EP05 / Alchemy, purpose, and love with Bob Conlin
Alchemy, eating the shadow, creating a conscious relationship with fear, the illusion of purpose—and how we find it along the path—and his journey towards love and fatherhood.
In this episode I talk with relationship coach and a men’s alchemist Bob Conlin, who runs coaching programs including the Alchemy of Men and Living in Love. I came to know Bob recently through Traver Boehm’s Man Uncivilized community, and I loved his presence and his focus on relationship. Starting with the idea of alchemy, we talk about creating a conscious relationship with alcohol—and with parts of ourselves—as well as the illusion of purpose and where it really comes from, how everyone we’re in relationship with is our guru, his journey to fatherhood, some of the unique aspects of the love of men.
How being a coach is being an “alchemist,” helping men turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, getting them connected to their own ‘gold.’ How heating oneself in a ‘crucible’ can serve to transform dark material in our psyche into more conscious parts of ourselves. What I sometimes call ‘eating the shadow’ is building a relationship with that part of us. It’s not You, it’s a part of you.
What part of himself has he developed a relationship with, that was unconscious and then became conscious? Yes—his relationship with alcohol. And—harboring resentment against other people—and learning to release that. And also—developing a relationship with fear, and realizing that fear is just a message. Drinking and drugs were a symptom of a “hole in my soul” of not feeling “connected to something greater than me.”
The bugbear of Purpose. What do I do if I don’t know my purpose? A rare few are born with it. Most of us discover it along the way by following what feels good, what feels aligned. It helped him to be guided in a specific conversation focused on “why are you here?” His purpose is “to make a difference.”
How a broad feeling of purpose allows for more possibility. The feeling of purpose is something that emerges along the way when the we’re on the right path—so how do I know I’m on the right path? By having some sort of personal philosophy, some guiding principles to steer by. The singular nature of “purpose” is illusory. It’s more of a path and not an object. This is akin to the buddhist concept of Ren, or a “sensibility of goodness.”
How wanting to make a difference in a child’s life was a big part of what led him to want to become a father—and also that he realized he didn’t have to wait to become a parent to do that.
Surprising statistic: only 60% of American men become parents (same for women). Like me, Bob lived most of his life thinking that he wouldn’t have children. Meeting his wife and experiencing love opened him to want create a being together with her, based on their love for one another. Becoming a father felt like “I’m here, I’ve arrived.”
Learning to be parents together has opened a new dimension in his relationship with his wife. Everyone that we’re in relationship with is our ‘guru.’
My own experience—which I wrote about in The Man Pays is that I have chosen many times by way of my actions (as “observed in the wild”) not to become a father—and, that it hurts. Both are true. It is bittersweet. And courageous.
Are there ways of loving that are unique to men? Container. Father. Holding… and yet, of course, women and mothers do this holding as well. My own theory is that we need men to love with more truth so as to heal the wound caused by perpetuating the falsehood for so long that men don’t need love. Men say they don’t need anything. Men are lonely. Men need love. “Be a beacon of love.”
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Puett and Gross-Loh, The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life.
U.S. Census report: Men's Fertility and Fatherhood: 2014
U.S. Census report: Fertility of Women in the United States: 2012
Bowen Dwelle, The Truth About Love