“It is only when a man tames his own demons
that he becomes the king of himself if not of the world.”
― Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces
The Storm Inside
Sometimes I am pushed to do things I don’t understand, to push myself beyond all reason into a fight beyond all courage. To find that edge in myself where fear gives way to something . . . else. What else? I guess that is what I seek to discover. When I was young it was surfing, paddling out into ocean waves, being challenged by their power and unpredictability and ultimately being humbled by their strength and relentlessness. Big waves challenge us to our core: speaking about Maverick’s, a dangerous big-wave surf spot, Grant Washburn said riding waves there was “a primal Jolt to our inner selves, making us feel alive like few things in the modern world.” In my 40s I was hiking out into the wilderness, fasting for days on end in solitude with nature, seeking the battle within, fighting with my demons to be a better person. Now, in my late 50s I still feel that familiar tug but I am motivated to teach, to share my experiences, my battle is to grow my world, expand my compassion, to let go of my earthly desires.
It is a storm inside, a strong desire, a burning, a river of passion that pushes me to face the unfaceable. What is that fire and why don’t I turn back? There is a part of me that wants to, a part deep inside myself that screams out a warning. But there’s another part of me that needs to know; to defeat the thing I fear. As Joseph Conrad wrote in the Heart of Darkness:
“We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. It was very quiet in there…. The dawns were heralded by the descent of a chill stillness…. We were wanderers on prehistoric earth, and on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet…. The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy…. We were cut off from comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse. We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember because we were traveling in the night of first ages of those ages that are gone leaving hardly a sign, and no memories. The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there, there you could look at a thing monstrous and free.”
Now, I know what you must be thinking. This is macho stuff, pure testosterone, prove my worthiness, satisfy my ego, my lack of self confidence. And maybe a part of it is, but I believe it’s also much more. This storm I believe is in all men, and in some ways, all women, but it is manifested differently in each. Think about this: a recent study of 10 years of Darwin Awards, distinctions for people that “must show an astounding misapplication of common sense” that results in their own demise, revealed that nearly 90% of the recipients were men. Many of these incidents clearly involved idiots but the researchers also concluded that: “It is puzzling that males are willing to take such unnecessary risks — simply as a rite of passage, in pursuit of male social esteem, or solely in exchange for ‘bragging rights.” Why is that, you might ask?
This behavior, to seek a rite of passage, to face their fears, I believe is the warrior* spirit in all men, however poorly or well developed. The warrior is one of four male archetypes, basic instinctual patterns that form the foundation for the behavior of all men. Jung was the first western scientist to give them a name but they have been known since time immemorial. When I discovered them, or rediscovered their energy in my 40s, I felt immediately at home. They were my directions in life, my compass. But I quickly learned that without balance the directions can be, well, misdirections, catastrophes, so balance is the challenge, but first there must be understanding. *[Note: the terms warrior, hero, king, magician and lover are used in many ways. Here they are meant to describe personality instincts, not necessarily the physical personifications described in our modern culture].
Archetypes in Men
Lover, warrior, magician, king; yellow, red, black, white; eagle, mouse, bear, buffalo; love, courage, introspection, wisdom; spring, summer, fall, winter; east, south, west, north. These are the four elements of the sacred circle of life, a mandala for the mind, repeated in colors, animal spirits, seasons, and directions. We see them in the medicine wheels of First Nations, in the Hill at Tara, at Stonehenge. These are representations of Jung’s collective unconscious, forms of the psyche that have always existed in everyone. They are not developed individually but inherited, perhaps genetically, from our ancestors as archetypes and expressed in different ways in our personality. We only know them directly in our myths and legends as they repeat, over and over, the pattern of human psychology buried deep in our souls.
Joseph Campbell taught us that mythology is a projection of the unconscious, stories we repeat in our lives as legend, folklore, and ideology. These myths take their specific shapes from the individual’s cultural environment but certain images are found to recur in people widely separated in time and space, images that have a common meaning or elicit comparable psychological responses and thus serve similar cultural functions. The Hero’s Journey, for example, where we venture forth to kill our Dragon — a metaphorical battle of the heaven (a bird) and hell (a serpent) within us all — and return to enlighten mankind with our new found knowledge. In our modern culture this is Luke in Star Wars, facing his greatest fear in the cave on Dagobah, which is not Darth Vader, but his fear of turning into Vader, turning to the dark side. This is also Frodo in Lord of the Rings, his greatest fear of succumbing to the ring of power, yet he carries it towards its destruction. Each man on an impossible journey but ultimately only fighting their inner desires to gain power by denying power for themselves.
The Search for Balance
But for every King there is a tyrant, for every Magician a manipulator, and for every Warrior a masochist. The key to harnessing the energy of a healthy archetype is making the transition from boy psychology to man psychology. Many of our global problems are from men in power with archetypes gone awry; manifested as crippling psychological problems and subsequently creating tyrants, despots and dictators. Instead a mature man must transcend (not destroy) his boy psychology and assume the energy of the man. In boys, these warrior shadow energies can be manifested as the “Grandstander Bully,” an individual so insecure they try to impress everyone with their power and thus take enormous risks and try to dominate those around them, or the Coward, an individual that runs way from their problems but may eventually erupt in violence and assault his enemies. The character portrayed by Tom Cruise in the movie Top Gun is a good example of the Grandstander Bully: he listens to no one, takes enormous risks, and eventually hurts himself and those around him.
The apex of boy psychology is the Hero, an individual that believes he is immortal and can fight the unfightable foe and win. Clearly both are impossible but in boys this is a romantic fantasy but appropriate energy for their age. In men it can be disastrous and explains many of the problems in modern society: men trapped in boy psychology; immature men that live as bullies, cowards or heros. Ultimately, however, for a man to reach his full potential he must capture the energy of the mature, well-balanced Warrior. An unbalanced Warrior, although transcending the boy, can still exhibit the shadow behaviors of sadists and masochists. The mature Warrior, on then other hand, doesn’t back down from fear but isn’t a fool either. His actions are solely to achieve a purpose, never overdone or dramatic; he know what he wants and is willing to suffer to achieve his goals. The difference between the Warrior and the Hero is that the Warrior is smart, and knows his limitations. He doesn’t have romantic images of invulnerability but the clarity of knowing his capacities and limitations. These are the great warrior traditions of the Spartans, the Samurai, of the Native American warriors who defended their people against overwhelming odds, and in modern culture of Luke in Star Wars.
But again balance within the Warrior is key or one can become a powerful shadow warrior, such as the sadist Darth Vader. Balance must also occur with the other archetypes such that the Warrior’s dispassionate nature is tempered by the Lover’s compassion, and so on. Balance both within and among archetypes leads to a mature man, one with the storm inside, but who channels the power of the storm to help others, to protect the defenseless, to love the loveless, and uses his leadership and intellect to set an example for others.
The New Warrior
For most men, unlike times past, the Warrior spirit is not focused on defeating a foe on the battlefield but can, and should, be harnessed in a constructive way to benefit their lives and modern society. How then does one become this “New Warrior” and what does it mean to be a modern, mature Man? The Mankind Project is one men’s group that seeks to empower individuals in this way to become:
“.... men who want to be powerful Leaders and Role Models. Men willing to step through fear and into the challenge of their lives. Men not afraid to revolt against repressive social norms, take off their masks and break through their personal barriers. Men ready to take real risks and step into their full power. Men not afraid to inhabit ALL the characteristics required of men in changing times; resiliency, integrity, courage, creativity, innovation, adaptability, compassion, empathy, radical self-responsibility, inclusiveness, generosity and respect. The demands and pressures that men face today require an extraordinary level of courage, authenticity and tenacity. ” [ManKind project website]
In times past men empowered themselves and their archetypal energy through myth-based rituals, like calling the directions of the medicine wheel to balance the energies within, or through initiation ceremonies that helped the boy to “die” and give birth to the man inside. The Hero’s Journey is a classic story of an common initiation ritual myth repeated throughout time and across the globe in countless ways. In a The Hero with A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell writes:
“The psychological dangers through which earlier generations were guided by the symbols and spiritual exercises of their mythological and religious inheritance, we today … must face alone, or, at best with only tentative, impromptu, and not often very effective guidance. This is our problem as modern, “enlightened” individuals, for whom all gods and devils have been rationalized out of existence.”
But there are ways to experience these empowering rituals and many men naturally seek them in their lives. It could be hiking into nature, seeking life challenging experiences, working with a therapist, seeking a modern initiation experience, participating in a men’s or couples workshop, meditation, or oddly enough, simply living a life open to change. Links to some possible paths are listed below. I have personally experienced all of these to varying degrees and they have enriched my life and helped me to be a better person, a better husband, father, teacher and citizen. It has helped me to channel the storm inside into something constructive…and avoid being an idiot.
- King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Robert Moore & Douglas Gillette
- Darwin Awards study says men are far more idiotic than women
- New Warrior Training Adventure: a modern initiation experience for men
- Medicine Wheels and the Four Directions
- Climbing the Sacred Mountain: an adult vision quest experience
- Couples: workshop for men and women
- Meditation guide (with music)
- Archetypes in women: maiden, mother, crone, queen (Yes, women have them too!)