Soul Topics

Descending into a Man’s Wounds

Every man receives a wound at some stage of his life. In fact, all of us, males and females, whether aware or unaware, receive multiple wounds from childhood that usually has much to do with our parents, family, and our childhood environment.

One gets called stupid and remembers it for the rest of his life. Another grew up with an abusive father, a broken family. One may have had his heart broken, and decides to neither love nor trust. Another felt shamed for his existence and never believed in his worth. What have our wounds got to do with our lives now?

Because we don’t talk about our wounds, the conscious mind remains unaware, and these wounds are go on to be deeply ingrained as a subconscious programme in our psyche. They become part of the reasons why we behave the way we do. Unfortunately, the value of wounds have been elided in our culture. We strive to keep a positive image of ourselves and the world, and thus remain ignorant of our deepest hurts, do not discuss them, suppress and bypass them. We give them the least honour of all. As “ascenders”, we might hope to change the world, but we have not taught to examine our “dark side” which run our lives – and by extension, our world – in the first place.


Robert Bly says, in the presence of a mentor, dip the wound into the water. In mythology – another realm that has become foreign in our culture – we learn that the strongest version of a man only emerges after he has “descended” into the darkness of his wounds, where he wrestles (gracefully and consciously) with his “dark side”. This is a fascinating idea which presents a revolutionary possibility, one which stands at a stark contrast to our cultural notions of ascending beyond it all and the avoidance of poverty. That is a linear path of growth taught and inculcated to us, and every young man has hopes and dreams that are definitely far from wrong, and are meant to be pursued. However, at some point, even those hopes and dreams – realised or not – begins to fade, and the man may even enter a lethargic state, and he loses motivation or interest, thinking that he has lost himself. During these seemingly “down” times, it is paramount that the man recognises the source of his negativity, hopelessness, lethargy and fatigue, and it is a time conducive for the man to delve into the unconsciousness of his wounds. However, most of us would assume that going down is wrong, which is actually a natural process of men’s evolution.

Growth and Evolution has never been a linear process. What goes up must come down. And what hits the ground bounces back up. Life is more of a cyclical process, if you think of the cycles of nature, our Earth, seasons, the night and day, the yin and the yang. The key is to live gracefully in both opposite stages. Thus, what men have to learn is how they could live gracefully when Life takes them down. Men have to learn how to descend into the darkness of their wounds. This has to be a conscious process – in other words, this differs from depression and a languishing life during which a man does not know what he is doing.


The Story of Iron John

The mythological story of Iron John introduces a compelling idea, that every wound becomes a womb when the man has consciously nourished it. The “sacred water” has healing properties when the wound has been dipped.

Before one is born, the womb is a place where one could completely relax into, and effortlessly receive nourishment and providence from the mother. The possibility offered is that, instead of depleting us of vital energy, the wound when nourished, could provide us with so much nourishment that, by extension, we would eventually emerge with greater depth of inner resource than ever, by which would “overflow” and become a force we would use to serve our world. How does this process work?

The boy in Iron John, after having “ascended”, descends into the basement of kitchen work and ashes, where he grapples with the mundane and poverty. What this means is that a man needs to consciously allow himself the permission and space to “go down” the stairs, to completely feel his pains, and necessarily by extension, those of his father and mother, and the state of poverty by which the world lives, its enormous pains and suffering. He takes the road of grief.


The process, being conscious and total, becomes an art of wrestling gracefully with the “dark” forces that are unseen, that are within his psyche but also governing the world at large, all pervasive, powerful and magnificent. The suffering that the man feels is not confined to his narrow self, for the world shares a similar suffering if one develops the capacity to see beyond him, a necessarily inevitable, painful suffering. His suffering is not merely his. During this process, the man works with anger, melancholy, grief, deep shame, but develops virtues such as kindness, compassion, and a renewed passion and heart.


By a will larger than his own, the man needs to stay there for a while before he emerges. However, when he does, he would be a different man, one that is more grounded in his masculinity. A more complete account of this process could found in the story of Iron John expounded by Robert Bly. We now know that a man’s descent and diving into his wounds is a necessary and unavoidable process in the evolution of a male. But first, we must gradually develop the awareness of the wounds within that deprive us of life force.

In fact, why would most men try so hard to eradicate their flaws and imperfection? If it bothers them so much, they are likely to be actual wounds that should be taken a deeper look at. But even after, I have come to find that when a wound has been used as a doorway into a man’s poverty, where he, by extension, feels deeply for the injustices and pains that the world endures through similar wounds, the compassion that fills him allows him to see his flaws as inconsequential. Instead, his inner calling, purpose, and desire for service grows. The need to eradicate one’s imperfection disappears. A wound, while it is present, is like a scar: It reminds a man that he is neither beyond or below but an ordinary, fellow human being that lives, breathes and feels with a burning heart for all that he has been through, and through it, understands why he is still alive, and what he represents and would stand for.

(Photo Credits: Pixabay)