Home > Lessons for the Modern Man > Men and Grief (Part 1)

Men and Grief (Part 1)

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?

  1. Maureen
    March 10, 2010 at 8:39 am

    Hi Rich,
    I really like your take on men’s anger having grief running beneath it. I don’t think I’ve heard this before. I’ve heard ‘fear’ is behind anger quite a lot, but not grief. I hope your thoughts launch a great number of men into onion peeling. Women have anger too, of course. I think the fear thing sits behind it more, but also I find mine has a lot of rage and passion–expressions considered “unladylike’ yet going nuts like one of Dionysius’s bacchantes. Behavior acceptable for a man but when a woman does it she is trashed! Just as the men are for being sensitive, getting deeply in touch with disappointment and whatever sits behind their grief. It’s like you men need to do more soft and sensitive and we women more dancing around the fire and pounding the drum 🙂
    Fascinated by your reference to an interest in growing Neanderthal DNA, and your suggestion here might be a root for the Cain/Abel story. I think of the despised Caliban in Shakespeare’s Tempest as set against the beloved and beautiful Ariel. I recall Irish mythological cycles that have the Fenians ugly and dark and the first to be driven into the sidhe–spawning those banshee etal–contrasted with the Tuatha da Danaan the beautiful shining people who became the shimmering ones when it came to their turn to go into the earth. I really think you’ve hit on something when you suggest there’s a genetic memory here. It makes me a little queasy to consider this might have been the beginning of genocide. And I have to sit back and wonder ‘why now’ the curiosity to explore the neanderthal?
    One other story, told by Jacob Bronowski in one of those early PBS specials THE ASCENT OF MAN remains a curiosity to me. He was discussing our evolution from the fiery soupy mix of early earth. Yet, at the very end of the segment he took us to the ice age and described how this same emergence of life could also have occurred through something that emerged from the frigid ice. Again, the duality.
    Thanks so much for your thoughts. I’ll try to do a better job of looking for the grief behind anger I experience sometimes dealing with the men in my life!

    all best,

  2. March 9, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    You might like the article, “Men, Loss and Spiritual Emergency: Shakespeare, the Death of Hamnet and the Making of Hamlet:
    in the journal I edit, Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality.

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