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Landscapes of Tears Men Cannot Cry

Have you ever seen a man cry? How often?tears of release

I’ve never seen a man break down in tears. It’s a rare event. I’ve seen young boys crying, but the ability to do this seems to get bashed out of us early on. By the age of twelve or thirteen I’d learnt that crying wasn’t on. It wasn’t what the men around me or the men in films did, what my father did, or what my sporting heroes did.

I saw crying as part of a feminine world. It was something you did. Woman. I grew to believe that women were more emotional than men. Well they must be – they cry more often. Right?

crying_lady

On reflection I think I learnt not to be interested in the real lives of women and that somehow, in the man’s world I saw, there seemed a kind of code emerging. If I identified with women, or with my feelings too much, that I would pay a kind of societal price for this. I wouldn’t be valued or ‘succeed’ in this man’s world if I empathised with woman’s emotional life.

I’d wanted to come across as tough and manly, so my primary concern was to protect you. This was part of the ‘mask of masculinity’ I adopted and is still my instinct now. I feel a duty to take care of you physically, to ensure you come to no harm, to defend the territory around you. Lauren Jacob’s interesting blog Why Strong, Independent Women Just Want to Be Taken Care of (Sometimes) highlights this. I want to show you I’m steadfast, in for the long haul, will support you if you fall pregnant, and ride with your emotional storms. I am the first line of defence as far as your protection is concerned. I want you to feel safe and secure. You lie in my arms.

And yet…

We are, of course, expected to not just carry the heavy loads, but we’re expected to be the last off the sinking ship. We’re expected to go to war purely because we have a penis. Someone invades your home? The man is the one who’s expected to fight any attackers. The man is always expected to be the first line of defence. We might be the most sensitive beings in existence, but when the chips are down, we’re still expected to “man up”.  DorianHawksmoon – Guardian Blog

I’d learnt about being emotionally strong, stoic even; I’d learnt though, that to risk vulnerability by revealing feelings was ‘weak’. Yes, I do want to feel like a man in that ‘first line of defence’, avoiding the dark alley when walking you home, and also within a traditional masculine protocol – opening doors, buying flowers. These are ways I can show I want to take care of you. But asking for help? Just another weakness. That wasn’t part of the deal I struck with the masculinity I knew.

The first ‘cracks’ appeared after a relationship break up in my early forties. Until then I’d “manned up” surviving disappointment and loss beneath a mask of masculinity I’d been taught and had adopted to protect myself. After the split I was curled on the floor, wrapped in a raw, gut-wrenching struggle of being with feelings that I could no longer suppress – it was animal pain that overtook my body and it wasn’t going away.

The beginnings of tears.

tears of timeless reunion

That year, 2007, I learnt to cry myself to sleep. The first real tears since boyhood. They only came occasionally, but they were as old, unnamed stones being turned at last. It began a journey to a new landscape of the soul; my exterior was beginning to crack, something painfully new began to unfold.

The pain grew.

I was unable to mourn the collapse of ‘my story’. The rules binding the masculinity code I’d grown up with didn’t allow me to. I’d learned that it was weak to ask for help, that exposing my feelings risked ridicule and I’d learned that the rules of engagement in attracting the opposite sex were to be confident, strong and in control of my emotions. Like many boys, I’d learned to become disassociated from many of my feelings from a young age, and now I didn’t know how to express them.

Crying is emotional release, words the heart can’t say.. So when I had a breakdown, after patches of depression, the emotional avalanche that stormed through my body after years of keeping the lid on deeper feelings was a real roller-coaster – yet looking back now seems no surprise. As well as burn-out, it was an explosion of years of pent-up pain, and marked the beginning of a deeper journey for me into katabasis or descent, to the underworld of my hitherto unexpressed grief, loss and longing. A dying to the old self. A re-birth of the soul-path.

Grief is the first sign that we are becoming alive (Steve Biddolph)

Rose-Lynn Fisher’s beautiful personal research into the landscape of her tears struck me recently as I reflect now on the struggle with the kaleidoscope of feelings I began to bring to the surface.

“It’s amazing to me how the patterns of nature seem so similar, regardless of scale,” she says. “You can look at patterns of erosion that are etched into earth over thousands of years, and somehow they look very similar to the branched crystalline patterns of a dried tear that took less than a moment to form.”

Tears basaltears

Gradually, excruciatingly, tears squeezed from my body. These hidden branches of my emotional core, these storage boxes of feelings spanning twenty years. Fisher’s images uncover some of the strange beauty of suffering for me; reminding me of the complexity of the maps of the heart, the loneliness of faithless life and of ongoing matrices which, lying unexpressed, map out an infinite hell on earth, an ongoing misery of being less than fully human.

I revisited what I now understand as ‘major relapses’ twice again within the following two years. Two more journeys to recover Eurydice. Two more visits back to the sleepless, anxiety-ridden, ruminating madness; a completely overpowering blanket where the first few seconds of consciousness after waking are only a prelude to endless days and nights of insanity. Two more dives into the ashes.  Two further opportunities to shed the grief I’d been carrying, the trapped feelings, hurts and disappointments I’d bottled up.

Although the empirical nature of tears is a chemistry of water, proteins, minerals, hormones, antibodies and enzymes, the topography of tears is a momentary landscape, transient as the fingerprint of someone in a dream. This series (of tears) is like an ephemeral atlas.

How many of these delicate tapestries lie unshed in us? These atlases of the soul, these deep, unspoken landscapes of the heart.

Now it is easier. Sometimes tears are daily. There is an inexpressable joy in the aliveness of it all. Most of the compressed pain I stored has moved through my body, each tear a transforming landmark in an opening to a new life.

A few weeks ago I was sitting at my desk planning a rehearsal for a Deep Diving Men Lab theatre project and just feeling the freedom of wetness on my cheeks is enough; tears of love and joy, tears of the impossible made possible, tears of faith, tears of gratitude.

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,

Tears from the depth of some divine despair

Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,

In looking on the happy Autumn-fields.

And thinking of the days that are no more.

(The Princess: Tears, Idle Tears  – Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

 

Days with the Deep Diving Men

 

I’m in a circle lying on my back, our heads together, almost touching – then a silence for some time. As each man speaks there is a feeling of calm, an unshakable togetherness, a deeper and deepening trust holding us. It’s very rare, this time for men alone and together, this time for dropping down, time for removing the survival masks we wear each day just to get through as a man. Our words fall vulnerable and uncensored.

Brushing up against the edges, that’s where I am. I find myself standing on familiar yet untrodden ground and recalling these ridges, these places of creative discovery that once identified me; now they are portholes into a different movement and rhythm, not one completely unknown to me, but one with purpose; destination unknown, yet mapping secure.

bothpro

So when Simon shows up with his inspiring fish-eye lens, Cedric with his grounded steadiness and Samson with his camera, there are suddenly more of us – an expanding circle of brothers. It’s an intense day, funny, and somehow inherently masculine as we explore the male journey in movement and words, tracking back through mythology and poetry.

Simon then very quickly put this brief work-in-progress film together before flying to Peru yesterday to film in an orphanage. It’s a small window as to what we’re up to; marking the time.

Join us in community to share the work, and for poetry and discussion at:

The DRAYTON ARMS THEATRE Sunday April 13th 7.30pm (South Ken) TICKETS here

The WHITE BEAR Monday April 14th 8pm (Oval) TICKETS here

The COCKPIT THEATRE April 21st 7.30pm (Bank Hol) Entry on the door.   M and C

Getting Naked with Woman

Dating, mating…

I think I want to go ‘courting’.

I’ve been seeking a partner, not merely a connection. I’m longing for someone who I want to spend time with, who I can laugh and play with; someone whose values align with those of service and truth; a woman who wants to love me unconditionally. In fact, all the values I’m trying to hold.

I want to be with someone who doesn’t live 6000 miles away.

I’d like to be married. I want to explore us within this unique spiritual container, boundaried, committed, safe. Of course if it ever happens, I’ll be terrified. I’ll want to run.

I want to take it slow. I want to get to know who she really is. I’m ready to risk losing her love to find that out.

So where does my innate, longing for intimacy come from? Can it be that within an atom of chance I’m designed for intimate relationship? What mirroring took place at the dawn of humanity? Where does this yearning come from?

I believe I’m molded by skillful hand, by eternal love, by God. I’ve been uniquely created for this union; and I’ve been shaped in the image of One that longs to be in relationship with me too.

I’m watching the ducks. Down in the water, an extraordinarily violent ritual of the type only the wild man in nature can stage unfolds. A huge group of male ducks are beating the shit out of a female. We would call this rape. We judge it. A mallard duck won’t. He doesn’t have our special capacity for moral reasoning; no sense of right and wrong. Battered, she survives; a low, vocal, repetitive gurgle  indicates she is through. Warming her eggs and nurturing her young is her new purpose; she’ll now drive away the males to protect her children.

Men chase women. Watch the ducks. DuckJust watch nature’s cycle. Male bottle-nose dolphins will also coerce the female into mating, so do chimpanzees, orang-utans, and there are many other examples. I want to mate with you, or I don’t. That’s not objectification, that’s how I’m wired. On some level you’ll mate with me to make yourself safe from other men. Even then, I am subconsciously drawn to the most child-bearing hips in every moment with a woman; it’s the dance of procreation, a wild hymn to creation.

You can have a go at chasing us, but I haven’t met a woman who prefers it. You operate through a complex intuitive feel unknown to me, yes you’re attracted to me, but I hear many women say they haven’t really got a ‘type’. Men are more visually wired.

To begin with, it’s essential to note that the literature specifically studying men’s arousal patterns (gay as well as straight) has repeatedly emphasized their sensitivity to visual cues. As soon as the lust-inspiring image registers in their brain, they become turned-on—not only physically but psychologically, too. Exposure to such erotic stimuli immediately activates the parts of their brain related to getting an erection. (Leon F. Seltzer, Psychology Today)

So you want to attract me, and in you is a parallel genetic wiring, to attract the strongest man for your children, one who will protect and provide for your family. This is what your body yearns to do. You want to show me your body. You have to, to procreate.

This makes what you do with your body incredibly powerful.

So if I am saying “no” to you – I’m doing quite well right?

How do I choose to encounter you?

“Would you like to come back to mine for a few hours?”

Uh oh. Did I say that?

What is my intention? Once I start to nibble at the fruit, there’s a whole paradigm shift in me taking place that I will willingly buy into.

I am drawn inexplicably to the curve of her mouth, the little scar on her lips, the sweetness between her legs; I fuel her desire, and want to light the torch of this wounded, fiery princess. As we fold into each other, her eyes light up of with the truth of eternal possibility. I gaze into her soul; in her and through her is our divine gift, the sacred union at the mystery of our existence.

I’m longing for the one and to be one. I am longing for the one relationship that fulfills my need for intimate connection.

It’s difficult to say no. I’m no mallard, but I see men around me behaving with blinkers on. I’m gifted with reason, the ability to choose, to make a choice for what is right or what is wrong. I have the intelligence to see a moral law governing the Universe. A mallard duck is not blessed with this capacity.

Instant Gratification

Everything around me indicates that I can have what I want now. And we can most of the time; even sex. This is where I’ve found it starts to go badly wrong.

Getting naked is not really getting ‘naked’ is it? nakedI want getting naked to be opening my soul and spirit and letting someone in, in to my hopes, fears, thoughts and dreams. Getting naked is about letting in the Holy Spirit. It’s a step of ultimate surrender. It’s a step I’ve tried to make with women before making it with my Creator. It really isn’t the same thing; this choice to be in relationship. Choice: a capacity putting us way above the level of the animal in us: choosing to love. It’s a risky step. It’s a big decision. It’s a step of faith: a step into the unknown.

CS Lewis captures this ‘law of nature’ in Mere Christianity

First, that human beings all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way…

I freely break this ‘law’ each day, this higher law that sets me apart from the raping mallards; the law that offers me choice. When I break this law I fall from the garden. So we struggle altogether on paradise burned; a fragmented metal of unsanctified sexual union.

If the goddess of my dreams walks up to me in the street or appears to me in a dance, I have a choice. The strong, unwavering, trustworthy man she really wants, will feel the “yes”, but say “no”. Very few women will offer themselves unless I appear to make myself emotionally available. It is the needy me who says yes; the man who wants to buy into her morality, her story; the man who is fulfilling an unhealed need in his own heart. The man who has yet to come to terms with his own pain.

Really, do I believe that having sex with someone with whom I have had no time to create a deep, spiritual, loving relationship with is going to serve her? These actions are lost. I’ve heard mature men in my men’s group advocate this because it’s their ‘truth’. Come on. It was Hitler’s truth to invade Poland.

It’s just very unwise.

I can avoid having to say “no” by not instigating a “yes”.

So.

Don’t ask her home. If we like each other then I know she wants to feel desired, but she doesn’t need to have sex with me. She just needs to know I want her. She can feel desired walking in the park, being taken out, feeling wanted. I can choose to give her that signal. Ultimately she longs to surrender to the source of my energy, my inner wild man, yet I’m so programmed into the lustful ‘now’. Feeling that is fine, it’s how I choose to act that defines me as a man. If I choose to put myself in a vulnerable situation – why would I resist? I’m wired to mate with her; temporarily she embodies all my longing.

She becomes ‘the one’.

”Would you like to come back to mine for a few hours…”

How is this ever going to work? I’m lonely, yes. I’m seeking comfort because I hurt, yes. I want to feel needed, yes. It’s not really the moment to fast-track to divine sexual union is it?courting-couple-at-midnight

I think I’m going to take up courting. It sounds wonderful. There are boundaries, a safe container to play out the dance and sex is out of the question.

Becoming genuinely naked, gradually, is the path I choose to walk.

Does my Black Dog really answer to the name “Depression”?

black dog2

The lake sat beautifully in the afternoon sun; it was late autumn, my favourite time of the year.

I first fell in love in September, when I was sixteen, and if you’ve been fortunate enough to ever feel that and then claim her, you’ll know it’s an unforgettable, indescribable, heart-pounding, rushing joy…

But that was twenty years ago. I’m now thirty-six, and I’m sitting by this beautiful lake with my girlfriend and a pulsating rot in my gut. There must be a medical reason I thought. It must be because I’m with her, I thought. It must be because… And so the whirring began. Creeping up as an oncoming darkness. The last time I’d had a hernia I was making a diving catch in the covers – but this is different. It’s not a hernia. It’s a unique sort of ‘pain’. It languishes in the spreading of its energy; a lost voice, nagging, clouding my thoughts, inducing its unique brand of anxiety.

What was this deep gnawing in my gut? What are these cries? These feelings that everything’s ‘not right’? They are so very deep, deep within me.

Perhaps that moment marked the beginning of the journey to meet my dog.

The black dog scratches at my door, he’s persistent. I let him in from the cold. He cuddles up to me in the darkness. He delights in the loneliness of my soul. His howls are the calls of my heart. Beyond his whining I feel the gaze and lazy smile of my tormentor.

Eight years ago and it was my fortieth birthday. I invited all my friends and I told them all to “fuck off” during a drunken speech. I hired a sports club; nice feel, wooden (it burnt down a few years later) and a bit rough. The usual getting drunk ritual took place. Some friends turned up whom I’d invited but weren’t really friends at all. My girlfriend took me home. I have a vague memory of being in a car and collapsing at my house. I crawled upstairs and Nathan my lodger had to drag me into the bathroom. I didn’t make it and was sick all over the landing. I just lay in it all. Happy Birthday. What a good night etc…

 Something had been wrong for a while.

“Here Dep! Good Boy… Where’s your bone?” He walks in and skulks in the corner, frightened and frightening, saliva dripping, seething dirty energy. He’s old, aged from his tormenting, yet his inner vitality rots at my core. He makes his bed next to mine.

Six years ago, I’m 42 and on West Hampstead station. The train taking me back to Richmond is an arrow firing me into the void. The later email confirming she doesn’t want to be with me is a message from the lips of Medusa. I curl up in a rack of pain, howling like the dog who’s licking his lips just around the corner. I try to cry but I don’t know how, I’m a man without the emotional armory, I’ve no language for this. My guts are razor-like and scooping, churning. Everything inside me is burning. For the next nine months I wake like this, frightened and alone. Crying myself to sleep with unhappiness, I take a lover, who comforts me. I plunge blindly through work; how, I don’t know. Everything is loss, all is lost. I can’t get her out of my mind. I can’t go into town because she’s there.

What was happening?

During those nine distressing but important months, deep losses collided within me. I’d been triggered. She was the object, yet I was trying to mourn something untouched inside me.

Stitched to my feet he’s my shadow; he’s my longing, my Peter Pan; he pads silently beside me, manifesting himself in my collected pain. He is part of me. He’s my dog. His eyes are my deepest losses; like those red stockings clinging tightly to her brown legs his saliva dribbles seductively down from his chin.

‘Depression.. a set of symptoms that derive from complex and always different human stories. These stories will involve the experiences of separation and loss, even if sometimes we are unaware of them.’ (The New Black – Darian Leader)

I’m now 49 and the last ten years are beginning to make some sense. This does not mean I’ve cracked it, it means that having unpacked some of this stuff with my therapist, I can begin to gently fold up my clothes again, re-sequencing them in a wiser order. I can see some of my luggage labelled now, laid out on the floor. All the stuff I’d been carrying on my journey. A heavy load.suitcase

For years I’d been longing for the relationship in which I could emotionally unpack. Of course that relationship isn’t about finding the special one; I’m not the first man to lose himself in the seductive, physical offer of The Goddess and I won’t be the last for which she’s the Achilles heel on this hero’s journey. Yet my longing is a divine call to return home. To meet my Maker. I am crying because I am separated from God. They are cries outward and upward, not in.

My soul was weeping.

I want to propose that we are both sent and drawn by the same force.. We are driven and called forward by a kind of deep homesickness, it seems. There is an inherent and desirous dissatisfaction that both sends and draws us forward, and it comes from our original and radical union with God. (Richard Rohr – Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life)

What is Depression?

So what is Depression? Is it simply part of a pharmaceutical circus that prescribes us pills to feed our own capitalist economies? Or to show the NHS that it’s meeting its government-set targets? Isn’t it all a bit of a medical wind-up that we invented for ourselves forty years ago – to make the drug companies millions as part of some big consumerist cover-up? Are any drugs making any of us feel better? Don’t we need to call it an illness to retain this facade? Isn’t it all nonsense?

But it really wasn’t nonsense when I was finally reduced to a shuddering pool of twenty-four hour anxiety, fearful of the next moment, unable to care for myself and struggling to understand the complete despair I felt. What was happening to me? And it absolutely wasn’t nonsense having to return to this state of living hell three times. Perhaps Prozac assisted me in getting through the very worst, the ‘survival’ hours, the bottom of the pit, to help the hellishly, derailed sleeping pattern, to help me feel I was taking some action against the endless despondency, fear and torment. But they’ll never treat the cause. They won’t remove the pain. Yes, serotonin is a factor, but the experience of loss doesn’t lie in my brain, despite what some Government literature might tell me. The NHS can prescribe me a CBT quick-fix course, but it won’t help me in getting to the bottom of me. Drugs are not transformative. They are not the real work.

They can’t tell me that the cause is spiritual. They want to tell me it’s an illness and that it can be treated. And at the time that’s what I wanted to hear. I’m so desperate and it’s an answer! Thank God they can make medical sense of this. But.. What an arrogance! They don’t want to tell me that the only way is through, and not out. They don’t want to tell me there may more suffering on the journey. They don’t want to suggest I need to learn about courage and hope. But of course, don’t ask us to live in this paradox!! We expect to be ‘fixed’ in this postmodern, scientific world…

Leader employs a brutal analogy: quick-fix remedies work in the same way as a missile strike works on a terrorist base. In the short-term it looks successful, but it does nothing to alter the terrorist mindset. When loss and misery enter our lives, we are impatient to condense a process that, by nature or through talking therapies, can only be worked out over years. We want a name for our condition, and we want a timetable. (‘Anatomy of melancholy’ – Hilary Mantel, Guardian)

After my first nervous breakdown I realised I had made a huge descent, a road to my ashes of the type Robert Bly describes in Iron John.

I had finally started to hear my weeping soul.

Darian Leader frames the term ‘Depression’ well for me in his timely new book The New Black.

It is used so widely and with such little care that it acts as a barrier to exploring the detail of our responses to loss.

Overcoming loss will always be painful. My loss is part of me. My suffering is the roots of real transformation. The question I am asking now is – how do I integrate it into my life? Poor choices may mean my dog whines at the foot of my bed for years; wise choices that he’s free to go. Part of the paradox of being alive is that the human condition needs to endure necessary suffering and not suppress it. I see this clearly and complexly in the supreme gift we are offered; Jesus is the moment in time where God steps towards us and shows his human face. I’m beginning to understand this.. and integrate it into how I want to live. Being is about compassion, community and loving the other. Leaving the old behind is tough. I realise I don’t want a comfortable life, I want to live the adventure of life. Jesus asks me to follow – so God asks me to walk on my edge each day.

Yet it’s not all about psychotherapy and religion, it’s about the integration of a real truth into my life. Richard Rohr speaks of the truth as always being the truth, it can’t be questioned once established. Much of this truth can be found in the myths and legends of ancient cultures and civilizations. Jesus’ image in Matthew’s Gospel of a winnowing fork is used 700 years before by Homer in the Odyssey, yet might the image be at home in a modern trainee therapist’s thesis?

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:12   New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition)

wheat-from-chaff

I don’t think my dog wants to answer to the name ‘Dep’. He’s Smudge or Joe or Monty. And he doesn’t need to be black. I think my ‘depression’ belonged to an old identity that has died. An identity that bled to death in his own ashes – no longer the big ‘I am’ – and then knelt quietly, and surrendered his soul to his Lord.

So as I begin to sort out the wheat from the chaff, it’s time to stand by what is real, and leave what is unreal, to stand by what lasts, and leave what doesn’t last behind me.

 

Man – You’re not Alone, You’re with the Men

“What’s the point of a men’s group?”

I was asked this question recently in the pub. I used to pour beer down my throat by the way, now I enjoy a pint and it’s enough. It’s much better.

drinking1

Ten years ago I never would have dreamed I’d be holding a fortnightly group for men in my home. That would have been too weird. I’d have been one of those weird guys. Back then, I used to seek intimate male company only when I was drunk or getting drunk. That was normal. Yet of course, drunk people really can’t listen or talk very well. It was all deeply, deeply dissatisfying.

Have you thought about how other men could be a mirror for you? How another man could teach you about yourself? What would it be like to be clear in your direction and purpose, to strengthen your integrity, become more trustworthy, strong, consistent, clear and grounded? Wouldn’t you like to know how it feels to be at your edge and be held accountable?

How are you spending your time these days..? Are you living your life? Or is it just passing?

How do you really feel?

Father meets Son

Last week I was privileged to witness one of our group re-connect with his 17-year-old son, who he had invited to come to our meeting, after a period of separateness and difficult communication for them both. It was a beautiful evening. As I sat listening, the gravity and depth of the ‘father wound’ in our society became clearer to me.

We are all wounded by our fathers somehow, all of us.

Many young men growing up within an un-fathered culture reject authority from an early age. The 2012 riots in London are only one example of the dive-bomber culture of violence and unfocused aggression many young men are involved with. Statistics from schools regarding the low achievement of boys compared to girls are undeniable. Some suggest teachers have lower expectations of boys than girls. Our young men are largely schooled and brought up by women (only 15% of primary staff are men) and the older men in their lives appear distant and unreliable.

My experience is that we can help our own sons and young men by sharing our inner lives with them. Young men need to grow up in immediate contact with a reliable and secure man. One who models a healthy sexuality, a sense of inner compass and a grasp on his soul. Perhaps one step towards this for us as men is learning how to be real with other men. It took me a while in my life to feel that being vulnerable with other men was okay. The men in our group challenge me to step up to the mark when I flounder and are transparent with me. They hear me as I am, and I hear them.

Honouring the Child in Me

father-and-son3

Deep in the heart of me, my inner child, is the man waiting to be honoured. If this honouring is absent before any man brings himself to woman it is likely he will remain a ‘boy’ in that relationship. I have found this to be painfully true. Perhaps this thought underpins much of the malaise in our society. Many of us are not meeting our women where they need us.

I am learning that this honouring can only take place among a group of men. It used to take place in the tribal rituals of our ancestors, in the fields and communities of farmers who worked on the land, where skills and trades were passed down from father to son. Boys understood how their fathers actually worked. Where does this take place today? Does it take place at all?

In the tragic and moving story of Eddie the shipyard docker, Arthur Miller identifies in his play Death of a Salesman that all most men require is respect.

‘I want my respect. Didn’t you ever hear of that?’

eddie2

Yet Eddie tried to do it alone. He didn’t speak his truth until it was too late. He couldn’t escape being his own island. He got stuck deeper and deeper into his own shed. The ‘respect’ he longed for was an illusion; all his pain and anger welled up over the years. He was looking for his soul.

And he lost it.

Being part of a group of men has taught me that we need each other for real right now; in a space where we can challenge each other safely, be together, and identify with some of the challenges, joys and longings of being a man in today’s world.

No woman can teach us that.

So, it’s not weird touchy-feely stuff. It’s making a commitment to other men to be the strong, authentic and loving man you are. It’s making a commitment to the people around you too, in your life, to ‘man up’ and be one of the men that we all need around us today. It’s standing shoulder to shoulder.

“there is a real sense of aliveness and clarity when men sit together and share”

Make a change. Stop taking it to the women in your life. They don’t need your stuff. Yet don’t keep it festering and rotting within you, like Eddie.

In the conversations I have with men, I frequently hear “I’ve never been this open with another man before.” It’s tough out there. Other men are waiting to shoot us down, waiting for any sign of perceived weakness so they can get one over on us. But my vulnerability is my strength, and now it can be heard. What would it be like to have the real support of other men in your life?

You’re not alone man, you’re with the men.

Is Your Man Redundant or Abundant?

Men need to work

‘Life is difficult’. The famous opening to Scott M Peck’s landmark book The Less Travelled Road. And I’m not the first for which this was a landmark wake-up call. Life is difficult when we don’t work. We need to work.

In relationship with my woman, if I am not focused on my purpose, if I am not passionate about my work, whatever that is, then… How do I lead? Take away my purpose, and I remain a shadow to her. The man she needs and dreamed of; the passionate man in line with his purpose..? No. She’ll have to prop up her life for years if I cannot meet her feminine edge with my masculine essence. She will never flower. She’ll never laugh with the freedom and abundance her spirit longs for.

I started my ‘career’ as a Drama teacher. I worked for years, very, very hard. Socially, I was always pleased to hear the enslaving social nicety “What do you do?” When replying “I’m a drama teacher” a secret code was somehow passed. “Ooh, how interesting…” they’d say. So the ensuing conversation inflated that sense of self.

I am a..

That makes me feel so good.

The ‘fragile’ male ego

This ego spent a number of years dilating into a huge, masked balloon of false self. At the beginning I talked with passion about my work, but gradually, very gradually, after I’d pushed all the education boundaries, taken a feast of artistic risks and ‘achieved’ A grade after A grade, I gradually became disconnected; a yearning hole began slowly to open and depression began to growl within. Burnout had also begun. I masked this; more hard work and creative activity, this was all I knew and seemed my only option, but the slide had started. Relationships came and went and I threw myself even more into my ‘work’. I became my work, or my work became me. Striving for perfectionism, the workaholic in me manifested itself in a need for control that dogged me in my search for contentment and in my relationships with women.

tree and benchAnd if I’m not in control I’m less of a ‘man’.

A deep yearning opened.

Who was I?

Redundant or abundant?

He’s ever so slightly uneasy in his seat, the faceless hotel foyer the stage for a scene he doesn’t want to play. His face is lined and tired. But he gives a good performance. This man’s been running his own business for the last few years. He’s working very hard to build his ‘empire’, his outer container, the groundwork that frames the adventurer, the warrior; the man in the first half of his life.WorriedCorbis460

I don’t trust him. He has that kind of face, it triggers something in me. He’s had to be hard-nosed, make some tough calls, and mold himself into the ‘businessman’. It’s changed him, he’s had to harden his heart. But as the scene quickly plays out, and he tells me “I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go” he softens ever so slightly. In me, I feel tears welling up suddenly. It’s a big shock; the impact as sudden as a car crash. I cry openly in the hotel; my tears as pearls precious in their deep waters.

Soon after, a friend reminded me on the phone that I had been made Abundant. I laugh loudly. “It’s a cause for celebration” she told me. Now I could follow my passion again, I could begin to co-create my soul path, re-realise my spiritual gifts.

A day later, I was so relieved. I hadn’t fully realised how unhappy the job was making me.

Who are we when we don’t work?

Handling the ‘What are you doing now?’ question was tricky at first. How did that make me feel? Devalued? Redundant? How was I ‘contributing’. But I’d already started this journey a few years before. In a few days I was happier than I’d ever been, and so relieved.

We are essentially lazy creatures, us men. Given half the chance we’ll do anything to opt for an easy life, the least hassle possible, the ‘no worries mate’ route. lionBut is this really our blueprint, or do we yearn for purpose, to lead, to adventure and mark out our boundaries? When teaching, every time I saw boys being told off for ‘mucking around’ by a woman teacher, I cringed. “Right, line up! Girls here, boys here.” No prizes for who always wins that one! As boys we battle against this unconsciously from an early age. Had the teacher had asked them to run around and create chaos, I wonder who’d ‘win’? The good teachers do. Boys and girls need to stand in the same line.

So Ms teacher, maybe they are pushing boundaries, pushing your buttons and causing you discomfort, but that’s what boys need to do.Untitled-5 And they really need a man to set their boundaries, not a woman with her wounds. This learning dynamic is a time-bomb for developing a strong masculine polarity in boys, especially those who go home to a single mother. 26% of families in the UK are headed by single parents (this doesn’t account for couples for whom the man is physically or emotionally absent, or both.)

What is my work?

That is the question…

How many of us are really inspired by what we do? At a party recently none of the men I met, including myself (at that time), talked passionately about what we did with our lives. I doubt many of us could face having a conversation about being. We talked dryly and pessimistically, we all know the loose kind of men’s talk. How you doing?  “Surviving…” “Not too bad…” Jokes, conquests, football…  I felt the sadness and anger behind these men’s eyes; the silent unspoken hopes of youth. Somehow, it should have all worked out better than this.

Knowing that no-one will really understand us, we avoid talking about what fills the majority of our lives; the deep pain of the man who has to sidestep the horrendous ‘what do you do’ question because he’s ashamed; he can’t bear spending any more time being with something he hates; deep wells of anger rage inside us. There’s a coal-mine of repressed masculine energy stored here. Why would a man be interested in a dreary common ground of middle-class woes – houses, mortgages, holidays..?

If I can’t talk with passion about my work, then who am I?

Men often define themselves in some way or feel connected to this world by their skills, their dexterity, the way they can make and do things. They’re becoming more useless it seems, more enslaved, more trapped. They sit at desks, and they’ve got to look so good – they’ve got to look so damned good now, and so neat and pressed, and the hair’s got to be just right, and they’ve got to smell nice and stare at a screen all day. The regimentation is appalling, and what does this do to the human spirit? What is it doing to the spirit of man? (Blogpost from: Fraser Nelson: Boris Johnson wasn’t joking – work is becoming a woman’s world)

Standing shoulder to shoulder

Men stand shoulder to shoulder; women face to face. We need to face challenge together, and you need to communicate. Untitled-4We’re different here. Our brains, our bodies. We have different purposes somewhere in our genes, we’re designed differently. At the core, men crave physical challenge. We need physical activity to knit together as a team, and as brothers. Today we’ve lost many of the physical skills that our fathers knew. Recently a news round poll showed that 25% of boys in the UK aged 8-12 answered ‘footballer’ when asked the question what do you want to be when you’re older.

Does our mid-life crisis mark the end of boyhood? A friend of mine last night said he probably didn’t ‘grow up’ until he was 51, but maybe many of us never make it at all. I think I ‘became a man’ when I first really suffered – so my previous girlfriends were in relationship with a boy! Absent fathers, female teachers and an education system geared around continual assessment where girls succeed more than boys, means our young men are growing up emasculated and dis-empowered. Men are often emotionally distant and absent from the upbringing of their sons.

To be a young man in Britain today is to be cajoled and winked at and even pressured into becoming a foul-mouthed aimless cynical and lazy drunkard: “it’s cool, dude!” (Blogpost from: Fraser Nelson: Boris Johnson wasn’t joking – work is becoming a woman’s world)

drunk-urinal

We need to succeed. We need to be seen to be doing good.

Last month I went to see some performance poetry as part of the Kingston International Youth Arts Festival. A young female comic stood up and asked “Is anyone here a feminist?”  A few young women raised their hands and my good friend next to me half-raised hers saying “depends what you mean.” Closing the evening, another young artist offered us a passionately delivered piece intimately revealing the negative role of men in her life so far. It’s true. We knights in shining armour have become a side-lined minority voice. I haven’t seen a male comic live for a while, they all seem to do us a disservice; I liked Billy Connolly, but more funny guys being clever? Isn’t there another stereotype for us? Oh yes, there’s the mumbling, I desperately need some vocabulary lessons, football-summariser appraising the ‘complex psychology’ of this national game.. er.. disease. Uh oh.

Opening my heart

But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. (Galations 6:4  New English Bible)

I’ve often wanted to appear wiser and better than other men. I don’t like the feeling, it’s something like envy, but I experience it still. I’m still seeking my own heart and learning to envy others less. I’m looking to open my heart wide to the Holy Spirit and to ask for God’s gifts. So who am I proving myself to now? What presence am I honouring with my life and work?

A man in his purpose is a man in his abundance, a man who knows his spiritual gifts and stands strongly yet humbly in them. He’s a good man. And let’s hope the teenage boy won’t have to decorate his coursework in gold pen to qualify for this university course.

 

A Man in the Presence of Men

I’m heading down a darkening, wintry M3, returning home from an intense weekend in a Wiltshire forest. I’m sleepless, tender, and inspired by the healing power of a group of men. During the past few weekends I’ve attended various events and workshops with men: in Brighton, in London and here, near Salisbury. I want to write about how it feels being in the presence of men.

Men Together

There’s nothing more grounding for me than being in the company of my own sex: no distractions, straight talking, the sense of humour, men together getting things done. I feel at home, as if I’ve come home, and even though I’m meeting many of these men for the first time, everyone here understands me in a way no woman ever can.

Do I allow this to happen enough in my life?

I look deeply into his eyes, beyond the mysteries of his childhood, and held within a deep, beautiful vulnerability, lies the heart of this man. I feel his tenderness, longing and pain. I see myself reflected as his father, his brother, his son, and sense his spirit, lightly, flickering, slowly meeting mine. I am beyond my body now, in the places where God moves, and something holy here dances between us.

When I strip away the societal conditioning of how I am expected to be as a man – me against the world, just surviving, defined by my work and in a world where I’m taught that repressing my feelings is the only way to get on – and then step into a held space with other men, it’s as if the whole world tilts. I find I can speak what’s on my heart without fear of judgement, I feel I am not alone and that other men are similar to me – they too have been hounded by addictions: pornography, computer games, sex, alcohol and drugs, they too are wounded by the world, they too know what it’s like to be truly alone.

Shared Suffering

As I grew up I was conditioned into thinking that being ‘emotional’ was weak and that it was something best avoided or overridden rather than experienced. Vulnerability was what women ‘did’ and so for me to really feel was something to be ashamed of and therefore something that I learned to hold back. It’s okay for a girl to cry at school, in fact she’s not a girl unless she can do this, but it’s absolutely not okay for a boy. So, like many of us, I spent years and years storing up my pain.

A circle of 30 men define a woodland space. ‘Any man who has lost a loved one or partner – step forward. Men, you share a special bond.’ Damp leaves carpet the wet earth. As men step forward I feel time expand and the space around me ripe with the fruit of our shared past, our history; the circles of men that have stood for thousands of years.

As the circle shifts, I feel one man’s pain, then another. As if we are one body we stand; and as the inner circle of men sharing their grief shifts, I feel the presence of an ancestry only rarely recalled. I feel an overbearing sense of grief; and as the men’s tears moisten their cheeks and fall, we are lifted up into a unity and togetherness that I yearn for all men to share.

I’m crying again. A deep, deep sense of grief. I cry. I cry for us all, for those men before me, and those to come; for everything I’ve ever lost: my childhood, my friends, the women I’ve met and will never meet, for love undiscovered; for her, for you, for life, for God.

For me, they are the tears of deep healing, the years of stored male grief; all of our shared tears. And they are the same tears that invite me to fully live the next beautiful, sunlit morning.

After I cried I felt relieved… and happy and grateful, and maybe not fully healed, but helped in a huge way by expressing my feelings… (Thomas G Fiffer – Boys Do Cry, and Men Do, Too)

Taking It To The Men

No woman wants to be her man’s mother. It’s the last thing she desires or needs. It’s a complete turn off. It’s just a big NO.

So why is it I so often fall back into doing it?

How many times have I taken my needs to my women? Just how many? I don’t know about you but it makes me squirm. Let’s just say too many.

I’ll only set her free by taking it to the men.

I feel the circle around me, the men’s faces, their presence. I move them both around the space, the two women in my life. And as I stand apart from them both, fully seen in my need, I know that I am a man, my father’s son. I leave them both to their paths and step back into the circle, more determined and resolved – to keep on taking it to the men.

Validation

Is there anything more powerful than being validated by another man – where a man actually comes to you, meets you fully in the eyes and gives you positive affirmation? I don’t mean being told I’m a clever guy who’s funny, but have you ever heard a man speak fully of his experience of you? Until my early 40s the nearest I’d got to this was a few drunk ‘I love yous’ in a pub, or some throw away comments that never landed and fit only for the wind. I was too scared to make myself vulnerable. It’s my conditioning. Maybe I still wanted to be one up; I loved him, but I wouldn’t trust him with my heart.

As men, we need each other’s validation. The validation we maybe didn’t get from our fathers. The validation that, over the years, has been replaced by individualism, narcissism and competition. My father gave me strong positive affirmation many times, but if he were unable to meet me in this way, it’s possible that I’d never get this validation anywhere else.

As the men’s words sink in I feel my heartbeat, the visceral pumping blood of history, the man inside me preparing to rule, a benevolent king ready to serve. I feel an inner strength within me, shining, and I feel something of the boy in me die. My spirit quickens, I sense God’s gentle power and feel ready to stand in the world.