What is Men’s Work?
by Gabriel Keczan
We’re living in a time of transition, a time between stories. One story of being a man is disintegrating, while another, newer story is wanting to be born. For decades, men have been coming to terms with the shifting forces in our society that include the empowerment of women, the essential work of feminism to address patriarchy and a reawakening of the divine feminine. What we call men’s work today grew out of a mytho-poetic movement started by the likes of poet Robert Bly and Mythologist Michael Meade. These men identified a need for men to address deep structural changes within, partly as a response to all the changes women were making in themselves with the rise of feminism. These changes are happening on the cosmic, the global, the communal, the familial and the interpersonal levels. These changes are happening within the self. They require attention. This is where much of the re-storying happens.
As the elders say, if you want to change the world you have to start within the human soul. As men it falls to us to come together as a community of men to reimagine the sacred masculine and how to form as a community and culture of brotherhood, vulnerability, belonging and fellowship as we do the difficult work of re-storying ourselves and our world. Our duty to do this is not just to other men, women, people in-between genders and children, but to all of life, including the more-than-human world.
Men's work happens in a safe space, a container, a space to share our doubts, our questions, our longing for togetherness and connection and what ails us in the deepest sense. In men’s groups it becomes okay to feel sad, to feel confused, afraid or angry. There is enough empathy, good will and healing capacity within such a container to transmute these energies in a good way that supports life affirming choices and ways of being. It is essential for men to have spaces in which to be with the emotions that can so often be repressed or unspoken by the man code. Men need spaces to be able to inhabit the male mode of feeling. Sometimes a man’s work is just to have a place to hear his own words hit the air while in the presence of a supportive village of men. One of the things I notice in men’s support groups is the profound hunger we, as men, can have for the blessings of positive affirmation from other men. Questions such as: Am I good enough? And Do I belong? Can be like sacred murmurs to the self.
What is a man?
What exactly is a man?
As the economic, political and social structures of our contemporary world continue to shift and change, men need support to face the questions of manhood. I know very few men can actually say they experienced a clearly demarcated rite of passage from boyhood to manhood. The way between these phases of life has been largely lost or forgotten. Part of men’s work is to create a village to tend to these wounds and support maturation from boy psychology to man psychology. To, in a sense, re-dream the village by creating crucibles which can act to transform the leftover dross matters of our adolescence into the gold and blessings of healthy, maturing masculinity. We’ll never get to be elders until we first become men. Balancing worlds of money, sex, love, family, work, relationship, purpose and passion is part of men’s work.
It can involve taking off layers of armour and letting go of ways that no longer serve
Part of the purpose of men’s work is to assist men in aligning with the souls purpose, one’s unique mission in life, the blueprint in their DNA that only they know, so they can align with their destiny and give their gifts in the world. It’s messy work as it can involve taking off layers of armour and letting go of old ways that no longer serve. We call it shadow work when a man looks into his growth edges, into the unknown and it can be painful and scary. As Carl Jung said, there is no coming into consciousness without pain.
The Lost Art of Men’s Initiation
The interesting thing about initiation is that every man who enters an initiatory process comes with his own unique set of needs and intentions. Some need to become re-acquainted with the fires of their spirit. To reconnect with their inspiration and genius. Others need to descend into the watery depths of soul to touch in with grief and unshed tears. Yet another needs to look at his inner boy and get support to tend the wounded child within. There can be great grief here.
Unshed tears or unspoken anger can be a store-house of primal energy that wants and needs to move.
This energy needs to be redirected in safe and loving ways. This is why initiation is understood as a tempering process. Each man is a unique soul with unique needs to temper the growth of his soul at whatever season of life he is in. Initiation, in it’s deepest traditional sense, was meant to keep the world alive.
My faith is in the bones. When gathered in men’s groups, I sense on an unspeakable level that we know in our collective wisdom how to heal as a people. We just need to create safe spaces in which that healing is possible. As the old proverb says, begin to weave and the divine will provide the thread.
Why do men’s work?
Men need to be heard telling the stories of their lives, of their childhoods, their mothers and fathers, or speak of the absence of their fathers or their longing for a father; their father hunger. To tend the father wound or the mother wound. Men have always gathered around fires to share stories, brotherhood and be with life’s questions. The circle of men can be the antidote to the isolation of modernity and the toxic influences of the modern man code. To challenge the notion that it's every man for himself requires coming together. The healing balm of caring brotherhood can satiate the father hunger. Men develop personal power, better love relationships, a kingly feeling of being a man among men and the capacity to give generously to other men and beings. Men’s work can mend the heart, heal the shame and tend the wound of any man courageous enough to do his work. This is men’s work. The men’s group work I facilitate is like this. It’s a space outside of the everyday, where men can bring their stories, their songs, their grief, their anger, their longings, their edge where change needs to happen and their desires for intimacy, reflection and connection with other men. The yearnings for father, brother and mentor energies begin to be filled by the circle and being truly accepted and free to be real is a pleasure beyond words.