Thursday, September 18, 2008

Robert Augustus Masters - MEN’S WORK: GUTS, HEART, PRESENCE

A cool post from Robert Masters's blog, reposted by Adastra at Gaiam. As always, Masters has good insights and a unique point-of-view. What I think he is looking at here, in a very powerful way, is the reclaiming of vulnerability in men, the warrior's path.

This is also the work we do with Internal Family Systems Therapy, where the vulnerability often presents as a child-like "part" or subpersonality that has been exiled from consciousness. This is an incredibly useful form of shadow work.


I’ve been offering men’s groups for a while, and just did another one yesterday. There was, as usual, plenty of emotional intensity and breakthrough, most of it in the spirit of reclaiming power without losing touch with one’s heart. This meant, in part, giving the boy in each man enough room and permission to express what had mostly gone unexpressed, such as rage at witnessing violence between his parents, violence before which he had either frozen or internally fled. Such feeling had had to be suppressed at the time, because it simply wasn’t safe enough to let it out; this was not so much an actual thought mulled over by the boy, but rather his survival intuition kicking in, protecting him from taking actions that may have endangered his life.

And how does this show up in present time? In all kinds of ways, many of which appear to be the opposite of others: caved-in posture and inflated posture; aggressive hand movements and limp hand movements; hostile tone and overly nice tone; and so on., all bearing eloquent testimony to past events powerful enough to leave lasting imprints. Once a particular pattern – behavioral, postural, tonal – has been sufficiently exposed so as to be obvious (and usually the last person to whom it’s obvious is the person doing it), then the historical forces animating it can be explored and illuminated, until the original energies that’d had to be suppressed – buried, rerouted, ostracized, or denied to the point of seeming not to exist – can be contacted and given expression, however slight.

When this happens, a man’s voice usually gets younger, higher, shakier, inhabited by vulnerable feeling – his sounds naturally and spontaneously become the sounds of a boy. As such expression grows in fullness, becoming more and more deeply embodied, he starts to come alive, really alive, so much so that when he – right after his work – looks around the room, his eyes are not only full of shining boy, but also vibrantly grounded man, depressurized and unabashedly happy, rock-solid present yet also spacious and open.

Seeing a troubled man’s face losing years; seeing him settling into an effortlessly stable sense of presence; seeing him lighting up with love and insight and passion; seeing him artfully blending forcefulness and tenderness; seeing him finding a source of strength in his vulnerability; seeing him reclaiming his guts without diluting his love; seeing him exulting in the other men’s breakthroughs, seeing him honoring the feminine in himself without any diminishment of his masculinity; seeing him feeling complete in himself; seeing him really getting the primacy of connection and integrity in relationship; seeing him so deeply anchored in his being that he can really soar – all this and more is what keeps me offering men’s groups.

After the men’s group, I went out for dinner with Diane, finding a nearly empty restaurant with great food – an absolutely dynamite combo for me – and then had a wonderfully lazy and loving evening. At 1 am, I wasn’t sleeping, but watching the men’s final of the Australian Open (one of the four major tennis tournaments of the year). Two men going all out to win. Fernando Gonzalez, ranked number 10 in the world (but over the past two weeks playing at an exceptional level), versus Roger Federer, by far the best tennis player in the world. What a treat! Watching great athletes competing is an invigorating joy for me; for the last third of the match, I was off the couch and on the living room floor, doing yoga while keeping my eyes on the game, fully absorbed in every point.

A couple of times, I thought of the men’s group from earlier in the day, and the various energetic confrontations that had happened for most of the men, all of which unfolded in the context of helping to more fully access passion, intensity, and awareness. The tennis match I was watching was doing something like this on a much more contained level, within a precise framework – neat white lines on an immaculate green court – but there was a continual undercurrent of passion, intensity, and awareness. Two elite athletes with clear mastery of their game (plus an obvious respect for each other), but nevertheless operating along such a fine, fine line that even the slightest slip was immediately magnified. Great, great concentration, dotted with tiny lapses every now and then. It wasn’t over until 3 am, but I didn’t mind at all.

Sports events are often broadcast through war metaphors – football being probably the key example – but Gonzalez and Federer’s match had little or none of this. It was a contest for sure, and highly competitive, but carried too much elegance and refinement to be framed as some kind of war. Not that it wasn’t suffused with adrenaline and testosterone – but its very excitement was largely expressed through a heightened aesthetic of creativity and grace under pressure.

Back to the group: One man’s work was about his ambivalence regarding attention – he both wanted attention and didn’t want it, having as a boy mostly only received attention when his mother wanted him to take care of her. The attention that he had really needed had not been there, and in his current life still wasn’t there nearly enough, mostly because he was simply not as open to it as he needed to be. As I had him pay close attention to his push-pull relationship to attention from others – with the rest of the men serving as his audience – he let down his guard, cutting through much of his self-consciousness, disarming himself to the point of letting his grief surface. This was not a straightforward process, but slowly but surely happened as the other men held him in their unwavering attention, presence, and care. Along the way, there was not only hurt and anger, but also plenty of healing humor. By this point, every man in the group was realizing that each man’s work was, in some way, none other than his work.

A sometimes arduous but essential labor this is, birthing the authentic man and learning to fully embody the Deep Masculine – but after a certain point, what else is there for a man to do, if he is to ground himself in his heartland?

- Robert Augustus Masters

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