initiation

Initiation

I remember the first time I saw porn.

One of my buddy’s had a playboy discreetly tucked away in his treehouse. He thumbed through the pages for me. I’ve got to be honest, my 10 year old self was not impressed. Parts of the female anatomy spread large on a super-glossy 8x11 did nothing for me. Probably frightened me more than anything, if I'm honest.

It wouldn’t be till years later at fifteen, when I stumbled upon a collection of magazines that I, perhaps mistakenly, assumed to be my fathers that I would find myself awestruck.  I rifled through its contents, scanning the pictures and the words, drinking in every detail. My mind was awash with dopamine like a football field where the sprinklers had been left on overnight. Everything was fuzzy and swirling.

As I finally integrated the new found information, I felt a profound sense of shame, and disgust. First these emotions were aimed at myself for enjoying the shit, but then I became angry—mostly at my father. He was a minister. He was my hero. How could he do this—this thing that was clearly vile and loathsome in my estimation? 

That night I confronted him. What a ballsy (and naïve) thing for a kid to do. I don’t remember what exactly I said, but I do recall what he did. He told me it wasn’t his. He said that he had been given it by a man desperate to get rid of it. That he had forgotten about it. That he, unlike the man in his story, was good and pure and to be trusted. And that’s how I knew he was lying. somehow I intuited even then that there is a darkness to men, that would make the images I saw in the magazine desirable. By painting himself as the virgin victim in a case of mistaken identity, he confirmed my suspicion of his guilt. But something else happened.

I was initiated into the ways of men.

Brass Tacks of Initiation

It’s interesting because we really don’t see that word until the middle of the 1500’s in France. They use it to mean a secret ritual.  I think that men today use it in much that same way. But the Latin word here is telling… it’s actually fairly close to the word originate or to begin. That’s really what initiation, as I understand it, is all about: a beginning a birthing, so to speak.  And for so many of the men I work with, and certainly in my own experience, it’s about a RE-BIRTHING, or a REMEMBERING (which again is an interesting word meaning to give something Body Life once more, to put it back together)…that’s really what Initiation I think means—a renewing, a new beginning. 

Traditional male initiation exists around the single purpose of actually severing a boy from the softness he has become accustom to. Often it is to deprogram a child from his self-centric and narcissistic notions about how the world should work. Where once he learned that the village should orbit around his needs, and answer his cries, he now understands that he must grit his teeth and bear pain skillfully to meet life. While a girl becomes a woman through the experience of dying innate to her body, in the womb of her lived experience, a man must externalize his own death before death. 

This is a Hero's Journey. Its a quest. Its part coaching, part depth psychology, part contemplative practice, part mysticism, part modern initiation ritual. But most of all this is a birthing. It does not represent the END of something, but rather the beginning.

First, these highly interactive processes cut a boy away from the soft and empathetic world of the feminine. Up till this point the youth had his needs met, he was given dignity on the basis of his identity, he was treated with tenderness and compassion. However important this was to him, it hardly would meet his long-term developmental needs, or those of the Tribe. A man only exposed to this type of life would be unable to face adversity, easily fragmented, fearful, and ready to blame others. The initiation ritual aimed to simulate hardship and force the boy to learn self-reliance.

Second, it created the conditions where a child could acknowledge his own mortality and face his death. If a man had not done so he might unconsciously develop phobias, obsessions, and compulsive behaviors to deflect, avoid, and mitigate his ultimate fear of dying. By ritualizing Death, a boy gave himself to a cycle of life and death without terror.

Third, an initiation confirmed a candidates sense of purpose and education.Everything he had done up to this point in his short life was evaluated, examined, and either embraced or discarded based on how it served his mission.

Lastly, it was a confirmation and transmitting of a very subtle force that imbues the individual with greater power and wisdom. It imparts skills, and communicates mastery. 

Viking culture would hang a youth of twelve until he asphyxiates, crosses over a threshold of suffering and becomes a warrior. The Mandan Indians were pierced with wooden hooks and suspended mid-air until they passed out from pain. Maasai warriors undergo a kind of poisoning--those who survive the sickness and live are now considered men. 

While a single crisis is often the beginning of such initiation, it hardly ends there. From this conception a boy is inducted into the tribe. He is now re-brainwashed. The elders and men surround him across the next several days, months, and years. They tell him the stories of cosmos. They communicate the answers to his basic questions, and at times supply him with the questions themselves. They show him the skills that he will need, that are absolutely vital to his development. He will learn to hunt, to forage, to make, to do, and to lead. This period of time will be the great womb of his life, incubating him, and creating a new reference point for all that which is to come. 

Initiation, Today

If we do not practice ritual initiation we will be acted on by shadow ones. We are initiated one way or the other. Traditional cultures understood that a man could not be trusted without a great examination so to speak. He had to confront his softness, as I said earlier. He had to be circumsized at a heart level. A part of him had to be cut off…that’s what circumcision was all about. It was an outward manifestation of something. What they understood was that a man who grows up who doesn’t loose this egoic process is simply not safe. He wont be a stable member of the community. He will either be covertly predatory to females or overtly domineering. His energy towards the tribe won’t be balanced. 

My own initiation, along with millions of other men today, is what I call "shadow initiation; a sort of awakening that occurs though it is not deliberately named and is even kept hidden from view of the initient.  Because it’s not as though male initiation has ceased. It’s not like men have stopped training the younger males of the tribe. We learned, but unintentionally. The lessons I walked away with were: Men hide shit. Men lie. Men don’t acknowledge their shadows. Men are vile and disgusting creatures who skulk around only pretending to be something other than they really are. To get ahead, a man must lie. He must pretend. He must perform and play a part.

As bio-social animals we are always learning. If we do not externalize these processes we most certainly will continue to internalize them.Today we experience cultural indoctrination quite a bit. As my good friend Mike Morrell is fond of saying, “Cult and culture are words that share the same root. The cult of modern society is easily the most effective at programming its members and making sure they don’t escape.” 

Formal preparation for the shadow rites of manhood begin largely through the school system. We experience a homogenized telling of values, vision, and priorities. Our ability to “make the grade” depends upon downloading the dominant motifs such as The Myth of Progress, The Myth of Hard Work, The Myth of Change, the Myth of Consumerism and the Myth of the Indidual. These story lines are taught to us so subtly that it is as obscure as the water a fish swims in—barely noticeable. We are trained to enter the world, freshly prepped with these tropes, taught to blend with all the other unique individuals. As my 13 year old son put it: "In school we learn to take life sitting down, to hide our emotions. They’re trying to prepare us to work in offices, to sit in a row, to be on time, to let somebody else have control over you while you don’t talk back.” From the first kindergarten class onward school instructs us to comply, to accept, and to achieve—but only within the narrowly defined parameters provided.

As I have stated elsewhere, boys in particular are now actively taught to sublimate their biologically innate way of being in the world: aggression, assertiveness, and activity. Each of these qualities are attacked, whether through overt punishment, lack of reinforcement, or pathologizing and medicating. When I brought up these concerns to one close friend he instantly slipped into the Myth of progress which lays forth that such cultural evolution is, while undesirable, inevidabtle. “The best we can do,” he lamented “is get on the band wagon.”  

Such inevidability, or fatedness, is often the hallmark of shadow initiations. There is a sense with powerful myths that they and their consequences are iron-clad. A casual observation such as “he’s just like his father” describes this conditioning. Statistics which demonstrate little variation in socio-economic status across multiple generations within the same family point to it also. While modern Western culture is often filled with the concept of mobility and placticity, the opposite tends to be true. Talk therapy, chalk full of ideas concerning self empowerment and human potential, has less than a 30% success rate according to American Psychological Association statistics. SSRI’s, or antidepressant pharmaceuticals, show little better results than placebo pills at shifting people's attitudes and emotions. As one friend recently said, "It's amazing that for a culture that believes in change as much as this one, there's so little of it." The hidden caste system is filled with ninja belief structures and discreet indoctrination’s. These powerful framing stories, never overtly offered or chosen, guide our daily lives just as surely as did the initiations of indigenous peoples, in perhaps even more concrete ways. 

My own initiation moments, like many of the men I have spoken with across the years, are often obscured. I hardly even knew that I had been inculcated. Yet the lessons I learned shaped my priorities and behaviors. It would largely take the experience of profound failure and ego-dissolution to force a confrontation.  By having foregone the wounding or death-simulations so often found in indigenous cultural rituals, failure, which I intend to look at in greater depth in a future post, seems to provide a kind of profound instruction. The shocking reality is that if we do not simulate such a wounding, it will be provided--later, when the consequences are much more extreme.

Where to Go From Here

Some of my companions have set up, or participated in, modern initiations. In many ways these substitutes take the best of what has come before, but apply it within our cultural framework. While there is, in my opinion, a limited draw and scope to such rituals, they may offer a fine stand-in for our hyper active and disconnected lives. Whereas the implicit threat of actual death often accompanied traditional initiation, today affords a safety in which everyone cuts the mustard. This has its downsides, but frankly, may also be a gift. As long as men are willing to question the dominant mythologies they are living into, and allow other s to ritualistically cast the shadow of mortality over them, they may avoid the more brutal teacher of the mid-life crisis and meltdown. If we do not practice ritual initiation we will be acted on by shadow ones. We are initiated one way or the other  

The great news is this isn’t hopeless. Men are realizing this in wide swathes. I see adds for it on social media or read about it on blogs. I think there’s a real resurgence happening here. Again, we’re trying. I think that’s good. But we have to move to a truly radical vision of manhood in which we get past the Dummy’s Guide sort of approach where we are just learning to follow a new set of rules. Simple, step by step, reducible, paint by numbers approaches are more of the same. That’s a part of the incestuous Mommy’s Little man and Nana’s helper approach. Still being a follower. 

I think the goal of working with men—my goal—is not to tell them THE ANSWER—But to create the conditions by which they learn to trust themselves again. Since culturally we are told not do trust ourselves any more, part of what INITIATION today has to be cutting away all the outer layers that have buried and DE-CONDITIONED us.  It really is a new beginning a RE-NEWING.  That’s what I mean when I talk about soul initiation. In many it recognizes the importance of historic tribal initiation, but builds on the concept of Jungian individuation. It’s meeting men where they are today, which is largely isolated and alone. So we start there. We build a man who trusts himself and who lives without hope, without fear, and is therefore truly free. From that place of truly identifying with his essential self we find he is free to live out his purpose, his gift, in this world. A man really can’t be initiated into Tribal culture, or honored as a member of a band of brothers until he has demonstrated he has the capacity to think for himself, to know his own values, and to navigate the stars that guide him.  That’s what my focus in the work. 

I can't help but wonder what would happen if men would give themselves to developing such tribes, to initiating such rituals, and to experiencing overt indoctrination into best of manhood. Lets Find out Together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be the Man

It had been a hard year. My rather meteroric career in mental health and academia had come to a spectacular close related to my own compulsive choices and addictive behaviors. I had fucked a co-worker, and generally been an asshole of a human being, acting like a character in someone else’s melodramatic novel.

My faith community that I had founded and participated in was over--leaving long time friends and genuinely good people whom I love in the lurch, hurting and confused. What had seemed like a liberating move to end it, had simply left my family more isolated and me more lonely.

The marriage that I had committed to and passionately wished to be a part--my second--was quickly becoming a casualty of my broken way of being in the world.

It looked like everything was falling apart. Life has never felt as over for me as it did in that moment. I knew I was facing loss in every arena. I can remember clearly thinking "Work--down the toilet. Family--gone. Relationships--ruined. What do I have left?" 

One night, after we put the kids to bed, turned off the lights, we stood in our bedroom--neither of us moving. I recall in that moment looking at my wife, as she was sobbing—we both were—and I asked her: “What do you want me to do??” I’ll never forget her words: “Fucking BE THE MAN!”

Character Shaping

The reality of that moment was this—all of my defense mechanisms had ground down to a halt. Whatever had been working up till then had by now, stopped. Maybe this is an obvious analysis. But the truth is most of develop our defenses as natural ways of dealing with the situations that come about in life. They are often elements that develop very early on which help us mitigate circumstances that would crush us otherwise. In that sense we ought to be grateful for them.

imagine a pristine and clear mountain lake. It’s absolutely teeming with Life - fish, amphibians, nocturnal shore mammals like beavers, and otters. The presence of Life is overwhelming. 

But then something happens. 

The cold winds blow. The winter storms come, and inevitably a sheet of ice forms over the top of the lake. In a sense it’s protective. It stops further harm to what lies beneath.  But it is also preventative, isn’t it?  The things that are underneath cannot easily escape any longer; in order to access those elements, you have to first get through this line of defense. 

As it is in the wild, so it is in our lives. When we’re in the process of personality formation, we’re born into the world as a potentiality. 

As a father who has witnessed the birth of my own children I can tell you that there’s a vibrancy to this emergence of aliveness. It’s unparalleled. 

Maybe you’ve heard people talk about having a kind of essential-self, or even more common is the idea of people having a spirit. What does that actually mean? If you’ve ever enjoyed a fine scotch or a good whiskey, you actually probably already get the idea more than you think. 

 When you process an alcohol down to its finest or most pure distillation, you actually call what’s left “the spirits.”  Its the element that is heart and soul to the character of the drink. In the same way the essence, or spirit, is that part of a person that cannot be reduced. As one poet and philosopher said, it is your face “before you were born.” That’s the kind of irreducible quality that we have as we are born. It is potential, uncolored, unbounded, and undeconstructable. You can’t break it down any further. 

Of course, if you can’t reduce it--it can be covered up, can’t it? 

Let’s be honest: Very quickly, a steady series of disappointments occur to an infant soul, don’t they?

You’re plunged from the warm comfort of the womb into excruciating brightness and cold and noise. The world is distinctly LESS pleasant. And if this weren’t enough, your caregiver isn’t always responsive to your cries; you don’t always get what you want, or the environment doesn’t correspond to your immediate need.

 You get the idea… So what happens at this point?  

We develop coping mechanisms--elaborate defense strategies to protect us from being disappointed or hurt again. This is like that icy layer covering the lake isn’t it?  In this analogy we call that ice--our personality. It’s the outer most part that people interact with--that we show the world.  That’s right!  In large part our personality is really simply the protection racket we’ve been running to avoid heartache.

“Hi, my name is Rainier and I’m a defense mechanism.” 

Your Sin and Your Gift

It all works. Until it doesn’t. The things that got us through simply stop. The habits that protected us and acted in our best interest, no longer do so. The reality is that at some point we had to figure out if we are going to keep running the same play, or try something different.

My own life had centered around filling the void of detachment and loss of connection, chronic loneliness and isolation, with cheap sex and romantic love (the original dopamine rush and cocain high). I meet lots of guys who mirror this journey, and the truth is I suspect its an easy trap to fall into. Regardless of whether or not it is anyone else’s road—it was mine. Those hidden moments, whether spent in front of a magazine or the internet, or making a real life contact, made me feel fucking great. Empowered, charming, and surely, I was able to make sense out of the sadness. I no longer had to think about it.

Recently a social media troll went after me privately stating that I don’t sufficiently explain how our behaviors develop, how our shadows emerge, or how we overcome them. I get it. Culture is awash in clever and empowering self-help jargon that skims over how we get to be the way we are in the first place. It assumes a certain level of awareness on the part of the average reader, or is simply disinterested in exploring the how and the why. Strength based. Solution focused. That’s how you have to be a hustler-guru today on instagram.

The would-be-on-line assailant wasn’t wrong. He was pointing out the obvious truth. We’d rather no have to deal with our shadow. Jung, the father of psychoanalysis and of the discussion around the shadow, noted that the shadow is really the things in our life which no longer harmonize with what is acceptable to the public self. It is, to paraphrase him, everything that shuns the light of public opinion. Of course we don’t talk about it. Of course our resumes are littered with the good stuff. Our stories all hinge on the turn around. And our memories are constructed carefully around putting the best foot forward. However, as Jung further pointed out: “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.” In other words, until we learn to integrate our wounds and shadow, they’ll trip us up at every step.

I’ve got to be honest—that’s what “being the man” is about to me. It’s not about simply reinventing my golden self, or trying to put on airs. It’s not about developing another platform where I simply show the gold. Those things are deadly. For me—being a man living out of his health and strength is about accepting both “my sin and my gift.” One with the other. In order to do this we must have practice spaces, or what I call “unsafe spaces.”

I call them unsafe because quite honestly they’re the very opposite of the tidy, well-organized, pillow filled rooms I used to sit in as a therapist. They’re anything but safe or clean. The circles I find myself in today are messy. And when the shit hits the fan its ugly.

  • A man whose wife cheated on him.

  • A man whose cheating on his wife.

  • A man who hates being a father, but can’t imagine being apart from his children.

  • A man who can’t contain his anger.

  • A man with a past who can’t escape it.

  • A man who can’t stop sobbing about the emotional incest of his childhood.

  • A man who was an abuser.

  • A man who lost his job.

  • A man who is a closeted homosexual.

  • A man who wants more but has no clue how to get it.

Messy. Right?

Men need “shatter zones” where they can fall apart—without being therapized to death, fixed, coddled, or cuddled. Men have to have places where they can practice integrating their shadow. But not so fast—because these aren’t judgement free zones. No—in fact, other men may very well judge a man who shares his shadow. And when that happens—that too must be given voice. Why? Because it’s an important part of change. Just like my wife challenged me in that moment, validating the fact that I needed to do more, show up in better ways, and work towards change. We men must have those moments where we both can be radically authentic, and actively challenged. It’s a both/and process.

What makes that any different than the judgmental and shaming world that shuts men down in the first place, the very thing that has turned us cold and avoidant? Belonging. A deep and profound belonging that says: “I may not like this, I may not agree with this—but everything belongs.” That’s the difference.

Sebastian Junger comments on this when speaking about Tribe, “Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It's time for that to end.” 

We are never so unnecessary as when our sin is divorced from our gift. As one of my podcast guests, Stu, said: “We need failure. Failure is a much better teacher than success.” But our relentless emphasis on success and the golden aspects of our self, makes this difficult, even impossible, to reveal. So we hide, sensing that we aren’t needed—either our sin or our gift. We drop out, tune out, and fade away (which is of course statistically what we are watching with men)

But what if we chose not to?

My Challenge

Just like my wife said to me—I’m challenging men to “Be The Man.” I’m not talking about a juiced up meat head macho jerk. That’s not what it means to be a man. No—a man is someone who is resilient in the face of suffering. A man takes responsibility for his actions—even when they reflect poorly. A man can look at his shadow, and take steps to integrate it. A man can roll the dice, lose, and try another time. A man is someone who can stay, when everyone else falls away—but he’s also someone who can shake the dust off of his feet and leave when he needs to. A man is strong—but he’s flexible. A man has honor in the courts of his tribe, even when public opinion has sentenced him down-river. A man cares for friends and strangers alike, and isn’t afraid to give hand outs or hand-ups. He is a king who is generous because he knows that everything he has was first given to him. A man can face down the Feminine—be inspired by Her, draw from Her, feel and move with Her—and also not be hypnotized by Her, abandoning his mission. A man takes care of his obligations, and commits to be obliged as little as possible.

I’m learning to become that kind of person. In fits and spurts, with help along the way. Life has a way of providing the feedback you need if you find yourself out of step. I wonder what it might be like for you to begin to find your way also?

Might it look like reaching out to a friend, or mentor? Might it look like seeing a therapist or a coach? Could it be joining an online group, reaching out to men in your area, or even starting your own circle of men? What would it look like for you to begin to bridge the gap and to integrate shadow to light, sin into gift, and to discover, more than ever before, who you really are?

Big

TALE AS OLD AS TIME

One of my favorite movies growing up was "Big" staring Tom Hanks. If you haven't seen it you probably weren't around in the 1980's. It tells the unlikely story of a boy who wanted to stop being treated like a child. He was tired of being picked on and was frustrated at the lack of responsibility he was entrusted with. In a miraculous turn he is magically transformed into an adult version of himself over night. That's right--he wakes up one morning and is...well, BIG. Walking around in the body of an adult has its wonderful privileges. He can choose to participate in life however he wishes to. Nobody is telling him what to do, what direction to go, or where to place his energy. He is his own man.  

Or is he?

As the movie progresses the main character realizes that in the absence of external direction he has little internal compass or fortitude. Without anyone pulling his strings he finds himself at the whim of larger invisible controllers--the tax man, corporate advertisers, and the unending appeal of toys. He has to get a job, but doesn't actually know how to work hard and so he skates by on charm and potential. He finds a woman who is attracted to him and cares for him but treats her irresponsibly and more like a sexual extension of his mom. Even in friendships he fails--treating them narcissistically, and unkindly.

See the reality is he grew big, but he didn't really grow up. In order to succeed in life he would need to learn lessons as yet undiscovered. And (spoiler alert) the movie ends somewhat tragically. He realizes he doesn't have what it takes to be a man--he goes back to being a boy.

This morning I sat with a group of men, and as we each spoke about our own journey of masculinity we reflected the reality of this story. There is the sense of having put on the external trappings of manhood: a job or career, a spouse, children, hobbies, but without the accompanying sense of identity.  We lack the internal character or "tactile virtues" as Jack Donavon, author of the "The Way of Men" calls them: strength, courage, mastery, and honor. 

Often, the men I know, say they have turned to endless fantastical hobbies to pacify the distinct sense of lack brewing beer, fixing cars, collecting (almost anything--rare movies, china, comics, books, legos, booze, etc...), masturbating to porn, fucking women...etc... In short without a guiding center we find ourselves desperately searching for what it might mean to simply get through the next moment well. No sense of purpose. No sense of unique mission...

WORSHIPPING THE GODDESS

Interestingly in an attempt to find a greater connection to a larger sense of self men often find ourselves worshipping at "the altar of the goddess." This sacred cultural motif comes in many forms. As a boy it may look like being "mommy's good little helper" or her "little man." We receive direct reinforcement for being her shoulder to cry on, her person to count on, her arm to hold. A unique relationship forms which psychologists refer to as "covert incest." As fucked up as this sounds, a shockingly high percentage of men reflect on their childhood experiences this way. Absentee father's create a void in which boys are invited to fill and are rewarded with affection and approval for doing so. We learned early on that our unique role in life could be serving the goddess, so to speak.

Having been taught the lessons that empathy has a payoff, we now extend this into our relationships both individually and societally. Many men become the "great white knight--" a rescuer. In my own life, I became a therapist. What better way to continue being my mom's confident? I recall one early counseling supervisor telling me that I was a natural. The awkward truth was it was natural to me, because I had been doing it my whole life. Other men I know slide into roles such as police officers, pastors, teachers, advisors, care givers or additional helping professions for similar reasons. We have heard the message loud and clear: to succeed "as a man" we must be a helper. But professions aside for a moment, it's simply an attitude: I exist to serve. Serve who? Serve my woman, serve my friends, serve the victim, serve my children, serve society...etc.... Do you see the co-dependency here? In this case selflessness is actually self-LESS-ness-- a mascaraed for having an undefined sense of self. The "Great White Knight" proudly wears his armor of being a rescuer to avoid the disquieting fact that he feels empty underneath.

THE SPELL OF THE SENSUOUS

The shadow side of worshipping the goddess is hedonism or gluttony. It is well known that the deity of debauchery in Ancient Greece, Bacchus, was identified with the fertility cults of the great Mother. Fucking our way through women and the world, we kneel down in front of the great vagina and become her devotee. Intense, isn't it? But, you know exactly what I mean. It's not just teenage boys sitting up all night clicking through endless windows of porn. For instance the fastest growing population being treated for erectile disfunction is actually men in their 30's. Doctors have been mystified as to the cause of this, in part because it has historically been men far older than this who manifest these symptoms.  Many wonder if this is due to the high frequency of porn use--opening multiple screens on the computer, or smart phone, cycling through images faster and faster in order to get off. The real thing just doesn't hold our attention as well.

Sexual addiction is, among other things, a disorder of intimacy--an inability to maintain a solid attachment due to a kind of numbness. Think of it like leprosy. A person with this disease ceases to have sensation. Increasingly disconnected from the world of direct experience, they desperately ramp up their encounters. going to greater and greater extremes simply to feel. My own journey bears this out. The less connected I felt to my sense of self, or any sense at all, I struggled to find energy anywhere. Every source of validation in my life would become a place I imagined might free me from the numbness. I desperately wanted to feel again. Drunken on intimacy I ceased to feel it and so I required it all the more. 

But sex isn't the only thing that captures our affections in place of the Sacred Masculine. In the Greek myths Bacchus didn't just promote orgies, he also was dispensing "strong drink" right and left. One author talks about the unique connection of wine to "the feminine." David Deida comments, "When we are tipsy or drunk, we tend to feel loose, our inhibitions drop. We feel more fluid and languid. We are in touch with the feminine principle." In part our obsession with alcohol as men speaks of a kind of displaced attraction to the goddess. We long to feel and touch--to lose control. Men numb to the cold realities of the world by warming our hands at the fires of narcotics. The pleasure principle is in play.

Interestingly civilization has always known of this connection. In one of our most ancient written story, "The Epic of Gilgamesh", from Sumerian culture over 6,000 years ago, we read of a wild man named Enkidu. He is said to have been raised by animals and is ignorant of human society. Enkidu embodies the natural and wild world, untouched by civilized ways--he is the antithesis of cultured, urban, and feminine. He represents the Masculine energies. As the story goes a woman named Shamhat (which means luscious one) is used to tempt Enkidu from his wild nature. She says, "Come Enkidu, drink the wine, feel it's effect upon you and then take me--becoming a man like the others." Unfortunately for Enkidu he does so. He drinks the wine, he eats the bread, and then...they fuck. For seven days. This act of cosmic creation must have been powerful. Because at the end of all this fuckery his old friends--the beasts and the birds--no longer recognize him. He is a stranger to them. Seperated from his natural tribe, Shamhat, becomes a surrogate mother to him and teaches him "how to be a man as other men are," through drinking, eating, dressing well, and having sex. His transformation is now complete. 

Turns out this isn't a recent problem then.

Worshipping the goddess--whether it be as mommy's little helper, the great white knight, or the pleasure seeker, is an easy trap to fall into. It is a replacement strategy for actual growth as a man. But it leaves us feeling just as empty, just as lost.

SEARCHING FOR INTEGRATION

If this vision of the world seems a bit lop sided and heavy handed, I get it. For many women and countless men I know their world hardly seems defined by "The Goddess" and more the obscene and rage-filled Patriarchy. Recently a large newspaper ran an op-ed piece called "Can We Hate Men?" with the profound conclusion--"Yes."  A book that was published not all that long ago was titled "Demon Males" and noted that in all the Great Ape societies males were "aggressive, violent, and divisive." In short, the other side to the story I've been telling in this article is actually that the last six-thousand years of Civilization are littered with abuse, neglect, and the traumatic--thanks to males in large part. If I've characterized the Divine Feminine as a bit of a blood thirsty bitch, the flip side is that there are no shortages of vindictive and destructive Father gods. 

One of the reasons why men today are so lost is, quite frankly, that up till recently our only option was to become a "macho-jerk" or nothing at all. The neanderthalic patriarch of the 1950's where "father knows best" is not only no longer needed--it probably never was. There was a power imbalance. It held so much ego. Men did not have to work on themselves, grow, or develop. They could simply be grouchy, sluggish, abusive or perverted--and it was ok.  But it shouldn't have been. The macho-jerk was little better than an animal. 

The Boomer's knew that. In the Vietnam War era they began to push away from the patriarchal archetype towards something new and "softer."  By integrating the Feminine, the goddess, into their psyche's men discovered the qualities of emotional expression, networking, and intimate connection. Several new generations of men allowed themselves to become allies and champions of the oppressed and identified as warriors of a different ilk. It was necessary, and powerful.If many women today wonder if men should be hated it is because we have earned such distain.

Yet of course, most people understand that there is a middle ground between goddess worshipping and goddess destroying; between male hating and patriarchy. There must be something in between. In my own household I relate as a son to my mother, a brother to my sister, a husband to my wife and a father to my daughter. I am profoundly connected to the Feminine, and it does me no good to simply go from altar to altar trying to destroy them.

How do we, as men, learn to develop the masculine virtues independent of the Feminine, but honoring of it?  

 Going Home

Too often the answer is exactly as the movie frames its own ending--tired of playing at being a man we go back to boyhood. This is reflected in many of the things listed above. Although mostly it has to do with simply falling backwards--ceasing to try any longer. Having attempted, risked, and lost big, it's easy for a man to go back home and hide, hoping he will the lessons he must, eventually.

I actually respect this perspective a lot. In some ways I feel closely connected to this. Maybe its the path that many need to take. A retreat is necessary in order to advance again. We must go back to the source, dip our buckets in the water, if we hope to fight the fire. We must go home and learn the lessons we always were meant to know. But if we are to go home--then we are not meant to stay there. Not exactly.  If growing up is what must be done, then let it be. If the valley of the shadow of the death must be walked through, then let's keep on walking.

In other words the great need is to develop, to grow, and finally--at last--become the men we always were meant to be. Men who embody the unique masculine contribution to our species of aggression, assertion, and action. We must intentionally integrate strength, courage, honor and mastery. And, ultimately this is accomplished in the company of other men doing that same work. 

If you find yourself longing for a shift such as this, the advise I can give you is connect with others. Don't just make a wish to get BIG. Don't just be an imposter--a Pinocchio who only looks like a real boy, but who is actually having his strings pulled for him. No--find another man, or a group of men--learn to be authentic, to imagine new worlds, and to actively risk. 

Let's take the journey together.