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