We're sitting cross-legged in a circle on the wooden floor — a dozen men in total — as we each share a check-in on how we're all feeling. We'd gathered for three days at an ecolodge in Bali to take a deep dive into what it means to embody the healthy masculine.
I've been to dozens of retreats and circles in my life, but this was my first exclusively men's retreat — one that my friend Jonny organized.
As the talking stick comes around to me, I share the tingles I feel in my arms and the excitement I feel in my heart.
I'd just finished leading a dance journey that morning for the group, guiding them to embody the four masculine archetypes, and I'm feeling proud.
I'd guided the men to use the archetypes to generate new perspectives for an obstacle they faced in their life — and multiple people had expressed gratitude to the group for the breakthroughs they felt.
This was the type of impact I wanted to be creating in people's lives.
As I pass along the talking stick, the guy next to me shares that he's not able to feel his feelings in his body — anger, sadness, gratitude, or anything else.
"Is this normal?" he asks.
I feel empathy, and I realize I have tools I can share with him that would help. I remember being in a similar phase in life and wondering a similar thing.
In college, I was walking along Massachusetts Ave in Cambridge on a date, and I had teared up from something I felt sad about.
"You're too sensitive," the woman I was dating had said.
Those words hit me hard. The tears suddenly stopped. In that moment, I felt my heart close. Some part of me shut down and decided, "I guess crying isn't okay."
I have no memory of crying for 10+ years after that.
The day the tears came back, I was sitting in a different circle — this one for a 3-day coach training course on processing emotions at the Co-Active Training Institute.
"I can't remember the last time I cried. I don't even know if I can cry anymore," I shared with the group of 20+ coaches. After sharing, I decided I would be open to crying again if something moved me.
That night, I watched a Netflix documentary on Tony Robbins called "I'm Not Your Guru." In one scene, Tony Robbins stages an intervention with a Brazilian woman coming from a devastating childhood — where she'd had to escape from a religious sex cult as a teenager.
I felt so moved by her story and her courage that my eyes started getting watery.
I could cry, I thought to myself. I smiled as felt the wetness on my face with my fingertips.
That moment was the beginning of a multiple year journey in reclaiming my emotions. Today, I'm in such deeper connection with my sadness, my anger, and many other emotions — knowing that there's space for it all.
It's been a particularly empowering journey for me given my family and Chinese upbringing. Neither of my parents modeled much emotional expression other than worry and happiness — certainly not sadness or anger.
In my 38 years of life, I remember three moments where I've seen my dad crying — and two of those were from my grandfather and grandmother passing.
It's also been empowering because as a man in the 21st century, there's still significant social conditioning that makes it difficult for men to show their emotions. The conditioning that makes showing emotions seem weak, even though it actually takes great strength and courage.
So why does it matter if we can feel our emotions in our bodies?
Brené Brown points to the why in The Gifts of Imperfection, "We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions."
In Daring Greatly, she continues to share, "Numbing vulnerability is especially debilitating because it doesn’t just deaden the pain of our difficult experiences; numbing vulnerability also dulls our experiences of love, joy, belonging, creativity, and empathy."
Reclaiming our emotions is therefore also the journey of reclaiming our fulfillment, freedom, and aliveness.
We can't feel the full joy of how important something is to us, unless we also open ourselves to feeling the sadness of its potential loss.
We can't take a powerful stand for what we value, unless we allow ourselves to feel our anger.
We can't tap into our bodies' internal guidance system for making decisions around what we truly want in our life — unless we can trust in our bodies what feels good to us and what doesn't.
We can't feel the fullness of connection to our loved ones unless we open our hearts to feel all the pleasant and painful emotions that go along with it.
For men, reclaiming our emotions is also part of what it means to be in the healthy masculine. We can't be the most free and empowered versions of ourselves unless we accept and allow our emotions to move through our bodies.
When we constrict and suppress our emotions, and the constriction limits the rest of our life as well.
When we shrink ourselves, we miss out on the promotions we're striving for, fail to build the professional reputation we want, and feel lonely and unfulfilled in relationships.
Over the past five years, I've been fortunate to train in many different modalities — neuro-linguistic programming, emotional resolution, embodied intimacy, co-active leadership coaching — all of which help us feel into our emotions more. And as part of my recent shift toward helping people deepen connection to themselves and to others, I'm excited to share some news.
I'm inspired to gather a select group of men interested in doing deep inner work for an Embodied Men's Circle program.
It'll be a blend of embodied practices to get in touch with our feelings and to create deeper clarity in our lives, deep dives into what's alive for the group, coaching hot seats, and an opportunity to form nourishing relationships with like-minded people on a similar journey.
If this excites you, let me know by answering a short questionnaire — and I'll follow up with more program details.