Ken Porter is a Hakomi-trained somatic therapist. Somatic therapy focuses on integrating the mind, body, and emotion. A somatic perspective helps individuals access their emotions and understand how those emotions are kept under control. Porter provides individual therapy at the Men’s Resource Center of West Michigan and co-facilitates men’s support groups there. A while ago, he put his training and expertise to the test. The question arose: Would he be able to manage his emotions and stay calm in the face of divisiveness? What he learned surprised him.
In this segment for the Revealing Men podcast, Randy Flood, co-founder and Director of the Men’s Resource Center and Porter talk about the work they do with men in groups and how inner work and reflection can help all of us through difficult times. Listen to the entire podcast and read excerpts of the conversation below (edited for clarity and space).
The Situation Today
Flood: I’d like to welcome Ken Porter back to Revealing Men. I want him to talk with me about the state of our country, the divisiveness, the anger, and the rage that we’re seeing. …We want to talk about it from a somatic place, from a place of how we act out emotions, how we are not conscious of emotions, how we lack empathy, how we think we’re right. Welcome, Ken!
Porter: Thanks, Randy!
Flood: What are your initial thoughts about the state of where we’re at? And how that fits into some of the work that we do or the work you do with individuals to try to help them appreciate what’s going on in their inner life and how that gets played out in the communities we live and the way we think and the divisiveness.
Porter: I’d like to start by naming that when I can get out of my own head with all this, and get out of my own ideas of what’s right and wrong, what’s needed, who’s wrong, I just feel such a deep sadness, such a deep grief. Just seeing where our country is and where the, I don’t know, where the collective consciousness is.
Flood: That’s probably going to be a better place to be, even though it doesn’t feel great, than staying stuck in outrage and anger and looking for targets for our anger. I think we see that sometimes in the men we work with in groups, where there’s this rage inside and that gets acted out. I wonder if you can speak about how we’re seeing that in society at large, in a lot of the anger and divisiveness, and targets for that.
Porter: I think largely it comes down to an inability to really comprehend what’s going on inside of someone’s own psyche. Men especially have been socialized—I mean in general, it’s a generalization—to not be in touch with their feelings, especially their more vulnerable feelings. And so, when you don’t have access to the whole spectrum of your emotional landscape, you go with the tools that you have. I think it was Fritz Perls who said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.” So yeah, if all you have is maybe anger and control, or just shutting down, that’s your tool kit. So, I think I see a lot of that, where people are reaching for the tools that they have and not having gained more tools yet.
Flood: Right. I think of the current way in which we get our news with social media and the passing along of information, I think that that solidifies the way in which we can develop ideas about who the enemy is and who’s right and who’s wrong. That has played into the divisiveness as well. There’s a lot of emotional reactivity around the way in which we get our news. I’m just wondering if you could say a little bit about the red, the blue, and the meme [levels]. You want to talk about that just as a framework of consciousness?
Porter: Sure. In a cursory way. So, Don Beck, I believe, was the one who came up with this model called Spiral Dynamics. It’s mapping out the evolution of consciousness for the human race. It’s basically kind of a stair step of survival consciousness, then developing into more of a magical thinking consciousness, and then into a might-makes-right level of consciousness, and then into a law and order level of consciousness, … like a hierarchy. And then into more of a science-based consciousness, and then into what he calls the “Green Meme,” which is more of a global perspective and environmental perspective. Each level of consciousness in this model is expanding someone’s sense of their identity, from very individual, to tribal, to city-state, to nation-state, to the whole planet.
We’re at a place where we’ve got people who are basically at all these different levels and all of us, no matter what level we’ve gotten to, we still contain all of the prior levels. It’s kind of like the Tower of Babel story where people just suddenly can’t communicate with each other. They’re speaking different levels of consciousness and it’s really hard to get on the same page.
The Green Meme
Flood: So, part of the Green Meme—of the more respect, equality kind of a theme, seeing what makes us similar rather than what is so different about us—moves into [what] Sam Keen talks about, a “lover” energy where you begin to have compassion, rather than seeing yourself as evolved in a pious way and kind of lording over people who are devolved and seeing them as “deplorables,” or whatever language we might use. We have more compassion and understanding and we have a way of leading people along rather than shaming them.
Porter: Yeah, exactly.
Flood: I think that’s kind of where we’re at in our culture is this tendency to not lead people and inspire; it’s more of a shaming and divisiveness.
Porter: Yeah, very much so. In Beck’s model, the memes, all the way up through the Green [meme], like you’re alluding to, he calls “Tier One.” And, in Tier One, you tend to think that your meme is the right meme.
Flood: It’s the only way to think. [Porter: “It’s the only way to think.”] It’s the only way to order the world. It’s the only way to do relationships, etc.
Porter: Then in Tier Two, like you’re saying, you do move into that “lover” energy, where you can see the [other] perspective. The language that he [Beck] and Ken Wilber use is “transcend and include.” You can transcend a previous level of consciousness but you also recognize you still have that …You still have that energy in you even if you have moved levels beyond that.
Reclaiming Winning and Losing
Flood: That’s the thing that Tier Two allows us to reflect on: is that there are times where it’s okay to engage in competitive sports, where someone’s gonna win and someone’s gonna lose. And, it’s okay to want to win! [Porter: Laughs.]
I was thinking of my son, Zach, when he was playing baseball and they were stuck in the Green [meme] where everybody’s equal and there’s no meritocracy. They didn’t keep score when he was 6, 7, and 8 years old. [Porter: Everybody gets a medal!] Everybody gets a medal. Everybody gets a trophy! So, he would come up after the game and he would go, “Well, did we win?” and I’d say, “No, you tied again.” He’d say, “We tied again?!” [Porter: Laughs.] He was just aghast, ya know?
We all thought that this was going to be good because the kids wouldn’t have any hurt feelings, and no one would lose. We get stuck in the Green Meme: Equality, no meritocracy, no hierarchy. There’s goodness in that! We’re learning a lot of stuff from that energy, ya know, the abuse of power that we’re seeing in society, marginalization of people of color, gay people can’t marry. We needed to have that but there’s also ways in which that has gone awry. What’s that called? The “Mean Green Meme?”
Porter: “The Mean Green.” Right!
Porter: Which is, I think, a serious factor in all of this current political division. Ken Wilber talks a lot about the “Mean Green Meme,” and how people who are operating more at Red and Blue and Orange… feel a lot of resentment towards people who are operating at a Green Meme, because they just feel that there’s so much elitism and there’s so much snobbery. And, there is! [Porter: Laughs.] That’s what Wilber calls the “Mean Green.” You’ve gotten into this kind of self-righteousness …. yes, we should all be thinking globally and … it’s hard to argue with that but when you get on a crusade about it, it’s going to have a backlash.
Flood: Yeah, it’s like the energy of Red gets incorporated into it. Where you’re saying, “You’re bad” and “We’re more superior than you.” In the name of equality! “We’re supposed to all be equal and you don’t know how to do it.” So, that energy ends up being destructive. We have to figure out a way to do it differently. So, I’m wondering if you can talk about it from a somatic level, in terms of being connected to our emotions around it or how we work to develop ourselves. Because it doesn’t happen overnight, right?
Cultivating Body Awareness
Porter: Right. I’m trying to remember the author’s name, I think his name is Matthew Sanford, he wrote a book called “Waking.” He was a yoga instructor, or I think actually he became a yoga instructor after he was paralyzed from the waist down. … The line in the book that stands out the most for me was that he has never seen anybody who has developed more awareness of their body without becoming kinder; without developing more love and kindness and opening their heart.
It’s an automatic function of cultivating body awareness. Because our bodies and minds are hardwired through millennia of evolution to survive. And in order to survive as a human species, we need to work together. We need to be communal. And that requires emotional intelligence. It requires empathy. And so, when you go into your body with your awareness, you have access to all that information that has been cultivated through evolution for a long, long time.
Flood: And you can access empathy if you’re more connected to yourself. That ability to pause. I know that for myself, that sometimes I have the survival mechanism in me kick in where I read something, or see something, or hear something, and I just want to react. I just want to say something that comes to me. And sometimes I do. Sometimes I post or write something and I think “that wasn’t very reflective.”
Most of the time we have time to pause and reflect and determine what the best response is. I think there’s so much reactivity and it’s so seductive because it’s powerful to just have this surge of righteousness and you just want to pontificate. And so, I’m wondering, just as a somatic therapist, how do you pause? What are some tricks of the trade, if you will, to catch ourselves from not participating in so much of the reactivity and divisiveness?
How to Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed
Porter: There’s kind of two prongs to that. The one is what I would call “resourcing” and the other is what I would call “mindfulness.” So, resourcing means that you are accessing your own internal resources to calm down an emotion that is overwhelming you. An example of that would be deep breathing; that’s probably the simplest, most accessible level.
And deep breathing for even 90 seconds can dramatically shift a course of a runaway emotion. Ya know, feeling your feet on the floor, maybe even pressing your feet a little more firmly into the floor and just feeling the sensation of the soles of your feet, making contact. That can redirect energy that’s up in your upper body, up in your head, redirect it down into your lower body, and it’s grounding. So sometimes it’s important just to be able to do that, to cool it down a little bit before you can go in and explore it.
The mindfulness end of it is, if the emotion is not too extreme to handle, then it’s really helpful to go into your body and find it as a sensory expression in your body. So, if it’s anger, which we all have plenty of these days—there’s plenty of things to get angry about—to find it in your body, ya know? To feel like, okay, my shoulders are hiking up, I feel my fists want to clench, my jaw’s getting tight, there’s a pressure in my chest, there’s kind of this upward energy.
Connecting with that, it takes it out of the mental and conceptual realm. It brings it into the here and now. And it brings it into this place where my body knows through millennia, how to survive. It gets it down into a very nuts and bolts level, and from that place you’re talking about the importance of pausing. Like, that is a way to pause the mind. When you let the mind run away with this angry thought, and what this person should’ve done or what they shouldn’t have done, and what I want to say to them the next time I have the chance, that just tends to be a runaway train. When you can just find it in your body, it really slows that train down so that you can stay with it without escalating it.
Identifying and Managing Emotions
Flood: And that anger is informative. It’s part of the data to say: this causes me a lot of outrage, this is upsetting, when this happens people get hurt, or the world’s going to be disorderly if this passes. And I think that survival mechanism is to want to act and mobilize and do something. And sometimes we need to!
But, most of the time as individuals, what has helped us evolve is that ability to pause. And to know what’s going on in our bodies and then begin to reflect. What do I do? How do I lead? How do I address this in a way that has lover energy, in a way that is inspiring to people and they want to come to where we’re going? [Porter: “Right.”] Rather than getting angry and just shaming and criticizing the thing you’re all pissed off about. I’m just wondering if you wanted to add to that?
Porter: One practice that I have cultivated is first I start with whatever the immediate emotion is that’s hitting me. I find it in my body. I just sit with it as long as I need to. If I can, I listen to what it’s asking for, like what the underlying need is and maybe find a way to meet that need. But once I’ve been able to hit that pause button in that way and create the space, I find that it allows me to then let my mind go into the other person’s perspective, or the other group’s perspective.
So maybe I got really angry about something I saw on the news, and some action that an individual or a group was taking, and I’m just outraged and I get on my righteous horse. [Flood: “It feels pretty good, though. Doesn’t it?” Laughs] Right? Sure. But once I’ve been able to pause and sit in that for a while, then I find that it creates a space to say “Okay, I need to put myself in their position.”
Regardless of whether I agree with their politics or their perspective, if I was in their position and I was seeing the world through their lens, what would I be feeling? And, when I do that, it almost always makes perfect sense to me: “Of course, I would be responding the same way they’re responding.” It’s not like a magic wand, like “okay, it’s all fixed now!” But it does open my heart and I think the more we can all open our hearts, the better this is all gonna be. [Flood: “Right.” Laughs.]
When the President Came to Town
Flood: You and I are progressive guys. We don’t need to try and pretend that we’re not. Hopefully in all of the good ways! But I remember when Trump came to town and you wanted to go listen to him and be a part of that. That was part of your practice. Rather than be a part of the divisiveness, rather than being tribal, maybe I can mingle and see what I’d learn and try to make some connections. Remember that?
Porter: Oh, I do!
Flood: You were practicing staying connected to your body and this is just a real immersion in it. I thought that was good.
Porter: The reality is, I’m not at all a fan of Trump. I have a pretty visceral, negative reaction to many things that he does. And, I recognize that as a reaction. I recognize that as reactivity. So, my practice has been to understand. So, I went with a friend to a Trump rally and we got there, probably, three hours before the rally started. And there was a line literally a mile-long winding through the streets. We started from the arena and walked backwards, like, against traffic, against the line. So, we were looking into the faces of all these Trump supporters, one after the other, for a mile.
I was feeling this deep sadness …I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but when we got there, I’m like, “oh, I think I’m feeling sad because these people all voted against their own interest—that was the story I was telling myself in my head—and I feel sad for them.”
But, after maybe a half a mile of walking and looking at all these faces, it suddenly hit me that my sadness was not about them. It was about how much judgement I had towards them. I was judging each one of these people, making up a story about their intelligence level, or their morality, or whatever. I’m judging them and I think many of them are judging me. This is what it’s come to. When that hit me, the sadness just kind of exploded. To me that was a function of being able to just hit the pause button and hold space and let myself be present to what was. That was a powerful experience!
Flood: Yeah! I can see it in your eyes now.
Porter: We didn’t get in. [Flood: “Right. A lot of people didn’t get in.”] We stood outside with a huge throng of Trump supporters being faced by the protestors; which was interesting. We watched the rally from the Jumbotron. It was so moving to be able to be in this crowd of people who, up until a half hour earlier, I would’ve been judging pretty harshly, and to be able to be in there with my heart open, not judging, just saying, the humanity, I’m not separate from all of this. It was a beautiful experience.
Flood: Yeah. I’m glad you were willing to share that.
Porter: I’m glad you brought that up.
Finding a Kinder, Better Space
Flood: To try to pretend that we’re nonpartisan or we don’t have an affiliation, I think that’s disingenuous. I think what we’re trying to say, as we wrap up, is that wherever we are in our persuasion, ideology, dogma, the camps we find ourselves, I think that we’re going to stand a much better chance to evolve and have community and civility again by even simply doing your meditation practice of pausing and getting connected to our bodies and not feeling like we have to be so reactive. It doesn’t matter what your camp is, it’s more about how we treat ourselves, manage ourselves, manage our emotions, and then go out into the world. Hopefully we can start doing that better!
Porter: I hope so.
Flood: Yeah. Well, thanks for coming in and chatting with me about it.
Porter: Yeah, thank you, Randy.
Resources for Emotional Well-being
If it seems your emotions are getting the better of you, making it more difficult to experience the good in life, contact the Men’s Resource Center for more information about our somatic therapy and counseling services. Also, feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions about this segment, ideas for a topic, or would like to be a guest on the Revealing Men podcast.