When I first came to the picturesque New England town of Lenox, Massachusetts, to join the editorial team at What Is Enlightenment? the last thing I expected was to walk into the locker room one day at our very own gym and stumble upon a showdown between two gorillas.
These two apes were really my spiritual brothers—let’s call them Hans and Franz for fun—but an ape is still an ape as far as I’m concerned, even if he meditates. Fresh off a heavy workout, with their chests pumped up and their eyeballs big and bloodshot, Hans and Franz stood side by side in front of the mirror, wearing only animal grins and towels around their waists, and tested themselves, one against the other, in a ritual as familiar to jocks and muscleheads the world over as it is to the greatest primates of Africa and Indonesia— the pec-flexing contest. Their nostrils flared. Their lips were pursed in concentration. Their muscles twitched like primal aphrodisiacs; twitched independently, right-side, left-side, right-left-right. Egged on by the rest of the locker room, Hans and Franz preened and postured up and down, back and forth, side to side, with spontaneous bravado and “devil may care” delight.cI was embarrassed. I was disgusted. I was mesmerized. Spiritual guys are supposed to be sensitive, right? Amicable. Refined. Noncompetitive.
Apparently not. At least not around here. Where I come from, they’re just about as sensitive—and unmanly—as they can manage to be, at least in any traditional sense of what manliness means. What was this strange new species of spiritual man that expressed his manhood so fully, so freely, so … flagrantly? And why on earth did I find him so off-putting, so revolting, and so inexplicably fascinating, all at the same time?
These are the confessions of a formerly sensitive New Age man (me) who eventually found a home among this unlikely band of spiritual brothers striving to reclaim—and redefine—the values of manliness in the twenty-first century. (Our experiment in conscious cultural evolution continues to occur in, but is not limited to, the locker room.) We haven’t found all the answers by any stretch, but if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s this: Whatever manhood means, and is coming to mean, for us and for other men exploring the leading edge of our freedom and identity today, it’s far more significant than many of us ever gave it credit for.