Number 166-167 - January-February 2016
In this issue:
Out of Our Heads
Hot Links The Men Issue; Softboys; Sexiest Words
Out of Our Heads
My friend Leo Horrigan has been attending an annual men's gathering (The Men's Wisdom Council) for many years - first as a participant and then on the staff of facilitators. Ten years ago, before he began his staff position, he described his experience in his essay "When Does a Retreat Feel Like a Victory?" (Click on the title to go there. Some references of time and place are out of date; we no longer meet at Rowe, for instance.)
At one point in Leo's essay, he admits that words are inadequate to describe the experience:
[N]o matter what I write about my experiences at the Men's Wisdom Council, I could never really do justice to the experience. For me, it is much too profound an event to be translated into mere words. Each retreat is unique and full of surprises. Whoever happens to show up in a particular year - and the chemistry among them all - creates the event. You couldn't pre-package it if you tried.
Sometimes the event gets very spiritual for me, even blissful. Other times it is like revisiting a summer boys' camp that I never visited in the first place - everybody acting like a bunch of giddy kids. Parts of it can be a little scary, I'll admit. For me, exploring deep emotions can be the most frightening thing imaginable. But, I always come away feeling like the payoff was well worth the emotional investment.
He does, however, have a way with words:
It is rare in this society that men have a chance to spend an extended amount of time together, doing anything other than work - or what we call "work" in the mainstream. What happens at these retreats is actually referred to as "men's work," and believe me, at the end of a retreat day I usually feel some sense of elation but also feel like I have gotten a workout, whether it be emotional, mental, physical, or some fine blend of these. . . .
You get the sense that each man is experiencing the week in a different way. That's part of the wonder of it. Yet, there are moments when these 25 or 30 men seem like parts of one great organism, totally in sync with each other. The circle of men seems to honor the individual while also reminding each man of his place in the larger world.
Now Leo, and his friend Allen Moore, a professional documentarian, have gone beyond the printed page to create a film about the Wisdom Council experience, bringing it to a wider audience. Part of that effort is a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for finish work and promotion.
Here's how Leo describes the project:
Four years ago, my friend Allen Moore and I set out to make a film that would reveal to the world a powerful phenomenon we'd experienced first-hand called, simply, "men's work." We believed that if many more men knew about this work, many more would seek out its healing power. But, explaining men's work with only words is a daunting task.
That's where the medium of film came in. It was better to show people what men's work looks like than to describe it.
We know of no other documentary film that offers such an intimate portrait of a male community in action as does Out of Our Heads: A Male Journey into the Heart. We thank the men who courageously let us into this deeply emotional process.
Allen and I believed so much in this film project that we decided almost from the get-go to donate whatever labor we poured into it.
Four years later, we are on the cusp of releasing this film - so close we can already feel the impact of it. But, we need help paying for some of the film's finishing work, and its promotion.
That's where you come in. Please consider helping us get over this final hump by donating to our Kickstarter campaign, and spreading the word about it to your social networks.
Whatever money you contribute to this project will be well-spent, and the return on investment will be every man who discovers men's work through this film and has his life enriched by it. By extension, his loved ones' lives will be enriched, too.
I attended the retreat that Allen and his crew filmed, and Leo was on staff. Also, Allen is not only the creator of the film, he has become a regular participant in the Wisdom Council.
If you believe that the world needs more of the kinds of men Allen has documented, please invest in the film's promotion through Kickstarter. The campaign ends February 18 or 19, so don't procrastinate.
It's the turning of the year (well, I'm a couple weeks late), and a good time to reflect on the past and make plans for the future.
Reflection can often lead to twinges of regret, with thoughts like "Why didn't I do more of this? Why didn't I do less of that? Why was I mean to this (those) person (persons)? Why did I waste so much time - mine and other people's? Why did I let others steal my time?"
And then twinges become obsessions, and we add past regrets beyond just this past year. Every once in a while - the 3:00 a.m. mental-carousel crapfest, a random thought during the day, remembering the name of a childhood friend - things come seeping like smoke into our consciousness, casting a gray pallor over our mood. All of a sudden we become a Bad Human Being. We accuse ourselves, asking something like: "Why have I so badly lacked attention, good intentions, compassion, and diligence in getting on with life?"
But it occurred to me recently (some 7 decades into the trip) that regret may not be such a bad thing after all.
Pangs of regret, or wallowing in regret, plunge us into a past we have no power to change but sometimes have little power to escape. When that past is brought into our present, we deprive ourselves of paying attention to potential joys the present offers us.
Just saying that the past is the past and we can't change it doesn't make regret go away. We'd somehow have to alter our memories. That's possible, short-term, with drugs or booze, but not optimal: we're just buying more regret for later on.
I've been thinking about my regrets - for things I've done or said or believed - in the recent past and many decades ago. Happy New Year.
But I'm also coming to a different way of looking at my regrets, and at myself.
I'm the same person now that I was when I did regrettable things. I'm also not the same person now that I was when I did regrettable things.
Huh? Let me explain.
We have this sense of continuity in the concept we call our self. Without it, we'd probably have a diagnosable mental disorder. But the person we are at this instant is not the same person we were when we believed in Santa Claus, started kindergarten, or had our first kiss, or ate sushi for the first time - or any other time prior to right now. And we are not the same person we were in the past when we insulted that colleague, cheated on an exam, stole gum from the superette, and so on. We, right now, are the result of all those things (plus many other factors like heredity and geography, and so on).
So I think about the things I regret having done, which I do, or would do, differently now. I've grown; I've changed. Maybe the regret itself triggered the change, maybe I've just grown up a bit.
Forgiving myself for past deeds can be a powerful ingredient in my happiness. Without regret, I'd have nothing to forgive.
Regret is still a bummer. But if I've paid attention to it, and the intervening years, including my regrets, have led to more attention, intention, compassion, and diligence, I can consider it an ally and not an enemy. Then the obsession becomes an occasional twinge.
The Men Issue
Matter is an on-line magazine, part of a much larger and diverse website called Medium.
A recent Matter had to do with "The Men Issue": a series of essays about men (by both men and women). Topics included the nature of consent in sexual encounters, misogyny, e-mail etiquette, sexual assault on men, being second-best in a partnership, beauty, gay sex, and men's fear of disclosing personal issues to other men.
Most of the essays had valid points to make and seem to be well-thought-out and reasonably presented. But we guys generally don't get away with looking good. Even some of the male-authored essays had a load of mea-culpa breast-beating. It's not that the essays are overtly biased; they just seem a bit one-sided.
Nevertheless, "The Men Issue" is worth reading for thought-provoking takes on what some people are thinking about men and women and their relationships in this society.
If Robert Bly didn't invent the term "soft male," he certainly made it part of the currency doled out by "men's movement" gurus talking about the lack of a "warrior spirit" and about the perpetual boy-ness and immaturity of modern men arising from absent fathers and from lack of ritual initiation. The psychological term "puer aeternus" gave a bit of gravitas to the accusation. These passive, "sensitive men" seemed to be preferred by women, particularly of the anti-patriarchy kind. It turned out that, in the long run, many (most?) women preferred guys who were more assertive. Assertive but not abusive.
That notion dates from at least the early 1990s, after Bly's Iron John was published.
Now comes an essay in Thought Catalog about the essential misogyny of sensitive men: "Softboys Are Just Assholes in Disguise."
The crux of Melissa Kullman's essay is this (emphasis mine):
The softboy is problematic - dangerous, even. He was born in response to what women want, which leads me to assume that his motive is to be liked by women. And what do women do when they like a guy? Have sex with him. (No, not all the time, but like, a lot of the time.) Yes, thatís what Iím saying - the softboy is being nice to you because he wants to have sex with you, same as the badboy asshole. At least the bad boy was honest.
Why is this dangerous? Because the softboy is acting. He is emotionally available and sensitive for the sole purpose of fucking you.
"At least the bad boy was honest."
Another Thought Catalog essayist, Brian Reeves, claims to know "The Sexiest Words a Man Can Say to a Woman."
Credit: Leo Hidalgo
He starts out:
"I love you." (nope)
"You look beautiful." (nope)
"Let's go shopping!" (depends how you say it, but still, no)
"How's your mother?" (no, this will just make her suspicious of you)
Those are all nice to say, and many women want to hear them from their partner; they like to feel cherished. But none of those by themselves will necessarily have her soften all warm-putty-like into your hairy masculine arms.
The three sexiest words I'm referring to speak to primal forces within both men and women. An archetypal trip wire, these eight letters strung together can trigger a man's spine to straighten and make a woman swoon.
I'm not going to tell you what the words are. Try to think of your own before clicking on the link!