I needed a day to myself last week in a bad way. But I didn’t know it. I’d been traveling, working non-stop, attending to family, doing what I do to be there for others. I just kept pushing, not listening to the messages of my own body to slow down.
So, instead of simply telling my wife Lorie that I couldn’t accompany her to Manhattan the next day as we had planned, I picked an argument with her that resulted in our taking some space, blaming her for not being sensitive to my needs. In the end, she named my need for me, giving me her blessing to take the day to myself.
This occasion was not the first time Lorie has helped me get in touch with what I’m feeling.
I took the better part of the next day to read and reflect on Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson’s He: Understanding Masculine Psychology in preparation for an upcoming meeting of our west coast Alchemical Healing Mentorship. The book reminded me of one of the most difficult tasks I face as a man.
Johnson explores the development of masculinity through the Grail myth of Parsifal and the Fisher King. If you don’t know the story, it’s a timeless tale of a wounded King, incapable of moving on his own due to a gash to his leg or groin (versions vary) and the humble young man who goes on a quest and ultimately redeems the Fisher King (and himself) of his wound, restoring harmony and prosperity to the Kingdom.
The quest is, of course, a metaphor for the development all adolescent boys must face if they are to overcome their own wounds and mature to real manhood. Our culture teaches young men that happiness and fulfillment can be reduced to sexual or athletic prowess, the attainment of physical possessions, finding the “right” partner, making money, and being able to indulge in entertaining diversions.
We have a presidential candidate who reinforces these values with great bluster and pride.
This myth tells us that an important prerequisite of becoming a whole man is his capacity to honor and respect his inner life, what we can also call the inner Feminine of a man or his interior feminine components.
This capacity equates for a man to:
- Knowing what he’s feeling.
- Being able to articulate his feelings.
- Relating to his body as a source of information and wisdom, not just as a machine to perform, conquer, or impress.
- Not blaming the people close to him for not meeting his needs when he doesn’t even recognize them himself.
- Discovering that his generative ability is ultimately about his creativity within, which allows him to bring his potency to making a difference in the world for others.
As we witness the horror of Trump in the media and grapple to understand how a man of his character can even be considered the possible leader of our country, there are many things we can say about the deplorable example he sets for all men.
But what makes Trump so dangerous to me is his absolute unconsciousness to his own interior feminine components and the resulting objectification and disrespect he projects at women as embodied expressions of this denigrated Feminine.
Because Trump is bereft of a connection to his own feeling life, he is psychologically impotent. He attempts to compensate for this powerlessness in the predictable and destructive ways that men have been doing for far too long.
Sadly, Trump is a torch-bearer for so many men in this country whose Fisher King wound, kept safely hidden in their unconscious, has come to define them.
Even as we condemn Trump, and we must, I find myself grateful for the reflection his example offers of how I might be a better man. I know this work includes rooting out my own internalized patriarchal misogynistic attitudes and patterns – toward women, yes, but perhaps most especially toward my own inner feminine components – however subtle, buried, or inaccessible they often are in my psyche.
Parsifal set out on his hero’s journey thinking that The Grail could serve him, but he discovered that to live a meaningful life we must all serve The Grail. His humility and courage grew as he learned to listen and honor is own inner life, his inner voice, finding the source of his true masculinity.
Clearly, we still have much to learn from Parsifal.
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