Three Metaphors for Consideration
Assume for a moment that we don't really see the world and our place in it clearly at all, but that our knowledge of the world is framed and limited by the language we use to describe where we are and what we are about. Assume also that no one way of seeing ourselves in the world seems sufficient; that a layering of sometimes overlapping descriptions provides for the present the best, though an occluded, view. In this light, let me present three metaphors describing how I see myself in the world, in the hope that they may strike a chord in you, or prompt you to say, "No, that's not it at all. Look, I've a better way of seeing which way to go." By holding these metaphors, or your own, up to that which underlies Promise Keeper thinking perhaps the strengths and weaknesses of that view will become evident.
Living as Travelling through an Ice Age
Sometimes I feel like one of my my ancestors long ago who crossed the frozen land bridge from Asia to come to this area. How many days, months, maybe even years he must have gone without seeing the sun during that ice age. How much snow, rain, and fog he must have endured. How wonderful the sun must have been. To me the present time seems like an ice age of the human spirit and I am looking for a new land, a new passage, with what seems like only occasional glimpses of the sun. I feel the ticking of the epoch ending. I know we must change and grow, but how? Which way should I go?
During that time long ago there was division of labor. Some stayed in camp and guarded, making sure the women and young were safe. They looked out for food and fuel against the winter. They passed on the traditions to the young: healing, sacred beliefs, codes of honor and behavior, dreams for the future of the people.
I see myself as joining those who ventured out, trying first one valley, then another, tracing out game trails to see which would lead where we hoped we wanted to go. We stood on ridges and peaks, and talking among ourselves, tried to decide which way was best for the tribe. We looked for signs -- an eagle flying off in a certain direction, perhaps.
When we came back to camp tremendous discussions took place. Heated discussions. The future of the people was at stake. Some opted to stay where they were; others to risk all and venture forth at once. We lived in the ying and yang of existence, in the tension between stability and the known on the one hand; instability and the possibly better on the other. Like those of us seeking change today, many of those travellers must have had a strong sense that things were not right, that changes needed to be made for the good of the group.
Our American culture and society today are sick. Addictions are rampant: alcohol, drugs, television, sex, sports, shopping, work. To dull, to keep distracted; anything is better than stopping and facing things as they are. Men are alienated from each other and from their sons. The young, acting out what has been modelled for them, grow increasingly violent.
This place makes it difficult for women to come into their own as equals. It's no place for most children to play safely and dream the good dreams of children. The Soviet "threat" is no more, yet arms sales by "civilized" powers enable ugly, ruthless civil wars. Rwandans hack each others' arms and heads with machetes by the hundreds of thousands while we change channels. We must do something different.
I applaud the Promise Keepers for acknowledging our alienation from each other, for working for reconciliation among men. I particularly applaud their reaching out to men of color. It is difficult for men to give up a desire for total alikeness in their group. And I applaud the Promise Keepers for providing support and encouragement for moral living. Many men today seek to be warriors without learning habits of personal self-discipline. Anarchy and rebelliousness mark the young man, not the powerful warrior.
Living as Preparing for Death
Another metaphor which describes how I choose to live my life is living as preparing for my own death. While the first metaphor was one of a journey through uncharted lands, this is one of work and growth; of learning the lessons one is in this life to learn. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her work on death and dying, points out that there are a variety of ways of responding to death. One person prepares for death by avoiding it, by refusing to accept the reality of it. This Kubler-Ross points out, is consistent with how that person lived life, that it was avoided too.
I want to turn to face life, to live it fully, learning and maturing during this lifetime so that when the end comes for me, I can turn to face it directly too. Thus means I must look within myself to find areas where I need to grow up, and, putting aside the notion I brought from my childhood that change happens instantaneously, like magic, I must daily work to become my best self. This means that I must surround myself with friends who will help me be my best.
And, as a man living in the current age enjoying the benefits of contemporary psychology, I have a duty to learn not to project my fears and anxieties on others. If I am afraid of my own anger, of showing it, I will be put off by anger on others. If I have not made friends with my own aggressive, dominating tendencies, I will likely put down or attack those who seek to dominate me or who I see behaving aggressively.
I knew I woman once who was afraid of being too wild or of having too much fun. She was afraid of that wild, fun-loving nature within her, so she worked to stifle it in me. Men! Wild, crazy, dangerous! Best kept under control. For a long time I believed her! So another part of growing up, for me, is learning skills of keeping my own wildness and richness of spirit intact, despite those who would have me faded and tamed, perchified.
Kubler-Ross describes a sense of beauty and peace which can come to people who are preparing for death. She describes it in a woman's terms: it's like you have put the children to bed, cleaned up the house, done the laundry and gotten everything ready for the next day. Everything has been attended to and there is a kind of peace at the end of the day in that.
For me I think of a time I ran the waterfront at a scout camp. At the end of the day I made sure that all the rowboats, canoes, and sailboats were ready for use the next day and were securely tied up, that if a storm came in the night we were as ready for it as possible, that my staff members were progressing well in their jobs. I felt a kind of peace at day's end. In this view, I want to work now so that at the end of my life I can look at my various relationships, efforts, and accomplishments and have that same sort of peace and satisfaction -- that I have dared everything I could during this lifetime to mature and do the work I feel I was placed here to do.
I hope Promise Keepers can help men as they work to become more mature. Maturity makes a man handsome in his own eyes and in the eyes of other men and women.
I learned a lesson about maturity in moral living from a National Public Radio series on the Ten Commandments. The discussion I heard was about "thou shalt not lie." A rabbi called in to say that he was enjoined from telling anyone the truth if they were not ready to hear that truth. In other words, don't use the admonition to tell the truth to blow others out of the water. Human connection and nurturance should take precedence over being right. Divorce courts are full. In some part this is because people haven't yet chosen to be happy and connected. Instead in choosing to be right, they avoid facing their fears of connectedness and intimacy.
Becoming morally simplistic or morally rigid or morally superior are things Promise Keepers will have to guard against. I wish I knew to do this without keeping an open mind, a warm heart, and working daily to become more mature.
Living as Following Your Bliss
"Follow your bliss," said Joseph Campbell. This view of what I as a man can be about is especially compelling as I enter the autumn of life. I've worked hard and long within the system, have made my contributions in the corporate world. Now I can turn to things more fulfilling: Dream big dreams and follow them. Travel the world looking for beauty, for God. Sing my songs, dance my dances, tell my tales. Be my fullest self.
As one who was overly disciplined while young, I'm still a young man at following my dreams and desires. One area I have explored is collecting stories and sharing them with others. This it something I find very fulfilling, yet often frustrating as I learn my craft. The stories lead me to a different view of the world, one in which I am not so central. This view is of a world filled with life and beauty, mystery and passion, and death. One story seems to lead to another, like following a trail of bread crumbs or pebbles through the forest. I learn, at some level of my being, from each one.
For one I have erected a totem pole. It is a piece of driftwood about eight feet long and six inches in diameter set about twelve feet off the ground. The piece is unusual because each end has a split in it which runs back about a foot and a half. As the splits dried they opened up like mouths. This looks to me like a two headed monster, a talisman for a northwest coast story about the monster who lives in the water. This monster lives in the dew on the grass, in the fog, in the ocean, in rivers, and streams. There is no escaping it. It comes for you at night.
It has large scales which click as it moves. Its breath smells terrible and it keeps coming for you. The more you run the more it chases you. The only thing to do as it gets closer and closer and closer is to turn and face it. Then you learn the monster is really looking for its other half and now, having found itself, will bother you no more.
I'm beginning to face my monster of the water. I hope Promise Keepers can help men face themselves, accept themselves, and embrace themselves so they may be free to follow their bliss. The story about the monster of the water leads me to another, one my wife and I experienced in Greece in 1992.
The ferry to Santorini dropped us off at 3:30 in the morning. It was dark and raining hard. The wind was fierce and ominous. We took the last taxi to the other side of the island where the driver dropped us off in the middle of town. Standing there Leanne and I wondered what to do. Everyone was asleep. No living thing was about; the dogs were silent.
Suddenly, out of the dark, an old man in an overcoat and hat appeared. Using a few words of English he persuaded us to go with him to a pension. He found us a room without waking the owner. The next day we met the owner, an older woman, who was wearing a kerchief and hanging out laundry on a whitewashed terrace. As I watched her she tied a dried fish to the top of a wall. I asked her why she did that. She said it was for the sun, to feed the sun.
We stayed in several places on that island, meeting people and enjoying ourselves. Once we wandered past some jewelry shops after closing hours. These jewelers served the predominantly German tourists from the cruise ships. As we window shopped, a shop owner invited us in to join a party, it turned out, celebrating the fortieth birthday of one of them, a gypsy woman who had been grieving the death of her husband for two years.
I asked one jeweler what happened on Santorini during World War II. He told me this story: the Germans made the men of Santorini work for them. They carried the German's provisions up the 600 steps from the old harbor. One man, trying to get food for his family, made a little slit in a bag of grain and let it slip into his trousers cuff as he climbed. The Germans shot him. A few days later a young woman lured a guard away from his post. The next morning he was found dead. Stabbed.
As that story and my experiences on Santorini mingled together I couldn't help wondering what happens to old resistance fighters. Perhaps I had met that young woman who lured the sentry away as the now old woman who wore a kerchief and placed a fish high on her whitewashed wall as an offering to the god of the sun. Perhaps the old man who took us to her, who did not awaken her, was a fellow resistance fighter. Or her lover. Maybe she had slept with the German and he had used the knife. Or, perhaps, she was a domineering old crone who bullied the old man into doing her bidding.
The jewelers were kind of disdainful of her. Was this because they were too young to understand that time, fifty years ago? Was it because those who kill are, in some way, forever ostracized? Was it because she had long ago dared to be her fullest, wildest self, and had never looked back? Had she followed her trail of bread crumbs through the forest until today she is even more fully alive and wild?
In a meditation I asked Eagle for help in finding my way. He came to me, standing at my left, with his back to the water. He said, come ride under my wing. After awhile he said, now come ride on top.
Regal Watson is a poet who lives in Seattle where he operates the Homeward Bound Writing Institute. (206) 932-0934.
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