Owning my space through connection: My journey of sitting and serving at Essentially Men
By Luke Sniewski
I knew what was coming. I expected it to show, but I dreaded it nonetheless. I tried my usual preparations in anticipation of what I feared most. Cold shower: check. Workout: check. Meditation: check. Practicing my presentation: check. Here we go.
As I walked to the podium, I could feel my palms beginning to sweat. I smirked my usual fake smile as I tried to hide the tension gripping my body as I was introduced and greeted politely by the audience with some applause. My body somehow reached the podium, but my mind was still spinning uncontrollably. The sound and intensity of my beating heart muted the voice in my head that supposed to have memorised my slides and presentation. As I looked up to meet the eyes of the 200 participants, my body went into an intense physiological response of sweating, trembling, and disorientation. Fuck. Here we go again.
Essentially Men: Learning How to Own my Space
I can walk up to and talk to any person on the street, man or woman (most often a woman). I can relate to strangers and have deep and meaningful conversations within minutes of meeting. I can sit in a circle of peers and share, exchange, and debate ideas and feel completely relaxed. But when it comes to standing up in front of group, owning my space, and being seen, my mind and body crumble. Or at least that’s what used to happen.
Call it trauma. Call it fear. Call it whatever you want. The name or label of what was happening to me never really mattered to me. All I knew was that this phenomenon of standing in front of people had very real effects on my mind and body, to the point that it prevented me from standing up and speaking my truth. And the thing is, I didn’t put that reaction there. How my body responded to being seen was a conditioned reaction engrained into my nervous system a long time ago. Maybe during childhood. Maybe before. How it got there didn’t matter. The one thing I knew, though, was that changing this pattern was my – and only mine – responsibility to change.
The irony of the many years of self-help and personal growth work I’ve done is that one of the primary motivations for beginning the journey was my inability to comfortably speak in front of groups. And despite my life improving significantly in nearly every possible way, every time I stood to speak, I experienced an all-out rebellion from my mind and body.
I didn’t attend my first Essentially Men Weekend Course with the thought that I would be able to rid myself of this pattern, but I also knew that I wasn’t fully comfortable and confident in my body. I knew there was more to explore. I was interested in EM mainly because I had heard testimonials from other men I respected and trusted as mentors, teachers, and guides. But when the opportunity to attend a weekend naturally presented itself, I felt a deeper calling that I wasn’t aware of at the time.
After years of doing work on myself, I have to say that I wasn’t nervous or scared on that infamously tense and mysterious Friday night. I was quite comfortable within my body. This stuff wasn’t new to me. It wasn’t until it was time to stand and share in front of other men, however, that I could feel my old patterns beginning to bubble up to the surface of my conscious awareness. I could feel the fear and anxiety begin to pulse through my veins.
Except this time it was different. The space was different. The eyes looking at me were different. I felt welcomed, accepted, and loved. The feeling subsiding without me trying to anything at all about it. This was new and uncharted territory for me.
Over the EM weekend I was given an opportunity I had never been given before. I was able to practice settling into the experience of being seen – truly seen – by other people, other men. There weren’t any expectations of learning or teaching. I was simply given a platform to stand, be seen, and speak from my heart. And, most importantly, I felt unconditionally accepted by my fellow men.
My body and mind had finally been given the opportunity to settle into a process of release and integration that it had been previously ignored or denied. I never imagined – and certainly didn’t expect – the healing that I felt could have been so profound and powerful. With each experience of sharing, the intensity of my bodily reactions diminished. By the end of the weekend I was able to own my space and speak my truth.
Going Deeper by Connecting and Giving Back
I’ve been a meditator for years, but being a monk and meditating in a cave is far easier than learning how to relate to and connect with the chaos of modern life. For some reason, this aspect of connecting with others was something that I had completely avoided during my journey into my own heart. And yet it was through connecting with others that I learned how to own the space in and around me. I experienced a process of integration that would have been impossible on my own.
Since my first Essentially Men weekend, I’ve been able to hold my teaching and presenting space much more comfortably. I’m no longer held hostage by a sweating, shaking, and trembling bodily reaction. I now stand in my authentic self on a foundation of groundedness and confidence. But even as I write about these seemingly life-changing positive changes – and it certainly feels that way for me – nothing from my weekend was more transformative and powerful than watching and witnessing the transformations of other men.
The experiences of my first Essentially Men weekend left me with only one possible way forward: Serving. The sacrifice of a weekend’s time is an investment I’ll happily make again to help guide, facilitate, and be present with other men as we bravely and courageously journey into the previously uncharted territories of mental and emotional processing. Emerging together on the other side is as fulfilling as it is empowering. I can see and feel tangible differences in my life and how I show up to the relationships and circumstances in my everyday life. I’m a better father, partner, lover, and friend. I’m a better man. And know I have a different response when I speak in front of people:
Here we go again. Fuck yeah!
Wellbeing Coach and Somatic Therapy