Archive for April 15, 2010

The Mythopoetic Men’s Movement and My Personal Experience within it

April 15, 2010 4 comments

I have been less active on this blog this week; I’ve been recovering from a mild stomach bug, probably picked up in all my travels earlier in the month to LA, then Baltimore, and home again. While I was resting I took the opportunity to plunge into Joseph Gelfer’s book: Numen, Old Men Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy. Joseph brought his book to my attention while commenting on an earlier post. It took some time for me to get it and then to get into it, but here we are. I will offer some thoughts this week (and probably next) on this provocatively titled book, and from my initial read.

Before I explore the book I’ll begin with a personal account of encountering the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement, one of the subjects of Dr. Gelfer’s review.

My early involvement with Robert Bly started with his interview with Bill Moyers in 1990: “A Gathering of Men.” This was perhaps a natural extension, both for me and many others, from our experiences growing up in the 60s, of our activism, our idealistic hope for change and and a strong desire to be part of that change. My personal men’s movement started as early as 1967 as a peace corps volunteer to Ethiopia where I experienced relationships with men that seemed unthinkable in the US. I formed strong bonds with several men, Ethiopian and Indian colleagues with whom I taught. By 1990 I had been re-culturated into American society, married, had two sons, divorced, remarried and added a step-daughter. Yes, I was well integrated into the “American Dream” at that point. But I knew too much, had seen and experienced too much to think that this dream is all there is to life on Planet Earth.

I went to a Bly/Michael Meade event in Washington, DC in about 1990, called “A Day for Men.” A thousand men gathered and crammed into Lisner Auditorium of George Washington University to listen to these two poets/storytellers spin a yarn and teach about what it might be like to grow into a modern man in late 20th century America. It was an awesome experience and I can still give myself goosebumps recalling pieces of the day. It hooked me into the “movement.”

I have since had several more experiences with Robert, did a weekend workshop with Robert Moore, another luminary of the early movement, read all the books with eager enthusiasm and finally made it to one of Robert’s annual gatherings in Minnesota, the Men’s Conference in 2002. (I had planned to attend the one in 2001, in fact was at the airport in Colorado to fly into Minneapolis, when the planes hit the towers in NYC; I didn’t go anywhere that week!). It was at the 2002 conference that I met Martín Prechtel, one of the conference leaders that year. I enjoyed this event so much that the following year I took my older son; we enjoyed the 2003 conference, especially doing it together. Maldoma Somé was a key leader and my son made an immediate bond with him.

Since that time I have continued reading and thinking, writing and reviewing material on all these subject lines that I first encountered with Bly, Meade, Moore, Prechtel, et al. I continue to study with Martín in his school, Bolad’s Kitchen. I do not consider what Martín is now doing part of the mythopoetic movement. First it is not about men but humans; second, it is definitely about spirituality, especially native spirituality as a guide to find our indigenous souls; third, it doesn’t really address the principal topics of the movement.

The movement has had many critics. Feminists voiced concern that it championed a return to strong patriarchy; there was a fear that Bly’s “soft male” would become hard and violent. I believe there was a lot of misunderstanding by those who viewed the movement from the outside and through the literature only. Myths and archetypes presented within the movement were never meant to be models for behavior but teaching tools to gain a deeper understanding of who we men are in an evolving and ever more complex society. We were learning to be present and participating men rather than the absent and withdrawn, or violent and domineering. My wife encouraged me to participate in the movement; her women’s book group read Iron John with enthusiasm and reportedly gained much understanding of their husbands, sons and even daughters.

I do not now consider myself part of the mythopoetic men’s movement (if, in fact, it still exists as a “movement”). I learned a lot from the leaders and teachers within the movement. What I gained drew me into areas of study and thought which continue to evolve and grow. Jungian psychology and archetypal investigations still hold my interest. The next book on my reading list is Matthew Fox’s The Hidden Spirituality of Men Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine. His ten metaphors are archetypes. And whether these archetypes are real and “hard wired” into the human psyche (as Robert Moore professes) or simply metaphors by which we explore human behavior to learn how to improve it, I believe modeling that behavior is instructional and important for the evolution of consciousness and spirituality.

I will never apologize for my participation within the mythopoetic men’s movement. I gained too much, became a better man through its influence. But it was only one of many stepping stones. The movement was a beginning to open men to their higher potential. It was never meant as a be-all, end-all approach, but an awakening. Since the early days of the Vedas and Buddha we are all, as humans, called to awaken. For me the men’s movement was part of that call and part of my awakening process.

Tomorrow I’ll begin my review of Dr. Gelfer’s book. As a preview I will tell you he is quite critical of the  movement. Stay tuned!