but inevitable.

And now we have grown. We’ve been growing like crazy since the 1960s. With every stage of growth, we learn to embrace more and more of the possibilities of existence. Our view extends, opening to more terrain of our unrealised potentials. With every surge of growth, we can see what was invisible just before. We can understand more and, with practice, become skilful in more situations. We know more often what to do next.

When this new consciousness looks at gender through an integral lens, it’s like turning on a light in a dark room.

Men and women

Really this is about the masculine and feminine principles, which are more to do with the journey of Spirit than the contents of your underpants. At the level of Spirit, we all have both masculine and feminine principles active within us at all times. No exceptions. The variation between us comes from how alive we are to these principles in our awareness and how we use them to make choices in our lives. Many women are alive to masculine values and many men are oriented to feminine values. At different stages in our growth, we may switch polarities. In this article, I use the words men and women as shorthand terms for people with a masculine and feminine essence respectively.
In my experience, it is true that most men embody a masculine essence, and most women are most at home in their feminine essence. Not everyone – and I mean no dishonour to any sexual or gender identity orientation – but as a general principle, it is both true and helpful to notice that there is an apparent link.

What we share is that all of us are energy beings with a physical body. Our identities as men and women are made only partly of flesh and blood, but also of beliefs and feelings, thoughts and presence, understanding and knowing, will and intention, autonomy and relationship, persistence and letting go. These are all phenomena of the subtle world of our heart-mind. In the subtle world, the only limit to your experience is your imagination. The subtle world is where you go when you dream.

Whenever we focus our attention on anything from a daydream to a sports car, we induce a state of consciousness. States fall into two broad categories: feeling-states appear as an experience of the feeling-tones and resonance of the present moment, while structure-states arise as a felt-sense perception of the patterns at work in this moment in time.

Feeling-states evolve through intuition and the skilful use of imagination; structure-states evolve using reason and contemplation. Our skill in embodying these states evolves through stages as we mature. We can be beginners or masters at either, both or none.

Woman has a natural orientation to feeling-states. Through history, she has used her gift to tune into the natural world and return with healing herbs and delicious foods. She used this same skill to tend to the health and well-being of the children and the men who protected her.

If open, her intuition can be like a phone line to the Divine Mother and a potent voice in village affairs. Her core identity as a person is embedded in her feeling self.

Her orientation to live through felt-experience is what inclines her to be spontaneous, expressive, engaged by beauty and softness, gifted at multi-tasking, sensitive to the moods of others and driven by her vision of harmony. Her secret mission is to bring beauty, joy and love into the world.

Men on the other hand orient towards structure-states, which are states of being that readily perceive and seek patterns and orderliness in the world. They are built of understanding forged through the process of reasoning, and initially always projected onto his external world.

Using his gift, he sought to tame nature, build shelter for his family and keep them warm and safe, hunt, plant crops and do whatever it took to protect his family and tribe.

His work was hard almost beyond the imagination, often dangerous, and frequently fatal. Man agreed to be more expendable because it is through woman that our next generation arrives, and the heart of the historical man can be seen in his preference for well-being of family tribe over his own survival.

His orientation towards thinking in structures is what inclines him to control his world, to invent, to objectivise, to always want to fix it, to get to the point, to have a purpose and struggle to achieve it so that, on the other side, he may finally find freedom and peace.

Boys must have rites of passage and instruction on how to be good men because we construct our masculine identities in ways that girls do not.

Men must understand who we are and what our purpose is, while women as the embodiment of the pure feminine current, live in the moment, using feeling and intuition as their compass.

His maps of understanding are impersonal, while her feeling states are entirely personal and beyond being captured by structures. She lives in a world of present-moment energies of texture and tone, while he lives in a world of objects to be tamed over time.

His identity as a person is ultimately embedded in his structure-self, which makes him an object in a world of objects, and rather lonely. His secret mission is to find love he can trust. His main strategy is to be useful.

With the arrival of feminism, women discovered the world of structure-states, and have been busy the last 50 years remaking the family home and influencing the structures of our cultural systems to make them more appropriately sensitive to the needs of women and children.

The arrival of the sensitive new age guy signalled the opening of men to their feeling-states. They have been busy for the last 50 years exploring the vast world of feeling-states, and processing an eternity of unexpressed emotions handed down from the lineages of traumatised men.

For all of human history prior to then, the majority of men had little awareness of their feeling states and the majority of women were aliens to structures of understanding that extended beyond the home. The bizarre antics of history can be seen in a much clearer light when we realise that virtually all of us were playing with half a deck or less!

A few knotty kernels of blame remain with us from the radical feminists. No doubt we men deserved our shame for our past mistakes, but as justified as they may be, blaming and shaming are solid barriers to understanding – so we must drop them to start our journey of healing. The blame game will stop when we understand each other in ways that delight us, or inspire our compassion and healing words, or perhaps our recognition and gratitude for the good works we have done.

Good works of good men

In the present day, at this very moment, you and I both are surrounded by the good works of good men. Can you see them?

Men seek freedom from the world of objects through a passion for order in thinking, action and worldly affairs. ‘Do it right, do it once, and then move on’, is the motto of the man who sees his world as objects that can be managed if they can be understood.

When taken too far, it becomes the pursuit of ‘power over’ relationship that appears as controlling behaviour and bullying and an insensitivity to the needs of women and nature in our worldly affairs. And men have certainly done that. We have to answer for that too.

But when in balance, this impulse brings a very desirable orderliness into the world of nature. That we have reliable electric light, well built houses, amazing freeways, reliable cars, incredible computers, reliable phone and internet, hospitals, airports, universities, libraries… all are amazing gifts that arise from this propensity of men to bring order, safety and comfort into the world, often in service to those they love. In balance, it is a noble and beautiful trait.

Is there hope?

The great quest of our age is to evolve our consciousness to the point where it can hold the enormous structures of understanding that are necessary for global thinking. They are already emerging but are precarious and vulnerable.

These larger structures can only hold together if they include compassion and care for all genders, all races, all species, all life forms. Otherwise the tension of the repressed inevitably tears them apart. Men can imagine options, but the women have a gift for intuiting their wisdom. We need the women to help us co-create our global visioning.

We are in this together. Men and women can either start working together or we will likely still be bickering as we totter over the edge of ecological disaster, and take with us the well-being of countless future generations. While blame may be justified, there comes a point where it only serves to create bitterness and more wounding.

Besides, the same people when looked at through a different lens can suddenly emerge as beautiful and inspiring souls in whose company we delight. Beyond the blame game, such are the men and women all around us, beings thoroughly deserving of our appreciation and respect, our compassion and our love, tiny sparks of the Divine questing to find their way home through the rugged mountains of worldly cares. Sometimes all it takes is one step sideways to open the view to a whole new world.

The next step

Men are faced with opening themselves to their feelings and then integrating them into their structures of understanding.

Women are faced with remembering their feeling state identity, only at a higher level of development than from their childhood, which will take guidance from the newly formed structures of their understanding.

Some women find all structures of men as limitations on their freedom. They later learn that structure and its rules are indispensable when learning to skilfully navigate the infinite possibilities of feelings. They then become discerning about which rules to immediately throw in the trash and which ones to integrate.

Men in dance boots

For men to access their feelings, they must open themselves to the spontaneous experiences of feeling states. Feelings, emotions (and to a lesser degree, intuitions) are usually disruptive of a man’s effort to create order in the world. So men are inclined to limit their air-time in the field of their inner awareness.

The means for men to evolve is to pay attention to our own feeling states (when we drive, play sport, listen to music, when talking to someone special) and notice how they change depending on where we are focused. Then turn our attention to the feeling states of others and watch them change and ebb and flow. If that annoys us, we are holding too tightly to our structures. Feeling states chop and change all the time. We can learn to be curious and find delight in the way that states change – like Melbourne weather. Meditation is the practice of being still while bringing awareness to all states as they arise, and then letting them pass without getting entangled in them. An important step beyond awareness is learning to share what we feel with other men. This confronts us with our vulnerability around our feelings, but on the other side of that confrontation are the beginnings of the freedom that we so desperately seek.

When a man can engage the dance of feelings with the feminine side of his partner, he relaxes his quest for order, which gives her the space she needs to move. He learns to appreciate her qualities of spontaneity, connection and care. He finds delight in witnessing the ways that she can manifest beauty, joy and love in the world around her.

Good works of good women

The old saying from the patriarchy reminds us “Behind every great man there is a great woman”. While it may seem condescending, from another viewpoint it speaks to the invaluable role that women have played throughout history. ‘Great men’ are so labelled because they have achieved something noteworthy in the world, usually for the benefit of millions. The old saying reminds us that no man can achieve much at all if he is not supported and inspired by the one he loves. For him, his true measure of success is that he is loved by her in a way that he can trust.

An integral view of history leaves no doubt that women have been far from passive in the unfolding drama of human affairs. What has inspired men since the beginning of time is to serve his women and children.

If what he is doing in the world is not the best he could do under the circumstances of the time, the wise and courageous women of history would have spoken wisely and clearly, sometimes in dangerous circumstances. The fact that humanity is still here, and that we have achieved so many amazing things in our shared journey, can leave no doubt that the words of the wise women were substantially honoured.

What can the wise women do today? What role can the feminine essence bring to the troubled hearts of men? One place to start is to learn to recognise men as driven by the quest for orderliness and the safety and the security resulting from that. We are still learning the art of mastery, but let every invention you ever use be cause for thanks to the men.

Many men do not understand the world of feelings, and going there is as hard for a man as it may be for a woman to enter a board room where every word spoken is supported by mountains of logical structure. Our efforts to build mental structures that describe and contain feelings are relentlessly confounded. Men sometimes need reminding that if our structures fail us and we are confused and getting frustrated, our most sane choice is to relax and just experience what the moment feels like.

When he takes a breath, in that moment there emerges a garden of flowering opportunities for the woman skilled in inducing feeling states.

Men often appear unfeeling (we need to learn that for business), but we are often profoundly sensitive, paying great attention to the murmured word and the subtle patterns they imply. On the inside we are cut by the jibes about our masculine traits or our failure to be sensitive to the ever-changing world of feeling-states. We yearn to be recognised for our value, and we’re usually keen observers when being shown the ways of what we are trying to learn.

More than recognised, we aspire to be honoured. We aim in our hearts to do good for the world and for our loved ones, and honouring is the mark of success. Even though we may see ourselves as failures compared to the grand visions of our youth (and the complaints of our past lovers), we can still be seen constantly trying anyway, beavering around in the background fixing something or making something better. Most men are deeply nurtured by a subtle honouring recognition over some small achievement. You do them a great service when you make the effort to notice.

So where are the good men? We are in our caves, trying to make sense of a world that is getting quicker and harder and less fulfilling and more pressurised by the day.

If you peer into the still gaze of our eyes, you can see us peeking out, full of curiosity but unsure how to be any more. Or we might try the other approach, to respond too loudly, too forcefully as a way of hiding our confusion. Either way, we are a bit lost right now trying to learn about a feeling world that is alien to us but the original home of our beloved, hoping she might be inspired to give us a hand.

Once we can make sense of our dilemmas as men, we will shake off the burden of history and rise again to try to construct a better world that is more sustainable and compassionate. This time, we need to rise together with the women to co-create what we all need and want. We can heal ourselves as we heal our beloved as we heal our world. Through embodying a shifting balance of both structure and feeling states in our worldly and spiritual affairs, we can all find within us a deeper well of our own true nature. We can feel more at ease embodying the essence of who we really are.

We can be there for each other in ways that we only dream of, held together by the intention that wants only for our beloved to burst like acorns into the oaks of their full potential. By some mysterious quirk of the cosmos, when we are serving the ones we love, it causes our own spirit to bloom. Is that Spring outside? Is it time yet?


Terrence is an ex software industry executive, now a writer, workshop facilitator, integral practitioner, and owner of the Worldview Centre venue near Maleny, Queensland.

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