Tag Archives: male purpose

Every Man Has To Die

Last week I saw a brave, courageous and all-male performance of Wuthering Heights. In one image, two men appear naked, one dragging the other across the floor. Witnessing this ‘death’, or the naked struggle of facing one – a essential fear at the core of a man perhaps –  really moved me. There was a simple power in these two men, completely vulnerable, still and bare.

Initiation rites taught a young man to walk through his fear of death. People often report encounters of near death as encounters with the sacred. Years ago, a rite of passage would teach men that death was the primary way to build or rebuild a real life.

Ancient rites of passage, perfected over thousands of years, were exquisitely designed to get the attention of young males and help them shape their mature masculine identity. Sadly, positive passage experiences for males are hard to come by today, and too many males are left to wander in that never-never land between boyhood and manhood. (Ancient Male Rites of Passage – Earl Hipp)

Men no longer have an experience of initiation from boyhood into manhood. Plainly put, boys will be boys and men will be boys — because no one is there to teach boys to be men. (Male Initiation in Post Modern Culture – Michael J. Formica)

The conversation about being a man is landing for me. Feminism and gender socialisation has confused us men. Women have rites of passage tied unavoidably to their biology and a clear path of womanhood is broadly laid out for you by how this is socialised and accepted in our culture. Not so for us, post-industrialisation we flounder amid an unfathered void.

‘men find themselves not only not knowing where they belong, but also not knowing who they are or even whom they are supposed to be.’

And so we run, uncertain and fearful of the force that draws or pulls us. We run in wanderlust across the planet. We run to compete and keep up within our cultural masks of masculinity.

We run to stand still.

Man Running-Ridge-1

2007. I was reeling and on my knees. My ‘story’ – achieving this, meeting her – this story I had told myself, it just wasn’t happening. After years of running I hit the ground burnt out.

I had been living in fear; living with my enemy.

I thought I needed to work. It was my identity. Men identify very strongly with purpose. I am a… profession or job title. It’s a measure of my social masculinity. I was the things I’d built, that I’d put all of myself into. Yet my social identity, the ego identification so ingrained in me, slowly became my prison. This happens to many men. Creating a first half of life ‘container’ is important, but I just kept on and on building it, and waiting for something, anything, that was not happening to happen. And a gnawing, painful emptiness in my gut followed me, yakking at my heels each morning. Life was shit. No doctor or medication can treat human pain. It’s a spiritual struggle. A hole in the soul.

The alternative was to face myself.

Year after year I’d tried to keep control but the signs piled up: collapses, hospitalisations, depression and so on, and an aching loneliness in my heart. But I couldn’t hear. I’d fallen away from my soul’s path and I couldn’t see it.

Soon after, I experienced debilitating, mental illness. Spiritually, I now understand this as a time in the desert. And only when in the darkness of that desperate, empty desert did it became a spiritual experience. During the fall, it was a petrifying “Oh my god what is happening to me? I’m having a nervous breakdown.”

And everything breaks down, physically, mentally and then, crushingly – emotionally. It affects the people closest to me. Men are not taught to fall. Perhaps only a man who has experience of falling can initiate another.

Something was going down big time, and to survive, to maintain my identify, my ‘self’, I used all my strength to hold on. And I was strongly attached to that ship. Clinging to a sinking ship while knowing it was going down was the extremity of my anxiety. Literally madness.

ship sinking

Sometimes I was conscious of my emotional ‘descent’, this katabasis, but yet so, so frightened of what would happen to me. During the struggle, I left the safety of my ‘career’ (who tells us we need these things?) and let go. It felt like being torn from the womb.

Robert Bly goes on to say that in the nineteenth century, men characteristically failed to notice the female suffering, and in the 20th Century, men added another inattention: they characteristically failed to notice their own suffering. Men endeavour to stay above it, away from it rather than dealing with it by going down and into it, to learn from it. He encourages men to take the downward path as an elective to avoid the crisis or potential disaster that can arise from katabasis. Depression is a form of katabasis. The epidemic of anxiety is wreaking havoc in the lives of millions of men. Exploring one’s grievances and getting in touch with one’s grief can be the antidote. (‘A Time of Ashes’ – Initiation into mindful manhood: Men’s Centre Los Angeles)

I had a long portfolio of achievement to shake off: a masters degree, ‘success’ as a drama teacher, ‘practiced’ as a director, gifted with students; I’d led numerous exciting theatre projects and undertaken a substantial body of ‘outstanding practice’. ‘A’ fucking star*. I’d recorded albums, managed sports teams and triumphed at various other projects. Done this, achieved that.

I was all these things.

Yet on my soul path, I was nothing.

“What do you do?” (What a ridiculous thing to ask anyone.)

“I’m a drama teacher..”

So who was I?

Back in August 2008 I met a man on a ‘self-development’ activity holiday in Skyros, Greece. It was a pivotal moment, and it was then I had my first experience of being deeply ‘real’ and open with another man, a place I’d previously held for women.  The experience marked a turning point. I was inspired to inquire more deeply and learn to listen within. Gradually I began to hear what I now understand as the ‘cries’ and the ‘calls’.

Gradually, during the next few years, I accepted, surrendered, and finally just chaotically nose-dived into a relationship with the God-self I’d resisted. A lifetime of emotions and experiences compressed themselves into a few months. It was a battleground. And then again. And again. It was an on-and-off living-in-hell, Hell. I didn’t try to take my own life. But I didn’t want to live. At times the fear was so great and it just covered me; feeling death and still breathing.

This ship’s finally going down.

I surfaced twice, clinging to the last debris of the old ship, those old ways and patterns that bound me, the chains of my former self. I was learning the hard way. There was years of resistance to break down. And I was strong. I resisted very strongly. I knew I would die if I went down.

No-one had taught me that dying was what living was all about.

Throughout the struggle, I was learning a simple, spiritual truth: a truth of initiation into manhood.

natureDeath and rebirth are part of every living cycle on our planet. Inside and outside. Death and resurrection; nature’s promise of renewal, Yin and Yang, the Cycle of Life. The evidence is overwhelmingly everywhere. Something must die! Who was I to even question that? It’s a daily experience with my eyes open. It must be within me then, too.

I’ll cut short the story, but, the relief. The truth was that my life was not about me.  And it had been about me for too long. That me needed to die.

For the man who has descended into the drowning waters and come up on the other side, for the initiate who has been in the belly of the whale and spit up on the shore, there is an ultimate new shape to the universe. It is re-enchanted, it now works in a way other than he expected, someone else is on his side, he is not alone, and the young man knows in his very bones that “my life is not about me.” The initiate henceforth knows that something always has to die, and until you have lived through that dying, there is something essential that you do not know. It is always the false self that has to die, so that the Godself can be born. This is major surgery for the private and imperial ego, a surgery we all avoid if we can. (Richard Rohr – Sojourners ‘Boys to Men’ Initiation Article)

So I am reborn, though not without many of the old attachments. They don’t just disappear. I have to work with my shadows and learn how to dance and play with them. But there is a new spirit within me now, The Holy Spirit, empowering me with the courage and strength to live in a different way. And I asked this spirit in. And like the courageous men in Wuthering Heights last week, I was also dragged, struggling naked into mystery.

The truth has changed. And it’s all about The Truth, actually, it is really not about my truth. It is a paradox, but this is a really important thing not to be confused about.

So my offering is now my experience of becoming this real man.

I’m moving together with men into communities in service and men are stepping forward to ‘be’ together in LAB processes and workshops. We are exploring. I want to explore reclaiming these lost rites of passage. What does this mean today?

Don’t we all want to know: Where Are We Going?

At times it feels too much for me – in purpose for the first time. Rainbows of feelings radiate through me most days. I chose the narrow gate. It was a conscious decision.

What is Faith? My faith is the Grace and courage I’m granted each day for every next unknown step. It’s my flow and my stillness. It’s humbling and exciting. It’s not my story any more, I don’t need control, and I don’t know what’s next – thank God 😉

I fled him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled him down the arches of the years;

I fled him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears

I hid from him.

(Francis Thompson – ‘The Hound of Heaven’)

man running

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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.