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Men and Grief (Part 1)

March 9, 2010 2 comments

Yesterday I wrote about men learning how to nurture and explored the role of women in teaching men. And I argued that perhaps it is not up to women to teach us but rather for us to go inside and find our hearts, find our compassion, find our nurturing spirit there.  This is, of course, easy to say. But for many of us it is not so easy to do. And, perhaps there are some stages we need to address, some growth areas to go through before we get all the way to our nurturing spirits.

Men have heart; it is inside them; and they can get in touch with it, frequently do! Too often that heart, that feeling comes bubbling, even bursting out as anger. I’ve encountered angry men much of my life. In fact, again too often, I have been an angry man.  Where does this anger come from? Why are men angry and what are they angry about? I believe a lot of our anger comes from stuffing our feelings, way down deep in our dark places. These feelings are unprocessed, unexamined; they are hidden and raw. They come up and out, flashing and hot, as anger; often we may not even have a particularly good cause behind the anger. It doesn’t take much to trigger repressed feelings. And, anger is the one emotion that it seems safe or comfortable for men to express: “men are men” and can be “rightfully angry.”

But how “grown up” is it to only express our feelings as anger? Is there a more conscious way to behave, a more evolved, higher-vibrational way to express our passion?

A first step is to process feelings rather than stuff them. And I believe one of the primal feelings that men stuff is their grief. There has been a lot of  excellent work done around this subject. Grief is one of the key motivating forces behind the so called “men’s movement” from the early 1980s spear-headed by wonderful men like Robert Bly, Robert Moore, Michael Meade and the other leaders of the mytho-poetic men’s movement. Robert Bly, extraordinary poet and severe critic of the Viet Nam war, all war actually, examined men’s grief in the context of returning Viet Nam veterans. There is a lot of grief about that war on all sides. It usually was expressed as anger, but the underbelly of that anger was grief. There was a shared grief about that whole era from the late 60s on; and a lot of it remains unprocessed, unexamined. And, it’s pretty clear that few lessons were learned by those of us who lived through that time. But in the 80s some of us began to process some of that grief. It is a long process.

Another of my excellent teachers I am so blessed to have in my life, Martín Prechtel, also does a lot of work around grief. He offers a recording that I highly recommend to everyone; it is a deep expression of something I am trying to get at here; “Grief and Praise” is available:  www.floweringmountain.com/CATALOG.html.

We have much to grieve! Some things are immediate and personal, like the loss of a loved one, a parent, a friend; some may be a bit more distant but no less personal, like the loss of life through natural disasters we seem to be experiencing at an accelerating rate; some may be distant in either space or time, like wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or war in Viet Nam, assassinations; and some may be very distant like our national history of slavery and genocide. Once we start digging there is much to grieve!

In the current issue of “Archaeology” there is an article on “Cloning Neanderthals.” Recent evidence indicates that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens were in in contact for several thousand years and there was likely some interbreeding. Neanderthals “disappeared” – became extinct – about 30,000 years ago. Did Homo sapiens have anything to do with that extinction process? We will never know, but I wonder if old stories, like Cain and Abel, are some ancient, “cellular memory” of that evolutionary process. And is part of our interest in bringing Neanderthal DNA back to life in some way motivated by our unexamined grief?

Perhaps I reach back too far. And perhaps there is no reason to reach back very far at all. Grief, like so many things to be examined, is like an onion: as one layer is peeled back another is revealed. And the deeper we examine our feelings, especially grief, the deeper we can experience true and healthy emotions.

There is a lot here; I am far from peeling away the layers to get to compassion. I’ll continue this thread on grief in Thursday’s post.

Meanwhile, how are you in touch with your grief?

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