WHERE THERE IS NO VISION MEN'S WORK WILL PERISH
My heart is troubled by what I perceive to be a lack of coherent vision in what we call the Men's Movement. While there are individual men and organizations whose work I respect and admire, we have not come together in the service of a shared dream. Every genuine historical movement for change has brought a critical consciousness to bear upon those personal and cultural realities which it engaged. The Men's Movement can be no exception. To be worthy of the status of a "movement," Men's Work must embrace three essential territories: the realms of Healing, Community and Justice. If we are not simultaneously involved in these three levels of transformation, our work is at best a "cult" worthy of caricature, and at worst an "occult" New Age phenomenon. What do I mean by this?
The wounds to the soul are deep and take a long, long time to heal. The quest for personal healing is what initially drew me and many others into Men's Work. Such healing remains the inner foundation upon which all other activity rests. Our journeys will always continue their spiraling pathways, taking us through the labyrinth of the human potential in all of its magic and misery. This territory is vast and profound, touching upon psychic depths, diverse spiritual traditions, poetry, mythology, archetypal structures of the Self, ritual, drumming, dreams and ancient stories, recovery from addiction and abuse, shadow encounters, inner child work, dysfunctional family explorations, father/mother/son issues, male-female mysteries, mind-body synchronicities, shamanic styles of divination, and so on, and so on, and so on.... It is easy to become lost in initiatory space and time. At what point in the transformation process do we begin to wonder...what lies beyond my healing, my pain, my growth?
The central question in Arthurian mythology was "Whom Does the Grail Serve?" Until this question was asked the wounded King remained ill and the realm remained a Wasteland. The critical question for us must now become "Whom Does Men's Work Serve?" Are we also moving into the trenches of collective suffering, alienation, and oppression? Are we sharing our gold? Are we engaging the evils of injustice? Are we psychopomps or psychopimps? Jalil Bottom, one of the men in our Prison Council Project asks, "As those in the Men's Movement heal their personal wounds of spiritual and mental anguish, will they also be able to heal a nation whose cancerous past is founded on slavery, genocide, and war?" The healing journey separated from service becomes narcissistic, myopic and merely masturbatory.
As we extend personal healing into service and working with others, our diverse voices and agendas must communicate across rigid boundaries or there is no real "community of men." No man is an island. Functioning in isolation from each other, we risk creative impotence and have no collective impact or power. I am not interested in building community with anyone who wants to be an alpha wolf or a star. I honor those men who empower others through their teachings and example, but am appalled when ego and ideological conflicts sabotage support between the various "tribes," leaders, and individuals involved in Men's Work. Are we regressively repeating the pathology of the infamous "patriarchy" in our relationships? Are we evolving and embodying a new and liberating vision of masculinity--or not? Are we real or is this all rhetorical bullshit?
Will Men's Work mature into a movement that hungers for Justice? In considering this question I offer three images for us to contemplate--those of milk, blood and semen. Milk is associated with maternal comfort, nurture and safety...the food of the child. If we stop at this point all we have is a "Boys Movement." Blood is a symbol of the soul in its passionate and heroic striving towards full expression of the life force. The danger of this initiatory stage is that of the dog chasing its own tail, or of one becoming a sacred space cadet whose mysticism is devoid of social conscience. Semen bespeaks life-giving generativity and fertility...a return from the private quest of the flying boy prince to a mission of public responsibility and accountability. I'm thinking of the man whose heart is erect with devotion and whose focus is the creation of a world where peace with justice reigns. Justice has many faces, calling us into struggles around issues of class, race, gender, sexual orientation, multiculturalism, environmental preservation, civil rights, and human dignity. Where do you feel called to offer yourself and your leadership, to make a difference, to take a stand? For me the hunger for Justice is inspired by the Divine Spirit and fueled by the mythic images of the Sacred King and the Rainbow Warrior. These symbols energize my soul and help me overcome passivity. They have become part of my vocabulary in working with homeless and imprisoned men. I want to see us challenge each other as to the appropriate language of liberation as we bring the waters of life to the polluted mainstream of modern culture. More importantly, I want to see us move beyond semantics altogether into the stewardship of power for the common good.
Will we move from milk through blood to semen in our Men's Work? Will we be of service in bringing forth Healing, Community and Justice? I don't know. I know only that where there is no vision Men's Work will perish. My hope and prayer is that we will work individually and together to see this isn't so.
Harris Breiman is co-director of the Mustard Seed Center For Healing in Woodstock, NY where his practice incorporates therapeutic bodywork, counseling and health education. He is the director of OASIS- The National Prison Council Project. His involvement in men's work has emphasized the relationship between personal transformation, public responsibility and community service. He can be reached at 23 Cooperlake Road, Bearsville, NY 12409.
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