MINDFULNESS IS FOR MEN TOO!
Our last course in Barnsley was a bit of an anomaly. We had 10 people coming along to learn Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and half of them were men. Amazing! It's never happened before. And what a good course it was too. But why, I ask myself, should I have been surprised by this? Why is it that, out of the 30 or so courses we have taught so far, comprising maybe 250 people over 4 years, only a tiny fraction of them have been men? I mean, it's not as if men are immune to stress or are already hard-wired to live in the moment, is it? Nevertheless it seems to be the case that the majority of people attending courses will be women and this is the case wherever mindfulness is taught. This strikes me as a huge shame particularly since there is increasing evidence that the reluctance of men to address the causes of the stresses they face in life is causing real harm. Many men, it is generally acknowledged, work too hard, find it difficult to express intimacy, feel lonely, don't seek help when they need it and don't know how to deal with their emotions. Women, of course, have just as many issues, some of them are the same but, crucially, they are much more likely to do something about them.
So why should men learn mindfulness? Well in a sense they already are pretty mindful creatures already. Men engage in all sorts of activities that require a lot of focus and concentration, at work as well in leisure. But context is everything; it's OK to be mindful while engaged in sport or working out a difficult problem at work but it's altogether different when you need to express intimacy to a partner or relate to a teenage child or field some stinging criticism from your boss. In a recent article, Elisha Goldstein describes 5 reasons why men should learn mindfulness. He identifies, I think correctly, that it is most men's fear of vulnerability and their need to be in control that makes it difficult for them to embrace mindfulness in the same way that women do. The language we use doesn't help. Words like "warmth" and "kindness" and "gentleness" are not in many men's vocabularies and sit very uneasily with some. But as Elisha Goldstein points out, we no longer live in caves and we no longer depend on the men to protect the tribe from wolves or marauders. The threats we experience these days are usually the products of our own minds. In fact, the so called "masculine" traits of aggression, stoicism and competitiveness might actually be killing men, or at least seriously limiting their potential to live fulfilling lives, if they are not also tempered by the softer traits of compassion, empathy and gentleness. I am generalising of course; many men can both express their masculinity and be compassionate human beings. Of course they can. But the fact is that too many of them follow patterns of behaviour that do them no good and do others no good either. Yet mindfulness can be of huge benefit to men as well as women. Mindfulness gives you focus, increases your capacity for intimacy, helps you work better, gives you confidence and makes you more emotionally intelligent. Not a bad pay-off is it?
So how do we encourage more men to embrace mindfulness? We're open to suggestions. Let us know your feelings on this and post comments below. We'd love to hear what you've got to say.