Many men think our power is in our brains or our balls.
Our rational brains are supposed to do all the figuring out while our testosterone-filled balls supply the driving force.
Intelligence. Determination. Courage. Sheer force of will. These are the masculine convictions of our brains and our balls. And they’re absolutely valid and essential in their own way. But when used in isolation from our true power source for too long, they leave us dead inside, unable to deeply connect with life – including our intimate partners.
When I was a US military officer, I was trained to use those masculine brains-n-balls convictions to accomplish whatever the mission, whatever the cost. After 10 years of operating purely on brains and balls alone, I was completely dead inside. I couldn’t really laugh. I couldn’t at all cry. I had an amazing girlfriend I couldn’t really love. I couldn’t feel much of anything.
I didn’t realize then that the military takes to the extreme what modern culture idolizes: the prioritization of rationality over emotion; the worship of intellectual understanding over embodied knowing. The military intentionally disconnects the brains and balls from embodied knowing because that’s our direct connection to the actual, tangible, visceral life we’re immersed in every moment, regardless what our brains have to say about it.
The military knows that you can’t take life when you feel connected to life.
Men, particularly, routinely deny this powerful embodied connection to life that we cannot experience through our thinking brains alone. Yet this power center is what enables us to deeply feel our own lives, to feel the world, and to then create truly extraordinary relationships with other people and lives in which we thrive everyday.
Truly, when we live from this innate power source which connects us to life, itself, we can make entire worlds thrive. This power source isn’t in our brains or our balls. It’s in the heart.
We men tend to think of “heart” as merely something to help us win the close game or appeal to a woman’s romantic side. That’s like thinking the sun is only good for heating bath water.
A man genuinely connected to his heart, who lives each day with his brain and balls in proper service to his heart’s deeper wisdom, is a man that breathes life into the world. He can inspire and lift up the world, even if it’s only one person’s world.
How does a man connected to heart show up everyday, not just when his team is down 5 points with a minute remaining? What does such a man look like?
1. He’s deeply patient.
With himself. With others. With life.
When we’re connected to heart, we’re able to be patient with and authentically love life, ourselves and other people, even when they don’t do what we want them to do – which is almost always.
In the military, I was so disconnected from my heart that I hated life. I was imprisoned in my brain. Sex was my only escape. The day I left base for the last time, I headed for the open road with only a backpack and pent-up rage. Little did I know, I was also heading into the darkest night my soul has ever experienced.
That dark night waxed and waned for 12 years and involved angry women and drugs and heartbreak and financial ruin. I was always impatient for the rest of the world to change so I could finally feel good, and I acted out in countless ways to make it change. By its end, my ego had been gutted so profoundly, as I finally had to accept just how little I am in control of anything or anyone and just how messy life is no matter what I do to keep it clean. With every smash against the rocks I took, every despairing night and furious girlfriend, the heavy armor surrounding my heart cracked and weakened until I gradually discovered an abiding peace and a laughter I had never felt in my body before.
“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” ~ Rumi
When I finally emerged from that dark night, I found myself in a new reality that showed me we are all innocent in our ignorance. We are each doing the best we can, all the time, even when it doesn’t look that way. If we truly knew how to do things better, we’d do it.
That one insight gave me access to an embodied patience with people, myself, with life, that I had never known, that no one ever taught me.
That insight was borne of a freshly opened heart.
Granted, my patience remains a work in progress for my brain and my balls still constantly seek to assert their authority.
But my heart is no longer slave to my brain or my balls. I can move powerfully towards my true heart’s desire – whether that be a woman or a trip to the tropics – with patience enough to allow Life its surprise curve balls. Curve balls are half the fun, anyway.
That’s another way you can recognize a man of heart; he makes most things fun …
2. He laughs easily, authentically
I didn’t really know laughter until I was well into my 30s. Oh, I laughed plenty before then. But I took myself and life so seriously that my laughter was shallow and intellectual. Only I didn’t know that until the wisdom in my heart started showing me the wild beauty in all things.
Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty.”
My intellect has always been predisposed to lie to me by telling me things are worse than they really are. My brain usually says I’ve got to work harder, be better and do more just to survive, never mind thrive. It says the same about you. And my balls, well, they’re never satisfied for long.
It’s hard to fully let go and surrender to laughter when I believe I’m still not yet good enough … or that you aren’t … or that life isn’t.
My heart, on the other hand, is perfectly content to enjoy this moment. It can find the innocence in most any situation, and it can laugh effortlessly at the crazy divine comedy that is life. The heart doesn’t laugh in shallow arrogance through a facade of “I’m better and smarter than you.”
A man connected to heart knows we’re all made of the same stuff underneath the surface gloss. The laughter that erupts from that place is profound, divine. It’s like the sound of love tickling itself.
3. He’s kind to the world
A man connected to his heart is kind to everyone. That doesn’t mean he likes everyone. It doesn’t mean he tolerates everyone. He might even put someone in jail if they prove to threaten the world he envisions. But he can always see the innocence that leads to ignorant, even awful behavior.
A man connected to heart can hold compassion for the worst, even as he locks the cell door.
I saw this in my relationships with women who acted in destructive ways because they did not know how to effectively communicate their pain to me. Stuck in my head, I judged and fought them for their immature behavior while ignoring the pain at their core.
With an open heart, I’m more able to stay kind with an intimate partner acting out her pain.
And yes, like most things, it’s work in progress.
4. He’s fully present
I hear this all the time from women, that their men don’t seem to be present with them.
What does that even mean?
Being fully present is a full-body sport: it requires full participation of the head, the heart AND the balls. When a man lives in his head or his balls alone, his partner won’t feel him present. One way that reveals itself is through the quality of his listening.
When I was trapped in the brain-ball matrix, I would only listen to a girlfriend with the singular intent of evaluating to respond. I wanted to keep our thoughts in agreement because that’s the only place I figured peace of mind and sex could happen. My attempt to intellectualize every argument however, mostly created chaos.
When a man connected to heart listens, he listens with his entire body (which includes his brain and his balls). He doesn’t just listen for a way into the outcome he wants. He listens with his whole body for the deeper message beneath the words. He listens at the level of heart, where the real truth often resides.
His partner can feel this, his presence, when he breaths deeply and listens with his whole body.
5. He’s passionately living his true purpose
The work I did in the military felt completely out of alignment with my true purpose. was miserable. The day I left, I instinctively knew to run fast and run far. Not from the military, but from living inauthentically.
The pain of that situation – where I had money, prestige, comfort, respect, and misery – left me with no choice but to seek my true purpose in life, wherever that journey would take me.
That’s why I went through such darkness.
To find my path of heart, I had to break the stranglehold my brain and balls had on my heart – they didn’t surrender graciously.
A man connected to his heart lives the truth inside that heart, whatever it looks like. If he’s doing work he doesn’t love, he’s doing it for bigger reasons driven by his authentic heart; perhaps to take care of his family or serve his community.
In my case, after years of running from the imaginary security of a paycheck in search of authentic work aligned with my heart’s desire, I finally found it in writing and coaching. I’m really good at both, and I make a meaningful difference in people’s lives everyday.
I would have never come this far if not for the immense power in my heart.
Bryan Reeves is the author of the book Tell the Truth, Let the Peace Fall Where it May.