It was C.G. Jung's insight - culled from the wisdom traditions of East & West - that the psyche, or soul, is comprised of elements both "masculine" and "feminine," each with their own characteristics necessary for personal and collective healing, growth, and empowerment. While these terms seem relegated to gender, certain qualities traditionally ascribed to masculinity and femininity, such as aggression and nurturing, solitude and relationality, or action and receptivity, are certainly not limited to specifically male or female bodies. Each of us has these different aspects to ourselves regardless if we conceptualize them in terms of "masculine" or "feminine."
The late 20th and early 21st centuries have seen a remarkable explosion of emerging women's movements and the revival of goddess traditions, which have brought women into a place of empowerment from a deeply feminine and non-patriarchal core. Men today, however, largely lack such a prominent container for emotional, social, and spiritual growth. In a certain sense, while women have been rapidly evolving from within these perspectives, men in many aspects are being "left behind." A "Men's Movement," while prominent in the 1980s and 1990s has gone underground, and largely disappeared from mainstream spiritual culture and discourse. Many women (and a few men) are left asking, "Where are the men?" - a question which resonates throughout retreat centers, yoga studios, and in the healing and helping professions as a whole.
After being introduced to Marion Woodman's essays on "conscious femininity" I began to imagine what a similar work could look like for men. "Conscious masculinity" emerged for me as a way to envision with others what pluralistic and diverse embodied masculinities could look and feel like. In doing so, my intention was not to move backwards to the mytho-poetic and "essentialist" men's movements of the past, but to ask contemporary questions around power, privilege, race, and gender in a setting that is both deconstructive and therapeutic. In doing so, I have found it vital to ask the questions: What does it look like for a man to consciously carry his wounds rather than project his inner violence onto others? To walk confidently without needing to prove, conquer, or withdraw himself from others? What does it look like - feel like - to be a man in power with, rather than over or under others (men, women, and children) and in defense and support of our planet - giving to - rather than taking from?
In living into these questions, I receive inspiration from the work of depth psychological pioneers such as C.G. Jung, James Hillman, Marion Woodman, and David Tacey, as well as a contemporary re-visioning of the work of mytho-poetic Men's Movement elders such as Robert Bly, Michael Meade, and Robert Moore - poets, storytellers, and psychologists who spent the majority of their careers furthering our thinking on what it means to be men and women living with consciousness and soul. I draw from their wisdom and from the deep well of those who have gone before us when teaching or facilitating men's circles, workshops, and retreats.
Cultural biases have encouraged many of us - regardless of gender identification - to "perform" via certain roles. We all know these damaging cultural norms: boys are expected to subdue emotion, with any signs of vulnerability perceived as weakness; girls are expected to be well-mannered, "nice," or even to maintain a certain silence. As adults these frozen aspects of ourselves limit our full range of emotional expression, ability to give and receive love, and contact with sources of internal guidance, nurturing, and support. Coming into active relationship with these parts of our wounded selves can be a first step towards conscious growth and healing.
Images: Aurora Consurgens