It has happened on more than one occasion. I’m in a conversation with a man that turns to the deeper matters of the heart. Instead of engaging me, he pulls back and says something like this, “I’m just not one of those touchy-feely guys.”
I’m not sure where that expression came from, but whatever its source, it’s not helpful or even possible. To be alive is to feel. In addition, we know from recent studies in neurology that the organizing principle of the brain is emotion — not rationality. Without emotion, we can’t think, act, or even function. So when a man tells me he is not “touchy-feely,” what he is really saying is that he is fearful of emotion, or that he suppresses it, or that he is unaware of his emotion, or that he feels numb most of the time. In other words, he is not mindful.
Mindfulness is paying attention to what you are feeling in the present moment. It is a heightened self-awareness of what is going on internally. It is heart-consciousness. Men who are not mindful bring up the proverbial image of the bull in the china shop, wreaking havoc on themselves and on those around them. For when a man is not mindful of himself, he cannot be mindful of others. If he cannot enter the inner sanctums of his heart with curiosity and openness, he cannot experience empathy with the hearts of others. He is a man cut-off from himself and others, drifting in an emotional vacuum.
What is a man? This is the question that lingers after the smoke has cleared from all the wrangling about masculinity. I want to take my own fumbling attempt at an answer. But the one I propose is not an exhaustive one — that is, there is so much more to masculinity. However, I do believe it is a necessary one, and perhaps even a sufficient one for understanding manhood. Here is my answer: a man is someone who is grounded in his identity and propelled by a mission (see Chap. 10-11 of Heroic or Chap. 5, 9 of Landmarks). This answer comes from myth and fiction, from the stories and truths in the Bible, and from the healing in my life and the lives of men I know.
But think about what is involved in identity and mission. To know who you are requires by definition a deepening sense of self, as well as an understanding of your impact on others and God. You don’t solve the identity puzzle like a math problem. It’s something you receive, something you feel, something you are grounded in. To find your identity is to become mindful by definition.
Now think about mission as well. So much of a man’s mission is tied to an awareness of his gifts, his passions, and his dreams. God plants desires into a man’s heart for a mission that will lead to the flourishing of His kingdom. It is a mission by which he is propelled forward — with all of his heart. But again, to become aware of your desires is to become mindful by definition. It is how a man begins to discern his mission in life.
A Picture of Mindful Man
The man who is mindful has begun to walk the ancient pathways into manhood. He is not a bull in a china shop. Here is a better image. Think of a bald eagle perched high in a tree, overlooking a vast field and forest. This majestic bird is king of the feathered world because of his fearsome strength and razor-sharp eyesight. He commands everything going on around him because he sees it. Real men are like that bald eagle. They can see into others because they have seen into themselves. They are mindful of others because they are mindful of themselves.
And in that mindfulness, they come to love and to use their strength to express that love.
Bill Delvaux is a graduate of Duke University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has been a church planter, a high school Bible teacher, and a running coach. Six years ago, he pioneered Landmark Journey Ministries to help men connect their stories to God’s story through retreats and spiritual direction. His newest book, Heroic: The Surprising Path to Manhood, released in April 2019. His greatest claim to fame is being married to Heidi for 32 years and having two amazing daughters, Abigail, and Rachel. He and his wife currently reside in Franklin, TN.