“As I faced many crisis growing up, I always strove for my own ideal of manhood—to be calm as a rock in the storm.”
From an early age, American boys are brainwashed that their manhood lies between legs. The essence of a “masculine man” lies in what he is able to do with his penis. Perhaps, the second physical loci of manhood would be in a boy’s biceps. Biceps are connected with the strength of his fists, which is of course connected with our ability to execute violence. Our gender conceptions are deeply embedded in our male physical bodies. These physical conceptions of what defines masculinity conceive hosts of distorted images that wreck men upon the rocks of unhealthy masculinity.
I contend that the actual physical loci of our “manhood” lies within our breath. It is our breath which controls our mind. If you can control and notice your breath, you can control and discipline your mind. Our thinking is what makes us strong men. The core of our masculine presence is seated in our breath—which controls our ability to be present in our bodies, and be calm when the inevitable storm hits us as men.
Growing up without a father, I used to seek my conceptions of what a “real man” is from media images. One of the television characters I gravitated to was “Spock” from the original Star Trek. He always struggled, being part Vulcan and part human, in keeping his emotions in check. Yet, he was always stone-cold cool when his comrades were losing their minds in a crisis. Men have a role thrust upon them from broader society—we are the ones expected to hold it together in crisis.
As I faced many crisis growing up, I always strove for my own ideal of manhood—to be calm as a rock in the storm. So when violence would erupt around me, evictions of our poor single-mom family, brothers in jail or a hospital, friend’s overdoses, police encounters, or murders— I strove to be calm, cool, and collected. This all came to me through the power of conscious breath.
One of my attractions to martial arts, meditation, and Qigong, is that these ancient practices core principles are set in a foundation of the control of breath. The breath anchors the mind into the body. It anchors one’s spirt into the mind-body. It follows and yet, directs our physical and psychic energy. Breath is what keeps a man strong under fire.
Later as an adult, when I was going through a profound life crisis where right side up was upside down, I ended up with serious heart problems and clinical depression. I was put on medications. A PhD biology researcher friend of mine suggested that I look into a holistic approach, since there were no longitudinal studies on the effects of the prescription drugs I was on.
Since I was an active Martial Artist that involved movement from a relaxation focus, I wanted to do a mind-body activity that would complement my martial training. I wanted to learn a moving meditation, verses a seated mediation or rigid forms like Yoga. I found a mediocre book on Qigong at my library, found some lame exercises that were allegedly designed to address my symptoms, haphazardly through together a 10-minute routine, and did that for a week. By then end of my week, my symptoms had ceased. I was hooked. I wanted to learn more about this Qigong stuff.
I trained for 5 weeks straight to get my 200 hours’ teachers certificate in 2004. I have been doing these practices ever since on a daily basis. I am simply re-learning to breath in the way that babies and young children do instinctually and naturally. Better yet, I am trying to unlearn the mechanistic stressful dogma of my culture, and learning (quite late in life) how to breath in calm and control. For in my world of unpredictable community and home violence, physical beatings from gangs, knife attacks, threat from guns, my jacked up childhood—my definition of manhood is one who can remain calm and in control in the storm of chaos and violence.
I since then have calmed my heart, more deeply centered my soul, and slowed my breathing so I can be “in the now.” The only moment we have as men is now. Regardless of how traumatized we may have been from the past, or how much we worry and fear about our future, those phantasms exist only in the thought-world of our minds. Our real life takes place exclusively in the sacred “NOW.” Our breath is the key safety line that ties us to the present moment, merely by hearing and feeling this miraculous autonomic physiological process.
Our breath’s exhalation feeds the trees our carbon dioxide, as on each inhale we drink their oxygen. Our masculine bodies are a microcosm of the whole universe—a universe which is constantly breathing. As a man, my biggest thrill and responsibility is to be fully present in my body and mind for myself, my loved ones, and my community. And, I do so through the life line of controlling and listening to my sacred breath.
My manhood lies not in my groin or in my fists. My manhood lies within the thread of my sacred breath.