Every now and then, I help facilitate a group of men who meets weekly to have conversations about what it means to be a man. It’s called Manology, and if I’m in the room, it’s probably an all-gender session, where women and other genders are invited to participate in the discussion. To me, it feels like a rare space to have an opportunity to talk openly with people whose views and values I might deeply disagree with.
At one point, a very hot topic came up, and some of the participants were close to yelling at each other. I felt a strong aversion to what someone was saying, a kind of a physical resistance to that person and their opinion. I had to sit with it for a moment and check in with myself about why I was having such an intense reaction.
From the perspective of Tantra yoga philosophy, there is a constant flow between three states: “I’m nothing like you,” “I’m something like you,” and “I’m nothing but you.” Everything in the universe is made of the same stuff, and oneness is our fundamental, natural state. The great gift of being a human, however, is that we are allowed a short period of time in which we experience the world as individuals. We forget our true connected nature in order to play as separate beings. Then, something shows up to connect us again, and we remember our oneness, only to forget it again and repeat the cycle all over.
As the argument in the room heated up, I could feel walls coming up between people who were trying to communicate about something hard. We needed to find some common ground, the “I’m something like you” that leads us back to connection. I started with the basics: the man I disagreed with and I both live in the same culture, and learned some of the same things about the world. I suddenly realized that the man I disagreed with was actually speaking for a small voice inside me that I have worked hard to try to silence.
Sometimes, when we have that strong aversion to what someone else is saying, it’s much deeper than simple disagreement. This man’s words were threatening my idea of myself. In a situation like this, the aversion reaction may not be to the other, but to some part of yourself that you have rejected or don’t want to hear. After all, contempt is always on some level self-contempt.
Acknowledging the part of me that felt with this man allowed me to see us both as products of our environment as well as individuals. I could take a breath, move through the my clenched-jaw silence, and explain why and how my opinion had changed. Speaking from compassion and connection rather than anger and separateness allowed him to hear what I was saying--though I don’t think I changed his mind!
The point isn’t to move from “I’m something like you” into “I’m nothing but you” and stop there. Oneness may be our fundamental nature, but it’s no fun to stay there forever. There’s wisdom in “I’m nothing like you”: if it’s okay to be individuals with our own viewpoints, tastes, values, and preferences, then it’s okay for other people to have those as well. Relating to others becomes a form of play—a willingness to flow from connection and disconnection and back again. We can take a good look at ourselves, each other, and the world around us, and what we find may truly surprise us.