A great exploration of some of the invitations for the awakening masculine
There Are No Good Men – Part 1 by Nick Hudis
Here we go again – or do we?
Again and again I hear women on the Tantra scene chorusing “I want to find a good man”….”There are no good men”, as if there is something fundamentally bad about men. Whenever a woman comes out with things like this, I want to shake her and say -Open your eyes! Look! The world is full of good men. We may not always walk the tantric walk and talk the tantric talk, but we are here. See us!-. I want to say to her – And look inside. Yes, you do embody Shakti, the Goddess, but you are also an ordinary, wounded, mixed up human woman trying to work your way into fullness and wholeness. And that’s what we men are too: complex, mixed up…but striving. And beneath our frailty we are Shiva. We are all in this together, all in a process of becoming. We recognize the Goddess in you. We love and worship her, but we do not idealise you. We do not expect you to be anything other than human. We see you too as “little you”, who struggles with your repressive catholic upbringing, gets PMS, is afraid of being abandoned and worries about the shape of your bottom. We see “little you” and we love her for her realness.
So when my beloved friend and talented sacred sexuality teacher Beverliy Drumm organised a workshop for men with these words:
Women all around the globe are waking up, reclaiming their bodies and sensuality, and giving meaning and value back to aspects of the feminine which have been suppressed, judged and denied through centuries of patriarchy.
Yet at the same time, many women on this path tell us they feel they are not being met by the men around them in their desire for masculine presence, conscious connection and committed relationship.
I thought “here we go again” and felt a current of anger. Sadness too, for all the good men who are not being seen even by wise and conscious women. I went to that workshop wanting to know more clearly why the magnificence of the masculine is not apparent to women in the real men they meet. What are we doing that obscures our light?
Shadows and Ashes
Did I see the fire of authentic masculinity burning bright among the men on the workshop? Well, may be a glimmer or two now and then, but by and large no, what I saw was dark clouds of smoke and the cold ash of shame around being men. I saw men as drab moths being drawn to the luminous and redeeming beauty of the two women facilitators. I saw men who were downtrodden and defeated.
If that is what we men are putting out into the world, it is no wonder women do not feel met.
Virtually every man had a negative perception of the masculine, identifying it with machismo, aggression, destructiveness, rigidity, insensitivity, competitiveness, materialism etc etc. Virtually every man had a deep sense of shame around simply being male.
To the ancient Chinese, in the Taoist tradition, masculine energy is a manifestation of the clear Yang of Heaven. It has the qualities of activeness, brightness, movement, inspiration, strength, purpose and above all creativity. It is the energy that manifests our “Mandate from Heaven,” our deep life’s purpose. It is the energy that allows us to be the emperor of our life, bringing order to our realm, fertility to our endeavours and blessings and generosity to our relationships.
The Taoists expressed this masculine quality in the symbolism of the dragon. Linked with thunder and lightening, the fecundity of spring and the awesomeness of the sky and the heavenly bodies, proud, fierce and immeasurably powerful, the dragon is at the same time sinuous and playful, cavorting through the clouds and diving deep into water to search for pearls on the sea bottom. How different is this representation of masculine energy, to the uptight linearity the workshop men associated with the masculine.
don’t let it be dragon you down ;P
In Taoist iconography the Green Dragon is shown in ecstatic dance with the White Tigress, the symbol of open and free feminine sexuality, sensual, wild, passionate, alive, and aroused. There was not much Green Dragon energy among the men…. so who was the White Tigress going to dance with?
From a Western point of view, to Robert Moore and Doug Gillette in King ,Warrior, Magician, Lover, authentic male energy is the alchemy of four archetypes that express the richness of the mature masculine. King gives us purpose and order, Warrior, courage and action, Magician, skill and knowledge and Lover sensitivity and expressiveness.
The workshop men were afraid to show their King, oppressed by their Warrior and Magician and cut off from their Lover. Each archetype also has its shadow which includes the Tyrant, Sadist, Manipulator and Addict. These men saw only the shadow of the masculine. Finding only darkness in King, Warrior and Magician, they felt the unfulfillable emptiness, hunger and powerlessness of the shadow Lover.
By contrast all that was light, beautiful, rich and wonderful, they associated with the feminine. Thus it was outside themselves. Beyond themselves, something to be longed for and striven for.
Where did it all go wrong?
Why do so many men today reject the masculine, seeing only its shadow? Why do they idealise the feminine?
We could look at the institutionalisation of the masculine shadow in patriarchy with its emphasis on property and power and ultimately totalitarian control of creative potential within society. There is the industrial world’s fracturing of male-male relationships: brother to brother, father to son leading to the loss of any heartfelt understanding of what it is to be a man and a fundamental distrust of father energy which has become identified with the oppressiveness of patriarchy itself.
Sadly, feminism has done men the disservice of equating patriarchy with masculine energy. Patriarchy in fact oppresses men and women equally and there are winners and losers of both genders in the power struggles which patriarchy fosters. If “masculine privilege” exists, as the feminists contend, it comes at a mortally high price for men.
We can look too at the tools of patriarchy: war, industrialisation, exploitation of nature and see how they require men to become unfeeling and objectified in their relationship to each other, to women and to the world. A system that needs soldiers, workers and miners,will encourage men to be tyrants, sadists and manipulators. In reality, true masculine energy is a threat to patriarchy and must be suppressed.
While these socio-historical reasons for male alienation are interesting, it is most insightful to explore the actual lived in experience of men which often involves impossible, irreconcilable binds to do with masculine identity.
Binds and Binds (earthbound)
A core bind is that from an early age males are told they must act like a man, but at the same time that masculine energy is bad.
What are girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice
That’s what little girls are made of.
What are little boys made of?
Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails
That’s what little boys are made of.
Boys are naughty; youths are yobs, grown men are chauvinists, old men impotent grumpy gits. We are constantly bombarded with messages that the masculine is violent and destructive. We are endlessly told that we are war mongers, exploiters and rapists. We are told that we are stupid and insensitive, incapable of intimacy, dull communicators. We are blamed for all the ills of the world. We struggle to find positive images of the masculine in the media. Male politicians are assumed to be power crazy and corrupt, dads on sitcoms are inevitably stupid and lazy. If there is an image of vitality and energy in the media, it will almost always be a slim young woman.
Is it any wonder that men today turn away from the masculine?
This fundamental bind also relates more specifically to our sexuality. As Asa Barber puts it:
Male sexuality is upfront, outstanding, penetrating, erecting, swollen – there. Sorry but it’s true. We spend much of our time being haunted by our condition. But may be it’s time for us to stop blushing, banish the shyness and end the uneasy silence. The world depends on us being there as much as it does on women being receptive. If we refuse to admit our basic sexual nature, then we pervert any honest search for ourselves.
And yet we are constantly being criticised for “being only interested in one thing”, that we use women, that we are insensitive and not interested in love or intimacy.
How do we as men deal with this? We have this up front, easy access to our sexuality, yet the messages we receive are that our sexual nature is unacceptable, that we should be more sensitive, more into intimacy…more like women?
So many men struggle to reconcile their rampant, libidinous nature with what they believe women are seeking. They struggle to reconcile it with society’s demand that we be controlled and civilised and deep in their hearts a doubt exists: what if St Augustine was right and sexuality is incompatible with spirituality? After all how could something as wild and animal as male sexuality be holy?
Many men, myself included, growing up in the post feminist world, found ourselves throwing the baby out with the bathwater: rejecting both masculinity and maleness in order to reject patriarchy and machismo. We buried our masculinity in the easy but false persona of the soft “new man”. We learned to be receptive, went to yoga, got in touch with our feelings, ridiculed traditional male attitudes, became adept at changing nappies, fumbled earnestly among the confusing folds of the vulva to “give” our women orgasms ….. In a sense we tried to become women, or adopted what we perceived to be feminine values. We did quite well and in connecting with our inner feminine became more rounded beings. We also, by letting go of the controlling aspects of patriachy, enabled the journey of women into their fullness.
for the sacrifice
But overall it didn’t work of course, partly because men will always be second rate women, partly because there was no polarity, no Dragon-Tigress dance in our relationships, and partly because we were in simple denial of our maleness. So we became “Mr Nice Guy” on the outside while deep inside rage and frustration burned.
Robert Bly first observed the phenomenon of the “soft man” in the 1960s and 70s, recognizing the importance of men bringing forth their gentler more feminine side, but seeing the emptiness of men who got stuck there. Bly was writing in the 1980s. Where are we now in the second decade of the 21st century? Did Bly’s soft but troubled young men become the dispirited, confused middle aged men on the workshop?
Bucketing out the lake
And what is the way back to authentic masculinity for these men? Integrating the feminine is perhaps a first essential step, but there is more. Bly spoke of the need to rediscover the wild man, the deep masculine, the core of animal maleness that lies hidden beneath the murky waters of our social conditioning. The fairy tale Iron John tells the story of a young boy who, supported by the wild man makes his passage into full manhood . There is a process of transformation involved here. The boy fully connects with the wildman, but he does not stay in the forest. Calling on the power of the wild man as he needs it, his journey leads ultimately to the castle and Kingship.
Moore and Gillette see the path to mature masculinity as one of manifesting and integrating the full expression of King, Warrior, Magician and Lover. There are two aspects to this work. Firstly a transition from boy psyche to man psyche. For each of the mature male archetypes there is an immature precedent: Divine Child, Hero, Precocious Child and Oedipal Child. The modern western world, lacking the initiation rituals of traditional and tribal cultures, does not offer a clear pathway from boy to man. Many men therefore remain stuck in the boy psyche. (arrested development)
The second aspect of work is confronting and integrating the shadow. The destructive power of the shadow is there because we refuse to recognize it. Bly describes the shadow as an invisible bag into which we stuff all the parts of ourself we are ashamed of, afraid of, and have been taught are unacceptable. If we are going to be whole men we need to open the bag and take ownership of its contents. When we can see and accept ourselves as being light and shadow, we will find great energy and potential.
A guru is like a flashlight shining a light on darkness for inspection and transformation. To remove fear by bringing light and understanding to the “dark”.
The way forward for men is indeed some kind of re-initiation into the mysteries and magnificence of the masculine. I do not believe such a passage can be achieved just by going to a weekend male initiation workshop. These workshops might serve as a catalyst but in truth initiation is not a one off thing. It is an unfolding, a process of exploration, discovery and becoming, that we live out in every moment of our lives.
One of the challenges is that it is not sufficient to step into a ready made suit of masculinity. Shiva is in fact of no more use to us as a model than John Wayne. Each man must look deep into his own heart and find his own fire, meet himself as the man he is.
So, there is work to be done and it’s work that men might shy of. It is so much easier just to run to the skirt tails of the feminine, the Great Mother, and beg for her blessing and grace, than to go walkabout in the outback of our own soul. So many men want to be be Shiva, but until they know and love themselves as Pan, or Priapus or the Green Man, or hairy scary Iron John, they haven’t a hope. So many men want the Holy Grail, but are scared to undertake the long quest that led Parsifal to that prize.
There is work to be done- Men’s work- at times hard, bitter work. Iron John lies at the bottom of a lake and the hunter has to bucket the water out by hand to get to him. But have no fear, Iron John is there hidden the mud. He is programmed into our DNA. He is at the heart of who we truly are as men. We can find him, as Bly does, by evoking traditional myths and stories about him that speak directly to our unconscious. We may find him too in shamanic journeywork, drawing on our personal collection of symbols and images. We may find him in dance and music, particularly shared with other men. We may find him too if we spend time in nature, in wilderness, where mountain and river, forest and plain speak to the deeper, more primal layers of our inner being.
To embody the King within us, we need to look beyond the mundane goals of our career and hobbies and and discover that our deep life purpose has little to do with our needs and wants, and everything to do with what we can give and how we can bless. King energy is Father energy, God energy, and there is deep work here to reconnect with the father and let go of the “father hunger” that causes us to be lost and directionless.
To embody the Warrior, we need to stop glorifying him as the Hero. He is the most edgy of the archetypes because here we embrace our capacity for violence. We embrace this side of ourselves knowing that history has made it a basic part of who we are. We need the Warrior’s fierce animal power and his raw courage. However we should not lose sight of the reality that war is more gory than glory. Sam Keen in Fire in the Belly- On Being a Man expresses clearly the paradox that men are violent, not in essence, but because generations of warfare have brutalised us…. and yet deep inside us, when the blood rises, so does the primal energy of the fighter.
So does Paul Simon:
In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of every glove that knocked him down and cut him
Til he cried out in his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving
But the fighter still remains
The Magician is a comfortable place for most men. We love knowledge. We love skill. We can so easily lose ourselves in abstractions, concepts, schemes and theories. We want a road map, we want tools, we want techniques, we want solutions. Ultimately we want the power of turning nature to our will. We need the Magician’s awareness, insight and detachment but we need to be careful of his tendency to get caught up in webs of conceit. The Magician can easily become so delighted with the map that he forgets the territory. We need him to go deeper. To know things directly and see into the heart of things.
The Lover is that part of us where we feel, where we connect. According to Moore and Gillette the lover:
is the primary energy pattern of what we would call aliveness, vividness or passion. It lives through the great primal hungers of our species for sex, food, wellbeing, reproduction, creative adaptation to life’s hardships, and ultimately a sense of meaning….. The Lover is the archetype of play and of “display” of healthy embodiment, of being in the world of sensual pleasure and in one’s body without shame. Thus the lover is deeply sensual and sensually aware and sensitive to the physical world in all its splendour…….The man under the influence of the lover wants to touch and be touched. He wants to touch everything physically and emotionally and he wants to be touched by everything….
To meet the Feminine is her fullness, a man must integrate his wild man, his King ,Warrior and Magician but the Lover is crucial. To embody the Lover , the mature expression of the Lover in his fullness, not its boyhood expression of the Oedipal Child, not its shadow in the Addict and the Impotent, is to reclaim sensuality, sensitivity, aliveness, vividness and passion as core aspects of the masculine rather than project them onto the feminine.