On Being a Man

by Simon Goland, April 24, 2016

hero's journey-1I am in the middle of a weekend workshop, which is a part of a 5-months Conscious Leadership Immersion program. We just finished a deep process, and the debrief that followed, evoked high energy, triggers, and engaging reactions with some (or most, I think) of the participants. Deep processes tend to stir things up.

It definitely activated enough energy within me, to the extent that I had to physically remove myself to another room (my beloved followed, because she saw me and knew I was going through something). Stay with the anger that I feel is rising within my chest. I don’t know what it is, yet I feel it. Strong energy pulsing through me, carrying a message I can’t understand. I need to move. I need to shake it and find a way to let it out, yet it is not coming. I don’t know what it is about, yet I feel it swirling within my chest and stomach. This anger is angry. I keep shaking my body, yet it is not enough. More push is needed. More resistance to apply myself against, to tap into the anger, to evoke it, to crank up the volume on it until I can hear and feel its message. What are you telling me? I face the corner of the room, put my hands on the walls, and push. Hard. With voice and sound and energy rising in my throat. There it is. Rising. Raising its voice. Delivering the message that has been locked within me for such a long time.

Deep breath. I feel and hear it. The old patterns of shut down emotions that were never allowed to be expressed. And then the tears come. And then I am curled on a couch, in a fetal position, a 5 years old perhaps, with my beloved hugging me.

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate. – Carl Jung

An interesting theme it is, “being a man.” What does it mean? Who decides? Our parents? Society? Friends? Any other social groups we belong to, which range from religious groups, to military, to workplaces, to sports teams, to gangs, to workplaces, to relationships, to parenthood, to… you name it. Each has its meaning, explicit or not, as to what does it mean to “be a man” in our times, with plenty of expectations and demands. Be strong. Be vulnerable. Be a good provider. Be present with me. Can you fix it? Can you just listen? Be independent and reliable. Here is how and when you need to do it.

What did I learn about it when I was growing up?

From observing my father, I learned that expressing anger is a really bad idea. REALLY. It was completely irresponsible, instantaneous, unjustifiable, without any apology offered. Ever. Because I didn’t want to be like him, I learned to stifle and suppress it. Used to feel a lot of pride, pretending to be cool, calm, and collected. Used to use my strong will to numb these emotions out. These days, I am still working through those inner blocks and barriers, learning to embrace, express, and harness the power of my anger. My mother raised the bar, by scolding me pretty much any time I expressed any emotion, and especially sadness or tears.

Then there was the Israeli Army, followed by a career in computer engineering, none of which added to my inner knowing or any emotional awareness and literacy. Not only such upbringing and life experiences created a very limited and suppressed existence (articulated beautifully in the movie The Mask You Live In), it also created a strong dissonance within me. Intimate primary relationships is where it showed up the most. There would be times when I would want to meet and match my partner in the same deep, emotional, and vulnerable space, yet would not even know how, or where to start. At the same time, I would feel the pressure to open up, dive deep, and be vulnerable, oftentimes at her pace and level of awareness.

One of the problems for me was a lack of role models. As I think about it, for more than two thirds of my life, I really didn’t know any man who would embody this intricate balance of strength and vulnerability. There was a lot of one, and very little of the other. Never within the same person.

The hero’s journey – the last step on the evolution of boy psychology – finally takes the boy into the realms of the man. This, however, often comes at great cost, and is often preceded by a time of existential crisis, what Robert Bly refers to as «ashes work». In the legends, the story always ends when the hero returns having slain the dragon, rescued the princess, and received the kingdom as reward. It doesn’t describe the enormous difficulty the hero has settling into his adult responsibilities as king, and doesn’t investigate his ability to stay faithful to his new queen, or his inclination to throw it all away – all those nasty responsibilities – to ride into the world on his trusty stallion once more.

Eventually, it started changing, and I have had much support along the way, that last third of life – friends, my beloved, Tobi, and Mankind Project, all helped me learn to increase my awareness of my emotional landscape and the ability to own and express what is going for me in the moment. I am eternally grateful for them all. The anger that I connected with on that weekend workshop was partially mine, and also perhaps partially universal, feeling the blend of pain, sadness, and desire of many other men to dive deeper into this work and not knowing the way. What I do know is that we all have our own pace, and it would do us all well to allow each man, each person, to do it at the pace that works for them. As long as we do.