Healthy Sacred Masculine? A Bind...
I find myself in a bind today.
I’m curious about the healthy sacred masculine because of a powerful classroom event in October. I recognize I’m a highly masculinized woman (basically a survival orientation in higher theological education), yet I am also beautifully, delightfully a woman. Not a man. And just as my own sense of grounded-feminine requires a necessary self-determination or self-expression of the feminine, I have a strong sense that gender-identified men today are the ones to sort through what healthy, sacred masculinity is. Finally, as I read into this topic to learn more, I both recognize things within myself and I find that I have things to say about the sacred masculinity I have or am experiencing–mine, or in others.
As I said, a bind.
Carl Jung, of course, opened the door to understanding both feminine and masculine as energies within the human experience, which means every human being has both. That makes sense to me. Each of us is most healthy when both are balanced, when each expresses itself when the situation invites it, generating life and restoration within and beyond ourselves.
What does this mean in the tender-sensitivities of the feminine, so long silenced, or the tender-sensitivities of the masculine, so long toxic and violent? Are both energies in recovery, of a sort, so reacting from a woundedness?
When I feel like my feminine is being silenced or patronized, I get angry (my personal wound)–even enraged (the collective historical wound)--reacting (perhaps healthily responding) from a fiery sense of claiming voice. When my husband encounters the toxic masculinity he so despises, he feels nauseous or notices a visceral rejection of it within himself, withdrawing his presence or remaining present but changing the subject. Other men may react with an aggressive defensiveness rooted in fire or violence, habituated to do so in a culture that has no space for deep-feeling, tender-hearted men who actually express their tenderness.
All this arises because I’ve begun to read Robert Bly’s Iron John: a Book About Men, considered a 30-year classic in psychology. (Some relevant ‘readback lines’ are below, but not included in the word-count!). I sense so many partial truths in what Bly offers, even as I bow to my husband’s dismissal, as confirmed by a professional’s assessment of it as a Boomer-cultural unsuccessful attempt to wed “sensitive new age guys” with the “toxic masculinity” of today’s aggressively-self-asserting-angry-man.
Surely there is gift here, if one can forbear the dissonances or desire to dismiss it? A sacred pluralism to be learned, perhaps?
I’m drawn to the invitations to freedom in sacred masculinity, honored within civilization but not contained by civilizing/religious institutions. Freedom to express desire, to know one’s unspoken dreams, unbound by the status quo.
I’m also drawn to the wildness that points to freedom: SO necessary for my own journey into a reclamation of the feminine via Clarissa Pinkola Estes work, Women Who Run With the Wolves.
Perhaps that is where I begin…Bly and Estes speaking to one another…?
READBACK LINES – Robert Bly, Iron John: a Book About Men (Hachette Books, 1990, 2004).
The male in the past twenty years has become more thoughtful, more gentle. But by this process he has not become more free. (2)
Young men for various reasons wanted their harder women, and women began to desire softer men. It seemed like a nice arrangement for a while, but we’ve lived with it long enough now to see that it isn’t working out. (3)
The “soft” male was able to say, “I can feel your pain, and I consider your life as important as mine, and I will take care of you and comfort you.” But he could not say what he wanted, and stick by it. Resolve of that kind was a different matter. (4)
...showing a sword does’'t necessarily mean fighting. It can also suggest a joyful decisiveness. (4)
…when he approaches what I’ll call the “deep male,” he feels risk. Welcoming the Hairy Man is scary and risky, and it requires a different sort of courage. Contact with Iron John requires a willingness to descend into the male psyche and accept what’s dark down there, including the nourishing dark. (7)
The golden ball he loves…rolls into the Wild Man’s cage. … The golden ball reminds us of that unity of personality we had as children. … many men gave up all aggressiveness and still did not find the golden ball. (7)
The kind of wildness, or un-niceness, implied by the Wild Man image is not the same as macho energy, which men already know enough about. Wild Man energy, by contrast, leads to forceful action undertaken, not with cruelty, but with resolve. The Wild Man is not opposed to civilization; but he’s not completely contained by it either. (9)
So where is the key? … The key is not inside the ball, nor in the golden chest, nor in the safe…the key is under our mother’s pillow—just where Freud said it would be. (11)
“My father and mother are away today” implies a day when the head is free of parental inhibitions. That’s the day to steal the key. … And the key has to be stolen. (12)
The possessiveness that mothers typically exercise on sons—not to mention the possessiveness that fathers typically exercise on daughters—can never be underestimated. (13)
Eventually a man needs to throw off all indoctrination and begin to discover for himself what the father is and what masculinity is. For that task, ancient stories are a good help, because they are free of modern psychological prejudices, because they have endured the scrutiny of generations of women and men, and because they give both the light and dark sides of manhood, the admirable and the dangerous. Their model is not a perfect man, nor an overly spiritual man. (27)
…distinctions between the Wild Man and the savage man. (28)