How do we find a secure basis of self-esteem? One that is not identified with external objects, people or second hand ideas? How do we, as men, avoid garnering our sense of self from our bodies, our thoughts, or even our material talents? What does it mean to love yourself unconditionally, without appeal to achievement, appearances and exterior validation?
On top of that, how do we avoid the dangers of identifying too much with our sexualities, and indeed, with our masculinity itself?
The only answer I can think of has to do with spirituality. But I have to clarify my use of this word. Of course I do not mean the traditional religions, with their distorted moralities. But neither do I mean the elusive and flaky spirituality of the new age, the pick and mix Buddhisms and the head in the sand niceties of the North London yoga-mummies.
What I mean by spirituality is an uncompromising valuing of life itself. It is the belief that whatever my contingent identity, biological, social or psychological, there is something greater than myself, something of which I myself am an intrinsic part.
Why believe in something like this? The modern mind has an understandably intransigent resistance to the idea of a God, or even a higher value. The very idea of any kind of value system or creed seems to sit very awkwardly with the realities of modern day to day struggles. On top of that, it seems to contradict the modern scientific paradigm.
It just doesn't have much relevance to postulate entities beyond apparent necessity, and any spiritual outlook must adapt itself to this challenge.
Personally, I use the terms God and spirit as metaphors. In that sense they are more advanced than any scientific description of the world of objects. They are metaphors for the human creative mind, the fact that however basic the building blocks of the world may be, our minds are some of the principle manipulators of that world. We are not reactive entities. We are not “pops,” or atomic buds bouncing around in nothingness. We are existentially significant in that our consciousness influences the world, just as much as the world influences our consciousness.
In this very stripped down, basic kind of spirituality, our existential importance is a foundational fact of life. Our creative potential is itself the raw material of life. It gives a whole new meaning to the idea that “ye are Gods.” It takes the Kantian revolution to new heights. Our being itself is the expression of something spectacular and implicitly valuable.
Masculinity is one of many contingent aspects of your self-expression. All these expressions, and I include race, culture and sexual orientation in these contingent qualities, must themselves be expression of the creative foundations of the what means to be a human being. We are at the pinnacle of evolution because our minds have developed sophisticated abilities to influence the world.
The next step in human evolution is the realization, on a cultural level, that we are in control, that we have no need to grapple for power, because power is an implicit part of our rooted humanity.
This is a biological spirituality, and it takes us away from ego driven identifications. It gives us a sense of self-esteem that comes from the simple fact that we exist and experience ourselves AS ourselves. It requires nothing more than that.