Soul Topics

Build momentum (or lose definition of yourself)

A man twice my age once told me that once you hit a certain age, energy inevitably runs out. Reality snaps at you, and there goes the drive, motivation and physical capacities you once had. When that time comes, all you have got to sustain your life and keep it going the way you want comes down to this one thing: momentum.

For the young go-getters who believe that ‘the sky is the limit’, this sobering grain of insight re-introduces one back to Earth and the harsh grounds of our fundamental humanness. We are not so ‘special’. We have limits.

Age, to the zestful and spirited young, is something that seems irrelevant, almost foreign in character and impossible to fathom. To a person in the early twenties, middle-age seems like a distant land, very out of reach.

Nevertheless it is a beautiful concept, an important one that has much to offer. Age constitutes experience, insights and memories that form and become parts of the individual – these fragments add up, and through them, self-definition happens. Through these fragments, one builds upon them and gains momentum, further cementing one’s dominant characteristics into his/her consciousness.

This is why an alcoholic finds it extremely hard to quit alcohol; the memories, habitual patterns and experiences surrounding alcoholism over the years have become deeply ingrained in him. It has become who he is, his identity.

In contrast, a successful middle-age businessman could undergo a rough patch, but he has years of experience under his belt, years of doing things “right”. Much like activating muscle memory, what is called upon to get him out of trouble is his experience. The successful businessman has known of himself to be disciplined, shrewd, decisive and capable of overcoming adversity. He possesses an internal character that distinguishes himself from the rest who do not have “what it takes”.

Clearly, momentum is not derived from a vacuum. It is built upon experience, which is internalised in a person’s character.

Building Momentum: Gathering the best fragments of you

We do not become the best versions of ourselves by default. We need to take the right actions and establish momentum.

Unfortunately, the ill and conditioned patterns we have learnt and incorporated into our lives have become attached to us like a drug; they essentially become “us”.

To unlearn them is possible, but it requires an art of discipline – to dig up and remove these layers of dirt bucket by bucket. These are essentially the flaws in our character, we need a hard look in the mirror and a resolve that they shall die to be replaced by positive virtues.

A lot of people have tried to find themselves by trying all sorts of different things. Not many of those things are useful. Some are momentary, brief, and serve only to elevate the ego, or to make one feel good. Not many endeavours last. After all, people default back to square one.

These are the times that call for deep soul searching.

What are the best fragments of you? What do you know you are capable of?

And what matters most?

The saving grace is that beneath the layers of dirt we have filled in our psyche – our mind, body and spirit – there is something that is of innate value, that shines effortlessly. Fragments of the best version of ourselves buried down below that we need to uncover, rediscover, and gather, and through them establish momentum to redirect our lives.

 

 

Soul Topics

Rites of Passage: Growing Up into Adulthood (Manhood or Womanhood)

There is something sacred and divine about the journey of growing up into adulthood.

Here and there, there are striking incidences, trials and hardship, along with tangibly felt moments that provoke and inspire. Every now and then, the individual – whether a young teen or an older man – experiences subtle yet authoritative messages that are deeply personal.

Such moments could be easily lost and forgotten, but their subtle messages could otherwise serve as a doorway into another world. These messages, when heeded, potentially guide the individual on a journey to separate from the ‘unthinking masses’ and embody a distinct personal identity.

Thus in growing up, as with every other transition phase in life, we are called to make important decisions; responsibility befalls us as a curse and a gift. Whether or not we choose to encounter this sense of numinosity – i.e. the call of the sacred or what Joseph Campbell terms as the ‘call to adventure’ – would crucially define who we become.

Yet, what does it mean to encounter and pursue the ‘sacred’? This is intimately tied to the question we all inevitably ask growing up: What makes us a man or a woman?

Initiation, Mentorship and Ancient Wisdom

In ancient wisdom literature, one is initiated into adulthood by the elders of that society who are wiser, more mature and experienced. They would provide essential mentorship through initiating certain ceremonies – what are known as rites of passage – for the younger ones to pass through as they transit into adulthood.

For example, this could first involve a clean break from the parents, whereby the novice boy ventures into the wilderness, followed by a wound given by an older man, a scarring of some sort such as the knocking out of a tooth. Far from inflicting meaningless pain, these initiations carry deep meaning; the boy would forever associate his broken tooth with a living connection of some sort, such as a highly revered or respected hero or teacher of that community who has similarly lost a tooth. These ritualistic ceremonies are purely symbolic, but under the guidance of the wise, the messages and lessons they carry are heavily instilled upon the younger ones.

Of course, the situation is different today. The challenging ceremonies of the past requiring endurance and pain are commonly reduced to many mainstream religious ceremonies today, symbolic but nevertheless highly sanctioned and softened. Arguably, the mentorship we need for soul growth is severely lacking, and we are more confused than ever in a highly abundant and stimulating technological age.

Creating Our Own Rites of Passage

However, a teaching we could adopt from the ancient rites of passage is that in the key transition phases of an individual’s life, there are rituals, carefully designed and deemed necessary for the individual’s transition.

These rituals involve a process requiring a certain mental, emotional and physical toughness. Not everyone could be successfully ‘initiated’ into adulthood; only the ones who are ready would make that transition, bypassing a certain threshold where something in the psychology and character shifts.

Rituals done consistently and purposefully are associated with discipline.

Hence, we could create our own rites of passage by constantly – ritualistically – subjecting ourselves to the training of our mental, emotional and physical faculties, through a dedicated course of action that is personal to us and our growth.

A writer might find a very different set of rituals from an athlete who cultivates with weights, or a programmer, businessman, salesman or construction worker. A daughter from a dysfunctional family severely abused from a young age would find his/her path indeed very different from the average woman. The testosterone raging young man moves toward hope and progress, whereas the old man is discharged by death of ambition, and embraces a process of letting go and spiritual renewal.

The decision to undertake a particular chosen course of action lies upon the responsibility of the individual to decipher life’s messages and what his/her personal ‘call to adventure’ is. It is essentially greater than oneself and has all to do with the mysterious, invisible and sacred.

Through the committed undertaking of ritualistic practices, a transformation in the psyche is imminent. One eventually makes that transition into manhood or womanhood. The art of discipline instills into the individual a unique and spirited identity, and empowers one to become capable of meeting the intensity of life’s many trials and tribulations.

What is your call to adventure? What are your rites of passage?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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)