Men, Soul Work, and Service
Men carry a lot of grief and shame underneath our heroic exteriors. We’re socialized to deny and repress it, and even to criticize other men who let it show, leading us to carry on like wounded soldiers. Our sense of failure can actually be our greatest ally in transformation, allowing us to painfully shed an old self and walk around without our armor, so that a renewed and authentic man can emerge. This is a critical time for men to do our inner work, to stop projecting our shadow on others, to take ownership of and befriend our own grief, anger, fear, sadness, and hopelessness. A time to listen to our own soul, heal ourselves, and reclaim our wild beauty.
Men also feel the hero’s call to witness and serve a higher purpose, for the sake of the whole community. There was a time–perhaps the last was during WWII– when fighting and triumphing over an enemy was the clearest expression of this path. (Even then, however, men denied their pain after the war was over–there was no recognition of the need to heal from that fighting.) For many men, the question continues to arise: how to live a life of meaning and deep value in these times?
We have to ask, what kind of service and leadership is demanded of us now as men? There may be something to learn from indigenous communities in this regard. A few years ago, our friend, the Shoshone elder Corbin Harney, spoke at a breakfast gathering of people from our organization and others from an anti-nuclear coalition he’d helped create. He said that in the Shoshone tradition, women–who brought life into this world and were closer to its source–would make decisions about the tribe’s survival, while men stood with all their strength behind those decisions. He suggested that women needed to step into leadership roles now, and men needed to give their strength and support to this effort, so that a concern for all life, and for the Creation, could be a guiding vision once again. So here men’s leadership takes a turn, instead of standing out front, our first call is to stand back and offer our strength. This makes room for a diversity of voices to be heard–women’s, LGBTQ, and indigenous voices, the voices of people of color, and those of other species that share our fragile ecosystems. It also enlarges our sense of “community,” giving us time to consider how best to offer our gifts. We may also discover that our male conditioning has locked us into competition vs. cooperation, which takes us back to the shame and fear we’ve been carrying around, and the need to heal ourselves.
In this spirit, I invite men to join us on the Men’s Wilderness Quest in Colorado, held every year in June. This is a ceremony to shed an old skin that no longer serves, to heal ancient wounds, and to return to the world bearing real gifts of the masculine soul. If you’re hearing the call, let us know.
Mike Bodkin, Executive Director