Year To Live Project: Knights Of The Roundtable
Tuesday January 19th – Santa Barbara CA
Maybe I hadn’t heard him correctly. I was sort of choking on my own snot at this point.
“Speak to the child you and your wife miscarried, out loud, with us as your witness. What do you want to say to him?” he told me again.
Eight men were seated in a tight-knit group around me, the lot of us packed into a octagonal cage-like yurt at the top of Mission Canyon, in scenic Santa Barbara. My back was on the floor, eyes blinking at the ceiling. There were 14 hands holding me down to the ground as I fought to get up and away from any part in this exercise. Tears were rolling down my cheeks and my jaw was wire-shut clenched, absolutely refusing to open for any sound to escape.
“LET ME THE FUCK UP,” ripped silently through my head but there was no earthly way I was going to utter a word, not a sound, not a singular note. One word would kick the door down and I needed that door to stay shut. Or so I thought.
“Speak the pain. Say it aloud. Let it out of your body and free yourself of its charge.”
“Please, I can’t do that,” I managed to spit out.
“Let the sounds come,” he said.
And I broke. Thank god.
The sound came. From the depths of my own personal hell came the cry fueled by marinated yet unexpressed rage. Out came the white-hot cocktail of anguish mixed with desperation at a loss I had yet to deal with since the day it happened. A loss I had buried for misguidedly chivalrous reasons, plus the sheer terror of being overwhelmed by the feelings accompanying it. Out it came as the hands pinned me down with a force that let me know it was safe to completely let go and a tenderness that told me the louder my wail, the deeper my healing.
The above was experienced on a weekend in September of last year, the highlight on a year full of skyward peaks. The lowlight on a year full of hellish valleys.
Last Friday, we were back in the yurt. Eight of us. All of us together again. The Knights of the Roundtable as I have aptly named the group. As you can imagine, I was equal part excitement, equal parts “Oh wow, I think I have to pee for the twenty-seventh time this morning” trepidation.
To Be A Man
Robert Masters wrote the book To Be a Man and Emotional Intimacy and has been guiding men and couples for longer than I’ve been alive. After reading To Be a Man last year and feeling the lessons contained within were ones I could benefit from learning, I joined in on the Men’s Weekend he had coming up in my town. That’s how I first ended up in that yurt.
Truth be told, I quite naively showed up on the first day of that gathering, whipped out a notebook and a pen, and prepared to sit quietly and listen to Robert lecture for four days. “Okie dokie, let the healing begin.” However, after all of us participants sat in a circle, introduced ourselves, and gave some insight into what we were looking to get out of the weekend, we dove into a world of which I had no knowledge.
Mixing Gestalt, body work, role playing, and meditation, Robert masterfully wove the peaceful yurt into an explosive house of healing. Men yelled. Men screamed. Men wept. Men bore witness to the deepest, darkest secrets of the man next to them. Let’s just say there wasn’t any lecture, and for me it was a baptism by fire. It was hell. Beautifully healing hell.
Each man comes to the gathering in a vastly different life stage than any other. With ages ranging from early thirties to mid-seventies, marital statuses mixed, and occupations as varied as the sizes and body types, it’s a freeform group. No man is the same. No man has the same challenge.
Yet, we all do have the same challenges. The challenge of being authentic. The challenge of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. The challenge of overcoming shame. The challenge of speaking truth when some part of us is desperate to hide behind old patterns, false beliefs, and shadow behaviors. Intimacy may have less to do with glass hearts and more to do with being able to look a man dead in the eye and answer the sentence, “What I have done in my life that I am most ashamed of is….” Yea, try that one on for size next time you’re cracking a few cold ones with the boys at halftime.
In the yurt, at least with these men, there is nowhere to hide. And no one wants to. We all understand the immense power in having someone bear witness without judgement and lend unequivocal support to the man beside him.
The deeper the wound, the more desperate its expression. The lying, cheating, drinking, whoring, thievery, murder, torture, rape, and generally fucked-up state of the world is a smattering of the shadow expressions of the men currently occupying it. Getting to adulthood unscathed is an impossibility. What you do with that scathing is the difference between life or death. Destroying lives, your own included, or living life to the fullest.
To Truly Heal Takes A Village
In a rare display of solidarity for a group that had met for the first time only a few month prior, all eight of us returned from across the nation for a second round with Robert. For another four days, we worked together as brothers despite our surface differences. And together we healed. Full-blooded healing. Healing at the core. Deep work. Old wounds. Childhood traumas. Wounds around loss and death and betrayal. The wounds that when left unexamined lead to the myriad, “I have no idea why I snap when…” and “My life is ruled by this pattern of….”
We went to our respective edges. The places we don’t want to go but know we need to. To work through the “I sure as shit hope I don’t have to talk about ‘that.’” The “that” you pray stays buried in your life but manages to surface at the confluence of perfect storms and wreaks havoc in your life when it does. Surfacing as addiction, anger, shame. The places where our integrity lapses. The ways we give our power away. Where we are weakest in our lives. There. The edge.
As one man works through his shit, we all benefit. The man learning to speak his truth with his own wife teaches me how to communicate with my next partner, while allowing me to understand the position my ex-wife might have been in. Subtle healing happens for all of us as he opens his heart and speaks of his struggles. We see our own subconscious patterns expressed in his actions and resistance.
Clean Anger Breeds Trust
My work this weekend dove into the subject of anger. Cultivating an understanding of the difference between “clean anger” or anger that gets expressed via the heart and the shadow expressions of anger. Learning how to state, “This makes me angry, and that’s ok.” Becoming intimate with my own anger and learning its nuances. Where it sits on a volume dial. Is it a one, a three, a five, or a ten? Naming it. Is it frustration? Is it irritation? Or is it rage?
Is there a transition from one to ten? Can the transition time be lengthened, extended, slowed down, or rotated upward and downward along the dial? Can someone feel that transition with me? Or is it a switch? Is there any space between a smile and a punched hole in the wall? Am I afraid of what happens if the switch gets flipped? And what is the cost of suppressing that expression? Energy has to go somewhere, where does it go when it gets buried?
I learned that being trustworthy necessitates the honest expression of anger – it demands it. Stuffing anger, hiding it, dissociating from it, or falsely denying its existence does the opposite – it disallows the potential for honest discourse. It denies my partner the opportunity to learn not only about me, but who I am without distortion. Trust needs anger, denial of any human emotion is a lie by omission. Pieces of my head needed to be washed off the side of the yurt with that post-explosion realization.
We learned to speak truth to power. To speak power with the understanding that if doing so leads to death, so be it. This is my truth and I will not waiver from it.
And we spoke of death.
In a beautiful afternoon of open discourse, we all spoke of death. Of our fears around it, and our awe of it. Of the lessons our own death will inevitably impart on those we leave behind. The same lessons we have learned from the deaths we have witnessed and experienced, and the imprint they have left in our psyches, beliefs, and behaviors. How death has been a gift in our lives, despite the pain that accompanies it.
Death and birth are the commonalities in the human experience. The ties that bind us all. No matter how many virgins you believe await you, or if nothing awaits at all, we all got squirted out by our mamas and will all sleep the big sleep when the time is right. To die is to be human.
“Death is enlivening, and wretchedly, awfully perfect,” said the man who has more experience with it than any of us. The man who at our last meeting was staring it in the eye.
Living life fully, it was also said, is the best preparation for death. Living with an open heart. Wide open. Scary wide. Shit in your pants scary on some days.
Lying on the floor of that yurt while staring at the ceiling and facing the one door I didn’t want to open, changed me forever. It unlocked a portal, unearthed an insight and gave me a glimpse into the world where healing takes place not in my head, but in my heart. A place that I was never willing to go and would not have gone without the courage of the men before me.
Actions Speak Louder Than Any Words
The Knights of the Roundtable have agreed to meet again in the spring of 2017. To open ourselves back up to the wisdom, support, and love we have for each other. The camaraderie and brotherhood necessary for all men striving to be on the highest path we walk together.
To the men reading this – find a men’s group. Contact Robert if it moves you. Look up the ManKind Project. Watch carefully, speak honestly, and be willing to do this deep but essential work. Politics aside, we are the gender most responsible for the mayhem that is rampant across the earth. For the most part, we are the warmongers, the trigger pullers, the rapists, and the trauma inducers. We are the subjugators, the enslavers, and the abusers. Like it or not, it’s on us. And we do it because we’re wounded. We do it to hide our pain, our shame, and our blame. To deny the shadow sides of our beings while destroying everything around us.
It may not be all of us, but our team carries the heaviest sticks and wields them most destructively. We also have the power to change what we see, what we all experience, and the degree of suffering that is acceptable and played out on our planet.
First we have to change ourselves, but not by ourselves. Together. Let’s turn some lights.
To the men who were there in the yurt with me. I continue to find myself in humble reverence at your courage to be open, your tenacity for exploration, your depth of vulnerability, and the clarity of your transparency. I walk into this journey with your supportive hands upon my back and your impeccable standard of integrity as my marker. Till we meet again.