Year's End 2008
Within days of Obama's election an all-men's retreat in the Work That Reconnects took place at Land of Medicine Buddha in Soquel, California. I was grateful beyond words for the privilege of being there. To convey the flavor of that event I will quote Earl Brown of the facilitators team, excerpting passages from his website (condorpeople.com).
"Can the human male overcome the violence that has been the hallmark of patriarchy and act responsibly on behalf of future generations? … Is the definition of masculinity and what it means to be a man changing? During a three-day retreat with a remarkable group of men, lead by one courageous woman, these questions and others were addressed in open discussion and group process.
"Thirty nine men met Joanna Macy and her co-facilitator husband Fran… to investigate men's place and responsibility in the twenty-first century… Facing what appears to be the collapsing of Industrial Society and the hope generated by the election of Barack Obama,.. men spoke openly about what it was for them to be alive at this time. This was the second gathering of men to be guided by Joanna and Fran in the Work That Reconnects."
Earl (pictured to the right below with Joanna) describes how these men-only events o riginated. He, along with Kurt Kuhwald, Dan Walters, Doug Seeley and others, became impatient with the gender disparity at our workshops. "Where were the men? Where were our brothers in the Great Turning? If there is to be the birth of a sustainable and just society men need to be working too. Our sisters could not do it alone, yet there they were, doing what they could with limited support from us, the men. It was not that there were no men, we were there, but there was an imbalance. Somehow we needed to get more men involved."
So they began to organize the first all-men's retreat, holding it at Lost Valley near Eugene, Oregon in April 2007. "Some twenty -five men registered and came… The weekend was amazing, inspirational, and valuable beyond measure. Possibly for the first time as an adult I was proud to be a man, proud of my brothers, and more motivated to keep working to bui ld my community. As each man spoke the rest of us listened, we held space for each other, supported each other, expressed encouragement, gave comfort, touched without fear or shame. Guided by Joanna and Fran we looked into aspects of ourselves often left unexamined as too painful, too personal, too feminine, too otherly. In doing so I believe many of us found strength, wisdom, compassion and love within ourselves and for each other, we did not know existed. We were able to look beyond, or through, the layers of societal male patterning and into something greater, something beyond our imagination.
"At some point, during the second day of this first retreat, I had an epiphany which shook me to
my core. Superimposed over this group of men I saw, in my mind's eye, an energy form, a male figure hovering in the air over our heads. I felt it resonating with pure male energy, undiluted by fear, aggression, envy, greed, lust, or any of the negative energy I had come to associate with the males of my culture. I sensed a completeness in the figure. It was grounded, balanced, strong, and exuded a compassionate, nurturing energy that brought me to tears. I felt I was witnessing an energy pattern depicting a whole and integrated male. I was reminded of the work of Dr, Carl Gustave Jung, who introduced the concept of archetypes into our collective understanding. I became convinced I had witnessed the birth of a new male archetype, that of the complete male, unwounded and whole, reflecting both the male and female faces of God.
"It has been nineteen months since our first meeting at Lost Valley. At this second gathering [in November 2008] six of our original group attended along with thirty-three new faces. This group was dynamically different from the first in that there were many more young men in attendance and two father-son pairs. This made the energy in the room vibrant, youthfully alive and expectant. There was a sort of seeking-ness displayed among the men, an abundant, open-hearted attitude. They were there to work and they were there to play. During the activities, which included exercises in gratitude, expressing pain for the world and its inhabitants, deep time work and creating community for action, these men, young and not-young, displayed a depth that was grand and inspirational. Strength, wisdom, compassion, fierce passion for justice, care for each other, care for our world, and more came from the group.
"By the end of the weekend the younger men looked at us who are older as elder brothers and role models. I felt humbled to be considered so. Seeing this younger generation stepping up, taking responsibility, envisioning a better world and looking honestly at their roles in the making of a just society gives me faith we can pull civilization back from the brink of disaster. In them I see the continuing development of the new archetype, the Complete Male, and they are anchoring it in their lives. I also see that it is the responsibility of us older men to light the way by challenging the social stigmas of what it means to be a man in this, the beginning of the Twenty-First Century…
"Knowing that we men can be strong and be compassionate, that we can nurture life instead of dominating it, show tenderness instead of numbness, to love unconditionally, to be vulnerable without being weak, we will become whole. And we will change the world around us. We will be able to join our sisters in service to Gaia…
"I know now there are many good men out in the world who are seeking ways to become healthier and more capable of a sustainable and fulfilling life. It is imperative that we, all of us, reach out to them and let them know they are needed and welcome.
"For me, I am basking in the knowledge that I am a man living in the most challenging times the world has ever faced, with brothers containing the depth and breadth of Being necessary to meet the crises head on."
As a woman at the men's retreats, I too felt within myself a new "completeness"--and in two ways. First, there came an inner ease as my body registered that these men could feel the full range of their emotions without my assistance, goading, or protection. Then secondly, unexpectedly, I found myself acknowledging an emotional need of my own. It is one that I'd carried my whole life: the need to be seen by the two men whose daughter and sister I am. Entering the Truth Mandala, I gave the men who were encircling it with such full and generous attention the names of my father and my brother. And I asked them to let my father and brother see me through their eyes, for just this once. The genuineness of their response and the quickening in my own body-mind were so real that that reality seemed to flood back through the years, as if changing my very perception of the past.
Fran, for his part, relished the way the retreat liberated the men's energy. "In a mixed workshop men who are feminist tend to hold themselves back. It feels good to let out the natural boisterousness and raunchy humor, and not worry about taking up too much space."
A week later found me in Tokyo as guest of the World Fellowship of Buddhists. A most decorous event, clergy of all sects and lineages in formal attire and the lay people pretty gussied up too. WFB's international congress this year beamed a spotlight on Engaged Buddhism: with panels on Peace, Community Development, Care for the Dying and Bereaved, Youth, Gender Equality, Suicide, and the Environmental Crisis. It was to speak on that last subject that I was invited, but two other areas--gender and suicide-- caught my attention with particular vividness.
A lovely, dignified Ladakhi nun, who is also doctor of Tibetan medicine, was reading aloud from her prepared Power Point presentation on the treatment of women in Buddhist Sanghas. On and on, point by point, she read, all of it dismal, none of it surprising. Gradually I became aware that she was crying. A woman appeared quietly to stand beside her, and the nun proceeded to finish, right to the end. She showed us that you can read aloud and weep at the same time--and that it can be appropriate.
High suicide rates continue to plague Japan. A growing number of Japanese p riests, customarily preoccupied with ritual matters, are devising ways to connect with and counsel those who are trying to take their lives, be they children bullied in school or desperate middle-aged "salary men." Rev. Shinohara tries to meet them in person, keeps his temple open 24/7, broadcasts his message: "Before you die, come to the temple." Rev. Nemoto works with the Internet. He has created an on-line forum where people can discuss depression, suicide plans and after-effects of attempted suicide--and sometimes even meet together to talk.
I was glad to get to know young Rev. Nemoto after the congress, at the 3-day retreat I gave to share the Work That Reconnects. There I met another young priest who is devoting himself to a related phenomenon, the hikikomori. That is the name given to the young people (predominantly male) who close themselves up in their rooms, refusing to go out or participate in life in any way. Their families feed and shelter them. Rough estimates put their number at two million. If you can get them out at all, the best way to hold their interest, I learned, is involve them in physical activity. Words are ineffective, but the gritty reality of hands-on work reaches them and gives satisfaction.
I'll not soon forget that retreat, the beauty of the setting, the beauty of the people. The 68 participants (34 men and 34 women--how's that for gender balance) worked i n a spacious
tatami-carpeted room with a wall of glass doors looking out over the water. Floating high above the hills across the bay, when the light was right, Mount Fuji would appear from time to time. Nothing had prepared me; it entered my senses like a blessing running through my whole being. Each sighting of Fuji-san felt like an epiphany, a glimpse of the sacred in all its luminous grandeur.
Kathleen Sullivan, veteran facilitator and nuclear educator, accompanied me on the whole trip, so she was there as well as Hazuki Yasuhara of our 2008 training intensive, who led the interpreters team. Tamio Nakano, former student who organized my '95 workshop tour of Japan, was also on hand. After the retreat he took us to his beloved Yakushima, a semi-tropical island in the south, a World Heritage site where he leads some of his deep ecology workshops. Great place for viewing giant cedars, waterfalls, and monkeys, and for soaking in hot mineral baths. Tamio, still an executive at Hakuhoda working with Toyota, is starting a new book. It's on the Heart Sutra and Sustainability.
Then Kathleen and Hazuki took charge, having prepared in exquisite detail the meetings, workshops, interviews of my first-ever visits to Nagasaki and Hiroshima and Kyoto. The hours with some of the hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) featured in Kathleen's film The Last Atomic Bomb, and the stark exhibits I studied in the peace museums of those cities will be with me from here on out. They deepened my sense of what the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has done to the perpetrators. The two cities have risen
from the ashes, with hardly a trace of the war, but the American psyche has been affected in enduring ways, gone numb and stupid, prey to fear and more capable of atrocity.
On the brighter side, I am freshly struck by the moral beauty of those who bear witness. Those survivors, teachers, and museum directors are indispensable culture workers who would preserve for us all the meaning of what happened in 1945 to change the world forever. With their stories and exhibits, they are committed to remembering, because only remembering can redeem us.
May the blessings of our essential solidarity bear fruit in 2009.