Somehow, over the last few months (if not a year), I have all but stopped writing. But her question tickled my own curiosity. Find below the answer I wrote, shooting from the hip. I have no clue, not really. Feel free, reader, to let me know your thoughts on the matter.
Last Saturday, I did my first “gig” as a volunteer in Nairobi’s second-biggest slum, Mathare, to work with men. Together with a bishop who got kicked out of the Catholic Church, for not marching along well-established religious lines. As we were discussing where I’think we could or should go with this group, the bishop responded: “I think, the goal should be for all of us to build spiritual muscle. Together.”
“Yeah,” I thought. “That is exactly it…”
To come back to your question: there aren’t many who like to exercise their spiritual muscle. Any exercise is bound to create some ache of some sort. So too working with what doesn’t work in one’s life.
I’m not sure it’s a “men only” thing, or a “mostly male” thing. While still bachelor I often wondered if ever I’d meet a woman who was willing to do “the work”. To really go inside and search for those demons that wreak havoc. I’m not talking about pop psychology, or “girlfriend chatter”. No, really serious work. Get fucked scared, get hopelessly hopeless. To seek the darkness and find what on earth the wisdom is that lays contained there.
For me, there was imply no alternative. My “story” just wasn’t working, and I realised so quite early on. Yet, I stuck to the story of who I was, and why stuff did or didn’t work. I weaved that story, and slowly got completely entangled in it. Up to a point where it nearly killed me.
I call that zone the “comfort zone of discomfort”. It is great to be a “victim”, being one means I’m not to blame, and wicked forces out there did all of that to me. So, if I could only convince the world to treat me differently, all would be well. It is a story that is greatly comforting, because it allowed me to NOT do the work, to wallow in my own pittyness, and point fingers outward.
It is a space many (male or female) occupy.
Until the walls start crumbing down.
I have met many, many men all over Africa, in South Africa and in the US who are not afraid of walking towards the flames and dance.
And I have met many women who go into some sort of stupor when you only suggest them making an outing where they don’t dare go.
However, for men of our age, in our culture, it simply isn’t engrained in them. It sounds outdated, but our generation wasn’t yet taught to deal constructively with emotions – be they anger or sadness, lust or love. It is like trying to tell an untrained person to go run a marathon. There’s no muscle anywhere to start the exercise.
Courage as we know it, is defined in narrow ways: the purely physical, the real-life death. We aren’t used or trained or introduced to the other Hero’s Journey; the one of myths, daimons, demons and gods. Of dying to oneself before one dies.
Those concepts – when and if used – are taken literally. There’s hardly enough imagination around to dream walk, to access other realities, to close one’s eyes and feel one’s own demise.
In a world of hardcore capitalism, where one is what one owns, or where one is what one does for a living; a world of materialism not of the kind of iPhones and Mercs but of the “rationally visible as the only truth”; a world of short-term attention – in such a world, closing one’s eyes and travelling inside to meet the ghosts of one’s own unknown and the content of the shadows that lurk in those nooks and crannies, such a journey is simply “not done”.
It demands a kind of courage that no one gets trained in. Not in our day and age, and our culture. If life happens to throw enough bones to keep one content, why on earth would one dive into the underworld? What possible benefit could come out of an expedition into a land where no “natural resources” exist, that is: known beforehand to exist?
I guess it is quite humane to not question life, for as long as life doesn’t question you. It remains an untrained muscle. Where I guess men differ from women, is that women – through their biology, their monthly periods, their ability to give life, their nurturing breasts – are much more than men confronted with life questioning them. Although, I am aware, this sounds quite cliche…
Another possibility is – apart from nurture as described above at length – that the courage men display while alive seems aimed at very much external goals: career, earn, material things. Their struggles lay “out there”.
That, in itself, becomes the most fantastic excuse then to never having to go inside. Because the battle lies with (perceived) real life people, real life situations why battle it out with the demons and daimons inside, who can easily be dismissed as the products of one’s own mind, and therefore need only to be controlled, silenced and dominated? Just as they dominate, control and silence the outside world, to the most of their ability…
Above all, I have seen fear in the eyes of men, when asked about the stuff that was NOT working in their lives. It was as if I asked them to undress and take a bath in an ice cold river. Nothing to protect them from the elements, and God knows what’d happen if the current were to wipe them away…
Unfortunately, there’s only so much one can do to invite another into their nooks and crannies, their shadows, their Hero’s Journey. Actually, there’s only one thing I have seen as effective. To simply listen, and acknowledge. To invite and let go.
Until the day comes at which a person says, “My life ain’t working anymore – all my tricks have stopped having an effect, my stories have run dry”, until that day there’s not a lot but staying true to one’s own journey. And to try and see the other as undiluted by one’s own ideas as possible.