“Man is born free and yet everywhere, he is in chains”- Rousseau.
As men, many of us are socialized to serve and maintain collective structures such as family, organizations and social institutions that all have a life of their own but require the repeated sacrifice of the individual to sustain them. When men stumble into my office (often out of desperation, unsure of where else to turn), stumped by the disintegration of their best efforts with regards to work, love and family, they resemble lost, angry and confused children. We have been conditioned to donate the most vital parts of our lives to these institutions and I suppose in some ways, that is why humanity has ‘flourished’ on the planet, but career, producing children, having the generic dream of two cars in the garage and a chicken in every pot is all illusion compared with that one thing, that our lives are meaningful. Without meaning, we sustain the most grievous of wounds to the soul- a life without depth. There seems to be a terrible, invisible virus in the lives of modern men, a discrepancy between our role expectations and the needs of our souls.
On average, men die eight years before women as a result of stress and the toxic addictions we use to soothe ourselves. We are four times more likely to be substance abusers and also four times more likely to take our own lives.
We do not live by bread alone. We need more in our lives to feel alive. In ‘The wounding and healing of men’, Hollis outlines steps to healing that may offer you at least a fragment of the map towards a life that matters-to you.
1 Remember and forgive the father
Many of our fathers were more wounded than we can imagine, with few alternatives or emotional permission to be themselves, they were unspeakably lonely. For such men we must grieve. Grief is honest. It values what was lost, or was never there.
The wounded son will wound his son if he does not cleanse himself and break the cycle. Each son must examine, without judgement, where his father’s wounds were passed on to him.
Some of those questions may be-
What were my father’s hopes and dreams?
Did my father live out his dreams?
What would I have liked to know from him about being a man?
What was my father’s unlived life, and am I living it out, somehow, for him?
2 Tell the secrets
Those of us in the healing professions know that wherever there is denial, the wound festers. Or, as the twelve step program puts it, what I resist, will persist. Many men’s lives are based on denial and resistance to the truth, that we are torn between fear and rage. And that in relationships (whether it be with our partners or our work), we are emotionally dependent on them but resentful of the object of that dependence.
Our mythology is full of heroic adventures- mountains climbed, wars fought, dragons defeated- but it takes even more courage for a man to speak his emotional truth to another.
Telling the truth of our soul to ourselves is the first task, living that truth is the second and telling it to others is the third.
3 Seek mentors and mentor others
I have noticed that it is men of greater emotional strength and core honesty who seek therapy. The others are too fearful. Therapy is but one way men can share the secrets about the task of being a man. It is often in therapy that they realize that they must heal themselves, that their partners cannot. Then they cry and rage, and admit the fear. When these things happen, healing begins. Most men will not enter therapy of course. Yet they can still turn to other men and pass on what they have learned, or learn from others. A mentor is one who has visited the other side and can tell us something of what it’s like to be there.
4 Heal thyself
Do not let yourself live a sham, someone else’s sense of what your life should be about instead of your own. The crux of our lives as men, whatever your age or situation, is to pull out of our automatic behaviours and attitudes, to radically reexamine our lives and to risk living out our thunderous imperatives of our souls.
Empowerment means that one feels good energy for the tasks of life. one feels the permission to dive into life and struggle for depth and meaning. one feels that there are resources within to draw upon when the forces of darkness are nigh.
A man must ask himself:
What fears block me? What tasks do I in my heart of hearts, know I must undertake? What is my life calling me to do? Can I bring my work and my soul closer together? How can I serve both individuation and relationship?
Being a man means knowing what you want and then mobilizing the inner resources to achieve it.
5 Recover the soul’s journey (The Godseed)
Most of us are still reluctant to examine our lives in case we are then called to change, and change always brings anxiety. But when one realizes that the anxiety accompanying change is preferable to the depression and rage occasioned by limiting ourselves, change becomes more attractive.
What is the point of just working hard and feeling broken? Why else are we here on this spinning blue planet, if not to try to know ourselves? Men have stopped asking the right questions and so begin to suffer soul-sickness.
“Traveller, you have come a long way led by that peculiar star. But what you seek is at the other end of the night. May you fare well, companero, let us journey together joyfully. Living on catastrophe, eating the pure light.” -McGrath- Epitaph.