Some sage words on male naivete

posted by Eivind on January 18, 2011, at 11:11 pm

I had a great conversation with a Brother at lunch today about the Warrior archetype and the ways in which we have been naive and held back. So when I read the following passage in Iron John at a pleasant cafe after work, it crystallized as something of a theme today. Robert Bly is always worth quoting. Here are some of his sage words on the naive man:

A naive man acts out strange plays of self-isolation. For example, when an angry woman is criticizing him, he may say, quite  sensibly, "You're right. I had no right to do that". If her anger turns to rage, he bends his head and says "I've always been this way". In the third act, he may implicate his father. "He was never there; he never gave me any support". Her rage continues and he bends over still farther. He is losing ground rapidly, and in the fourth act he may say: "All men are shits." He is now many more times isolated than he was a few minutes ago. He feels rejected by the woman and he is now isolated from all other men as well. One man I knew went through this play every time he had a serious fight with a woman, about once a week.

The naive man will lose what is most precious to him because of a lack of boundaries. This is particularly true of the New Age man, or the man seeking "higher consciousness". Thieves walk in and out of his house, carrying large bags, and he doesn't seem to notice them. He tells his "white light" experiences at parties; he confides the contents of last night's dreams to a total stranger. Mythologically, when he meets the giant he tells him all his plans. He rarely fights for what is his; he gives away his eggs, and other people raise the chicks. We could say that, unaware of boundaries, he does not develop a good container for his soul, nor a good container for two people. There's a leak in it somewhere. He may break the container himself when he sees an attractive face. As an artist he improvises; as a poet his work lacks metre and shape.

Improvisation is not all wrong, but he tends to be proud of his lack of form because he feels suspicious of boundaries. The lack of boundaries will eventually damage him. The naive man tends to have an inappropriate relation to ecstasy. He longs for ecstasy at the wrong time or in the wrong place, and ignores all masculine sources of it. He wants ecstasy through the Feminine, through the Great Mother, through the goddess, even though what may be grounding for the woman ungrounds him. He uses ecstasy to be separated from grounding or discipline.

The naive man's timing is off. We notice that there will often be a missing beat a second or so after he takes a blow, verbal or physical. He will go directly from the pain of receiving the blow to an empathetic grasp of the reason why it came, skipping over the anger entirely. Misusing Jesus's remark, he turns the missing cheek.

Anyone recognize themselves in these words? I sure as hell do. In fact, when it comes to the last paragraph, I experienced exactly that about two years ago. I had started martial arts practice understanding that my Warrior archetype needed to power up, but I was still naive as fuck. One day, there was a deranged man on the train platform who walked around saying stuff that scared people. For some crazy reason, I thought it was in my power to handle this dude by talking some sense into him – trying to protect the others from their discomfort (though of course it was really my own I was concerned with). I addressed him and he came right over to me and punched me in the face "I'm just trying to win friends," he told me.

I was flabbergasted. I had no response. So he landed another punch. My glasses flew across the platform and my lip cracked. I was still flabbergasted – my martial arts skills nowhere to be seen. And the fucked up thing was that my first feeling was empathy – "oh, you must have a rough life to treat my like that". Afterwards when I started thinking about it, I realized my "empathy" could have got me killed. I thought about this at a friend's funeral – because that's where I was headed. Worse, it could have got my family killed (if I had one). This became somewhat of a dilemma for me (similar to the one which got me to take up martial arts in the first place). These thoughts made me upset that I hadn't had a knee jerk reaction of anger and high physical alert. I was frightened by my apathy and that twisted willingness to feel soft compassion for a man who just attacked me in a most violent fashion. There's a time and place for everything. That wasn't it.

In my conversation with my Brother today, I talked about the Warrior archetype and how there's a knee jerk component to him. A true Warrior is prepared to defend himself and that which he is assigned to protect within a moment's notice. Otherwise, he may die (in a bloody mess), and that which he was meant to protect with it (including the goodness and beautiful innocence of our own innermost nature).

Being punched in the face on that train station platform was a huge learning experience. I lost some naivete that day. And it forms a background understanding for why the Warrior archetype is exactly what this naive man that Bly speaks of so desperately needs.

Finally, the first paragraph pinpoints why I claimed that last years Manifesto for Conscious Men was a hurtful (and, I feel inclined to add right now – dangerous) document  in the wrong hands. I wonder how many naive men liked that text on Facebook thinking that they were protecting the Feminine and doing some true and beautiful thing, whilst really being in the unconscious process of trampling on all that was beautiful and worth honoring in themselves. I hope it wasn't too many. Though the danger was acute.

Something to chew on.

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