He came to me sobbing. His wife had cheated on him. His career was spiraling out of control. His drinking had gone from every-so-often to almost all the time. His faith life had failed him. Bottom line, he was disintegrating fast.
This man had been one of my best friends for years. We had gone to concerts together, started businesses together, and been in the same social circles. But, I hadn’t known the pain he was in.
The worst part, he confided in me, was that he wasn’t sure if he actually even wanted THOSE THINGS—the job, the spouse, the spiritual community. Here’s what I told him—”You probably haven’t wanted those things for a long time—and you’ve been half-assing it, and pulling back to prove it.”
He looked confused for a moment and then nodded, “I guess that’s true. But what should I do?”
I told him with absolute certainty, “You’re going to have to change.”
It is difficult--but not impossible--to rewrite your story; your way of being in this world.
Of course who you are seems so instinctual, so automatic. And that is exactly what it is--a rather downloaded way of living. But character--who you are--is actually the sum total of HOW you are. Which means change is possible, if you're practical.
Why did that man, my friend “have to change?”
Because he was miserable. And he was making everyone around him miserable. He had assembled the life he thought he wanted, as many of us do in our early twenties, only to realize it was hardly his basic desire.
Rather than challenge himself to shift, he simply kept up the pretense and waited for everyone else to act in a response. He wanted his wife to make the decision—and she did. He wanted his employers to make the choices—and they did. He wanted a passive life, and that is exactly what he had. He was constantly being acted on.
I talk a lot with men who want to get back control in their life. They’re tired of being pushed around. They ache because being the one holding all the plates in the air. But if they want out of this position, they’re going to have to change their way of being.
According to one of the father’s of modern psychology, Carl Jung, the collective unconscious consists of instinctual and universal thought patterns that humans developed over thousands of years of evolution. Jung called these primal imprints on our being “archetypes.”
For Jung, archetypes form the foundation of all individual experience. You could be a wealthy and soficisticated stock broker in New York or a bushman in Sub-Saharan Africa—Jung would argue that no matter who you are, you have the same archetypal behaviors embedded within you.
Jung believed that we most readily saw these archetypes of human behavior come to the surface in the conscious mind through symbols, rituals, and myths. As later mythologists would argue, these patterns and concepts of archetypes help us understand why there are so many commonalities in various world myths and rituals. For example, the dying/resurrecting God figure can be found in the stories and myths of ancient Greeks, ancient Sumerians, Christians, and Native Americans.
So too, Masculine and feminine archetypes are in each one of us. These principles transcend genitals, or sex types like male and female. These two archetypes simply are ways of encoding the world, and have been so for thousands of years. It is wrapped up in mythology and how cultures have storied their reality. We often turn a blind eye to these ancient messages, and consider them as outdated or ignorant, but they were saying something, both then and now. Their symbols are tied up in how we think and operate, and we do well to pay attention to them.
In archetypal langues “The Feminine,” often perceived as a goddess or an energetic force, is wild and raw. She is filled with passion and non-directionality. She is the ocean. She is an ever shifting flow of energy going where she wants. She is powerfully emotive. She is vitality and life. The Feminine is also associated with nurturance, softness, and gentility. Whenever a person inhabits these places they are connecting with the feminine.
The Masculine is the polarity of this. It is directional energy. It is purposeful, ordered, and sculptured. It is the Earth. It is emotive also—but as aggression, intensity, and decisiveness. The masculine is also secondary. Meaning that traditional cultures understood that the Feminine force is stronger, interestingly enough (while we won’t explore that in detail now, its worth noting). In fact part of the masculine’s work was to cut away from the Feminine. This was depicted in stories as Male deities slaying Female ones, or male heroes cutting down monstrous females. Of course we could take this at face value and find a rip-roaring example of “The Patriarchy” here, or understand that they were symbolizing the journey of development for the Masculine in their culture. Part of the work of the masculine is always to “shove off from” or “cut away out of” the soft comfort of the feminine.
If a man has becoming comfortable, attached to his sweet way of living, and wishes little disturbance on it, but also feels directionless and purposeless, we might accurately say he is over-connecting with the Feminine, and not with The Masculine (the same might also be said for a woman).
One of the assumptions I have of most males in culture today is that they are addicted to comfort and security and know little of purpose. This imbalance is driven by an overabundance (and over-emphasis) of Feminine archetypes, and insufficient road maps into the Masculine ones.
In order to progress men need understand a certain kind of change-initiation happens. They need to tap into this most basic of Masculine core archetypal movements.
I’m going to spell out how change occurs. This may be helpful, because it make concrete exactly what any of the Masculine (and purposeful) archetypes require of us.
If we want to change who we are we must change how we are.
HERE’S THE METHOD
(new)intension -----> (new) decision -----> (new)action -----> (new) habit -----> (new) character.
Think of someone who is an unconfident slob. He's overweight. His clothes are baggy. He slouches in his chair. He grumbles about everything. He's the perpetual negative nancy or naysayer. His self esteem is in the pits. Here's the thing...I've been there.
When I was thirteen, entering into 8th grade, I was having all kinds of problems with school--and among other things I was failing English. That summer my parents got a call. The school wanted to put me in a special English class. I was against it. I didn't want to be sidelined--even if I was a loser, a failure. Then the truth dropped. They wanted to put me in a self-directed Honors English class. They didn't think I was poor at English at all. They thought I was fantastic, and wanted me to explore that gift. My entire self-image begin to change over the course of that year. By the end, I believed myself to be somewhat exceptional. My behaviors and beliefs collided into a whole new way of being.
Go back to our slob. Here's his path...
Intend--literally envision who he WANTS to be, who he believes he is capable of being. Decide--commit his will power to becoming what he believes he might already be. Then adopt new behaviors. Change his posture. Stand straighter. Lose some weight. Get a new hair cut. Put a different wardrobe on. Invite him to engage in conversation rather than run from it. Teach him self-regulation where he can manage his anxiety through different breathing techniques and thought patterns. Watch as people begin to see him differently. Watch his confidence grow. Watch it become second nature. Watch new habits crystalize after repetition. Interact with a whole new character.
This is a really crass illustration. But I've watched it happen. At times I've lived it. The trick is in the first three steps...INTENTION. DECISION. ACTION.
You don't have to be the person you are today. Change is not only possible. It's practical.
Our character is defined by our habits....anything you do all the time is who you are.
Across the years I’ve struggled with this, around addiction, self-centeredness, deceit and self-righteousness especially. I’ve developed, like all of us, coping skills to avoid pain in the moment—but really just make things worse in the long run, for me and others. However, when blind spots become apparent, I want to be responsive to the work. To actually bringing my best intentions to bear. If I want to change these aspects of myself then shaming myself and blaming myself or others really isn’t going to help, is it? What will? Work. Designing a life that is impervious to addictive patterns, becoming relentlessly honest with those closest to me, letting go of ego, and doing things for others. The opposite of the character I have often portrayed is exactly what is called for!! It’s not about wishing and hoping, it’s about willing and working at it.
One of the earliest sets of myths we have comes to us from ancient Sumeria, The Epic of Gilgamesh. This is a significant set of stories for many reasons. First, it is incredibly old—going back to what we might call the “dawn of civilization” and reflects just what our ancestors transitioning out of hunter-gatherer cultures thought and saw in their world. Second (and I feel to be most important), the Sumerian culture was the front line of this transition. They were really the initial experiment of moving from nomadic to sedentary cultures, from connected to soil and seasons, to toiling by the plow and enforced labor rituals. Truly, their early reflections upon those moments holds great significance for the human experience.
The Epic of Gilgamesh has within it two intriguing characters, who play small roles in the shaping of the central hero, Gilgamesh. Their names are Lilith and Enikudu. Obviously Lilith goes on to achieve much greater fame in feminist literature. Enikudu recedes into relative anonymity. However, they’re both worth mentioning here.
Lilith is noteworthy because she is said to be a dark maiden who builds her house within a sacred tree, along with a serpent. The hero Gilgamesh goes to slay the serpent and Lilith then abandons the tree and flees into the wild where she takes up her home.
Enkidu is actually far more complex and developed as a character. He is said to be a wild and hairy man, in tune with the animals and committed to freeing them from those who would capture them. His path is that of becoming ensnared by the villagers who sedate and seduce him through plying him with wine, bread, and sex (about right, all things considering). Eventually he is tamed. He cuts his hair and begins to live as a domesticated male.
What is fascinating is that this story includes a witness to the people of the Wild—those who are undomesticated and unbroken by the yoke of civilization. These characters represent our primal and archetypal Masculine and Feminine spirits. And they both have lessons to teach us. Enkidu’s story is truly a heartbreaking one and reminds us how our primal nature can be caged, in part, thanks to our primal appetites. It suggests that the Masculine can be drawn into a prison, of its own choosing. Security and stability, along with the need for provision are a snare that ancient peoples understood was working upon them. Lilith’s story helps us to remember that the Feminine’s instinct is to create a safety also from within a wild place, alongside of wisdom (as represented by the serpent—an ancient symbol for wisdom in that culture). However, when hunted down and terrified, can retract and often disappear altogether, becoming a wound and a shadow to us.
In total the appearance of these two characters helps us know that the counter-balance to the civilized and enslaving elements of the world is actually a Wild and Free vision of the Masculine and Feminine. There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t need a balance between The Masculine and Feminine. This is the dynamic of living WILD & FREE. We need BOTH. Men especially, in this current evolution are being inundated with aspects of the sacred Feminine—empathetic emotionality, BEING (as opposed to doing), and softness. These are important, but not outside of the masculine edge also. But committing to active change we literally push ourselves into that masculine edge.
Here’s why that matters—because, going back to my friend, if we’re ever going to be happy, we’re going to have to start making decisions that are congruent with our actual intentions. Not what we imagine others would want. Not what we hope for. Not what posterity is demanding—no….Decisions out of who we are. And that kind of directionality is us, connecting with the Masculine again. But it’s also us connecting to happiness once more.
It’s easy to divorce ourselves from our depths—from those parts of ourselves that are connected to intention and being. We do so when persecuted, when sedated, when afraid, and when seduced. We do so when external forces act upon us, and when internal insecurities are exploited. However, in order to change and go forward we must make a commitment to attach to both truths within us.
Maybe its time to re-write your story. Maybe you need to find that part deepest within yourself in order to change, or become the man you were made to. Give it a try?