spirituality

Masculinity & Soul

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.  

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The necessary embodiment of men.

I'm not a man and I'm not in the body of a man. But I do love men and observe them closely. 

I've studied men, and, for reasons only my Soul knows (in other words, I'm not aware of all of them yet), I am here to be of service to men. (And women. And everyone in between. Of course.) 

But men, and white male men, are suffering. They are. I happen to be born a woman amongst mostly white middle class men. It is said that these men are the most privileged, the ones with the most power. However, 7 out of 10 suicides in the US are committed by white males, mostly middle aged. 

So, we're not getting it right. And here I find myself, advocating for the group that is supposedly the most privileged and the least wanting... because who is going to advocate for supposedly privileged white men? It's not emotionally safe for white men to advocate for themselves most of the time. If they do, can you imagine the backlash?

"You're the most privileged and yet you want more. Oh POOR you." For example. 

When #metoo was happening, and a male friend was adamant that men should be included in that movement, himself having experienced sexual abuse at the hands of his father, I insisted he was wrong to say that men were being left out of that movement. Yes, be acknowledged, be uplifted, but not immediately upon a women's movement. My thinking at the time was that we needed to allow women to have that movement.

Maybe I was wrong. Because when are white men going to get a movement? 

Right. They're not. 

I love men and I have NOT had an easy life with men. I want to make that clear. I am not daddy's girl. That man is a blessing in my life but he's not easy. I have an ex-husband. After I got divorced, which was really something I felt needed to happen as I was walking back into reclaiming what had been lost of my own feminine and soulful nature, I spent a year alone. I was so traumatized in my body from a lifetime of held trauma, anxiety, nervousness, and lack of esteem that I went to Hakomi (somatic) therapy every week. 

A year later, an old friend of mine saw how tattered I still was, and he extended to me that if I needed a safe space to "come back," he would be that. You could laugh at this - see it as a man saying he was willing to get laid - or you could see the healing gesture in this. That's what it was. I said yes, and through the way that man puts his hands on my body, meanwhile also of course holding a safe emotional space, I was able to realize safety in ways that my traumatized and fragile self never had. 

Over the course of a year with him, in the hands of a man, I was able to heal. 

I really want both men and women to hear me say this. When I opened to a man, who was present to my process, I learned a greater depth of me. So often we stay separated from other humans and true trust based on our previous traumas - and this happens even if we're married and functionally having sex with someone for years! True leaning in is another story. 

Fast forward years later and here I am advocating for men. Why? 

The suicide rates. Men tell me that they think of suicide more often than most people going about their ho-hum lives ever know that men are considering. 

And I could go on about a million other ways that men are suffering, but today, this one really hit me: 

Being someone who has personally learned that my body is central to my healing, as someone who can say #metoo and has a trauma history that made it difficult for me to be comfortable in my body for a long time, I don't think that we have made it safe for men to be in men's bodies either.

Generally speaking, we haven't made it safe for men to have wants, urges, anger, emotions, rage, sexual desires, silence, voice, or to utilize their own bodies in ways that express all of the above. I wonder what men have to say about this. 

I was getting all of these Facebook requests over the last few months from men wishing me "love and light" and I started asking myself what in the world was going on. I do embodiment work and shadow work. I do deep archetypal work with men and hold space for them to explore their Sovereignty and masculinity. We don't find the archetypal masculine through love and light, so what is going on? 

Oh. 

Because we don't have healthy cultural rites of passage for men, or elders who understand true masculinity to teach our younger boys, and because we have a culture that doesn't build men up but then tears them down for being who they are, it's not safe to be a man. It's not safe to be in a man's body. It's not safe to have wants and needs like those listed above (sex, rage, voice or no voice, etc). 

I spent the last year in a relationship with a strong man. He looked like a Warrior. He was a Lover. He loved the mystery of the Magician. He desired the King. Our souls danced. Our bodies were like magnets in ways that I never knew bodies could be. We explored the depths of eros. And then, it got too real. (My words.) It got too real. There wasn't safety in eros, he seemed to realize. There wasn't predictability, and to stay with me would have been to allow himself into uncharted territory, and sometimes uncharted feels unsafe. And in his 48 years on this planet, he had set up a lot of safety. 

He desired physicality. He desired the embodiment we experienced. I will say that in our relationship, embodiment was central. Being in the body was required and incredibly joyful. And yet it seemed to be too real, too much proof of something he couldn't turn himself fully over to, because to do so would have meant getting in touch with deeper parts of himself. I think the relationship was too much of an invitation for him to lose control, and loss of control felt unsafe. And in the end, he shut himself off to it, finally saying to me, "I choose to be a simple man of God." 

And so I experienced this retreat, from safety found in the body, back to the safety and predictability of God, of "love and light" over human connection. And I'm no wild woman, so really what was offered in that relationship was simply Real. 

I believe that culturally, we haven't made it acceptable for men to lose control, to be fully sensual, to want what they want, to know their bodies, to not fear their own desires. We haven't made it safe for men to express themselves, be angry, or simply want to get fucked, without also being a culture that shames men, tells them to put away their desires, and have it safely all under predictable control. 

For example, my son is nine, and for years, his impulse is to play and pounce, and for years, he's been told to keep his hands to himself. It starts young. 

And so instead we have a culture of men who take refuge in some god or spiritual practice, and we have a culture of high suicide rates among men. Or they turn to alcohol, or porn, or gaming, or other means of shutting themselves down. Surely, spirituality is preferred to all of the latter, and I still advocate that we look at the escapism inherent in all of it. 

I want to invite men back into their bodies. Back into their truth. I believe in you. We need you, strong and embodied. Our boys need you to show them a new way. When you are embodied, you can access your truth, feel more resilient even while vulnerable, you can access these archetypes if you choose, and you know better how you want to conduct your whole self in the world. When you're embodied, you don't just want to fuck, you want to feel. 

What could this look like for you? When do you feel strongest in your body? Is there a race you can train for, or a pick up sport you can join? How can you get into your body every day? I believe that there is possibility there. 

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