John Welwood states that “One of the great secrets of men… is that we are afraid of women.” What does that innate fear tell us about ourselves as men? Jonathan Delavan wants you to discover that the real final frontier is relationships and intimacy.
The thing is for men to have the courage to draw nearer to women, expose themselves to them… When man and woman actually meet, there is always terrible risk to both of them. We have to meet as I meet a jaguar between the trees in the mountains, and advance, and touch, and risk it… To be a man is to risk your body and blood first, and then to risk your mind. All the time, to risk your known self, and become once more a self you could never have known or expected. – D. H. Lawrence
The above quote is the opening epigraph to the eleventh chapter, titled “Men in Relationship,” in John Welwood’s Love and Awakening: Discovering the Sacred Path of Intimate Relationship. I was merely flipping through this recently purchased book when I stumbled upon the introductory quote. It grabbed my attention with upmost conviction.
This quote from D. H. Lawrence seemed to be speaking to my latent fears and insecurities about fostering intimacy with women—fears that I have come face-to-face with more than once over the past few years. I believe this ties in directly with what I wrote in my previous article on the impact and validity of fear itself. Now there I was, having come across a kind of poem that spoke to the validity of my inner fear, as if out of nowhere yet with impeccable timing.
As soon as I could, I read the rest of the chapter, skipping the first ten in the book (which I do plan to read as well), so as to gleam the insights and wisdom of the author who chose such an enigmatic epigraph. Since receiving this book back in November, I have read through this single chapter several times. I wish to share some insights I have learned from meditating on the unique perspective Welwood brings to men about their relationships with women.
In Love and Awakening, John Welwood does not mince words about the inner dilemma men in general face in regards to women and their authentic femininity. He claims that “One of the great secrets of men—secret in the sense that we rarely admit it among ourselves—is that we are afraid of women. It takes great courage and strength for a man to meet a woman with an open heart and mind, to be receptive to what she has to teach, or to hold his own ground in the face of her emotional intensity or earthy strength.” A powerful statement to all men.
John briefly explores some possible sources for this latent fear of womanhood within men, but his ultimate focus is on the ramifications this fear reveals within men. Essentially, as the epigraph and quote above hinted towards, this general fear reveals in men a lack of inner awareness or presence within him, an awareness or presence that can be so potently expressed by strong and passionate women. Rather than sitting with this internal discomfort and heeding the call to explore our inner world, we men tend to flee from or even fight against this opportunity for inner growth that the women in our lives can beckon us towards with their company.
Why, in our vague sense of dread, do we men react against or flee from the feminine strength and presence of the opposite sex? In my opinion, there are a multitude of reasons—too many to be explored in this article alone. Nevertheless, the fear remains; and unless it is seen, heard, and explored mindfully by us men, this unconscious fear can lead to destructive impulses of self and others—as I’ve mentioned in my previous article on fear.
This willingness and openness to go “spelunking” within ourselves requires a new level of courage, or heroism as John describes it. Men are often at home with the kind of courage that calls them to test their physical or intellectual limits, to build political or corporate empires, and to fly into space or to dive beneath the oceans. But the courage that is needed to face our deep fears that women can awaken within us calls us to go in the opposite direction: to descend into ourselves rather than to only ascend into the world around us, to go inwards into our emotions and unconscious-self rather than to only go outwards into strenuous activity and labors towards achievement.
As men, we are called by society and our fellow man to be courageous in the world we can see and touch and physically affect, as we should be. And yet we tend to overlook the other half of life that women are usually more at home with than we are—the other half that reveals to us that there’s more to life than what our five senses can show us, that there’s more to ourselves and our relationships with others than what we can do or achieve. Thus, as John puts it:
This is what happens when a woman’s influence starts to work on us—it calls us to vast things—first of all by bringing us to an edge where we fear to tread. The kind of heroism required here calls for hand-to-hand combat with the demons of fear we encounter on the threshold of the unknown—when we approach the dark continent of the feminine, which we usually regard as alien and Other. In order to rise to this challenge, we need to re-vision relationship as a great transformative work that requires and calls forth wisdom and courage.
I can’t help but think of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as a kind of literary allegory to what Welwood described above—the parallels between Conrad’s tale of braving the primal evil within the world as represented by the wild African jungle, and the “hand-to-hand combat with the demons of fear we encounter on the threshold of the unknown” within us.
Did you also notice what John said in the last sentence of that same quote? That men “need to re-vision relationship as a great transformative work that requires and calls forth wisdom and courage.” Earlier in the chapter, he even states that “In order to make use of these opportunities, men need to develop their own vision of relationship, instead of seeing this aspect of life as a woman’s sphere.”
Simply put, relationship with women is not only a space where we encounter the fears and uncertainties within us; it can also be the space in which we do the arduous work that the earlier encounter demands from us.
But what does that mean? What does that look like for a man in relation to a strong and loving woman? In Rilke’s words, it means “to ripen, to become world, to become world in himself for another’s sake; it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things.” In other words, it means to own your half of the relationship, to take personal responsibility to grow and mature all of you with and for your significant other, as well as yourself.
Hence, a man “can no longer afford, in D. H. Lawrence’s words, to ‘go forth panoplied in his own idea of himself,’ but must forge a deeper knowledge of who he is, beyond any image of what it is to be a man.” He must mature internally as well as externally. He must become even more grounded in his authentic masculinity in order to more consciously be in relationship with the authentic femininity his counter-parts offers him.
This is by no means a small task for any man to undertake, but it is nevertheless a worthy one!
If you are willing, I suggest that you spend some time today reflecting on what was shared in this article. Do so to see how any part of this discussion applies to your own life currently and in the future. It is my hope that these words can become food for thought and perhaps seeds for fostering better relationships with the women (and men) in your life.
“To be a man is to risk your body and blood first, and then to risk your mind [and heart]. All the time, to risk your known self, and become once more a self you could never have known or expected.”
Photo credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões