I want to share a lesson I learned about what it means for the feminine to support the masculine last week while holding space for my shaman in ceremony.

(**Requisite disclaimer that masculine/feminine does not equal male/female, plus an acknowledgment that there may be similarities when the polarities are reversed but that that is not the focus of this post.**)

My shaman was smoking hapé, a legal Brazilian medicine snorted painfully through the nose which allows the seeker to face their greatest fears in a 5-7min span of excruciating physical/mental pain and torment. It is the opposite of a pleasant experience, but its catharsis allows the practitioner to work through their fears in a controlled and supported environment so as to avoid unconsciously manifesting those battles in their everyday lives.

He asked me if I would hold space for him as he did it, meaning he wanted me to sit in front of him and give him my focus while thinking supportive thoughts (“you’re strong, you’re courageous, you got this”) and holding my hands out for him to grasp when he needed. I agreed. I watched him pack the nose-pipe full of an alarming amount of the powder, and he whispered to me, “I must be out of my fucking mind.”

I smiled and whispered back, “You know, you don’t have to show off. I already admire you.”

“I’m not showing off,” he replied quickly. “I’m doing this to send healing to my teacher, who is ill.”

“Ok,” I said gently.

He snorted the hapé and I watched as his eyes rolled back in his head and his body contorted. He grabbed my hands as it ran its course. When he was finished, he started packing the pipe up with more powder.

“I’m not showing off,” he said, even though I’d been silent.

I shrugged. “It’d be ok if you were. I’m just saying you don’t have to.”

After ceremony I asked him if I could share with him what I learned from that experience about the feminine’s role in supporting the masculine:

“I learned in that moment that in holding space for you, it was my job to remind you of your free will, to remind you that you were making a conscious choice. But it wasn’t my job to question your choices or even your reasoning behind them. It was my job to remind you of your options and then trust you to know what’s best for you.”

The next morning, the circle reconvened to partake in sananga, another legal Brazilian medicine that is extremely painful (eyedrops that feel like cayenne, lemon, and sand) but which clears the brain of toxins and improves vision. One of the shaman’s helpers looked at me nervously and said, “I have to go do sananga now!”

“You don’t have to,” I replied. “May I share with you what I learned last night?” He nodded and I shared with him my story about holding space for the hapé ritual. “So if you want to do the sananga, by all means do it! But I’m here to remind you that you don’t have to. You are at choice.”

A look of relief crossed his face like the sun breaking through the clouds. “You know what? You’re right!” he said joyously. “I’m not going to do it! Thanks!”

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about relationship on my current growth journey is in trusting a man to know his own path. If I don’t trust a man to know his own path, then why am I choosing him? That then allows space for me to show up in support of him on his journey, and specifically to make the distinction between showing up in support vs trying to control the situation (even benevolently) by “helping.” Doing the opposite – choosing a partner you feel you have to micromanage – is actually a way of blocking receiving. As Harville and Helen Hendrix write in the book Receiving Love, “If you are with someone who, in your opinion, can’t manage life well, you may feel you have to do it for them. This puts you firmly in the role of giver or manager, and makes it less likely you’ll be in the role of receiver.” Further, this behavior centers your partner’s issues, allowing you to bypass your own work on yourself by focusing on theirs instead. This stunts and flummoxes even the best-intentioned partnerships.

Trusting a man to know his own path has nothing to do with tolerating abusive dynamics, being a surrendered wife, or failing to draw personal boundaries. An empowered feminine person will not shy away from expressing her thoughts and feelings around her partner’s decisions, but she will not mistake her thoughts and feelings for tactics of manipulation and control. If her man insists on going off to battle, she will express her fear, sadness, and anger at his decision to risk his life despite her love for him, but ultimately she will grant him his decision – because she knows that if he follows her mandates instead of his own heart, she is softly killing the integrity and autonomy in him that made her love him in the first place. (She also knows that if his decisions push past what she is willing to tolerate, she has the tool of discernment in her arsenal – she can pack up and leave with her integrity intact like Angelina Jolie during Brad’s PR campaign for the movie he cheated on her with his costar during filming.)

A man isn’t served by your worries, freakouts, judgments, or any other unconscious attempts at control. If you want your man to show up for you as a king, the best thing you can do is trust him to know himself. Any attempt to mould or shape a man into the king you want him to be is a contradiction in terms; you will manifest a spineless polyp who depends on your guidance to know his direction, a Macbeth who can’t be strong for you when you’re washing imaginary bloodstains from your hands. And then you will rob yourself of the experience of being cared for in your feminine, precisely because you are blocking yourself from receiving and avoiding doing the work on yourself to show up at your best in relationship.