Apprenticeship to Love, April 14, 2024

  • Today’s questions: What are you protecting, holding tight, afraid to lose? What has it cost you, this thing, to have in your hands or heart? And what is costing you, to hold onto it?
  • Today's suggested practice: Day 14 of this month's practice, to pause and feel the sacred space within (see my "Short Practice,” below)
  • My practice today: 4:40am: 45 minutes: yoga asanas (physical practice), Ganesha mantra meditation.

★"For Intimacy," the next Apprenticeship to Love virtual workshop, on April 16 with Sarah Anderson, is now open for limited registration at . Free to all Premium, Premium+, and EXTRA subscribers


Along with foolish wisdom, the nourishing of our roots in the mud of life, this is also the season of sacrifice. Of laying the cozy comforts of winter on the altar of rebirth and allowing what is to come, to come. To be born.

I told again, in conversation with a woman interested in ancestral ways and the lessons of life and how they might be shaped by these ways, the story of my birth as a father. Later, I co-hosted a live on-air conversation about intimacy and aftercare (this is a recurring theme; the more I consider what intimacy involves, the more I am inclined to think that the preparation and the aftercare are, perhaps, as important if not more so than the intimacy itself...). These are linked conversations. In part because the first was so autobiographical and, in the presence of the interviewer's tenderness, a wandering & wondering in my own tenderness.

I was born a father when my first wife gave birth to our first daughter. It was in a conversation with my colleague Fabiola Perez, a men's and couples' therapist and a birth doula, that I became aware of this. As I heard it, she described to me her impression that we men really only became viscerally, bodily aware of this magical pregnancy-birth-child thing when we held the newborn in our arms. That was the case for me. It was —and remains— the case that the experience my wife had been through is unimaginable to me. I saw her body change. I felt her changing body. I experienced her changing moods and desires and more. But stil, I had no inkling and to this day have no inkling of the magic she experienced in the conception, the gestation and carrying of our daughter, nor of her birthing of this daughter.

I read, closely, Elaine Scarry's book, The Body in Pain, as part of my graduate work. Scarry emphasized the isolation of this body in pain, how unknowable it can be. How the body's pain is a testament to our essential aloneness. A good deal of Scarry's attention is focused on torture and the gulf between the bodies that enact and those that experience torture.

It's a powerful book. Sobering. I drew on it in my work to talk about the inexpressibility of our experiences, and the almost Sysiphean desire to bridge the gulf between our different bodies, our different experiences of being alive. I do not remembrer any meditation in Scarry's book about the experience of pregnancy and birth, or that post-partum darkness that descends on so many mothers. I am these days listening to men who are encountering this darkness in their wives, the mothers of their newborn children. Like the women they long to comfort but have no inkling of how to comfort, like their newborn children wailing as they encounter the coldness and the otherness of an indifferent world, they are —mostly silently— fumbling with their new fatherhood.
I've been thinking about how we (do not) prepare for marriage. In a recent Men Walking group one man brought up our lack of rites of passage. What marks us as men? He asked. What ordeal teaches us how to be men? Husbands? Fathers?

So I ask, repeatedly, What if your stag night were part of preparing you to be husband, to —and here I'm borrowing from Stephen Jenkinson again— "father" what we call marriage?

I am imagining, again apropos SJ, a year of preparation. The stag is part of that, but only a part. And it is less a scene of juvenile excess than it is a ritual of renunciation and sacrifice, a making sacred, of the man who crosses the threshold that marks him as a husband.
Kendra Cunov recently remarked, we honor the inherent holiness of the moment by bringing our full attention to it. She was echoing what Katie Dove had reminded me of in our recent conversation about marriage and sex and the sacred. That we are already here, in the sacred. We need only slow down, attend to ourselves, each other.

In recent weeks I've worked with several women who suffer from an affliction that I think is endemic in our culture: They feel themselvdes not seen, not heard, not held. What I've learned is that the feminine part of all of us requires this attention. We will not flourish —will not blossom— without it. And this is doubly, or perhaps 10x so for those of us who are feminine-identified. These bodies yearn to feel delight in themselves. More than that, they yearn for those of us who are masculine-identified to experience their delight as nourishment, as worthy of all of our attention.

As a newly born father I struggled to know how to hold my infant daughter. It was even harder for me to know how to hold and attend to her mother, my wife. I may have been thicker and more insensitive than some men, perhaps many men, in similar circustances. But I'm inclined to think otherwise. I think this impotence (and if ever there were a time for this word and its power to be felt it is in those moments and weeks and months, even years after the mother of our child has given birth) is also endemic. Small wonder that darkness (and depression, and divorce) is so close to birth.
She, the woman I love, once asked me for the sacred to be between us, and especially in our sex. It was one of the few things she asked of me. I am grievously sorry I did not know that she was showing me a way to my peace, my purpose, my happiness as a man. So I asked her to please forgive me.

She tells me I am not like that now. But the memory of that gulf of understanding, and of my disinterest in even attempting to bridge the gulf between what our bodies were experiencing, it shames me. So I try and listen a little more closely now. I try to bring a little more humility to my engagements.

More recently, when I described how it is to love her, with her necessary distance and silences and protections, she said, “That sounds hard.” It is not easy. No. But what I failed to say (or perhaps did not know at that moment) is that the work of attending to holiness or the sacred is about sacrifice, and that it is the sweetest thing in my life, to sacrifice (to make sacred) this space & time between us.

It is a way to recognize, without pretending to know the feeling in her body, that she sacrificed, for love. She sacrificed some part of her heart and her body to try to give birth to something holy between us.

I know she carries the imprint of this sacrifice in her body. It makes it hard for her to feel safe. Though I feel her trusting me, conditionally, she does not feel safe. I am sorry. I am also forever grateful to her. Her sacrifice gave birth to me as the man I am today. And everything I do, everything I say, everything thing I write & teach & experience —her sacrifice gave birth to this. And this is why I will always love her, always have reverence for her.

I am the man who stands for her, who listens for her, who feels for her, who delights in her. There is no taking away of the pain she has felt or the pain she still feels as a consequence of this sacrifice. All I can do is honour this space between us. It is a holy space.
This is the mud that nourishes these roots. I have dug this garden bed. I know that winter is behind me on this turn of the wheel, and that the flowers of summer will come. For now, to attend to what nourishes me. Her sacrifice. My renunciation of the easy distractions that advertise themselves as a balm. The work of turning the soil, plucking out the weeds, sowing seeds, etc. This is the work of husbandry.

I was not prepared for this. My father was not prepared for this. Nor his father before him. I don't know how many generations of men in my family were flung into the world unready to care for the women we wed, the women we burdened with our spiritual disabilities.

But, I am here, now. Acknowledging her sacrifice, the birth-trauma of the women who ushered me into deeper and darker realities then we menfolk are generally ready for. And, breathing a little more deeply than otherwise, a little more aware of this sacred space I have been invited to occupy, to cherish. To revere.
Fathering. I think now that it's about sacrifice, and about recognizing sacrifice, and making some time to sit with that. To be reverential. And maybe that is all.


🌀Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes said, "If you cannot make something better or different, then make it holy."
Mary Oliver wrote, "This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness."
We are not God(s). We do not 'make' things holy because they are not already; we honor the inherent holiness of the moment by bringing our full attention to it.
We move, we step, we speak, we take action as a gesture of honoring that holiness.
This is what we must do to stay human. (Kendra Cunov)

🌀…transcend your moments of outside pressure by living a carefree life within the highest amount of self-realization and self-valuation. (Guru Singh &Guruperkarma Kaur)

🌀 Thank you. (My beloved, She who must be ravished by my powerful presence, my Oracle & Siren)

Day 7 of this month's practice, to let these thoughts and feelings move through you, with less resistance:
Please read through first, then ...

  • Set two alarms, for times of the day when you have a five-10 minutes to become conscious of who and how you are in this day.
  • When the alarm sounds, wherever and however you are, take a few moments and:
    • Ask yourself: What am I protecting, holding tight, afraid to lose? What has it cost me, this thing, to have in my hands or heart? And what is costing me, to hold onto it still?
    • Then, follow the short practice here:
      • Stand, or sit, and bring your attention to your posture.
      • Feel the ground beneath your feet or sit bones, tilt your chin slightly to lift your chest open and straighten your neck.
      • Take a deep breath, through your nose, and hold it gently for the count of six. Relax the breath for the count of eight. Repeat three times.
  • When you’re done, sit or stand for another minute or two, breathing gently, slowly filling and emptying your belly. Here, as you breathe into your fullness, ask yourself, Do I feel right? Am I in alignment with the man or woman I am? Do I even have an inkling what that might feel like? Do I even have an inkling of what it feels like to be out of alignment with myself?
  • Notice if your body-mind feels somehow changed. And whether you notice a change or not, be content with yourself, exactly as you are in this moment.
  • Continue with your day until the next alarm sounds, and repeat.