What Does Masculinism Offer Us?

The recent presidential election campaign has thrown gasoline on the fires of the gender wars and ignited a whole new level of fear and loathing. We believe that, as a culture, we are now in a state of heightened awareness of gender issues. We feel we must speak to the fear and anger that has arisen. We ask that men and women thoughtfully and respectfully consider the challenges we face.

The fact that Donald Trump has named Stephen Bannon, who has been chairman of Breitbart News and champion of the “alt-right,” as his chief strategist, has drawn much attention. On Nov. 17, a related story by Jessica Roy came out in the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Wondering what a ‘cuck’ is? A guide to ‘alt-right’-speak: Followers of Trump’s chief strategist have their own ‘alpha’ slang.”

One of the terms mentioned in the article, “masculinist,” was explained as follows:

“Masculinist: A word meant to embody the opposite of feminist, celebrating ‘manliness’ and the traditional ‘heroic’ nature of men. To the alt-right, ‘masculinist’ principles are ones that serve and advocate for men. Critics say they primarily reinforce antiquated gender roles.”

Another term, “beta,” was explained thus:

“Beta: Members of the alt-right are obsessed with masculinity, manhood, gender roles and the concept of ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’ males. Alpha males are leaders, like Trump; beta males are portrayed as weak and emasculated.”

To be fair, these brief statements do not accurately depict the full spectrum of thought espoused by those who use the term “masculinist” to describe themselves. Just as with feminism, masculinism includes a wide spectrum of thought. Some proponents would be considered relatively mainstream, some radical, and some extreme. We are not interested in analyzing the full extent of the movement called masculinism. We are interested in talking about a few of the issues that arise in relation to this term and those who embrace it.

As the Times article explains, some masculinists are angry at the feminist movement and question the political thought related to it. It appears to us that some men have chosen this political arena to voice their anger about feminism and the apparent (to them) ascendance of women at men’s expense. These men have stated that they experience hatred from feminists, who they believe vilify them and marginalize them through their words and actions. (See Facebook page for International Brotherhood of Masculinists.)

Through our work, we have seen the wounds that men have experienced in their relationships with women. Men are often hurt and confused in these relationships. They often have difficulty negotiating the emotional land mines that seem to pepper the landscape of male-female interface. Many men feel that their anger is not allowed in a conversation and that their logic and their emotional lives often account for very little. Many men feel that they are not appreciated by women, no matter how hard they work or how much they try to understand. Many men are confused about their roles as men and are unsure how to be a man in today’s world.

Under these conditions, many men are plagued by reactions of shame, rage, confusion, helplessness, powerlessness, bitterness, despair, and feelings of inadequacy.   These feelings necessarily touch on the experience of the wounded boy in us, who was indeed powerless when he found himself in situations he could not fully comprehend nor adequately resolve. We all carry such feelings into our adult lives and they tend to arise when similar situations confront the man. It is a continual challenge to respond from the position of the relational man rather than from the position of the wounded boy. The boy wants to lash out, regardless of the consequences. He wants to conquer his adversary in order to reestablish a sense of personal power. He wants “power over” others in order to not feel like a victim.

To us, it is unfortunate at best and a disaster at worst when men take the strategies of the wounded boy into the political and cultural arenas. To behave like an enfant terrible in a situation in which everyone is experiencing pain and confusion does nothing to improve the situation or work toward the difficult goals of resolution and reconciliation.

Our work leads us to a “manliness” that is relational rather than focused mainly on the self. This includes striving for honor and integrity in all relationships; communicating respect and compassion in interactions with others; a reverence and respect for the sacred in all its forms; generating kindness when at all possible; awareness of the long-term consequences of our actions and words; and honoring and respecting the feminine in all its specific and general forms.

To us, this is a masculinity that carries power from within. Therefore, it has no need for “power over” others. It recognizes that hurts and wounds have been experienced by many women and men and strives for mutual respect between men and women. It advocates the spreading of kindness and compassion, and honors the value and integrity of each individual man and each individual woman.

Perhaps masculinism offers us at this time an encouragement to consider where we stand on these issues.  We feel it is time to call on men to join us in continuing to build a masculine sphere that is founded on integrity and honor rather than bitterness and false heroics. We ask that men join us in standing up for wisdom, discernment, and compassion. We ask men to choose thoughtfulness rather than impulsive rage, kindness rather than bitter vengeance, reconciliation rather than power grabs, and integrity rather than self-indulgence. We believe that, if we can meet this difficult challenge, we will be contributing to the general good and that this will benefit everybody.

Now, more than ever, we need to call on a masculinity that values and respects the feminine, that is infused with wisdom and restraint, that offers discernment and deep caring for the world and its people.

Richard Palmer and Tom McGee, 11/21/16

We ask any men who are interested in joining us to consider attending our next retreat, Feb. 24-26, 2017, entitled, “Voyage into Masculine Soul: A Men’s Retreat on Authentic Masculinity”  We offer to those men who will join us the opportunity to deepen into the most beautiful aspects of themselves and celebrate them with a group of full-hearted brothers.

For more information on the retreat, click here.

 

 

In a Constant Conversation with the Life of the Soul

An initiated man is in a constant conversation with the life of the soul. His soul life is extremely important to him and he has various ways of paying attention to it. This conversation feeds him, it feeds his life, and it feeds those around him. Without this conversation, life wears thin. There is a danger of tedium settling in, and despair can easily follow. A conversation with the soul is necessary to give life it’s full-bodied aspect. It gives riches that are available to us all and necessary to live a complete, full life.

The conversation with the life of the soul is offered to us in dreams. Our soul often speaks to us in and through dreams. It wants to be known in the fantastic, limitless way in which dreams come to us. The soul may be sad and therefore offers up an image of rain drenching a forest. For some, though, that same image could be a communication from the soul of an undeniable thirst for an aspect of life that has been missing. The infinite possibilities that psyche holds can speak to us in dreams. We can know of forbidden fruit, of lost potential, of riches we carry that we have ignored. By conversing with the soul’s life through dreams, we keep in touch with those nether regions that our waking consciousness wants to slip past.

Another way of staying in conversation with the life of the soul is to spend time in wild places—forests, beaches, deserts—places with a minimum of human presence and development. When we cultivate a relationship with a favorite spot, our soul likes to meet us there. We can enter with increasing ease into that contemplative mode that allows our soul to come forth, to show itself, to be known. Time in places we call “nature” feeds our soul and gives a richness and dimension to our lives that lets us know we are living fully and large.

There are many other ways to keep holding this conversation with the life of the soul—engaging in music, art, writing, dance, or any creative activity that allows us to expand into ourselves and fully inhabit our lives. Silence and meditation also support this process. There are as many ways to hold the conversation as there are people. It is important to find one’s own ways and practice them.

Our next retreat, “Voyage into Masculine Soul,” will be Feb. 24-26 at Camp Whittier in the Santa Barbara mountains.

For more information, follow this link: Voyage into Masculine Soul

 

What is the Soul?

The soul is a red-tiled Mediterranean villa,

soaked in moss,

overtaken by tangled vines,

from the vineyard

 

the fountains are cracked,

the cats are hungry,

desperate cries of lovers pierce the moon,

children are on the roof laughing,

an owl swoops on a runaway rat

 

an old man with a beret

plays the violin,

and the long moan of notes

drip

like burgundy wine

–Richard Palmer, from The Moan Inside of Things

WHAT DOES AN INITIATED MAN LOOK LIKE?

            We hope to address this question, acknowledging that we do not necessarily have the answers.  On the surface, an initiated man looks no different from an uninitiated man.  He may be a businessman, an engineer, a professor, a cab driver, a construction worker, a minister, or engage in any other line of work.  He could be unemployed, retired, or disabled.  He may or may not be a father, husband, or grandfather.  He can be of any adult age.  He may have many interests and hobbies or none.  To know what an initiated man looks like, one must get to know him and observe him over time. Certainly, faults, inconsistencies, and problems will be observed. Also, certain qualities will emerge that are recognized as the qualities of an initiated man. We will name some of these qualities we have been able to identify here, then go into them more deeply in the coming posts.

An initiated man is in a constant conversation with the life of the soul. His soul life is extremely important to him and he has various ways of paying attention to it. This man bears suffering in a dignified way. He does not shrink from either pain or suffering and allows it to develop and deepen a gravitas that is not felt in every man. He has a healthy relationship to nature and accesses nature in a way that feeds his soul and informs his life. This man can make clear, effective decisions. He exercises restraint, patience, and containment when it is called for and has a good read on his impulses. He is able to rest in presence. An initiated man is accountable. He takes healthy responsibility for his words and actions.

This man can hold the tension of opposites. He is not easily swayed to one side or another of a question or issue and knows how to live with paradox. He knows when to speak his truth and when to be silent. He carries a healthy balance between the puer, also known as the exuberant boy, and the senex, the older and wiser man who can bring sobriety to a situation. He is able to balance wildness and responsibility without allowing one or the other to erode or win out. The initiated man does not lean away from life for fear of its threats, danger, or pain. He is able to appreciate life on life’s terms and find gratitude for his life. He is also able to negotiate relationships in a way that allows his vulnerability to come forth while maintaining his basic strength. He can recognize, appreciate and negotiate the various forms love and power in relationships and exercise them in constructive and respectful ways. He acts to empower women and all those within his sphere. This man finds a refuge in solitude and silence and deep connection in intimacy. He carries a genuine authority that arises out of passing through ordeal. “Authority” comes from the same root as the words “authenticity” and “authorship”.  It is also related to sovereignty.

The initiated man is willing and able to bring love and deep affection into the world. He is gift-oriented. He protects and blesses the sacred. He maintains a daily sacred practice that keeps him connected to his soul life.

 

“The Boy and the Elder”

When the raw hot nerve of the boy

is scraped,

a lightening flash of pain

devours his senses

He is drowning now

in a black pool of electric eels

 

He has two choices:

fight to the death or

play possum and pray he won’t be hunted

Neither choice fares too well

 

We need men who are willing

to be cooked and seasoned into elderhood

Men who celebrate getting old,

like full bodied vintage wine,

like old oaks–gnarled and twisted and beautiful

Men who weave and carve and poet their pain

into living miracles of beauty

 

Men who carry the blood and the tears of their grief

with dignity

Men who–with joy

turn toward the boy

and welcome him with mercy and kindness

 

Richard Palmer, from Inside the Moan of Things

 

 

HOLDING DIFFERENCES AND DISAGREEMENTS

holding differences

How does the wounded boy hold differences or disagree with another? The wounded boy has a long, pot-holed road of possibilities: sulking exploding, being rigidly righteous, punishing the other with silence. The wounded boy has no core place inside for holding ambiguities, or differences. So, when he encounters any perceived differences, he feels immediately threatened and persecuted. He cannot tolerate these feelings so he acts out by blaming the other or blaming himself. There is no middle ground for holding mystery. The wounded boy is so fragile inside that when a difference is experienced, he must make the other wrong or he must be wrong. There are only two choices in this arena: hurt or be hurt. The man, having been a wounded boy engaged in being a blamer or being blamed, has slowly cultivated a third way of being in the world. This third way is to turn toward the feelings with mercy and compassion, to slow down and breathe with the feelings, to allow the feelings to be here. The man has cultivated a sacred ground for his intense feelings. This sacred ground could be an actual place, such as a trail in the mountains, or it could be a quiet resting place in his room at home. In this place, the man is in sacred relationship with his raw, vulnerable feelings. He practices non-judgment. He does not analyze or evaluate his feelings. What he does is something the wounded boy has little access to: loving kindness.

The man in his fullness gives himself a slowed down, kind and merciful space to be with whatever feelings are here. After the man has walked or sat quietly with his feelings, he might want to do something creative. These feelings are like a giant compost heap of creativity: writing, drawing, sculpting, playing music. The possibilities are endless. He may want to call on his friends to listen to his conflict. The man begins to grow what shamans call “a medicine body”, a body that can hold difficulty and conflict. This medicine body is like a fertile field that transfigures compost into beautiful plants and vegetables. After many years, the man has grown an immense medicine body, just like a farmer has grown several hundred acres on fertile ground.

The wounded boy has much to learn from this man. May this man pour these blessings onto the boy in a sacred light, or holy ground.

 

From the Place Where We Are Right

 

From the place where we are right,

Flowers will never grow in the spring

The place where we are right is hard and trampled like a yard

but loves and doubts dig up the world, like a plough, a mole

and a whisper may be heard from the place where the ruined house once stood.

~ Yahuda Amicai

MAKING GOOD DECISIONS

The wounded boy is scattered, impetuous, reactive, and random in his decision-making. Thus, his behaviors tend to be fragmented, confusing and disturbing. The wounded boy has no center to live from. No inner life has been cultivated.   He finds no place of rest and refuge. He bounces off of the culture’s over-stimulated “Guyland” environment. When you ask a wounded boy: what do you want? He doesn’t know. He will tell you what he doesn’t want. He will tell you how messed up the world is, but he will not be able to articulate his deeper feelings and needs. That is the territory of the man. The man has a very strong sense of how he feels and what he needs. He knows what he doesn’t want but he also knows what he wants. And he will tell you. The reason the man knows what he wants is because he has a rich inner life. He values slowing down and listening to the myriad voices inside. He also values the deep nourishment of the wilderness.   A man will trek out into the wild to reset his psychic life. He knows the wilderness is a reflection of his own nature. He knows that when his inner nature is congruent with the outer nature of the world, his decisions and behaviors will be more clear and rounded. The man has learned to pause and listen until he can feel a resonance with his inner and outer world. He doesn’t make decisions until he feels this congruence inside his heart. He cultivates a deep intuitive wisdom that he can trust. If he doesn’t feel this congruence inside, then he will slow down even more and really listen. He will also ask for the counsel of elders. This is a man that both listens to his inner life and asks for help when he needs it.

The wounded boy lives from a very small, constricted world. His decision-making abilities are almost nonexistent. Thus he cannot be trusted. He has little substance in his life, little depth.  This pain of “lostness” is the very impetus that inevitably leads a boy toward self-reflection, what Carl Jung calls legitimate suffering. Hopefully a real man is around when the boy does go down into his muddled life. This is the wisdom where miracles happen.

DEALING WITH EMOTIONAL PAIN

 

This is a subject that most men steer away from.  Loss, heartache, grief, sadness.  Whether the pain is existential: Who am I? Where am I going? Who’s coming with me? Or the more immediate kind of suffering – from death, divorce, job loss, etc.  Pain comes to us all.  So how do we deal with pain when it comes? The wounded boy has many strategies to navigate thru the territories of pain. The wounded boy cannot tolerate feelings of helplessness so he becomes a warrior fighting the good fight.  The heroic boy will either deny the pain or fight against the pain by trying to conquer the difficult feelings and win.  The other strategy of the wounded boy is being a victim – I am helpless.  I am not good enough or brave enough, I am not lovable enough to enter the circle of life, so I become depressed, small, contracted.  Both strategies, the hero and the victim, are deeply identified with the woundedness of the boy and are caught like a fly in a web of the wound’s complexes.  The wound’s complexes comprise a contracted world of isolation, self loathing and shame.  The boy must fight these feelings or drown in them.  There seem to be no other options.  Win or lose.  The sad story of the hero is that he loses by giving all of his energy to fighting.  He has no ability to receive love.  He is desperate – a fighting, doing, producing machine. Even his giving is a contracted strategy contrived to fight being with what is.

Enter the man: The man’s presence brings the miracle of the witness, the ability to have awareness of awareness.  And here is the miracle: The boy is pain, the man has pain.  The man is in relationship with his pain. The pain is held with mercy and kindness.  The pain is an honored guest and welcomed at the altar of the man’s life.  The man is curious and reverent of the pain that comes.  He is a sacred host to the difficult visitors that invade his psychic house.

 

 

 

The wounded boy leans away from life.  He strategically steers around the intersections of his life where there is any possibility of conflict.  He is terrified of being too visible, and so he turns away from life, and isolates.  If he does enter the complexity of living, he tends to react, tear down or rebel.  He has two gears: turn away or act out. What is so tragically missing in the wounded boy’s tool box is the ability to appreciate life on life’s terms.  He doesn’t know how to enter into his life with any genuine curiosity and reverence.

James Hillman says that when a man shifts in his consciousness from “being the pain” to “having the pain”, that is like two years of psychotherapy in one moment. So, the man holds his pain with dignity and a sense of holiness.  He listens to his pain as a deep cry from his soul and he holds this cry as sacred.  So he slows down and he walks differently upon the earth.  The pain is teaching him to live with humility and gratitude.  This man is cracking open into his giftedness.  He is slowly becoming a man who is devoted to protecting and blessing the sacredness of life.  When pain is kissed and given a sacred homecoming, the man begins the healing of the boy’s wounds.  And the boy begins to melt into the heart of the man.  And the man walks the earth in his aliveness, awe and wounds.

 

This being human is a guest-house

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture, still,

treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

–Jelalludin Rumi, “The Guest House”

 

THE WOUNDED BOY

 

When I am in my wounded boy, I am a creature who is wistful and full of unexpressed sorrow, who keeps his feelings at bay, even from himself, and tries to maintain a cheerful exterior. What is being held at bay? Feelings of abandonment, loss, deprecation, inferiority, helplessness, and rage.

The abandonment this boy feels is profound.  Although surrounded by people who care about him, he does not feel their caring somehow.  He knows that in the past, people who were supposed to care about him all the time did so spottily, not always when he really needed it.  He learned to do without caring attention.  He learned to carry on the best he could, filling in the blanks in his knowledge and competence with estimations of what was called for.  He learned that, more often than not, he could not rely on others to address his needs and that if he wanted something, he had to take care of it himself.  He became a lonely soldier, marching through life with a grim belief that he was all alone in the world.

The feelings of loss plague this boy and chip away at his outward cheerfulness.  Loss of friends has become a weight on his soul that grows incrementally through time.  Loss of friends through death, relocation, physical and emotional distancing, and the busyness of life has taken a toll on him.  Loss of dreams also weigh on him.  Loss of finding his way to complete a vision he had when younger aches in him and fills him with regret.  Losses in the greater world fill him with anguish as habitats, species, and ecosystems are lost or destroyed. The weight of these losses weigh heavily on his shoulders as he carries them as a daily burden through life.  This boy will not share his grief with others.  He does not want to burden them or have them think of him as weak.

This wounded boy does not believe he is as good or worthy as others.  He believes others are better at whatever quality or activity is being called up.  He can easily value others and disparage himself.  He can see their good traits while maintaining blindness to his own.

This boy feels helpless to impact his relationships.  He believes that others will always prevail over his wants, needs, intentions, and desires and that it is futile to even try to express, confront, negotiate, or stand up for himself.  He would rather not risk the rejection and failure that he believes is sure to come.

Because of all the foregoing, this boy is filled with rage.  He is angry that things have turned out to be the way he perceives them.  He resents others who seem to thrive and prosper at his expense.  He is envious of those who seem to manage to fulfill their desires and successfully strive for what they want in life.

When this boy is activated, and unconsciously allowed to prevail, the actions that come forth bring grief to others.

 

THE EXUBERANT BOY–AWE AND WONDER

 

          I recall boyhood summers in St. Paul, Minnesota: the moist smell of freshly mown grass, the heat of morning sunlight already penetrating the day by mid-morning, riding bikes through the neighborhood that was shaded by mature elms and populated by large, old homes to the corner store a few blocks away where we consumed cool soda pop and candy (yes, it was allowed in those days). We played whiffle ball in my friend’s back yard. If you hit the ball over the house, it was an automatic home run. We explored the dense, verdant woods behind the houses across the street. We sat on cool lawns in the shade and arm-wrestled and talked. The girls still seemed like almost another species, off in their own world of dolls and dress-up. But sometimes they joined us in the evening for kick the can or hide and seek, which we played through the onslaught of the mosquitoes at dusk, until we were called home when the streetlights came on.

Those summers also included a vacation at a lake up north, where we spent most of the day in the refreshing water, diving for frogs or turtles, hunting for garter snakes, lounging on the sandy beach, and taking our enforced afternoon naps. The forest that surrounded that lake and the lake itself were my primary introduction to the wonders of nature. There I felt this expansiveness and freedom I could not have described or articulated back then. It was where my first spiritual experience occurred and the home of my basic connection to the earth.

It was especially in summer, which was not interrupted by the duties and tasks of school, that this expansive sense of awe and wonder developed. Time stretched out. I could watch a caterpillar work its way across the damp, dark earth. I gazed at clouds and watched them change shape as they moved across the sky. I could spend all day in the woods digging a hole in the ground, which we called a “fort.” I could climb into the limbs of a large, old tree and be cradled there for hours.

Unbridled emotion was a primary characteristic of this phase of life. If I hit a home run, I would leap for joy. If I fell off my bike, the tears quickly followed the pain. If I felt rejected by peers, I immediately fell into a shroud of sadness. An ice cream cone brought welcome waves of pleasure and contentment. I had not yet developed the filter that descended in adolescence which would moderate my responses according to the social milieu. My body simply responded, as one, with my emotional life.

These experiences filled my soul with a richness that I will always treasure. Recalling them, I feel this richness of my life that now seems so simple, yet so profound. I realize that this ability to experience awe and wonder is a necessary ingredient for the life of a mature man. While it stems from boyhood, it brings a freshness to life that is essential to bearing responsibility and developing maturity. We must be able to tap into this ability to be surprised and astonished in order to develop reverence. Awe fosters respect. Respect brings a posture of honesty and integrity.

We do not need to remain naïve in order to nurture our sense of awe and wonder. When our childlike outlook is present, we do not have to completely ignore all we have learned. We merely let our curiosity and openness take precedence over other qualities for a brief time and give ourselves over to enchantment. We put all our “knowledge” and “wisdom” in the background in order to enter that beginner’s mind, which is a mind prone to discovery. We allow ourselves to embody the eight-year-old boy we once were and to see the world from his eyes, with his abundant imagination.

Sometimes I yearn for this boyhood experience. When I am called, I may wander into some woods, lie on my back and watch the clouds, observe an anthill and its inhabitants, float on water, stick my nose to the ground and smell. As I allow these experiences to wash over me, I am reconnecting with that exuberant boy who was filled with the mystery of life. I am drawing on an essential source of maturity. I am renewing my sense of awe and wonder.

Tom McGee

8/1/16

 

DRINKING THE TEARS OF THE WORLD

DRINKING THE TEARS OF THE WORLD

The biologist Paul Shepard said, “The grief and sense of loss, that we often interpret as a failure in our personality, is actually a feeling of emptiness where a strange and beautiful otherness should have been encountered.” Somewhere, within all of us, is a yearning for that “strange and beautiful otherness,” that for most of human history has been an integral part of human experience. Our ancestors lived among and knew bears and bobcats, ravens and wrens, redwoods and oaks, rivers and lakes, forests, mountains, and deserts. They were intimately connected to the world around them and knew, on a very basic level, that it provided their sustenance.

We are often unaware of what Francis Weller, author of The Wild Edge of Sorrow, calls the third gate of grief, “The Sorrows of the World.” This is an entry into grief about all the things going on in the world that bring us sorrow. We are all affected by the loss of species and habitats, the diminishment of natural environments, the weight we feel living in a money-oriented culture, and the quickening of the pace of life.

As a people, we have become divorced from the world we inhabit. We have insulated ourselves from the natural forces that govern our lives and in so doing, we have cut ourselves off from sources of abundant nourishment as well as wonder and awe. In our daily lives, we tend to not recognize the importance of these natural forces. We isolate ourselves from the elemental nature of our being.
This isolation has created a great emptiness that cannot be filled by human-generated “solutions” that do not recognize what we have lost. As Paul Shepard suggests, we tend to turn in on ourselves when we experience this emptiness and the anxiety and depression that may accompany it. We look for the source of this uneasiness within ourselves and may engage in a ruminative exploration that takes us to places of darkness and despair. While self-exploration has its value (and we are proponents of it for many reasons), this is an emptiness that requires an acknowledgement of what is being lost in the world.

The loss of our natural and wild world reflects a loss within ourselves also. When we are cut off from the wildness of the earth, we live in an artificial world, cut off from the wildness in ourselves. We do not embody the vivid and animated life we inherited but carry a yoke of dryness and muted experience. We are very prone to a life that too often feels like mundane drudgery and does not bring us into mystery or joy.

When we can enter into the sense of grief and loss about our world, we have an opportunity to rediscover the mystery and joy of our human inheritance. As Francis Weller writes,

“When we open ourselves and take in the sorrows of the world,
letting them penetrate our insulated hut of the heart, we are both
overwhelmed by the grief of the world and, in some strange alchemical
way, reunited with the aching, shimmering body of the planet. We
become acutely aware that there is no “out there”; we have one
continued existence, one shared skin. Our suffering is mutually
entangled, the one with the other, as is our healing.”

So it is in entering this grief about the sorrows of the world that we are able to address this chronic emptiness and find our way to become reunited with what we have lost.

The Ordeal

When a man is confronted by “the ordeal,” every emotion crashes on the shore of his life: Shock, rage, protest, bewilderment, grief, depression, anxiety, craziness, and even a strange and unexplainable ecstasy. First of all, we must distinguish between “the boy” and “the man,” and legitimate and illegitimate suffering. I will begin with the latter. Legitimate suffering is the “givens” of life: Death, divorce, moving, all losses, illness, addictions, etc. Illegitimate suffering is neurotic suffering, or elective suffering. This is the kind of suffering where we get in our own way. Carl Jung has a remarkable quote regarding this kind of suffering: “Neurosis is the avoidance of legitimate suffering.”
This is the boy. He avoids real suffering at all costs, or he plunges in recklessly creating havoc. The boy has almost no reference for real suffering. He may have had a father who did not know how to embrace genuine suffering. Or, he may have had no father at all. Therefore he is lost with no compass and no life experience guiding him through this treacherous territory. He feels like he is going to die. And that is precisely what needs to happen. The boy consciousness must die (transmute) so the adult man can emerge. This death of the boy into the man is at the very heart of our work, VOYAGE INTO MANHOOD. This genuine suffering is the fire of initiation. This is the necessary crisis, the ordeal that must be held in a sacred context for a boy or a boy-man to fully emerge into a radiant, fiercely alive adult man. There is nothing casual or easy about this process. It is frightening and horrifying. The only way through is through.
The mystics call this time, “the dark night of the soul.” It is like passing through a dark tunnel where nothing is familiar. All the moorings have been stripped away. Information does not help here. What really helps are older men who have gone through their own fires of initiation, and have cultivated a sacred relationship with life. These are the initiated men. Their personhood is an invaluable, fierce, and loving presence which provides a safe and sacred context for the boy, or the boy-man to take that leap: The voyage into manhood.
“The ordeal,” is the necessary existential crisis that every boy and every boy-man must face. The tragedy of our times is that most boys, and certainly most boy-men never face their “ordeal” in a sacred conscious way. This holding of the “ordeal” in a sacred way is what our work is all about. This is THE VOYAGE INTO MANHOOD.

-Richard Palmer
12-14-15