masculine

Don’t Always Listen to Your Feelings

 "But shouldn't I go with my gut?" The woman sitting in front of me asks.

"I'm not sure that's a great idea," I say, "honestly, it could just be a bad case of indigestion."

She laughed. And then she started to cry a little bit.  "The thing is," she says quietly, "Everyone says 'trust your feelings,' but MY feelings are saying horrible things...I'm not sure I CAN trust them...I think I'd be dead if I did."

This is the scene I recently came from. A lovely young woman who has attempted to take her own life multiple times, beyond all the occasions of self harm that stopped just short of suicide. What she's telling me is that her feelings are informing her what to do, and that every time she acts on those feelings she really gets hurt.

Of course this may sound extreme, but I see it every day.  People in the same boat. Addicted to following their feelings wherever they may lead them. Told by a culture that bows to the altar of human emotion, that "being true to themselves" is the same as obeying their instincts.

I'll be honest. It's always a bad idea. Here's why.

What are Feelings Anyway?

From an organic perspective, feelings are a part of a complex web of functioning which we are constantly involved in. The truth is that our emotions are sort of like the taste buds of the psychological processing that happens in our minds. When working properly our feelings relay messages about what we're currently engaged with or just experienced. They're apart of a feed back loop.  If I'm involved in something tragic, I FEEL sad. If someone hurts me, I may FEEL angry. If I win a million buck, I'll end up FEELING happy.  Notice, the feeling FOLLOWS the phenomena.  The danger though, is when we reverse the order, and start allowing our feelings to do the leading, constructing our life around our emotions. For one, it's putting the cart before the horse, for another, it's risky business.

Because feelings are a part of a feedback loop, they're constantly in process. Again, my analogy about taste buds works.  It's like a piece of candy that has multiple waves of flavor attached, and changes as you keep it in your mouth. Feeling really operates the same. If we stick with an occurrence or event, our emotions are liable to fluctuate greatly to reflect what's really going on.  And that's exactly how they SHOULD work.  Because they're tiny reporters of experience.  Emotions are meant to be DESCRIPTIVE, not PRE-SCRIPTIVE.

I spend time with people who are starving, and report to me they don't eat because they don't FEEL like it. Yet it's essential for life. Without it, they'll die.

Or people who are isolated, lonely, and empty--but who don't spend time cultivating relationships because they don't FEEL like it.

You name it... when people follow their feelings around, they're literally trading their higher functioning for an un-evolved reptilian mind.

The truth is that emotions are VERY important. Being connected to our emotions, being in touch with what is going on, is part of what gives us information--raw data we need for living. But following them around...well...that means being controlled by our emotions, rather than having control.

I tell a story about watching wild dogs occasionally run by the park my house sits in front of. Strays, passing by my window. And at the point I have a choice. I can either follow the wild dog, chase it down and let it lead me around town. Or, I can notice it, observe it, appreciate it, and let it pass. The choice is mine. I don't have to be victim to my feelings. They don't have to control me.

I am increasingly convinced that the will is simply the spirit in physical form.

So if not feelings, then what?

Spirit, essence, or "wise-mind" (as we call it in my clinical practice as a therapist) is that part of us which connects to not only the "more-ness" of the universe, but also to the "more-ness" of our own beings.  There's something intangible and ineffable about Spirit. It lies shrouded in a realm of mystery. We simply sense that it exists and is at both the center and circumference.  I suppose there's no evidence I can offer to support this claim...except perhaps this thing called "the will."

We act on that which is essential to us.  Air, food, drink, relationships...these are somehow absolute needs--and so we act, automatically.  Breath, which shares the same word in Hebrew as spirit, is the most basic expression of being alive.  So too, the will, the ability to form intention, choice, and action, is the absolute core of humanity.  As breath is what enables us to live, so too our ability to make choice, take a stand for that decision, and bear the consequences, is what enables us to be most human.  This is why I say that will is simply our essence, or spirit, in physical manifestation.

I can tell you the spiritual maturity, or nature, of someone based on their ability to intend and carry through.  It speaks of our willingness to allow our convictions to come forward and play out.

Our culture worships feelings, and praises the passions.  We value that which is automatic and undecided.  The medicines and healing we pray for is something BEYOND our control...We wish for a miracle, or to be fixed, put back together by hands larger than ours.  We cede control to governments, representatives, and agents who will know better than us...  We wish to be in relationships, where the other makes the decisions for us--to stay or to go. We read endless books and websites to gain more information in order to convince ourselves, and be swayed.  We want a person to blame beyond ourselves.

We lack will, culturally.

It is the thing we must regain, if we are ever to resurrect deadened spirits.

And that brings me back to feelings.

Being in wise-mind or in spirit, doesn't invalidate our feelings--doesn't shame or punish us for having feelings. Instead, it listens to them. It appreciates them. It observes them, and honors them. But it also doesn't let them dictate the course of our actions. Getting out of bed in the morning doesn't rise or fall on how I feel about it...because the truth is--I rarely feel like it. I have to depend on another criteria. I also incorporate reason, and intuition to make a decision.

People who consistently "go with their gut" often assume they're being "AUTHENTIC."  I hear that so much. But, I have to comment here that in fact being authentic to their "feelings" or emotional mind is only one part of being real... I practice deep-democracy, where I honor not only my feelings, but also my rational mind, and my intuition. I listen to multiple parts of myself, and let them have voice too. I don't let any one part dominate me. Feelings included. If I just went by my feelings, I wouldn't be authentic to my other parts, such as long term goals, or higher values. And maybe that's OK...maybe that's the choice I want to make in that moment... But it should be a decision, not a tsunami-like emotion pushing me into something I may regret later.

The work that I do is constantly trying to get people to pause and operate from their WISE-MINDED self--their will, or spirit in action. It's where the heart and the head find balance. And it's only when we inhabit that place in which we're able to find lasting fulfillment.

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?

Embarrassed

When I was a practicing psychotherapist I saw a number of men of all ages who suffered from a common wound: embarrassment of being a man. Perhaps put another way they experienced the shame of finding themselves raised as male in this current world. As the Latin American poet Pablo Neruda said: 

It so happens that I am sick of my feet and my nails/ and my hair and my shadow./ It so happens I am sick of being man.

From my privileged position of confidant I heard other men's stories and discovered the profound pain that many endured. Men told me of abuse or neglect from father's, whom they considered to be larger than life examples of stereotypical manhood.  The loss of elders and the rather ubiquitous transience of shifting male role models, the loss of passion and purpose, and the sense of utter disconnection to male community were common themes. They would say, "I get along better with women than men," typifying their experience of feeling profound ambivalence concerning their basic ability to even interact with their own gender. And honestly it made sense. Hearing them, I understood their sadness. I still do.

In many ways I relate. My grandfather was my hero--standing 6'6", a WW2 hero decorated with the purple heart for saving another man's life while wounded, he was a cattle rancher and a horse trainer. The man noodled catfish and bronco busted!  But, I rarely saw him. Not unlike my father, who also occupied an absentee role. Not that I didn't idolize him--I did. He was a powerful orator and preacher, as well as a brilliant teacher. I loved hearing him cast spells with words...but when I came home from church he would slide into a kind of moroseness, withdrawn and isolated. No, instead of being raised by my heroes, who's attention I craved, I was left to the devices of my mother and sister mainly. They loved on me and pampered me, protecting me from bullies or doing the dishes. I was their companion and little helper. The world I grew up in was more haram than throne room. And for many years I felt I was better for it.  Actually I began to identify myself as a brand of "feminist-man" capable of getting women for who they were and being their shoulder to cry on. In many ways when I saw men--particularly from older generations--I just felt bad for them. They struck me as brutes and savages; dinosaurs whose time had passed. Looking back on it, I suspect my judgement of other "manly men" was a sort of judgement on parts of myself I wished to sublimate or do away with all together.

The Loss of Ground

When talking to men, it seems as though our embarrassment is caused by several different sources. There is the loss of "archetypal ground" so to speak, the disconnection from the body, the detachment from tribe and community for men, and grief over the father wound. As I've mentioned earlier, this last one, is felt keenly. Boys feel such an instinctual need to be touched by their father, to be heard and hold his gaze, that when this doesn't happen the sense of grief builds unbearably. One male in his early adulthood told me of a hunting trip he and his dad took. This was set up as a rare and exciting opportunity to join into his dad's world. He remembered his sister and mother waving goodbye as they drove away in their little pickup. For the first two hours silence reigned. He didn't know what to say to the man, and apparently the older male was equally clueless. Suddenly his dad brought the car to a screeching halt and pronounced, "this just isn't working!!!" and turned around towards home. My friend recalls feeling as though he had done something wrong. As they drove he began to whimper quietly, tears eventually cascading on his cheeks. He replayed their silence, attempting to imagine a way out of it. But, he remembers, the words were stuck in his throat. He mumbled an apology, but didn't know what he was saying he was sorry for. The remourse was ignored. And they stoically arrived back at their house. Over the years he wrestled with this question and the consequence of self-blame. He routinely asked "what is wrong with me? why did my father not speak to me? why could he not bear my presence?"  This grief, he stated, was the dominant issue of his life. 

Interestingly my shadow side influenced this distain for the Masculine. The parts of me that were distant, detached, pretentious, seductive or sexual, aggressive, or overly assertive were--I thought--mannish. I preferred the elements of my persona that I assumed were more feminine: connected, emotive, caring, relational, not-interested in sex. It's funny how associated stereo-types go into those notions. However, in truth, these are generalizations that multitudes of people make. And they're not altogether wrong. Usually we make stereo-types out of truths that replay themselves consistently. We feel that they can be counted on. In my own childhood--as in the lives of many other men, and current culture at large--to be a man by those stereo-types was negatively reinforced and to be a woman or feminine, according to those same generalizations, was positively reinforced. It was frankly embarrassing that I had these shadows of masculinity.

SOCIETY ISN'T BUYING IT

It's no wonder that I, and many others of my generation and younger found ourselves rejecting our sense of the masculine. Even if we did not find corresponding demons in ourselves, the cultural assault on men has been overwhelming. In a randomized study of over a thousand television commercials it was found that 100% of the portrayals of men were negative. Husbands were pictured as unable to do the laundry or adequately clean the house, men were shown as barbarians or criminal, males who were friends of each other were noted as stupid or inept. On down the line there were ZERO positive references. What was once a rich tapestry of male depictions has been reduced to gross simplifications of what it means to be a man. As Guy Garcia put it in his book The Decline of Men, " If men were a brand, their value would be dropping because society is not buying what they're selling."He goes on to suggest that this rapid de-centering of manhood was even advisable: "What better way to welcome to resplendent return of the goddess than the symbolic immolation of the male?" And there is no doubt that this kind of self-combustion is occurring.

The images we're seeing of men, daily--hourly--by the minute--are of overly hostile, vilified, or inept caricatures. Names like TRUMP, WEINER, WEINSTEIN, BUSH and DICK are easy to remember and stick to the gender as a whole. They create a kind of market-image that is transposed onto every other card carrying member who don't openly distance themselves from Testosterone. However, even more disturbing are the beta-bro's who simply drop out of the man-game. As sociologists have been telling us for years boys are overwhelmingly choosing video games, frat parties, and hook ups. Instead of opting for the traditional routes towards responsibility, occupation, and family, men are staying juvenile longer--well into their thirties. It's an interesting reversal culturally in which young women are encouraged to take on the world headfirst, and ARE DOING SO, while the boys-to-men are choosing porn, parties, and video-games.  It's little wonder why, in response to this phenomenon, ex-first lady Michelle Obama criticized this in saying that while we raise girls to be tough and strong we've overprotected boys and created an entitlement culture. 

As Ms. Obama notes though, the same cannot be said for women. If anything women have fought an up-hill battle across the last century and have won every square inch they now occupy--which is far more considerable than mass media might let on. In the infamous piece for The Atlantic Hanna Rosin wrote that for earned Bachelor's degrees are 2/3 in favor of women. And in all but 2 of the 15 projected "future industries of growth" they were dominated by females. It's a strange phenomenon compared with both the record of history, and the rhetoric as it exists today. In Kay Hymowitz's piece Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys she observes that “young women are reaching their twenties with more achievements, more education, more property, and, arguably, more ambition than their male counterparts.” Her conclusion ultimately comes in the form of question "where do boys fit into a girl powered world?"  And of course this conclusion isn't to say that there's been a total reversal here. Women still earn, on average, less than men in many professions. Women still experience the results of systemic oppression, and continue to be outraged at the injustices of power abuse and wrongful societal rules. But for a son of liberal parents, or even growing up savvy to the dictates of culture today, its hard not to feel the shift and be effected by it. 

When these two extremes, what David Deida called "The macho jerk or the new age wimp," are what you're given, when your own internal shadows are what you project outward, when you're reinforced for distancing from what you perceive as the dinosaur of The Male, why wouldn't you be embarrassed to be a man?

WHAT'S THE BENEFIT

At some point I began to realize that the shadow parts of me--the so-called undesirable elements--are also worthy of love and respect too. In fact the Divine Feminine, the goddess, is only worthy when balanced by a Sacred Masculine. If the feminine qualities can rightly be historically perceived as empathetic, relational, and emotive then the masculine virtues of aggression, assertiveness, and action can also have appropriate function. While society routinely finds itself threatened by these qualities, its important to remember that when overlayed with the virtues of Strength, Courage, Honor and Mastery, as well as tempered with Wisdom, these qualities have saved countless lives, enriching and enabling generations of individuals.

The masculine has always been associated with competition and aggression. it seem as though the male tendency to fight is universal. We witness it in the horse world where one stallion fights over reproductive rights, in the wild where stags skirmish for food. Anthropologist's note that it would be unlikely for humans, as a branch of the great ape family tree, to have ever been peacable. Our ancestral condition as males would have been to fight to protect the tribe, to hunt over a wide area, to acquisition safe nesting zones, to defend things of value and to overcome obstacle. Of course aggression was hardly a male monopoly--females also demonstrate the same capacity. However what distinguishes male aggression is that even in ritualized versions of it, there is a passionate enjoyment which seems to possess men. Even with young children, boys demonstrate an instinctual thrill around rough housing and violent play. 

All of this points to the reality that while there is little place today for such intensity, male aggression has served an evolutionary and primordial purpose, so much so that it is ingrained from birth--even provoking feelings of fun. This feature was rewarded not only with delight, but also with a slough of adaptive functions in relationship to other arenas of life, such as increased resiliency. As Sebastian Junger points out in his ground breaking book Tribe,  cultures where there is less aggression also have higher rates of PTSD and depression.  Is it possible that a society that decreases its aggressive tendencies might also experience heightened mental health distress? And if this is so, does it point to the idea that by de-emphasizing the masculine contribution, we do so at our own peril?

It seems apparent that in relationship to not only aggression, but the other dormant male virtues, we suffer when disconnected from them. Masculinity, in its essence has something to offer us, that is more necessary than ever. What I needed to do, I realized, was not deny these parts of myself, or shield myself and others from them, but refine them give them real life.  

HOW TO RECONNECT

Some times I sit at the Fire nights with my tribe of men, or get the opportunity to meet with others lone-wolfing it. I end up hearing this sadness in them. And they're nuanced enough to know throwing out the whole enchilada isn't the right answer. Most of us are trying to figure out how to show up more in our daily lives as father's, husbands, business owners and friends. We want to integrate not only the aspects of the modern man—emotionally sensitive, empathetic and connected, but also our more primal and ancestral truths. Again, Sebastian Junger points out: “

human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered "intrinsic" to human happiness and far outweigh "extrinsic" values such as beauty, money and status.

And this strikes me as true. We need to feel a mastery over self and environment, need to feel as though we genuinely matter and don’t have to hide our truest sense of self, and need Tribe. Mastery. Authenticity. Tribe. In other words, if men are going to start to feel content in themselves they need to find places where they can experience both their core instincts and push against their edges. Men desperately need to shed themselves of the shame that comes from being a “man” in this culture, and begin to practice a new degree of intentional openness, both accepting and challenging themselves.  

If we intend to grow in our capacity for aggression, and therefore resilience, we must allow ourselves the opportunity to experience this coursing through our veins again. In part this is why the book Fight Club was so popular. Its author Chuck Palahniuk said, "There are so few books that offered a valid path for manhood--I wanted to do it."  Being physical, competitive, and intense is such a new reality for men who have come of age today, that the most we know of it is the middle school conflict we engaged with early on, or the movies we have seen. Both demonstrate little in terms of motivating us to either want to, or know how to, engage with each other on a playing field of physical competition. But try wrestling another man. Even in a friendly way. Or pull out the boxing gloves. Be friends. Be friendly. But also, let your muscles wrench against his. Why? Because to touch and be touched are a part of manhood, as well as this--it opens you up to a new way of being you have been shut off from. Or rather--it reconnects you with the wound that has been scarred over. The loss of contact with Father, and the detachment from boys in earlier years, creates shame. When you grind into a fellow male, competing for mastery in that moment, you allow yourself to encounter that place once more. At first it smarts a little--but soon begins to heal over. 

The same can be said for activeness or assertiveness. I used to teach workshops to women who had experienced domestic abuse. We spent days, even weeks, on the topic of assertiveness. It has been so conditioned out of them, that they were terrified to state what they wanted, or take action. I usually posed the question--which is more important to you, situationally: to build the relationship, or to have self-respect? For many, keeping the relationship was more important. They were  willing to sacrifice their own sense of self in order to maintain the connection. But the same can be said of men who are  relationship starved. Because empathy, relationality, and sensitivity have been so emphasized to many men in this current epoch, they find themselves not knowing how to, appropriately, state what they want. It takes practice. Recently, a close friend and collaborator here at Evolving Wild, told me that he wasn't going to fulfill a project I had asked him to do. It was lower on his priority list. Interestingly, my response was that I found myself THRILLED. He showed self-respect in that moment. I knew that was hard for him. He was drawing a line in the sand, and being his own man. I understood he was practicing reclaiming his own sense of assertiveness. 

In order to effectively heal the embarrassment around being a man, we must learn to be apart of a pack, a gang, a Tribe. It is the most natural form of healing that could possibly occur. You don't need to sit around and "explore your woundedness" to do so. Even for men to get together as men is a kind of summoning up of the deepest wounds we each experience. It brings to light our vulnerability and our hiddenness.

The greatest instruction that I could give a man on this journey is simply this: Risk. Attempt. Try on. Allow yourself the opportunity to be seen, or to get it wrong. Look like a jack ass. Deconstruct. Build. Be with other men on the same journey. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fucking You Get...

A friend and Catholic priest said it like this:

"The fucking you get isn't worth the fucking you get." 

God. What a predicament. 

We are almost always making these invisible tradeoffs, aren't we? 

The Hebrew Scripture opens up, straight out of the gate, with this proposition. It pictures the first humans as being presented with a temptation in which something specifically forbidden looks "pleasing to the eyes and desirable for food."  Turns out, it looked good--but it lands them in a world of suffering. I relate. 

Or another story from the wisdom teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. He tells about a little mustard seed that gets planted, and is nourished until it becomes a huge tree. It grows so large that the birds come in make a nest in it. While that story may not exactly be obvious, a couple of details crack it open: mustard seeds make small shrubs NOT trees, and in the same grouping of stories Jesus had been telling, the birds are always seen as looming specters of evil.  This story is about something growing out of control and it has an effect--a harmful one. Again, I get it. 

Consequences are rarely something humans consider when it comes to making choices. The reality is we are so embedded in short term propositions that its difficult to consider the long term outcomes. 

Recently I was listening to one of the emerging men's-movement-guru's. His bro doctrine was in full swing: "Don't you want to build a bigger business, be a better husband--a greater version of YOU??"

I felt my heart swell along with every other red-blooded blue balled listener. Fuck, YES!! Give me the meat!!  Let's DO THIS!

Then it clicked for me. This isn't really NEW, per say. It's in many ways part of the same dominant cultural mythology that is marbled through the rest of modern society. It rests on a profound assumption--Dr Seuss called it: "BIGGERING" But I'll call it "progress."  And believe me, its as tempting as the god-damned-original-forbidden-fruit. 

Myths and Meaning

A myth isn't an untruth. In fact its a powerful narrative that helps frame and guide people's understanding of their lives. In ancient or classical times those myths often involved personal explanations of the universe. If someone jumped up and then came back down they might say that it was some invisible SOMEONE pulling them back towards the earth. Today our dominant motif, and the way we view the world is through an impersonal lens and our myths tend to be centered around "science."  We would then attribute the forces pulling us downward as GRAVITY. Whatever the actual facts of the causation the way that we connect the dots of our experience lies squarely in the realm of "story" or "myth."  We are always telling these sorts of stories in order to make sense of our world. 

Humans are constantly making meaning by constructing myth and stories. We are constrained to it.

Victor Frankle who wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning” commented to humans without meaning lived depressing and empty lives. Yet even such “meaninglessness” exists within a meaning vacuum. There is quite simply no such thing as meaninglessness outside of the story we assign to it.

Life is phenomenon until we tell stories about it—until we connect the dots.

Nietzche proclaimed the “death of God’ or the end of the Big-Story. There would be no more metaphysics. Indeed, Camus’ drives the point home with his “Myth of Sysaphus” in which he shows a man, punished by the gods, constrained to pushing a stone up a mountain, only to reach the top and start over once more. This, Camus suggested, was the rather “absurd” reality we live within.  It’s all stories…and there is no meaning…

But the knife by which Nietzche killed God is the one by which he slit his own wrist. The exestentialists, and with them the post-moderns such as Derrida and then Focault, spend great amounts of words in order to tell of us of silence—they tell masterful stories to illustrate the end of stories. Which of course is absurd, to borrow Camus’ word.

A truly ridiculous story goes like this: there was a farmer during the days when surveyors were mapping the border between Finland and Russia who happened to live right along the line. Agents from both countries approached him and asked which nation his farm should be associated with. After thinking about it for some time he responded “Finland.”  When the surveyors asked why that was, he responded: “Well I love Mother Russia, and frankly have always wanted to live there...but the winters are so cold!!” 

Words are powerful. Words are meaningless.

Stories—our present condition is such in which the stories we tell, and the stories that are told to us have great meaning, yet are also malleable.

Which stories will we choose to live by?

THE DCM 

If every culture is defined by the ways we interpret reality, the best and most effective structures kind of work like a good bra: invisible and firm. If the myth is obvious or overt it’s usually discountable. But dominant cultural myths (THE DCM) are those that are hidden, woven into the fabric of our assumptions.  

Fascinatingly there are commonalities among agriculturally based state run civilizations—across culture.  It doesn't really matter if it was the Sumerians in 3700 BCE, the Romans in 300 CE, or the United States today; civilization runs on the same dominant cultural myth.

Before we get to it, here's the truth: It's a ponzi scheme. 

For those of you wondering what that is, allow me to define the phrase. A ponzi scheme is when an organization or individual draws investors based on fraudulent information, and instead of paying them the dividends based on actual returns, simply gets NEW investors, paying off the old investors with the new money. Wow...sounds complicated.

How it works is this. Mr. Wonderful gets you to invest 10,000 dollars, with the promise that you'll make $5,000 dividends for investing with him. He then spends your money. He's broke now. And you've got ZERO coming to you. So what's he do? Mr. Wonderful then goes out and convinces several more investors to give him $10k each, which they do because...well...he makes great promises. He then takes THAT money and pays YOU your $5k.  In other words you haven't really made any money. You've actually lost money. But the illusion keeps you satisfied. For a while.The really disturbing thing about Ponzi schemes is that investors are usually thrilled with the results. Until they want to cash out. Then what happens? Well, because there's no money--they're shit out of luck. Sorry folks. Nothing to see here. Move on. Sadly, people have drained their entire life savings, mortgaged their houses, spent their kid's college money hoping for the "get-rich-quick" promises to come true. And in the end, they don't. Lives get ruined.

The Ponzi is based on the notion of constantly increasing size and dimension. There must always be NEW investors, because it's literally covering the costs of the old. There's no REAL growth--only getting larger.

That's why the civilizational structure resembles this scheme. It is based on empty promises from its earliest inception. We know that contrary to what Hobbes said, human life prior to civilization WASN'T short, nasty, and brutish. Instead hunter/gatherer culture is often portrayed by anthropologists as the original affluent society. With as little as 3-4 hours a day of working for subsistence and the rest going to play and inter-tribe socializing. Further more--we also know from the earliest archeological records that the first citizens of the city and state organized socieities lived shorter lives, had higher frequency of illnesses, and experienced overwhelming oppression compared to hunter gatherers. Why the hell would anybody want that? Why did THEY make that choice. 

Well--this gets back to consequences and choices. Because my guess is that's not exactly how it was presented to them. My guess that had they known--or for that matter had WE known--we wouldn't have hitched our wagons to this unwieldily juggernaut. So the deception has to be really good. You have to really sell that shit. 

And the Ponzi scheme of civilization is set up this way. What's over the next hill is better than what's here right now. Your life can be MORE. In fact--the only way to have that "more-ness" is to accept the fact that you're missing something, and that we--WE--can provide it for you. The myth of progress invisibly demands that bigger is better, that newer and next are the desirable, that the forward arc of history is the correct one. The moral imperative is to control our own future, to become more than human, to change our own stars. We increase speed and efficiency, yesterday's limits are today's challenges, and the assumption is that technology will create a world that is the kind we all want to live within. 

This myth is sold in such way that to deny it, you end up looking like a conspiracy theorist or radical. In fact the very word "radical" which formerly simply meant the opposite of a progressive and literally translates "to the root" with an implication of getting back to the basics, is now touted as a fearsome word. Think of terrorists--they've been RADICALIZED. The way this word has even been villianized reveals the implicit bias at work within culture towards the myth of progress. . 

An Alternative

While the myth of progress informs people that difference is to be distrusted and done away with (in order to get as many new people into the Ponzi Scheme as possible), radicals appreciate difference. They prefer an organic story informed by the myths of interdependence and the science of ecology. If progress tells us that MORE IS BETTER, a radical world view says, "LESS IS MORE, SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL." It teaches sustainable growth, appropriate and cooperative technologies, permaculture, and slow-movement (as opposed to breakneck speed). But most of all a true alternative to the myth of progress tells us that kinship and connection are the language of truth. 

Both of the stories I referenced at the beginning of this article are rooted in that tradition. Whether discussing how self-deception and the desire for more lead to a  fall, or the idea that bigger doesn't always make better, these are counter scripts. They're pushing against something, and inviting us, as wisdom literature often does, into a new experience. 

As public philosopher Sam Keen put it: "The new human vocation is to heal the earth. We can only heal what we love. We can only love what we know. We can only know what we touch." The radical alternative to progress is intimate, close, and diverse. Progress at all costs is an impoverished innovation when compared to this.

So What's this Have to Do with Fucking?

I started with a story about "the fucking you get not being worth the fucking you get." Which is really about trade offs, isn't it?  

One of my complaints about the "pro-bro's" is that they don't really challenge the dominant cultural myth. They keep on putting it forward. Progress or else. Bigger is better. More is the only way. Not only does it not challenge this harmful myth, it continues to propagate the untruths. You have to be a Demi-God at the gym to get the girl (or keep the girl), you need more technology, more STUFF, to have the relationships. You need bigger barns, better houses, crazier and and and....

It's exhausting.

So, it feels good for a while, but ultimately leaves you dissatisfied on the hamster wheel. Men who are already exhausted from transitions, middle age crisis', divorce, remarriage, loss of businesses, the rapid decay of their own dreams, are quick to take the bait. They throw themselves into the experience, buy the book, arm themselves with the compound bow that is being sold to them, and hope for a soul change. The approach here is to do whatever it takes to get the wife back, the house back, the business up and running again--and of course, this time, even BETTER than before. But the reality is--its just going to leave them depleted. 

What if a better way to approach your masculinity wasn't to use the same old boring story line? What if it was to radicalize it? What if we chose to listen to our bodies, to work with them, to simplify instead of only consume, to give (more than we get), and to work with our own energies for a while, before we conquer to "enemy" on the other side of the aisle.I wonder if we approached ourselves through the lens of sacred ecology how we might become better gardeners and care-takers of our souls. 

Just a thought. 

Why Failing Matters

Themistocles had what most people would consider to be a fantastic 10 years. An unconventional leader of the Athenian people between 485-475 BCE, he proved to the entire known world that strategy, wits, and subterfuge could take down an empire. It was his leadership that allowed for the Persian empire to be stopped at three significant battles, Marathon, Artemisium, Plateau and then the legendary Salamis. He was the genius who used espionage to infiltrate the Persian court and sway Xerxes to make counterproductive movements. And while he suffered from a lack of noble breeding, he made up for it in self-promoting vigor eventually becoming the undisputed chief of Athenian democracy. He had a fantastic run.

Then it ended.

For one reason or another--and there were actually many reasons--he ends up being ostracized by the people he had saved and bettered. He had to abandon his home of Athens and flee into exile looking for any other city that might take him in. His shrines and sacred sites were desecrated. The plaques bearing his name and honoring his successive victories were taken down. Eventually he was forced to approach the new king of the Persian Empire and beg to live out his days as an ordinary and obscure citizen. Plutarch, the historian who wrote about him years later suggests that he committed suicide by drinking bulls blood but there really is no way of knowing the truth. I suspect Plutarch imagined the suicide gave the man a last ditch dignity, preserving honor by choosing when and where he died. But, who knows? 

I have always admired Thermistocles. There are the apparent and rather epic reasons. Hundreds of years after his death his reputation was restored. Historians validated his virtues and dismissed the rather mundane and most-probably Machiavellian causes of his fall from grace. Hind sight was kind to him. One rather well known British historian in an emotional moment actually said that due to his colossal victories over the Persian empire, thus securing the future of Western civilization and the dominance of Greco-Roman thought to come, that he was "the most important person in the history of the West." I don't know if this is true. And frankly that's NOT why I admire him. Actually I find him fascinating because for all his victories in life--he  lived out his days as a failure. And that matters.

Recently I had the chance to informally poll a handful of elders and mentors--I asked them what mattered most to them in their experiences--when their life changed and took on significance. Almost every single man reflected that they did not experience true transformation or integration until they had suffered major loss.

This is so remarkably different than what I hear spewing in the Men's Empowerment culture today. Without naming names, I love listening to their podcasts and watching the talking heads. While most of them don't have any hard research to back them, and mostly depend on "bro-science" I find their conclusions often impactful and right on. The blend of stoicism, resiliency, self-determination, and good ole "American pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" is a necessary balance to the softer and stale generation of men just prior to this current epoch. There is a sort of take no prisoners approach that my favorite men's guru's today lean on. And I love it. But, I also find it lacking. Not in theory mind you--but in actual life. Maybe that's why we appreciate it. We enjoy our fiction, don't we?

One masculinity swami recently hosted a 20 year old ultra-marathoner who proclaimed "Every man can and should run a marathon." He reflected on his own conditioning, and his overcoming of obstacles to get there. it was inspiring, I admit. But there was something missing. You know what was lacking? That’s right: failure. This is a young man who had achieved every bench mark he set. He, seemingly, has not flinched from his targets. He is in control of his own destiny. And that’s how I know he’s a young man—just beginning the hero’s journey. 

Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, noted that all the great fables, myths, and legends shared a similar structure. They developed along a synchronistic form and if you are watchful, you’ll notice those plot line movements. There’s the initial call to adventure, the meeting of the mentor, tests and trials, there’s an ordeal—and usually there is an enemy (whether internal or external) that the hero cannot defeat and did nothing to summon or create. This adversary is largely out of the scope of the hero’s control. Even if he could stop it, he is  powerless to do so. In fact the trope of most ancient stories was less about victory in the end, and more often about living a life in the shadow of Fate, of life outside of your dominance or control. How does the hero respond when their targets are unreachable, when their allies betray them, when their friends disappear, when their strength fails, and when their wits are suddenly useless? 

Modern man wants none of this. The myths of progress and social Darwinism are solidly encalicified in our post-industrial reality. The Bob-the-Builder mentality of fixing anything and everything has been taught since childhood. Men, who biologically tend towards risk taking, achievement and aggression as it is, find all the cultural reinforcement they need to avoid the concept of fate and failure like the plague. And who wants it anyway? Not I. 

But wanting it isn’t really the point. It’s about being unable to avoid it. Failure—the True Adversary, the thing that was almost tailor made to penetrate your armor and well designed self protective strategies, when it comes is unknowable. You can’t stop it, because you often don’t see it.  And that’s why in the end it’s the real teacher. The gift is the Fall. Without failure we are too carried along by our ego, dominated by our own carefully crafted Bullshit, to know what our blind spots are. Failure cuts through all of that, powerfully and transforms us, potentially, from “wild men to wise men” as Father Richard Rohr comments.

Yesterday I was speaking with a rather renowned Intimacy and Relationship Coach. As I sat with him he told me about his own failures. He shared a story I already knew--how he'd lived with sexual addiction well into his thirties, even as he had climbed the ladder of success. As a pastor and psychologist he achieved tremendous things--but all the while his unconfronted shadow was lurking, gobling up real-estate in his soul. He acted out numerous times, with clients, with paritioners. And finally he'd had enough. He couldn't go on. He came forward. And guess what happened. No one applauded him. They cast him out. Coldly.  Of course there were consequences of his actions--however after that aspect he really didn't have any one left. "But," he said to me, "For the first time I was beginning to be ME!  I was beginning to get real and tell the truth. And that was priceless."

Success allows us to tell lies to ourselves and others, tricking everyone into thinking we have the game figured out, all the while leaving the bodies buried in the backyard. We wonder why after the big show or the stellar meeting or the award ceremony we feel empty inside. It's because there's a certain hollowness to the whole thing. Success SEEMS like what we're after, but actually FAILURE is the better teacher. It teaches us to take one step at a time, to put one foot in front of the other. It builds from the inside out. 

A young man recently asked me what advise I would give him for career development. Do you know what I told him?  "Try. Fail. Fall. Get up. Keep running. Try something else. Fail again. The important part isn't the running, its the failing. That's how you'll get to know exactly what you're made out of. "

It's a shame that our culture doesn't see the value in that brokenness. It's the great teacher. 

 

 

 

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. 

 

Gridlock

A lot of men feel stuck. It doesn't matter how or where--it could be in their marriage or romance, as fathers, their job and career, or maybe with their own sense of mission. 

I hear it all the time. 

It's incredibly unsettling, isn't it?  Up or down? This way or that way? Door one or door two? 

This happens, especially in times of decision making. Unless you're someone who has committed to never taking significant steps in your life, and limiting yourself to the mundane hell of playing it safe--you've been here. Gridlock.

If I were to diagnose Gridlock in a man's life I'd be looking for three characteristics.

One: The Myth of Trying Harder

In George Orwell's book "Animal Farm" the horse named Boxer was always saying, "I'll do better." or "I'll try harder." or "I can do more."  Guess what, his efforts didn't improve anything. In fact things continued to degenerate even though Boxer kept giving his all. 

If you've ever been in a crumby marriage or relationship you know exactly what I mean. You keep trying harder and harder to change your partner. Or adapt your behavior to theirs. Or do something to please them. Guess what? It's a tread mill, and you know it! 

This hamster wheel is really powered by an assumption about success. This point of view assumes that technique, and effort, are what win the day. It incorrectly believes that failure is the result of lack of hard work, and a lack of proper information or data.

Its easy to see that this is false. The Beatles were a force unlike any other in music, but there were scads of bands that had better technique and worked just as hard, if not harder. Where are those bands now? Literally, who knows?  Or, how many times have I heard spouses describe the demise of their marriage, concluding with "We did everything we could."?  The image that comes up for me here is of an eddy or a whirlpool in a river--lots of action, but not much real movement. 

Two: The Myth of Answers

I remember a moment in my life when a girl had broken my heart and I couldn't get over it. She had dumped me and I couldn't understand why. The break up had been brief, come in the form of a hasty note, and left me torn up. I just kept repeating: "I need closure--if I just know why, then I'll be able to move on!"  You know what my buddy said? He told me that I wouldn't move on. I would simply have more questions to feel upset about. Today, I can't agree with him more. Rather than try and work to understand what was going on for the ex-girlfriend I should have worked on, and focused on, my own development. 

Innovation happens when we shift the information that's really important. The answers that we needed so desperately become irrelevant. 

When we are concerned about finding the right answers we fail to realize that this is usually part of the obsessive problem in the first place. Because the problem isn't intellectual, its emotional. 

Often in my past work with chronically suicidal clients they would require massive amounts of data to prove, up front, that this treatment would work or was effective. At first I would play into that, placating it. I would give them stats, data, and loads of pamphlets. Eventually, I figured out that this was a trap. In the end I'd say, "Don't believe me. Just try. Then see." Their need answers for answers was a barrier to actually dealing with the situation at hand.

Three: The Myth of Either/Or Thinking

These days its everywhere: all or nothing thinking. Good/Bad, black/white, and all other forms of non-dialectic thought. Things that are simply differences of opinion get chalked up to character statements, intense-oppositional, commitments to labeling the other perspective. 

Whenever I hear someone launch into a diatribe about the evil-ness or good-ness of almost anything I silently assume an emotional process is at work. Whenever differences polarize us there is almost always a maladaptive loop that contributes to the failure to validate the other side of things. 

Recently a buddy of mine went to a well known couples seminar. He told me that rather than try and fix the problems or reduce the differences in each other,  the goal of the seminar was to help people become less reactive to those things. What do you mean not fix the problems?  What do you mean tolerate the difference rather than pummel the hell out of the "other"? 

Either/Or thinking is a kind of blindness, in which options rapidly disappear because we become locked into a self-confirming loop. From this position, even when approached with new data we begin to interpret it in ways that justify our pre-existing perspective. If a real challenge is brought, we tend to dismiss it instantly. 

Each of these myths contribute to the inability to imagine options. Trying harder with a fix-it mentality, relentlessly needing more information and answers, or dualistic thinking are three obvious factors that let us know when we're stuck in Gridlock. The great news is as we unwind each of these--even if we're only pretending or going through the motions--it allows for a new capacity of creativity. 

What do you think? Is that you?  Can you identify these elements in your life?