I was recently invited to facilitate a discussion about pornography and sexuality with a classroom full of 7th grade boys. With this being such an important and rarely-addressed topic for boys at this formative age, I was happy to say yes.

Research shows that 73 percent of youth (93% of boys and 62% of girls) have seen online pornography before age 18*. More than one-half of male youth Internet users ages 14 to 15 have been exposed to online pornography in the past year, as have more than two-thirds of those 16 to 17** (see sources below). Many boys discover internet porn when they are 10-12 years old, and sometimes even younger.

Pornography in our culture is often either normalized and dismissed or relegated to the shadows of secrecy, sin and shame. Both extremes only perpetuate the harmful addictive cycles that so often underpin porn usage.

This is why I believe it is vital that we talk about pornography and sexuality in a way that is accepting and compassionate, rather than moralistic, dismissive or shaming.

My goal with the class was to create space for open and honest dialogue around these taboo topics, so the boys could learn to relate to – and express – their sexuality in healthy, consenting and authentic ways. And so they could choose if/how they wanted to relate to pornography, from a place of empowered self-awareness.

Sharing My Story

As they slowly flooded into the tiny classroom, glancing curiously at me, I could feel my heart racing with nervousness. Sitting in one big circle, I welcomed them and began sharing my story of struggling with porn addiction. Soon, I could feel the restless energy in the room begin to ground into a place of genuine curiosity and depth.

I told them how I got hooked on porn when I was 17, leading to a decade of compulsive porn use – and how I’d first discovered porn much earlier than that. I shared how I had started feeling physically ill – nauseous – while watching increasingly hardcore content in an attempt to feel the dopamine ‘rush’ that I had become addicted to.

I shared how I was so sick of feeling trapped – turning to porn in an attempt to feel alive and escape stress, only to experience a painful emptiness afterwards. And how I began to believe the stories they told me: that I was lacking – too small, too skinny, not ‘masculine’ enough, unlovable. Pornography fueled my own insecurity and, in turn, negatively impacted my relationships with romantic partners.

I talked about how I was disgusted and disheartened by the way that most porn distorted true intimacy by portraying women as mere sexual objects in my fantasies. And how it kept me feeling distant and guarded, afraid to step into the vulnerability of real connection. So I decided to quit.

I illuminated how, for several years before and after quitting, I struggled with porn-induced erectile disfunction, low labido, premature ejaculation, and general numbness and desensitization. Like living in a haze, my compulsive porn use dulled my senses and kept me distracted from the sensuality and joy of everyday existence.

I told them that they had a powerful choice to make about if/how they chose to interact with pornography. I invited them to bring their full consciousness to the choices they make, rather than letting themselves get swept up in compulsive behaviors.

I encouraged them to get curious about how pornography, video games, and other isolating activities can often become coping mechanisms for our insecurities as well as our unmet emotional and relational needs (I know this, first-hand). And how we can learn to work through our insecurities, and meet our needs in healthier and more successful ways.

Most importantly, I didn’t shame them for any of their actions or choices, and I didn’t pretend that I had The Right Answer – I simply invited them to bring greater awareness to their lives.

Our Group Discussion

Looking up at the faces staring back at me, I could feel the power of the space we’d created together. The vulnerability that I’d modeled seemed to give them permission to speak openly, too. And many did.

They shared stories of unwanted exposure to porn online, painful feelings of shame and isolation around their sexuality, and confusion and sadness about how girls and women are treated in porn videos.

Many were curious about how porn sex related to actual sex in reality. Did girls really expect them to perform sexual acts like the ones in the videos? Is that really what they wanted?

We looked at how porn sex is about performance, while real sex is about intimacy. And discussed how porn often conflates sex and violence, with scenarios depicting aggressive and demeaning treatment of women – and the impacts of this culture of sexualized violence in our communities.

One boy – distraught and almost in tears – said he was afraid that he’d spend his entire life alone and never find a romantic partner. His classmates immediately jumped in to tell him to stop beating himself up and have more self-compassion.

Why was he so anxious about romantic connection at such a young age? Why did he think there was something wrong with him?

What We Learned

It was powerful and beautiful to witness boys relating with one another in caring and non-shaming ways, as they began their journeys through the treacherous terrain of male sexual development.

We talked about getting support when we need it, cultivating self-love and self-acceptance, and establishing choice and consent – both within ourselves and with others.

We discussed the multi-billion-dollar porn industry and how it is a profit-driven corporate trap that targets and hooks us when we’re young, feeds off of our insecurities, and degrades the full beauty and power of our authentic sexuality.

And we affirmed the power we each have to step outside of that trap, when we are committed to cultivating real intimacy and loving ourselves well, through all of our imperfections.

We acknowledged the reality that the world of porn won’t be going away anytime soon, and that not all porn is created equal. While you can find videos depicting rape scenarios, you can also find ones that show loving acts of intimacy, and everything in-between.

We talked about how these ‘softcore’ videos can be a place to discover what sexuality can actually look like – since sex education in our country is often painfully misguided and incomprehensive. And the slippery slope of softcore often leading to more hardcore porn use.

At the end of the hour-long session, I asked them to reflect on what the key learning was for them from our time together.

One boy shared about how he learned that watching porn was not inherently bad or shameful, and yet that it’s important to be aware of how it impacts your life – and the lives of those around you.

Another boy shared about the importance of cultivating self-love in order to know how to love others, and talked about how shame often gets in the way of love.

As class ended and everyone funneled out into the daylight, I felt a mixture of joy and fear moving through my body. Taking a deep breath, I finally stood up and walked out.

I’ll probably never know whether this conversation made a positive impact on these kid’s lives, but I know without a doubt that my time sitting in circle with this group of middle school boys has changed my life forever.

Where We Go From Here

One thing is for sure: We need to have more open and honest conversations about pornography, consent and healthy sexuality with pre-teens and teenagers in this country. Because, if we don’t teach them about sex, internet porn will.

One of the challenges of discussing this topic with teens is that it forces us to confront our own shame around sexuality and, for many, porn use. It’s hard to preach what we, ourselves, do not practice. Teens are very perceptive and often far more aware about these issues than we may realize, and they see right through our half-truths and double standards.

This is why it’s so important to get real with each other by first getting real with ourselves.

Teen porn use in this country is an epidemic, with far-reaching consequences for the health, wellbeing, and relational skills of the upcoming generation. We have an opportunity to help teens change this trajectory and build healthier lives by having real conversations with them about sex. Now is the time to begin that dialogue.

With fierce loving compassion,

Resources for Teens about Pornography and Healthy Sexuality:
  1. Fight the New Drug: http://fightthenewdrug.org
  2. Your Brain on Porn: http://yourbrainonporn.com/adolescent-brain-meets-highspeed-internet-porn
  3. Sex, Etc: http://sexetc.org
  4. Scarleteen: http://www.scarleteen.com
  5. Sexplainer: http://www.sexplainer.com
  6. Planned Parenthood: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/teens/sex

Sources / Credits: 

*Chiara Sabina, Janis Wolak, David Finkelhor, “The Nature and Dynamics of Internet Pornography Exposure for Youth,” CyberPsychology & Behavior. December 2008, 11(6): 691-693.

**Janis Wolak, Kimberly Mitchell, and David Finkelhor, “Unwanted and Wanted Exposure to Online Pornography in a National Sample of Youth Internet Users,” PEDIATRICS, February 2007

Title Image Credit: Getty Images

A Single Fateful Moment

6:44am – Jan 21st, 2015:

Bicycle wheels slice through humid air in the quiet pre-dawn darkness, as I glide down the winding pavement road. Car lights illuminate the faintly falling rain, as the drivers rush past. Loud waves of speeding light dissipate into darkness, as my tired eyes strain to re-focus on the road ahead. I’m running late to catch the ferry from Whidbey Island toward Seattle. I feel anxious and annoyed, but I’m almost there.

Just as another whirlwind of metal and light approaches from behind me, I see my turn and start pulling hard to the right. As my faint bike light reveals my approach, I realize that I’ve taken a wrong turn. In a split-second decision, I have to choose between squeezing the brakes or flying into the curb and off the road into an unknown abyss. I instinctively hit the brakes.

Both wheels skid out from under me in a single fateful moment, as my body crushes into the unforgiving concrete. Teeth grind into the bitter black asphalt as bones in my right hand break under the weight of my collapse. I lay for a moment on the road in utter shock, red bike light flashing through the darkness like my hurried heart rate. I never thought this would happen to me.

Spitting out pieces of my chipped teeth, I get back on my bike and ride down to the ferry – left hand clutching the handlebar, the other helpless by my side. The fear of being late still running through my adrenaline-laced mind, as the magnitude of what just happened slowly begins to creep into my consciousness.

At the ferry dock, I stagger off of my bike and onto a bench. My entire body is tense with trauma, shaking, as the world around me begins to fade into a blur. Voices start to gather around me, “Are you ok?” “What happened?”…

Transforming my Trauma

Some time later, I was awake enough to recite my name and age, so the first responders told me that I was ready to go to the ER to get checked out. As I stood up, supported by a small gathering of friends and strangers, I suddenly felt overwhelmed with emotion.

One of my friends had missed the ferry and called in late to work, just to stay with me. The team of first responders that had gathered around spend every single day showing up for people like me, in their most challenging moments. These simple acts of kindness overwhelmed me.

Hobbling out into the damp morning light I made it to another friend’s car, got in, and closed the door. Tears rushing down my face as I sobbed uncontrollably. Body rolling through waves of utter helplessness, gratitude, and release. I had never felt anything like this before.

Though we hadn’t even left for the ER yet, I realized that my healing had already begun. I was transforming my trauma, through emotional release. My fearful numbness melted into raw sensation, unlocking depths of power and love that I never knew existed in me.   

In that moment of utter collapse, I stared into the fiery fragile eyes of my own mortality. Awakened to the raw, vulnerable, sacred gift of my human body. Heart pulsing with a new life.

Embracing my Humanity

In the end, I had chipped 3 teeth, broken 2 bones in my hand, and ended up needing to get surgery to repair one of the breaks. It took 7 months to heal, I have 4 titanium screws in my hand for life, and I still feel one of my teeth aching almost every day.

But this accident was not a mistake; in fact, it has become a profound teacher. I learned that I can survive through incredible vulnerability & pain, I learned how to ask for help, I re-connected deeply with the sacredness of my body, and I found a new sense of power through a total surrender to my tears. 

I discovered beauty in the breakdown; joy through the pain. I no longer feel so isolated or alone.

My accident was a sort of ‘right of passage’ for me – a coming-of-age; an opportunity to feel the connection and support that could only come through an acceptance of my vulnerability and my imperfections. Now, I am simply and wonderfully human.

I only have this one body, this one heart, this one lifetime. And I intend to love as big as I can before the fragile flame of my breath flickers out and a spiral of smoke returns my soul to the cosmos.

With fierce loving compassion,


Hear more of my journey re-connecting to my tears in this two-part article:

In the first post, Why Don’t You Cry About It? Part 1: The Fear of Letting Go, I talk about how I took on the belief that men aren’t supposed to cry, I outline the many ways that my defense mechanisms have kept me numb, and I share a call to action for men all over the world to wake up and re-learn how to express and release our feelings.
In the follow-up post, Why Don’t You Cry About It? Part 2: Unlocking the Power of Tears, I share the intimate story of my first solo experience re-connecting to tears, after a decade of emotional disconnection and numbness. Observing that, “as we begin the long journey of returning to our senses – of feeling the world again – we must also learn to move our feelings in healthy ways. Otherwise, the tension that builds within can throw us right back into numbness.”

I’ve spent most of my life with a mask on.
It’s painful to admit, but it’s true.

I’ve worn the mask of numbness in an attempt to protect myself from rejection and disappointment; I’ve worn the mask of superficial satire in an attempt to find belonging with my peers; and I’ve worn the mask of the ‘Nice Guy’ in an attempt to be ‘safe’ for women (read: loved and accepted by women) by suppressing the wild masculine parts of my human nature.

All of these masks have distanced me from my true self; they’ve pulled me away from my body and heart, amplified my insecurities, and kept me feeling isolated and alone.

I never trusted myself – I couldn’t – because I had no idea who I really was. As a result, no one else could really trust me either, because they could feel the enormous distance between how I was and who I was. They could feel my fear and insecurity and the shame that underpinned it all.

Since I couldn’t trust myself, I found it very challenging to love myself. And, because I didn’t love myself, I struggled to know how to love others. All of this led to an excruciating pain – a tension in my body – that had no safe place to go; no healthy form of expression.

As a man, I’ve been taught that emotional expression – except for anger – is not ok. And, as a Nice Guy, my anger felt like a dangerous fire to keep pouring water on, rather than a powerful flame of embodied passion that could be harnessed in healthy ways. So I suppressed all of my feelings for years.

Looking Beneath the Facade

Deep down, I always knew there was something missing; something deeper within me. It felt like a part of me had fallen into a coma long ago, and I had no idea how to wake up.

Change was dangerous. It felt too vulnerable to risk losing the identities (masks) that I’d created for myself. After all, I had invested so much in them.

The scariest thing was the idea of losing control, of not knowing what I would find beneath the mask. Would I peel it off to find a more authentic, connected, and purposeful man? Or would I discover a vast void where my face once was, fall apart, and spiral down into shame and depression?

Working up the courage to look beneath the surface of myself – to look through the facade of Dan Mahle that I had carefully crafted to keep myself safe from pain – literally felt like a life-or-death proposition. I was terrified.

But one thing’s for damn sure: It’s been worth it. Moving through the cloud of fearful numbness to discover deeper parts of myself is one of the most transformative things I’ve ever done.

Yet, even as I awaken the spark of passionate life-force that I had suppressed for so long, I know that my journey has only just begun: It will take a lifetime to continue peeling back the layers – to find my way back home to myself.

Let the journey begin..

Creating My Own Reality

Just about everything I’ve ever done in my life has come from a desire to be loved, respected and accepted. It’s taken me a long time to realize that my sometimes desperate grasping for outer-affirmation has often blocked my capacity to cultivate a deeper sense of inner self-worth.

Only recently have I realized that people’s judgements of me are rooted in their own insecurities and/or unfulfilled dreams. And visa-versa: What I judge or love in others is a reflection of what I judge or love in myself.

What this illuminated for me was a deeper sense of compassion for myself and others, knowing that we’re all in this human experience together.

I have the power to set the tone of my own life when I choose to invite myself and others into loving spaces, even though my goodwill may not always feel as though it has been received or reciprocated.

A key to authenticity is to recognize that how I respond to the world is a choice I am making in each moment.

From Perfection to Connection

For a long time, I believed that my worth as a man depended on my performance. I tried to control every aspect of my life in order to make sure people knew that I ‘had it all together’.

I took on the belief that I wouldn’t be worthy of love or belonging until I had attained perfection. So I blocked love and belonging out of my life and focused all of my energy on achievement. The more disconnected I felt from others, the less compassion I had for myself.

As men, we’re taught to never ask for help. My imperfections had always seemed like liabilities, rather than opportunities for connection. It was only when life gave me challenges that were simply impossible to face alone, that I finally learned how to ask for help.

That one simple act of vulnerability, of saying “you know what, my life is not perfect – and I could really use some support” changed everything. Ironically, I found that releasing the image of perfection that I was striving toward finally connected me to the love and belonging that I’d been searching for all along.

When we try to be perfect, we dehumanize ourselves and others. When we accept our imperfections, we find compassion for ourselves and others. It’s that simple.

Exploring the Power of Vulnerability

Brené Brown talks a lot about the power of vulnerability – in fact her TED Talk on the topic is one of the most watched TED’s ever recorded. So why is vulnerability so powerful?

For me it comes down to one simple truth: If you never take risks, then you will never know what you’re capable of. If I spend my whole life playing it safe, following the rules, and maintaining my image, then I’ll never know what it’s like to live boldly, stand up for what I believe in, and discover my true purpose.

It’s vulnerable to love and it’s vulnerable to care about the world. I used to be afraid of having my heart broken; as if the pain would be too much for me to handle. Now I know that pain can be an incredible teacher – a guide that brings me back into my body and accompanies me through some of my deepest spiritual growth.

Joanna Macy says, “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.” Resilience does not come from avoiding pain, it comes from feeling pain and finding the support you need to keep your heart open in the midst of it all.

When we face our fears head-on, we transform the power they hold over us. When we allow our hearts to break open, we increase our capacity to embrace the inevitable changes and challenges of life.

Coming Home to Myself

The more I feel at home with who I truly am, the less the ‘person I should be’ comes knocking at my door. Turns out it’s a lot easier to breathe – and a lot easier to be – without this mask on.

I think it’s time we all take our masks off and allow ourselves to finally see and be seen. Only then will we learn to trust ourselves; only then will we recognize our common humanity; only then will we find the courage to engage wholeheartedly with the greatest challenges of our time.

I’ll leave you with this poem I wrote a few months ago:

I live for moments of awakening

The apocalyptic sweeping away of pretense

In the face of the simple truth:

We are all in this together

We have never been alone, nor will we ever

Like flowers pushing through concrete

Pulled forever toward the Cosmos

Yet rooted deeply in the Earth

Heart expanding to hold it all

Awakening into mystery.

With fierce loving compassion,




For many years, I was ashamed of my masculinity.

I was deeply disturbed by all the aggression, misogyny, and violence that I saw being perpetrated by men – across many different cultures. It seemed that being a “real man” meant being a violent, angry asshole. And that’s not who I wanted to be, so I abandoned my masculinity. Or so I thought..

The truth is that my masculine energy never left; it just got pushed under the surface – shielded by a polished veneer of perfection and ‘niceness’ that I propped up in a desperate attempt to get the love and belonging that I longed for.

I created this elaborate facade in an attempt to mask all of the ‘shameful’ and ‘dangerous’ masculine energy that lay within me. And also to mask my deep insecurity – which was fueled by that shame. This public facade – a mere shadow of my true self – became so compelling and all-encompassing that even I fell for it; believing that it was my truth.

Navigating Masculine Archetypes

Two of the most common behavioral archetypes of modern-day masculinity are:

  1. The fiery, rage-full asshole who displays overt aggression, misogyny, and violence.
  2. The cold, polished, disembodied Mr. Nice Guy who enacts covert aggression and misogyny through conscious and/or subconscious manipulation.

While these appear to be polar opposites on the surface, they often come from the same insecure and wounded place within us.

I was the Nice Guy. I never got angry, never raised my voice. I always smiled at people, but had trouble holding eye contact. I felt afraid that I was taking up too much space and that my needs were a burden, so I subconsciously attempted to meet them through manipulation. I struggled with intimacy and connection, self-sabotaging to block myself from experiencing intimacy in order to avoid the vulnerability of potential heartbreak. In a word, I was fragile.

The resulting isolation was unbearable, so I did whatever I could to numb out the pain. I built defenses against vulnerability that kept me completely detached from my feelings, disconnected from my body, and unable to access or express my authentic power.

I’ve been using the past-tense here, but the truth is that I still find myself falling into Nice Guy patterns all too often. It still feels risky to allow myself to truly know and name my own needs, to set clear boundaries, to have compassion for myself, to be imperfect and messy, really – to be human. But why?

Because, like most of us, I desperately long for love and belonging. And the primary way that I’ve known how to find it has been by trying to get people to like me.

All of this is rooted in the dark, corrosive corridors of shame. And this shame has far too often led me to do whatever I think will make others happy (performing, achieving, acquiescing, etc.) while remaining disconnected from what I need and want, and where I stand. I’m guessing you know how this story ends. Hint: not well.

Breaking Through the False Dichotomy

Clearly, being a Nice Guy has not been getting me the love and belonging that I want. Quite the opposite, actually. But at least it’s better than the alternative: Being a violent, angry asshole. Right? Well, it turns out that it’s not that simple.

For a long time, I felt trapped in this “Nice Guy vs Asshole” false dichotomy of culturally-accepted masculine behavior. It was stifling and depressing.

What I’m discovering now is that the energies beneath these two masculine archetypes are essentially the same, only with different outward expressions. The essential masculine essence that lives underneath all of the wounding is primal, authentic, and vital – and it lives within each of us. So, rather than attempt to suppress or transcend it, we can choose to accept and integrate it fully into who we are – as wholehearted men.

Learning to Live My Truth

Bringing consciousness to this part of myself, and fully accepting it, is key to stepping through shame and living my truth with power and authenticity. Here are some of the practices I’ve been cultivating to begin to integrate this energy within myself:

  • Slow down my speaking, get grounded in my body before sharing my thoughts
  • Breathe deeply, check in with myself about what I’m feeling, identify my needs
  • Express my anger in healthy ways, take a stand for my experience and my truth
  • Hold eye-contact with other people, in non-romantic and non-aggressive ways
  • Re-orient to conflict, engage with clarity and presence, rather than smoothing over
  • Stop smiling to make people feel comfortable, only smile when I am truly feeling joy
  • Learn to feel sadness and pain deeply, so I can open my heart fully to love and joy
  • Trust my gut, set clear boundaries, stand firmly in my truth – but with an open heart
  • Learn to love and value myself, even when I’m sitting in shame, fear, and doubt
  • Take healthy risks to push the boundaries of who I think I am, to expand myself

Looking back, I can see that my ‘niceness’ has been a survival mechanism – rooted in the trauma I experienced with bullying and social isolation when I was younger. I honor the role that my people-pleasing tendencies have played in protecting my heart and keeping me safe. But the era of subconsciously bending and contorting to ‘make others happy’ and to ‘get people to like me’ has to end here. Now.

Awakening the Sacred Masculine

Today, I am stepping forward with greater consciousness to awaken the sacred masculine power that has been laying dormant in me for far too long.

I am opening to the part of myself that expresses my anger in clear, compassionate and healthy ways; to the part of me that turns in to the discomfort of facing what I feel, rather than numbing out or projecting my fears and insecurities onto others; and to the part that inspires me to stand up for what I know is right, even when that means losing friends or making enemies.

It’s about damn time that I learned to express my wild, raw, messy masculine energy – to give it voice, and begin to bring it back into balance in my life. To give myself full permission to let down my guard, drop the facade, and return to the essential truth of who I am – just another imperfect, vulnerable, lovable human.

This re-balancing and integration is not easy to navigate, but I believe that it’s at the very heart of the healing and transformation of masculinity. And the healing of our world. So, where do we start?

I definitely don’t have the answers; but I do have questions. I’ll leave you with a few that I’m sitting with right now:

  • What does it look like to be caring and compassionate, while standing firmly in my power and truth?
  • How can I set free the wild, reckless, and raw parts of my masculine self in conscious, generative, and loving ways?
  • What will it take for me to embody my most authentic expressions of masculinity, in each and every moment, beyond the narrow expectations and limitations of our society?
  • What does it look like to balance the sacred masculine and feminine energies within me to live a wholehearted life full of passion, purpose, expression, and connection?

These questions will never go away; they will only deepen and expand over time. But I think it’s better to have great questions to evolve into, rather than great answers to get stuck in.

My exploration of wholehearted masculinity has set me on a path that will take a lifetime to traverse. But I can’t imagine any journey more worthy of my existence. And I’m glad to know that I’m not alone. Onward!

With fierce loving compassion,


If you are a human being alive in the 21st century, chances are you have an opinion about porn.

Maybe you use it; maybe you don’t. Maybe you think it’s good; maybe you think it’s bad; maybe you think it’s none of my business. Fine. The bottom line is this:

“Four billion dollars a year is spent on video pornography in the United States, more than on football, baseball, and basketball. One in four internet users look at a pornography website in any given month. Men look at pornography online more than they look at any other subject. And 66% of 18–34-year-old men visit a pornographic site every month.” (Pamela Paul, “Pornified,” Times Books, 2005)

Now, let’s be clear: Porn is not a monolithic phenomenon, and not all porn is created equal. There are porn videos that depict violent, non-consensual and abusive sexual acts… and there are videos that showcase loving, consensual sexual encounters. (And everything in-between).

Pornography represents a spectrum of human experience and curiosity, from ‘revenge porn’ to feminist porn; from rape porn to softcore ‘erotica;’ from humiliation, choking and besteality to sacred tantric instructional videos. The world of porn is as eclectic, terrifying, beautiful and diverse as humanity, itself.

And I want to be clear from the start: I’m not trying to convince you of anything. How (or if) you chose to interact with porn is entirely up to you. I also want to be clear that, although I know and love many people who identify as Christians, I am not a Christian and my perspectives are not rooted in any form of religious or anti-sex agenda.

I’m writing this piece because I believe we need more of us sharing our stories and experiences in order to create space for open and honest dialogue around a topic that is so often either culturally normalized & dismissed or relegated to internal secrecy and shame.

Shaming ourselves (or anyone else) for watching porn is always counter-productive. It just fuels the cycle of addictive behavior that so often underpins pornography use.

So, rather than barraging you with a bunch of stats about the problematic impacts of pornography, I’ll let Russell Brand lay it out – as only he can:


My Reasons for Quitting:

After a decade of porn use, I quit watching 2 years ago. It was February 14th, 2013. V-Day. Haven’t been back since. My reasons for quitting were pretty simple:

First, I was pissed off that my sense of personal ‘sexuality’ had been reduced to sitting alone in the dark in a disembodied daze drooling over pixelated fantasies of submissive females in a desperate attempt to feel a release from the tension in my body and the void in my heart. And – I was concerned about how my porn use had become compulsive.
Second, I was outraged about all the sexual violence perpetrated by men on women and girls – and porn felt like the main way I was subconsciously contributing to that cycle of violence. (Yes, some men and boys are also victims of sexual abuse – often perpetrated by other men. But it is important to acknowledge that women and girls experience the vast majority of sexual violence).
Finally, I’m an incredibly stubborn person who will do just about anything to follow through on what I commit to, even just to prove people wrong for doubting my resolve! And I made the commitment to a close buddy of mine: No porn for 1 year. Period.

Starting off, I had no idea what to expect. At that time, I didn’t know anyone else who had quit. I had never even talked to my friends about porn. And I didn’t know a thing about the science of pornography addiction. Despite feeling alone, I knew I was up for the challenge: I wanted to see how my life might be different after a year without porn.

Rebooting My Brain:

Because most of us (younger guys) started watching high-speed, hard-core internet porn during our brain’s formative years – when we were 12-17 years old, we’ve experienced a kind of subtle trauma. One that often requires a conscious, prolonged effort to heal and recover from.

People often talk about two phases of recovery from pornography addiction: Rebooting and Rewiring. This video, from Reboot Nation, provides a pretty clear (and humorous) explanation:

Rebooting will look different for each of us, but the basic principle is the same:

Rebooting, for me, has been the process of stopping my addictive/compulsive viewing behavior altogether, over a period of time, in order to allow my brain to dismantle and unwire the endorphin-releasing ‘reward pathways’ that it learned to associate with porn consumption.

You can find a great list of highly creative strategies for rebooting here.

Revealing the Façade:

Rebooting was the vital first step toward my recovery because it opened up space for me to step outside of the box of my addiction and objectively assess my compulsive behavior. Like recovering from any other addiction, the decision to quit had to start with me. Nobody could convince me to quit porn; I had to choose to quit because I wanted to.

Once I broke the cycle of my addiction, I could see that my porn use was a coping strategy that I used in a desperate attempt to meet some basic unmet human needs.

For me, porn use was an attempt to meet my needs for sexual expression, connection & intimacy, and stress release. The first two needs never had a chance of being truly met through porn. And, although I sometimes achieved a temporary sense of stress release, in the end – it was a powerful deception. The feeling was always fleeting and counterproductive; it always resulted in greater tension and an even greater need for release the next time. But the truth is, I simply couldn’t see the reality of this cycle when I was in it.

Porn, ironically, inhibited me from actually getting my needs met in any kind of deep, connected, or sustained way. It kept me stuck in a never-ending cycle of ‘tension and release’ that made true intimacy impossible.

There’s a real sense of grief for me in acknowledging all this – I feel like I’ve been living a pornographied lie; like my experience of my own ‘sexuality’ has often amounted to little more than a superficial obstruction, blocking the true essence of embodied sexual power that lay dormant within me.

It is clear that this pornographied facade of ‘sexuality’ must die in order for my true sexual power and deep capacity for intimacy to re-awaken.

Rewiring for Intimacy:

What I found was that it was not enough for me to just quit porn, cold-turkey. I had to be strategic about cultivating new behaviors to take it’s place in my life – to fill the void – and I needed to practice healthier ways of meeting the very real needs that I thought porn was satisfying. To do this has meant re-discovering basic skills of breath, presence, and intimacy.

Rewiring, as I’ve come to understand it, is the process of re-creating neural pathways in the brain, associated with actual human connection, sensation, love, and intimacy.

For me, the biggest new learning has been moving out of my head and into my body. After so much time in the ‘neck-up’ world of pixelated pornographic fantasy, I’m now beginning to learn how to drop into my heart, my belly, my breath.

Not that there’s anything wrong with fantasy – fantasy can be an exciting part of authentic sexual expression. But when I realized that my fantasies were no longer connected to my body, I knew something was out of balance.

Cultivating Embodied Presence:

For me, cultivating a truly embodied presence begins with building intimacy in relation to my own physical body. Loving myself. Only then can I extend that quality of presence outward to a partner. This is an on-going life practice, that I’m only just beginning to discover.

Over the past 2 years, I’ve experienced porn-induced erectile dysfunction, low sexual libido, and other sexual difficulties. I’ve also begun to experience re-awakened sensation and sensitivity, emotional self-connection, and a deeper capacity for intimacy and presence.

I still have a lot of healing to do to rewire my brain after a decade of porn use, but the progress I’m seeing gives me hope. And the impacts of my decision to quit porn continue to ripple outward in many areas of my life.

Clearly, this journey I’m on is not just about quitting porn and overcoming addiction; it’s about creating the life I want. It’s about cultivating the skills to give and receive the love and intimacy that I long for. Ultimately, it’s about living a life of deep passion, purpose, and connection as a conscious, activated man – capable of bringing my unique gifts fully out into the world.

Outgrowing Pornography:

For me, quitting porn is about being willing to look, see, and speak the truth – to pull back the façade and find the courage to take actions that bring my behaviour into deeper alignment with what I value. Through this process, I’ve been restoring a sense of integrity, confidence, and self-love that had been dormant for far too long.

In his recent book, “To Be A Man: A Guide to True Masculine Power” (Sounds True, 2015), Robert Agustus Masters makes a case for outgrowing pornography.

He says: “Pornography is erotic imagination gone slumming – losing contact with true love, intimacy, and ecstacy – binding us to arousal rituals that obstruct our stepping into and embodying our full humanness.”
He goes on to observe: “Men who are hooked on pornography have an enormous opportunity. The work they need to do to outgrow – not repress but outgrow – pornography is the very work that brings them into their full manhood and humanity, unhooking them not just from pornography, but also from much of their [sexual] conditioning.”

It’s never too early (or too late) to outgrow pornography and create the life you want. Men and women all across the globe are quitting porn and rewiring for true intimacy. I invite you to join us, when you feel the time is right for you.

Moving Forward:

I want to live in a world of compassion, safety, freedom, and respect for all people. I want to see an end to sexual violence and abuse, sex trafficking, and exploitation. Enough is enough.

I want to see a whole movement of men rise up to confront this issue by first taking action in our own lives: Reconnecting to our bodies, grounding in our authentic power and sexuality, and re-awakening our capacity to give and receive the love that we long for.

I believe we each contribute to building a culture of love when we step outside of the cycle of addiction and into our authentic power as conscious men. Having the courage to quit is the first step.

Though quitting porn is often a profoundly private and personal experience – requiring us to come face-to-face with ourselves in a series of quiet moments – we are not alone. We can find friends, counselors, and/or groups to support us along the way.

Today, we have the opportunity to join a global movement of people who are rebooting, rewiring, and outgrowing pornography.

What do you have to lose? At the very least, it will be one of the most interesting ‘life-hacks’ you’ve ever tried. The question is, will you even recognise yourself on the other side…?

With fierce loving compassion,

Taking Action:

If you feel ready to explore living porn-free and you’re looking for others who share that intention, I invite you to join our free 30-Day Porn-Free Challenge.

Additional Resources:

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I don’t know what it’s like to be anyone but me 
          But I can’t truly know myself until everyone is free

I didn’t build this culture of injustice and bigotry
          But I receive the benefits of systemic inequity

So many folks preach the post-racial philosophy
          When a post-racist world is really what we could be

I can’t blame anyone else for the truth I’m afraid to see
          That the prejudice within denies my own humanity

I know that what I fear in you, I also fear in me
          And it’s this fear that keeps us both locked in tyranny

When I turn a blind eye to the injustice in front of me
          Then I also hide the truth inside that I desperately seek

So if I strive for equal rights in solidarity
          Then I must first turn the light within and learn from what I see

And although it seems we live this life alone and separately
          I know our souls are bound in a collective destiny

I don’t know what it’s like to be anyone but me
          But I can’t truly know myself until everyone is free.

With fierce loving compassion,


Check out my other recent post: Confronting My Privilege: The Path to Radical Self-Awareness

And explore these other great resources:

1. Change From Within – Musings by Jamie Utt

2. White Like Me – A Film By Tim Wise

3. 12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson – by Janee Woods

(Title image by Steve Seeley)

I always wanted to belong; to feel connected, feel loved, feel alive. I wanted people to like me, to respect me, to recognize my contribution in the world. I wanted to do something worth remembering, to create something beautiful, to help heal the suffering. I wanted my life to matter. But I was afraid.

I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t feel my power. I didn’t trust my heart. I was anxious – afraid of failure, rejection, and isolation. And I felt stuck playing a small game in a big world that I knew needed my gifts, my skills, and my heart, now more than ever.

It wasn’t long ago that I discovered a lesson that is changing my life forever: When I believe that I am powerful, connected, and capable of love – beyond my wildest imagination – I am.

My fears are all illusions; ancient stories that my younger self created to ‘protect’ me from harm. The only way to release them is to honor them; to tell that younger place within me that I am safe now and I no longer need them to protect me.

When I deny or fight my fear, it strengthens its choke-hold. When I embrace it and give it space to breathe, it loses its power over me.


Fear is rooted in shame. Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Shame is fueled by silence and the illusion of our fundamental separateness.

I find myself sitting in shame when my words & actions are not aligned with my deeply-held values. I am afraid of my own hypocrisy. I am afraid because I know that I’m better than that. I am afraid because I love, because I care, and because I know I’m not in control.

Love and fear are not opposites. They are intricately interwoven into the fabric of life. My fear is simply a reminder of how much I care. Embracing fear means stepping into vulnerability. Every expression of conscious vulnerability is an indication of my courage, a torch that lights my path of self-discovery and illuminates my heart’s deep purpose.

But none of this is really about me. I know that we are all powerful, connected, and capable of loving – beyond our wildest imagination. Now it’s time we start acting like it.

Here are 5 examples of how I’ve leaned into vulnerability, embraced my fear, and re-awakened into a life of purpose, connection, and contribution:

1. Find Self-Compassion through Gratitude

When I’m afraid of not having the love and belonging that I long for, it’s often because I’m playing out old stories in my head. These voices tell me “you’re not ready” “you’re not good enough” and “you don’t deserve it” – they are the voices of fear that used to protect me. But now they deflate me by keeping me feeling small and alone.

The best way that I’ve found to counteract this self-fulfilling prophecy of isolation is to drop into my heart and express gratitude for the people in my life. I can only love others – and receive their love – to the extent that I am willing to love myself. Expressing gratitude for the people in my life, in turn, connects me to the compassion and gratitude that I feel for myself.

2. Be Worthy of Your Own Love

Nobody else can give me the gift of worthiness. I must declare myself worthy. It is 100% up to me to recognize the sacredness of who I am; to see that I am inherently worthy of love and belonging, with all of my imperfections. I choose to love myself audaciously. It is a love that faces many setbacks and challenges, but one that is worthy of my faithful and wholehearted dedication.

Shame always lingers, just around the corner. But I picked up a new motto at a men’s training about a year ago that stuck with me. It goes like this: “Fuck shame!” “It’s not my fault” “I am somebody!” “I’m a beautiful man.” “Fuck shame!” – now imagine screaming this at the top of your lungs in the middle of the woods with a group of 75 other men. It was powerful. And I’ll never forget the shift I felt in my body that day.

3. Abandon Superficiality and Risk Everything

Connecting deeply with another person is an incredibly vulnerable act. When I allow myself to be present – to see and be seen in full authenticity – I willfully subvert my ‘protective’ defenses and leave my heart vulnerable to the possibility of pain. That’s a hell of a risk! But the question I keep asking myself is this: What matters to me so much that it is worth risking everything?

For me the answer is twofold: My love and my deep purpose. I would rather risk everything and fail miserably in loving service to my deep purpose, than remain numb, ‘safe,’ and comfortable. I would rather die for a cause that I know in my heart is right, than live a long life void of passion and purpose. I would rather tell you the scary truth about what I am feeling, instead of comforting you with reassuring half-truths. This is what love looks like.

4. Connect to Your Deep Purpose

As Dr. Cornell West says, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” With the incredible intensity of distractions all around us, it can be hard to remember the truth of who we are and what we’re here on Earth to do. It’s easy to get swept up into the rat race of consumption, status and image. But these pursuits will never quench the longing in our hearts.

I know that I am here for a reason. Each of us is. We have gifts to offer that cannot be replaced: gifts of healing, creativity, and curiosity that collectively compose the blueprint for what Charles Eisenstein calls “the more beautiful world that our hearts tell us is possible.”

While the challenges we face can feel overwhelming, I remind myself that hope is not an idealistic fantasy, but rather a practical strategy for resilience in the face of great odds.

As the former Czech playwright and President, Vaclav Havel, notes: “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

5. Love through the Fear

When I feel afraid and alone, I contract. I pull back from self-love and I step away from my deep purpose. I try desperately to fill the void with food, the internet, and other distractions. I distort my sense of integrity and diminish my capacity to show up with and for the people I care about. When I feel afraid – but stay connected to myself and others through the fear – then I can honor and expand the fear…and ultimately step through and release it.

I have started to learn how to love through my fear. And it started when I really began to take seriously the 4 practices, listed above. Life offers no guarantees, no assurances that our love will be reciprocated, and no control over the outcome of our efforts. Living a big life, full of purpose, connection, and contribution, requires an unprecedented act of trust and vulnerability.

It invites us to love ourselves and others so intently – through all of the ups and downs – that our hearts are broken wide open, vulnerable and strong. That our conviction in doing what is just and what is right starts to outweigh our fear of failure. That our very presence is an embodiment of the more beautiful world that our hearts tell us is possible. That we believe without a doubt that we are powerful, connected, and capable of love – beyond our wildest imagination.

Never forget: “Fuck shame!” “I am somebody!” “I’m a beautiful man!”

With fierce loving compassion,

I remember hearing the story of a man who retired after a 30-year office career. He was astonished and saddened to discover that, looking back, it was as if every day was the same. It felt like the past 30 years of his life was only memorable enough to fill a single day; like he hadn’t actually been living at all.

We live so much of our lives from a place of habit and routine that it can be hard to slow down enough to invite true connection. It struck me the other day when I was checking out at the grocery store, standing across from the cashier. “How are you?” she asked. “I’m good, how are you?” I responded. “I’m good, thanks.” And that was it.

In that moment I thought: How many times a day do I repeat this futile, lazy attempt at human connection? I’ve spent most of my life stuck on this superficial level of interaction – and I’m tired of it!

Sure, I understand that the person ringing up my groceries isn’t my therapist and doesn’t need to know all about my deepest dreams and darkest shadows, but maybe I could at least do them the favor of actually telling them how I am and actually inviting a genuine reply. Is that so crazy?

Inviting Meaningful Connection

My friend, Ian, is a great role-model for this. When he gets the typical “how are you?” from a stranger, he takes the question seriously. He’ll reply with an insightful response, like: “Well, I’m pretty worn out right now, didn’t sleep so well and I’m not feeling as present as I’d like to be today…how are you doing?” or “I’m doing really well, had a fantastic run this morning and I’m feeling energized – thanks for asking! How are you?”

Now, it would be easy to imagine how this could come across as massively staged and inauthentic. But the reality is that Ian is being totally real. People can feel it. And the responses he gets are often pretty incredible:

People are often taken aback at first, as if suddenly awakened from a dream-state. Sometimes, their glazed-over eyes – worn from the trance of menial tasks repeated day-in and day-out – light up and regain a fiery presence, powerful enough to shift the energy in the room. Often, they accept the implicit invitation to be real and actually share a little about how they are, as well.

But why does this matter, anyway? Why should I bother someone with how I’m feeling, and why should I care about what they might be going through? Is it really worth making the effort to connect? After all, I may never see that person again in my entire life.

Why We Matter to Each Other

Our society does a great job of convincing us that we are isolated individuals who are disconnected from – and in fact often in competition with – one another. This individualistic story of what it means to be human is a relatively new one.

For tens of thousands of years, indigenous peoples across the globe have participated in a very different story – the story that we are all fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. In essence, it boils down to the belief that we’re all in this together.

Now, I’m not arguing that individualism is a bad thing, I’m just observing that all long-lasting cultures have embraced a more interconnected worldview. What might we learn from them?

What if we’re far more connected with one another than we realize? I think we’ve all experienced the impact that a single act of anger or a single act of kindness can create. They literally have the power to lift or dampen our entire day, or even shift the way that we view ourselves. The impact of that one simple act can ripple outwards in incalculable ways.

This is because our behavior in the world never occurs in a vacuum. We are constantly impacting and being impacted by other people’s words, actions, and energies. We don’t need proof of this phenomenon; we simply know it is true – we can feel it. It’s called empathy.

Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” It’s this capacity to share in the experiences of others – the joy, the sorrow, the celebration, the grief – that reminds us of our interconnection and makes us feel less alone.

Every time we invite meaningful connection with another person, we open up space for empathy. And, in that space of deeper interaction, we catch a glimpse of our shared humanity; a reminder that we’re all interconnected – that we’re all in this together. A reminder that we’re never alone.

So next time someone asks “how are you?” – whether it’s a stranger in the grocery store or a friend on the phone – try being like Ian and consider taking their question seriously. Take a moment to pause and think about how you really are in that moment, share honestly, and then ask them the same question and listen carefully for their response. You’ve got nothing to lose, and you might just make someone’s day.

With fierce loving compassion,


I grew up never telling anyone that I loved them. Not even my parents. The word “love” used to feel too feminine, too emotional, too vulnerable.

As a young man impacted by old masculine norms, there was no room for love in my vocabulary. Even with my best friend, the closest I got to expressing my love and appreciation for having him in my life was to say “I love you, man.

Sure, I told him I loved him. But why did I feel compelled to include “man” at the end? It always felt distant and passive. Why couldn’t I just tell him that I loved him – straight up? What was I afraid of?

Looking back, I can see that I was afraid of being perceived as weak; I was afraid of – and confused by – my emotions; and I was afraid of being seen as gay or not appearing man enough. Underneath it all, my deepest fear was that I would be outcast and ostracized by my peers; that I would no longer be accepted, valued, or worthy of love and belonging.

As I’ve begun the journey toward more mature masculinity, I’ve started to see the many ways that fear and shame have held me back. Over the past few years, I’ve learned some useful practices for flipping these experiences of shame into empowering expressions of love and authenticity. This list is clearly incomplete, but it’s a damn good place to start:

1. Love Freely

Don’t hide your love or shy away from sharing how you truly feel – and I don’t just mean this in a romantic sense; I’m talking about everyone you care about. Express your love freely and unconditionally. Release the fear of looking or sounding weak. Speaking your truth is never a sign of weakness; it is an indication of courage.

Love freely now. Let go of expectation, control, and attachment to outcome. Your love will not always be reciprocated. Who cares? Reciprocity assumes that you are playing a finite game where the more you give love to others, the less you have left to give.

Love does not follow those rules – love is an infinite game: The more you give, the more you have to give. So long as you share your love freely, respectfully, and authentically, you can never lose.

2. Take 100% Responsibility

One of the greatest sources of needless suffering in the world is the victim mentality. This is the voice of fear, shame, and blame that often makes us believe that other people are at fault for our own struggles and shortcomings. This mentality allows us to ignore our own responsibility for the situation and deny the agency we have in each and every moment to define our own experience.

Taking 100% responsibility for our lives means cultivating the capacity to name and claim our feelings in the moment, through mindful self-awareness. It means inviting feedback regarding the impact we are having in the lives of the people around us. It means listening deeply and being willing to adjust our behavior so that our impact in the world moves into ever-closer alignment with our intentions.

It means living our values and doing what we say we’ll do. And being honest, accountable, and receptive when we fail. And it means loving ourselves and others well through all of the ups and downs.

3. Give Real Hugs

Dude, guys – let’s be honest: We’re seriously afraid of hugging each other. WTF? I mean, yeah – we’ll give each other the standard handshake-to-lean-in-with-the-two-fist-slaps-on-the-backman-hug bullshit. Or sometimes the hyper-masculine yeah-i-work-out-a-lot-so-don’t-try-any-funny-business  squeeze. But when was the last time you actually gave another guy a real hug? I mean an actual heartfelt embrace, not a headlock or a ‘lean-in’..?

You gotta get your hips into it, man! Are we really that afraid of running into each other’s ‘junk’? Or ‘looking gay’? Get over it! Next time you go in for a hug with another guy, make it real. Take a breath and stay there for at least 3-4 seconds. The guy and the tiger do a good job of modeling this, in the photo above. I mean, if a guy and a tiger can give each other a real hug then surely two of us guys can pull it off, too.

Note: Consider what has stopped you from giving another guy a real hug in the past…? This simple act of mindfulness can be illuminating. Of course, be sure that your hugs are always offers, rather than demands. Ask for consent! Hugs are only great when you’re both into it.

4. Uproot Homophobia

Speaking of the fear of ‘looking gay’: Why are we so afraid? Homophobia is one of the most common and toxic expressions of the old, fearful culture of masculinity. For many heterosexual men, it’s that voice of fear in our heads that keeps us from expressing our softness and releasing into the power of our authentic feminine energy (yes, mature masculinity is an embodied balance of both traditionally “masculine” and traditionally “feminine” qualities & expressions).

This voice in our heads keeps repeating “don’t be weak,” “don’t act like a girl,” or “don’t look gay.” We allow it to dramatically diminish the range of our authentic expression and keep us locked up in the Man Box.

Although I’ve made a lot of progress, I know that homophobia still affects me. And I’m clearly not the only one. It’s too ingrained in the culture we’re swimming in for us to escape its influence completely.

But what I’ve learned over the past few years is that my fear of homosexuality has been a result of my personal insecurities, and especially my insecurity with my masculinity. As I’ve become more comfortable with who I am, I have released more and more of my defenses. And I’ve become less and less worried about what other people might think.

5. Be You

Learn to live life as the fullest expression of yourself. All that old masculine posturing may have helped ‘protect’ you back on the playground, but not anymore. What we gave up back then in order to feel ‘safe’ – emotional expression, intimacy, touch, etc. – is exactly what is missing from so many of our lives right now. And it’s what’s keeping many of us from experiencing the love and belonging that we so deeply long for. Re-discover it. Cultivate it. Teach it!

Express yourself. Lean into creative vulnerability at every opportunity. Move through your fears. Break through your limitations. Let go. Sing off-key at the top of your lungs; roll around and play outside like you’re 5 years old again; dance like you have ants in your pants, giggle like a little girl, laugh from the bottom of your belly. Be yourself fully! It’s worth the risk.


With fierce loving compassion,


As a man who is committed to personal growth, interpersonal healing, and systemic change, I am constantly trying to cultivate a deeper sense of self-awareness. I believe that the only way to truly be of service to others is to know myself deeply and to practice living and acting with integrity.

Walking the path of radical self-awareness means that I am willing to examine my words, actions, and beliefs with a critical yet compassionate eye. Acting with integrity means that I am clear about what I value and that I consistently seek to bring my behavior into deeper alignment with those values.

This requires practicing the courage of acknowledging both my shadows and my light, even as I maintain the humility of recognizing how much I simply don’t know.

Intention vs. Impact

I’ve seen the harm I can cause when I act from a place of ignorance. (I use the term ‘ignorance,’ not as a self-judgement, but in the literal sense of not knowing – which is the latin root of the word). My good intentions have not always impacted others in the ways that I’ve hoped for. In fact, sometimes they have been received as incredibly hurtful.

One of my deepest fears is the fear of being misunderstood – and nothing feels worse than experiencing the disconnect between a positive intention and a negative impact.

Learning to receive feedback about my impact on other people has been one of the most difficult and rewarding pursuits of my life. And that learning never ends; it only grows deeper. It turns out that the story I tell myself about who I am is often surprisingly different from how others experience me. Rather than allowing this to discourage me or put me on the defensive, I do my best to view it as an opportunity to deepen into self-awareness.


I believe that others serve as mirrors to help us learn what we don’t know (and see what we can’t see) about ourselves.

We can’t move through our ignorance and cultivate radical self-awareness alone. We need other people to help us illuminate the dark corners of our subconscious stories, beliefs and behaviors. And this requires being willing to listen. And being willing to hear things about ourselves that are sometimes really challenging to hear. There is a lot we can learn by acknowledging our ignorance and choosing to sit with and explore what other people are reflecting back to us about ourselves.

One of the ways that I’ve experienced the impacts of my ignorance most intensely has been in conversations about race, privilege, and oppression. Precisely because these conversations are consistently challenging and difficult, they offer me the opportunity to cultivate radical self-awareness in profound ways that I’ve rarely experienced elsewhere. Let me illustrate this with a story:

Confronting My Privilege

A few years ago, I participated in a group activity called “Cross the Line” in which the facilitator lined everyone up and then preceded to make a series of statements. If the statement was true for us, we were asked to take one step forward. If not, we stayed where we were. In this particular version of the activity, the statements chosen by the facilitator all implied an experience of societal privilege – of various forms, including race, gender, class, etc.

Several examples include:

“I can reasonably assume that my failures will not be attributed to my race, or my gender.”

I can achieve success without other people being surprised; and without being held to a higher standard.”

“I can go out in public without fear of being harassed or constantly worried about physical safety”

“I understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy food, and can choose to eat healthy food if I wish.”

NOTE: If you are finding yourself questioning my use of the term “privilege,” then I invite you to read this great post that helped me understand the concept better.

So, the facilitator kicked off the activity. And I remember that after each statement, I would take a step forward. After the final statement was read, I realized that I was literally the farthest person from the line, with everyone else behind me. Only a few other White men stood nearly abreast of me, at either side. Behind us were White women and, behind them, were men and women of color from various different ethnic backgrounds. This spread is roughly represented in my sketch below:

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A Powerful Metaphor

As our group debriefed the activity, we began to recognize the powerful metaphor we’d just stepped into. The reality was that our experiences in this activity mirrored our experiences in the world. And I learned a lot from viscerally experiencing how I fit into the wide spectrum of different experiences of societal privilege. Let me explain.

For me, standing at the very front and facing forward, all I could see were the other White men. They were the only people whose stories I needed to know about in order to be successful in our society. Behind us, where the White women. They had no choice but to learn about us – the White men – since we were right in front of them. But we didn’t need to see them or understand their stories.

Behind them were the men and women of color. Although they represented a wide spread amongst themselves (due to their varying experiences of societal privilege, based on class, gender, education, etc.), they all had to look ahead to the White women and men in the room.

This mirrors the experiences of many people of color in this country who, for example, learn to adopt White ways of speaking and behaving at times in order to succeed (or even survive) in a White-dominated culture. They have no choice but to know about us. And yet we (White folks) haven’t really needed to know anything about them.

One impact of this reality is that we often remain distant, disconnected, and even afraid of one another. As Irene Butter points out, “Enemies are people who’s story you haven’t heard, or who’s face you haven’t seen.”

The fact is that being a White male in our society means that I haven’t really needed to know anyone else’s story, since my experience of the world is the “norm” that everyone else is expected to conform to. Perhaps equally striking has been the realization that, having spent my whole life swimming in Whiteness, I feel as though I haven’t ever even known my own story.

Turning Around

Looking back, I recall that I felt a sense of deep isolation standing out in front of everyone else in the Cross the Line activity. And that, when I first glanced back at all of the people behind me, I felt an intense sense of guilt and sadness. This experience mirrors the inner-struggle I’ve faced as I’ve begin confronting my privilege in the world. I’ve realized, over time, that the only way to move through these feelings is to turn around and start witnessing the people standing behind me – to start listening deeply to their stories and experiences.

Listening to these stories, however, has brought up so much sadness, shame and shock that I’ve struggled to stay present and not look away. My ignorance has ‘protected’ me from the truth of other people’s experiences for so long that it actually hurts to look at it now – like turning on the overhead lights in a dark room – my eyes are still adjusting.

But the more I listen to other people’s stories, the more I learn about myself. And, as I said in the beginning, I believe that the only way I can truly be of service to others is to know myself deeply and to practice acting with integrity.

Leaning In

As a man who is committed to radical self-awareness, I know that leaning in to the most challenging places in my life often yield the most rewarding insights. And, as someone who deeply values principals of justice, freedom and equality, learning about the impacts and root causes of my privilege is essential to knowing how to live my life with integrity.

As a White man who aspires to stand in solidarity with all people (and especially those who are most marginalized in our society), I take it upon myself to continue to listen, learn and grow in every way that I can, regardless of how challenging or uncomfortable it may be.

Sure, the lights are still bright; but I never want to look away again.


With fierce loving compassion,