by Len Lear
Mt. Airy resident Chris Tyler, 39, is not a macho man. Just the opposite. He is thoughtful, reflective, sensitive, considerate and questioning what it means to be a real man (as opposed to the bullying, braggart, aggressive, narcissistic Donald Trump paradigm). In other words, a perfect fit for Mt. Airy.
Tyler, 39, who grew up in Bethlehem, PA, earned a B.A. in East Asian Studies and Religious Studies from Penn State and then lived in Thailand for over a year. He even lived in a Zen Buddhist monastery from September, 2015, to August, 2016, in upstate New York.
“I had been practicing Zen meditation for several years,” he explained, “and wanted to feel the support of a community that was dedicated to Zen practice full-time. It was wonderful and challenging. You get to spend a lot of time with your own mind.”
Tyler is organizing a new “Men Exploring Masculinity” book discussion group, “The Will to Change,” which will meet every Monday, 7 to 8:30 p.m., starting Oct. 2, at Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy.
According to Chris, the group will “closely examine patriarchy in our culture and how we might move through such a dysfunctional social structure to emerge with fresh insights on our own lives. As a group of men engaged in honest inquiry, we’re aiming to make it a personal and challenging journey.”
The group will read and discuss books that deal with provocative issues such as: Does patriarchy really serve us as men? What do our lives look like if we reject patriarchy yet still feel the calling to embrace the masculine energy of our being? Who can help guide us on our journey to discover how to be healthy and expressive men?
A carpenter by trade for 16 years, Chris Tyler also has over 200 hours of training in Gestalt group therapy at the Gestalt Institute of San Francisco. “I saw that my usual strategies for coping in life were no longer working,” he explained, “and I had a natural spark of curiosity about how my mind was working.”
Tyler participated in and led several men’s groups in California and one in Ontario for 10 years in all. Usually there are four to 12 men in a group. What prompted him to do that? “A deep question of how to best live a masculine life in modern America. I didn’t get a clear sense of that growing up, though I did get a lot of vague, strong and mixed messages about it.”
While Western women have been redefining their roles in society for decades, there have been very few places where men have been invited to examine and redefine their roles, relationships and sense of purpose. You might say that this new group is a response of awareness of the effects of enduring societal pressures on men to “provide, protect and perform,” to repress emotions and to shun spirituality and soulfulness. While women generally have no problem discussing these issues among each other, men’s conversations are usually confined to sports, jobs, TV shows, making money, etc. But some men are waking up to the pressure they feel to be “success objects” while shallow, violent and/or abusive male characters flood our media.
According to Tyler, confronting these issues with other men “has been really eye-opening and a breath of fresh air to be able to talk openly about the challenges in our lives. It’s like getting insight into a black box of mystery in myself that I had carried for years …
“I challenge the unspoken, strong model of masculinity as being limited to an aggressive stance towards life. We don’t have to box ourselves in with an unhealthy, competitive mindset or the idea that we can’t open ourselves up to a more vulnerable but ultimately satisfying way of life … If there is something about how we are relating to the world that is unsatisfying in a nagging way with our partner, our family, our work or our deeper spiritual practice, then that is sufficient to begin … to explore more deeply than is possible in ordinary, more superficial social settings.”
What is the most difficult thing Tyler has ever done? “Either a week of solitary meditation in a hut in the woods or surviving an unexpected snowstorm in the mountains last summer.”
What are Tyler’s biggest pet peeves? “Mysterious engine noises in my car that come and go. And seeing someone right on the cusp of articulating their personal insight and then pulling back because they don’t feel supported in revealing themselves. That sucks, and it happens all the time.”
More information at 215-844-1870 or www.bigbluemarblebooks.com