I had the pleasure of going to hear Michael Meade speak a few nights ago when he visited Asheville, NC. Mr. Meade speaks on the topic of the human soul like no other, in my opinion, and if you haven’t listened to it, his weekly podcast called Living Myth is exceptional.
While sitting in the audience, listening to him talk about the need for us to be willing to acknowledge our emotions in order to access our soul, my curiosities wandered to how this impacts men and masculinity in the current cultural context.
The language of soul is not especially mainstream, though Meade and others - I’d count myself among them - do our best to bring this concept and language to the forefront in our work. Carl Jung was of course the pioneer of this inquiry of soul.
What the soul is is not easily defined. James Hillman said, “soul is a deliberately ambiguous concept.” It is a mysteries realm that, to me, involves the depth of a human, the psychological history and what is both conscious and unconscious. The soul is what makes us ourselves, what beckons us forward, what allows us to deeply feel and interact with life.
The intellect alone can’t touch the soul. Living solely in the body can’t touch the soul. The soul is accessed only through the conscious interaction of mind, body, emotions and spirit, as I see it. When we don’t integrate all of these aspects into our lives, as many people do not, there can be what is called “soul loss.”
The soul wants us to reach our potential - not the kind of potential we reach when we get an MBA, but the kind of potential to be who we really are as an integrated person. What do you care about? What wakes you up at night? What is the deeper calling that you’ve always had but didn’t follow? What kind of love do you really want to experience? These questions point to what the soul is really wanting from us. Too many people simply ignore that inner voice and persist forward in intellectual or career pursuits, hoping for fulfillment but likely not authentically finding it. Ignoring that voice can have significant effects.
Symptoms of soul loss include feeling lost, feeling disconnected, isolating yourself from others, feeling as though you don’t have a purpose on earth or wanting a purpose but unable to define it, you have difficulty identifying what is positive, you have low self esteem, you picked up defensive behaviors after a traumatic event, you check out with mind-numbing behaviors, you feel unworthy and unappreciated, and daily life is task-driven and mundane.
Is anyone else reading that list and also making the connection to common conditions in modern men? If you didn’t get that on the first take, go back and reread that last paragraph and ask yourself if these are also common difficulties of modern men. In no way am I making a case that this is a problem unique only to men, but I am saying that there are almost certainly correlations between soul loss and the pressures, problems, and stigmas associated with modern masculinity and men.
Perhaps it is a bold claim, but it’s one I’m willing to make. As a woman, I have been studying men through the soul lens for a long time. I am a deep soul searcher, and in my close relationships with men, both professional and personal, there inevitably comes a time when there is a question of soul. A deeper opportunity, if you will, to step into the more vulnerable sphere of the soul and to claim hidden aspects of self. And time and time again, I have witnessed men denying this invitation, even if they so desperately want what their soul is showing them. A man can want to be a more connected leader, for example, but when the opportunity is before him will require him to lead with greater vulnerability, does he take it?
When I see a man deny the invitation to go vulnerably in the direction of his own soul, I see it as having abandoned himself, and I feel absolutely heartbroken. Every man that I have ever seen falter, in my judgement, it was due to a denial of his own soul. And when this happens, we can not feel him - the authentic him. He goes on upholding his ideas of how he must behave in order to maintain his authority, for example, and personal connection is often lost.
On the other hand, when I see a man accept this invitation, that is where I actually have increased hope for humanity and masculinity. It is that important. This is the space in which we can connect, problem solve together, lead with compassion, and understand one another authentically.
To come to know the soul is a process that requires a continual acknowledgement of one’s own vulnerability, and of the shadow, or the unconscious. Men’s groups like The ManKind Project incorporate shadow work into their initiatory experiences for men which bring glimpses into the wide world of the unconscious, and this is so important in order that modern men have the opportunity to acknowledge the masks they’ve been wearing and that they engage in ongoing personal inquiry of this inner realm.
Accessing the soul requires an acknowledgement that imperfections exist, that all the bravado in the world will not, in the end, save you. The Hero’s Journey itself is an invitation into the soul, into the inner realm through facing challenge and overcoming obstacles. If the obstacles are always on the outside and a man learns to succeed and function in the world by conquering them externally, his Warrior essence is essentially false as he has not met the obstacles within. He will defeat under any challenge that tests his soul strength.
Meeting those obstacles internally is essential for our authentic existence - each of us individually but also collectively. I wholeheartedly believe this, and I would encourage all of us, regardless of gender, to get a little closer to the nudging, authentic voice of our soul today. When we do, we have access to our own inner truth, and we can lay down a lot of the facade that most people carry.
As a woman, I do not want a false bravado or mask presented to me when I talk with a man. I want to see his soul, and I want to know that he knows himself in that space. So many men are afraid of their own soul as they focus their attention outward to pleasing others. It is my goal to offer, both personally and professionally, opportunities for accessing the soul as a point of strength.
Michael Meade is a storyteller and collects ancient myths from around the world and then tells them while he also plays a drum. He told a story from China on the stage, and he asked us when he was finished, “What was the part that was the most significant to you?” He said that the part of the story that impacted us the most was the most important part to our own soul and how we live in the world.
The line that stood out to me, without question, was, “I will not let you abandon your own self.”
Dear men, that is how I feel about you. I will not let you, whenever possible, abandon your soul. The world needs you, and your soul-infused masculinity, now. I believe in you, but more importantly than what you can accomplish or prove, I believe in your soul.