I grew up watching Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, wanting to play basketball like Michael Jordan and fight like Bruce Lee. In my childhood eyes, being a man meant being strong, brave and tough. I was a naturally happy child but was also shy and gentle. As I went through primary school, mixing with other kids, this gentle nature was at times exploited, and I was left feeling scared and vulnerable.
Even at this young age, I was aware that showing emotions, crying, or even telling my mum, wasn’t what boys did. So I pretended. I pretended that I was tough, that I was aggressive, that I was strong. It seemed like everyone else was doing this, so I fell in line. Our childhood games revolved around fighting each other, pretending to shoot each other, make fun of each other and certainly make fun of difference, or those that didn’t conform to this more aggressive and dominant adolescent archetype.
Life was simply easier to navigate if you were aggressive. Secondary school was the next level of this drama. Older kids, higher stakes, bigger battles. It was a Darwinian place where in order to get through it you had to become callous and emotionally cold. The weaker ones didn’t survive and endured what must have been a horrible six years.
My idols changed from slick movie stars to rappers and criminals. You forget that you were once gentle and innocent, by this point you have added too many layers of protection over yourself. The thicker the barrier you create around yourself, the more you think it will protect you. But what you fail to realise is whilst it may provide you with some shielding, it suffocates you.
Our emotional capacity was limited to either anger or lust. These were the only two expressions that we allowed each other to show. By my late teens, it seemed this well kept getting deeper. My-self and my company became darker and more lost. Petty criminals, drug addicts, violent and lost young men. School drop-outs getting high to escape the bleak reality that we had found ourselves in. Some of them went to jail, others stayed in the darkness. Luckily I got out.
One night, stoned, alone and depressed, it hit me. The thought that no matter how low I sank or how far I turned my back on my-self, there was still something inside me that wanted to feel happy.
This was the first time I ever observed a thought as being separate from myself and I started meditating. It changed everything.
Meditation is the practice of being with ourselves and accepting ourselves in the present moment. With practice, you can cultivate your awareness to no longer be subservient to the thinking mind but instead can remain present. It is in this present moment you can experience peace and quiet contentment. It is in this presence you become aware that your past and identity are simply a collection of memories you choose to uphold. That your anxieties are simply a collection of fantasies about a future that doesn’t exist. In this present moment, you are free. Free to be who you are, not who you were 5 minutes ago or 5 years ago. But simply be.
My strength comes from my vulnerability and my openness, not from my ability to cover these up. A tree is stable because it allows its branches to be blown by the wind whilst its roots remain secure. A dead branch loses its flexibility and will be broken from the tree in the next storm.
These shells that we hide behind, these layers that we put over ourselves in order to protect us, are rigid and are weak. Our strength comes from our ability to be who we are and express ourselves freely. As men, by doing this, we give each other permission to do the same, in the hopes that the next generation of boys doesn’t try and cover themselves but allows themselves to be open and free.
Meditation tips for beginners:
- Sit comfortably, keeping your back and neck relatively straight (This doesn’t need to be crossed-legged on the floor).
- Close your eyes and breathe in through your nose and out through your nose.
- Focus your awareness on your breath. Feel it entering the nasal passage, expanding the chest and belly, then watch it leave again.
- The mind will take you away, thoughts will take you away, bodily sensations will take you away, but each time this happens, just come back to focusing on your breath.
- Like a game, each time your thoughts take you away, just bring yourself back to the present moment.
- Practice this for 10 minutes a day.
To find out more about Yusef’s journey and the benefits of meditation visit Mamopu.