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On being a man…

    In May 1982, the American poet, story teller and mythologist, Robert Bly, was interviewed by Keith Thompson for an article in the New Age magazine.   Thompson reported that the response to that article was overwhelming…..”Xerox machines have been humming all over the country, sending copies beyond the reach of the magazine’s circulation. Sons have given it to fathers, and vice versa, husbands to wives, and vice versa, brothers to brothers, lovers to lovers. It’s been read aloud in sacred gatherings of men’s councils………Sent to friends in Australia, Holland, Canada and Europe.”   That written piece addressed the basic question from Bly of “Where are the men? Where is the masculine in its fullest potential – not the macho masculine but the deep energy that gives rise to forceful action undertaken not without compassion but with resolve?”   Back then, Bly has been quoted as initiating the movement of men with his book Iron John which he based on the translated Grimm Brothers book Iron Hans written around 1820.   Bly’s contention in the early 80’s, was that men had actually softened, paying attention to their ‘feminine side’ mostly in response to the women’s movement, Bly described young males – “They’re lovely, valuable people – I like them- and they’re not involved in harming the earth, or starting wars, or working for corporations.”……But something’s wrong. Many of these men are unhappy. There’s not much energy in them. They are life preserving but not actually life-giving   In attempting to connect the span of some 30+ years since Bly got us started on the masculine journey, I’m wondering whether men have now moved back to a predictable collective male identity within the system? We do harm the earth and each other, we perpetuate wars in order to solve problems and we are totally reliant upon, male hero figures, corporations and government to run our world and fill our screens with news and things to do and purchase. We have again been dumbed down to largely comply with a societal expectation and male blueprint for how to be in the world.   Now in 2016, with the proliferation of men’s groups, men’s service providers, men’s retreats, workshops, gatherings, church groups, specialist groups and more, any number of support methods and systems are available for men, most are still struggling to attract and engage men. The phenomenon of the rapid spread of Men’s Sheds across Australia is one exception although they currently have not researched the numbers of men who don’t stay on for extended periods of time.   Could it be that we need reminding that there are other ways for men to be? A middle of the road masculinity that moves between the extremes of passivity and aggression, and does that within high levels of dignity, empathy, intimacy and self- assurance   For some/most of us who share an interest in the “wellbeing” of males, either through the services we provide or from a position of human compassion, have noted that a large proportion of men do not challenge the effects of their male socialisation and conditioning, preferring to cope as best as possible with all of the challenges that life throws at them. A toughing it out stance that contributes to the statistics of violence, suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, premature death, depression, divorce and all the other signs that toughing it out is definitely not the answer.   One major assumption of mine, and I think that it shared by some others, is that those of us men who have experienced and benefited from a men’s group, a men’s gathering or a men’s retreat, and have been held in a process designed to challenge and support us in taking us beyond resistance and into the realm of real transformative energy. We know that other men in our lives could derive great benefit from letting go of their rigid defence and just once participate in a similar gentle supportive process.   This is where I see the basic problem is of attracting more men to take a look at the effects of our conditioned and socialised male mode of being. Men’s groups, gatherings or retreats hold a content of fear for most men, although not usually expressed as ‘fear’, the prospect of being in a group of unknown men and having to self-disclose, with the possibility of being shamed or criticised holds no real attraction. Generally speaking, men who do attend are those who have experienced some form of crisis, gotten through that and are prepared to take a look at the parts of their maleness that maybe contributed to their original issue.   Having been through some major delicate dramas in my own life, and knowing the benefits derived from doing personal work on myself, I have to be really clear about not imposing my new found male success formula upon other men who I know deep down would benefit from a similar experience.   I think that Bly’s take on the conditioning of men and his comparison to the archetypal, still holds true in 2016, although we are now assailed with a speeded up world and an information overload, there are still some courageous men out there willing to participate and take the risk to look closer at their lives. Instead of spending on “things”, they are prepared to spend it on an experience that could be life-giving.   I welcome courageous men on their journey of self-discovery, mine too is still unfolding.     Wes Carter February 2016