Can we really answer the question, “What does it mean to be a man?” without taking into account the soul?
A few years ago, when I was residing in the UK, a friend who thought I’d be interested told me of an online thread he was following on a message board on a popular Internet chat site. The topic of the particular discussion was, “What is the definition of being a man?”
Within a day of its posting on the site, dozens of British guys had weighed in with their various opinions and arguments, one fellow even including a dictionary definition to validate his words. Knowing the book I was writing about evolving masculinity, my friend wondered what I would say if I were to join the online discussion.
“Either too much or too little,” I chuckled, as I typed my email response to him.
Back in the USA, even a brief perusal of The Good Men Project website and its diversity of topics and opinions reveals that the question of what it means to be a man is a topic far too broad and challenging to adequately address succinctly. The fact that this question floated around as an Internet discussion with a diverse crowd of men logging in to share their thoughts — or that the GMP site has millions of readers monthly –underscores the deep uncertainty that we collectively carry about what manhood entails.
At the risk of veering into manhood rather than masculinity, I offer that it requires more than merely an accumulation of years or the passing of certain societal measurements — work and earning an income, sexual activity, independence from parents, marriage, fatherhood — to make one into a man. Something more than a one-dimensional one, that is.
An authentic and meaningful sense of adulthood is seriously lacking in our modern, Western culture, partly because we have no real rites of passage or soulful initiations. Passing a driver’s test, losing one’s virginity, obtaining the legal age of accountability or buying a house are not rites of passage; they are achievements of an individual.
True rites of passage or initiatory processes abduct an individual into the mystery and creative core of who he is.
The growing of a male into a worthy man is not a “sure-fire” thing. It requires cultivating and a good measure of external support. Men need to observe other men modeling integrity, generosity, compassion, open heartedness, passion, and the appropriate use of personal power. We must learn what has intrinsic value, what to protect and what to let go of.
Yet nearly all of us have lacked worthwhile role models of an evolved masculinity — those men who are playful, tender, reflective, relational, and responsible. And occasionally fierce. In a real way, we are missing a certain kind of emotional education — a sense of being at home in our bodies and hearts — and our society is quietly withering for the scarcity of it.
In the absence of authentic rites, initiations, and mentorship — lacking a connection to the soul of the world, men find themselves in a vacuum of meaning as to what true adulthood entails (women, too, though perhaps to a lesser extent due to their inclination for relationship.)
Without wise elders and mentors, ones who could guide us along the challenging journey of finding our unique gift and then offering it to “tribe” or community, the question lurking in our shadows remains: What does it mean to be a man?
Unfortunately, other than a therapist’s couch (way too vulnerable for most guys) or perhaps a men’s group (less vulnerable, but potentially still threatening), there’s not much external support for asking the deeper questions of life. Even with a men’s group, the facilitator may or may not have real skill, or the group may lack the safety for members to risk a deeper, more authentic exploration of self — something beyond merely “being together as men.”
Many of the popular men’s programs emphasize becoming a “new warrior” (or something similar) and focus on some type of initiation, with the intent of fostering a sense of belonging and personal authenticity. While there is brotherhood and camaraderie in this — and one could argue its merit simply for that — true rites of passage and mentorship guide us into something deeper.
Deep within each of us is a creative core of authenticity that I call “soul.” I offer that soul forms an essential part of what makes us human — possibly it’s the very best part — but is also significantly missing in our modern society.
Almost nothing in our materialistic culture supports the soul. We are far too focused on our ego and its notions of accomplishment and approval. Yet an evolved masculinity means that our self-worth comes from something inside rather than from external validation — the vehicle we drive, the amount of our paycheck, or the size of our manroot.
Evolved masculinity means that we can access the full spectrum of emotions and share them with others, whether women and men. And it means that the deeper sense of soul, our authentic creative core, becomes a moral compass.
Like twins, soul and sacred are very closely related.
In a post last week for the Good Men Project, “Embodying the Sacred Masculine,” I wrote: “Sacred need not mean religious. Like love, it can be that which touches the heart and soul, instilling a sense of being connected to something larger. If we considered a ‘sacred masculine’ as a heart-centered one, a different picture emerges.”
The very idea that the masculine can be “sacred” in a non-religious, soul-nurturing way is foreign to most men. That a conscious, evolved manhood must touch upon matters of the soul and our larger existence, not only as men but also as humans interconnected to the planet, this too is an evolutionary leap.
Brother, we need to make that jump.
The superficial, stereotypical images of manhood that we are fed by media and society at large — those same ones that many of us are trying to break free of — are limiting and hollow. Seldom are we offered models of what it means to be a “good” man, let alone one who wants to be even better. An evolutionary man.
Consider how often in mainstream culture and media do we see a portrayal of a ‘good’ man, one upheld and portrayed in a positive light? It is rare.
Soulful men, those who embody the Sacred Masculine, are even more rare.
To evolve the masculine, we must invent something other than the packaged, one-dimensional, one-size-fits-all design that society offers — a cheap, mass-produced model that limits us to mediocrity. We are meant for something better, far more powerful and alluring.
Finding our way to authentic adulthood — or the Sacred Masculine — is both challenging and unlikely without some sort of guidance, mentor, or personal initiation. A GPS-enabled “smart phone” won’t help much; there is no satellite-mapped route. If we’re lucky, a role model or some form of personal initiation helps us locate the right path.
Otherwise, we must rely on the old fashioned approach of finding our way while mostly alone, even if at every crossroad or fork in the trail the signs seem to be missing.
This journey is not a competition, nor a race. What we encounter along the way or at the end will be slightly different for each of us. Each will have found his own challenges and answers, but we will know the satisfaction and hard-earned merit of what it means to be an authentic, soulful man.