What is mens work really about?
“Don’t be so soft.”
“Boys don’t cry.”
“Are you gay or something?”
These are some of the classic remarks many of us men have heard at some stage during our lives; throw-away statements that enforce the idea that showing emotion, vulnerability, tenderness, or something other than the stereotypical yet outdated masculine male archetype of being tough, stoic, and full of brawn, is something to be ashamed of.
Although it’s blaringly obvious, I’ll state it anyway: All humans feel emotions. All humans cry. All humans have a soft side. All humans are a beautiful blend of the hard, soft, light, dark and everything in between.
Yet because men have been subject to judgment and ridicule over the past few decades for not meeting the expected criteria and image of masculinity, questions along the lines of “what does it mean to be a man?” are questions that many have asked at some stage along the journey.
This is one reason why mens work is important, and why mens work is becoming more popular. Whether it’s through regular meet-ups, one day events, or multi-day retreats, many of us are challenging the dysfunctional stereotypes and shining a light on the preconceived notions of what it means to be a man; encouraging the integration of all aspects of what it means to actually be a whole human being.
This includes (but is not limited to) being seen for who we really are, supporting each other through challenges, encouragement to feel and express our emotions, to connect with our truth, learning to speak from our heart, finding trust, brotherhood and real connections with other men, having fun and reconnecting with the little boy within, exploring both the masculine and feminine archetypal energies that reside inside us, recognizing the strength within our vulnerability, and taking more responsibility as role models and leaders within our communities.
To distill it down, we could say mens work is about reconnection.
Reconnection to ourselves, to tribe, and to the natural world from which we come and from which we are a part.
Yet sometimes we’re so burdened with the heavily ingrained - and even enforced - conditioning, dogma, and taboos from society, culture, family, media, and other aspects of our external environment, that it can become increasingly challenging to release the old patterns and programs to make way for new ways of being.
One of the focal points for these new-ways-of-being in much of mens work, is in making the journey from the head, down into the heart. From the thinking mind, down into the feeling body.
While there are many ways to become more aware of the dysfunctional conditioning and limiting beliefs, some methods are naturally slower than others, yet contain a low risk to reward ratio, and others contain higher risks, yet hold the potential for significant growth to occur in a shorter amount of time.
There are rarely ever any solid guarantees no matter which route one takes, yet many people are in agreeance that one of the most transformative and profound ways to release this conditioning and make the journey from the head, down into the heart, is through harnessing the potential of the safe and responsible use of sacred medicines and psychedelics.
The path of developing a relationship with these sacraments and consciousness altering molecules is not the only path to take for those looking to shed the old and step into the new, while connecting deeper to their heart and truth within. It’s also not a path that everyone should pursue either, for that matter.
When it comes to mens work though, where is the relevance?
This was one of the questions posed by a committee of men, after I was initially approved to offer a workshop and ceremonial ritual at a mens only event, only to have it revoked due to committee guidelines and values. This workshop was focused on the education, demystification, de-stigmatization, and experiential knowing of a traditional Amazonian medicine, known as Rapeh, which is becoming more well known and more widely used due being an accessible, legal, healing, and heart connecting plant medicine.
While I absolutely respect the guidelines and values of any committee in their decision to include or exclude specific offerings at their events, it left some questions and concerns unanswered that are important to address:
Where is the relevance between men’s work and sacred medicine? Is it really necessary? Does it have a place? Where would it fit in?
Mens work is about freedom. But are we really free?
To begin, sacred medicines and consciousness alteration are topics that have been buried under a heavy load of dysfunctional conditioning for decades, if not centuries. De-stigmatization and education are key elements to take into consideration.
Without delving too deep into the vast landscape of the hows, whens, wheres and whys, certain methods of consciousness alteration - such as coffee, alcohol and smoking tobacco - have been culturally accepted and encouraged, while others - such as the use of psychedelic substances - have been a rich breeding ground for mass misinformation, propaganda and prohibition.
The landscape is changing with the new era of clinical research, and the influx of open-minded and reasonable information being distributed through popular culture and various media channels, but we’re still deeply entrenched in the time of prohibition; better known, as the war on drugs, or perhaps more appropriately - as some have put it - the war on consciousness.
Violent enforcement from governments and higher authorities have made it clear that they think they should be the ones making decisions on our behalf surrounding what we may and may not do, what we may and may not explore, and what we may and may not experience when it comes to our own consciousness.
Now, when it comes to mens work, and any other kind of self development, spirituality, or integration work, at the core of much of the reconnection that I mentioned, is freedom. The freedom to be ourselves. The freedom to feel and express our emotions. The freedom to connect with our truth. The freedom to speak from our heart. The freedom to have fun. The freedom to commune with nature. The freedom to explore taboo subjects.
But even with all the many supposed freedoms we’ve been granted through the evolution of society and culture over many decades and centuries, we're clearly not granted one of the most basic freedoms of all. The fundamental freedom of our own consciousness.
If we're not free from the tyrannical rule of authorities where only a select few states of consciousness are accepted and allowed due to rather nonsensical reasoning, we’re very clearly not completely sovereign over our own states of consciousness. This is a problem. How can we really have true freedom in our lives if at the core of our being, our state of consciousness, the most intimate and personal aspect of ourselves, is regulated, monitored, and supposedly bound by prohibition and dysfunctional belief systems?
This ideology has unfortunately trickled down to make its way into the belief systems and perspectives of many community members, and those who step outside the boundaries of “acceptable” behaviour are often shamed, blamed, guilted, judged, ridiculed and in some very unfortunate cases heavily prosecuted.
Community members may not want to alter their consciousness in such extreme ways that various sacred medicines and psychedelics allow, and that’s perfectly acceptable. The problem here is the lack of rights and freedom for those who would like to engage in consciousness exploration - in a manner that ensures safety to ones self and to others.
Altering our consciousness has deep genetic roots, and the act of altering consciousness even seems to be an inherent phenomena shared by many species, not just humans. Canines, felines, primates, dolphins, deer, wallabies and more, have been observed to consume psychoactive compounds in the wild; stimulating and altering their own unique states of consciousness.
We humans have been altering and expanding our consciousness for thousands of years. There’s even compelling evidence to suggest that religion, art, spirituality, creativity, innovative thinking, language, and sophisticated symbolism, arose from our early ancestor’s engagement in non-ordinary states of consciousness through various means, such as fasting, dancing, rhythmic drumming, sensory deprivation, and naturally occurring psychoactive substances.
There’s little doubt that consciousness exploration and expansion has played a vital role along our entire evolution of human beings, yet as mentioned, in our day and age, the perceived appropriateness and acceptance of certain modalities encapsulates a very limited and narrow scope.
Our conservative and fearful perspectives towards these controversial taboos and topics, amongst many other things, have led to a great deal of disconnection, and only reinforce this disconnection on many levels.
Many men, and humans in general, are lacking connection. But from what?
The disconnection that trickles into many of our lives from a young age can span far and wide. Disconnection from our feelings, emotions, intuition, sexuality, health, wellness, family, community, and the land, to name a few basic areas.
The primary healing and integration that we do around all of this disconnection, starts on the personal level, reconnecting with ourselves on a deep inner level, and naturally continues to spread out into our deepening connection with others and the natural world around us.
One of the reasons that such a heavy stigma exists surrounding sacred medicines, which can include various psychedelics, is that on both an individual and collective level, we have forgotten our place in the great web of life.
As Graham Hancock puts it, “We are a species with amnesia.”
Many of us continue to fail in our recognition, both conceptually and experientially, that we as humans, are not separate from the natural world. We’re not external components independent from nature, even though much of our societal, cultural, and modern-day living behaviors suggest that we are. Our evolution is based on a deeply intertwined and synergistic relationship with the entire ecological tapestry of all threads of life here on this planet.
It’s this severe detachment and disconnection that is wreaking devastation on our planet in many ways, from pollution, deforestation, the extraction and depletion of resources, warfare, and all kinds of further habitat destruction.
While being mindful of the potential romanticizing of many traditional indigenous cultures, one thing that many native communities share is in their deep respect for nature. Many cultures and people that we could perhaps label as having earth-based traditions, spirituality, and philosophies, have a certain way of relating to the natural world, in that they see all life in nature as their equals, while maintaining a knowing and wisdom of being the custodians and caretakers of the precious land that sustains and nourishes us all. They recognize the importance of fostering a deep relationship with the plants, animals, and beyond.
Many of us are yearning for it, but these are not common threads of consciousness in our daily lives in the West. We’re in a state of grieving, from the lack of tradition, culture, connection and ancient wisdom - without even knowing it.
It’s here that we return to the idea of connecting with sacred earth medicines.
Communal gatherings and sacred meetings in diverse traditions incorporate the use of various plants medicines, such as tobacco, coca leaves, and cacao, to encourage an expansion of the heart while speaking truthfully and honestly about important matters. Numerous plants are incorporated and used in the facilitation of rites of passage, making the transition from boyhood to manhood. The symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship between plants and humans extends well beyond the “drug free” indoctrination of the West.
The term “drug free” is often held as a badge of honour and seen as mark of responsibility. To the uninitiated, perhaps so, however it’s a false identity and perception that can play into the outdated paradigm, with this shadow side contributing to the common societal and cultural dogma that drugs are negative, bad, irresponsible and harmful.
It’s a long process of shifting these enforced belief systems. Perspective and behavioural changes need to occur at a much more expansive, overarching level for dramatic transformation to occur, which may take many decades, and maybe even centuries. In the meantime, it’s essential to keep encouraging the illumination of our own individual and collective shadows; taking steps to move back into healthy relationship with all of life here on our planet.
The connection between men’s work and sacred medicines.
Humanity is balancing precariously on a great crest. We need to come back into harmony with nature, and ourselves, before our Great Earth Mother rids of us completely, purging us from her system like cancerous tumors to make way for new growth.
To come back into harmony, is to redefine our relationships; to shift our dysfunctional beliefs; to be the change we wish to see; to provide opportunities for education and experiences that allow us to release the old and step into the new.
There are many ways to language the world of sacred medicines and psychedelics. They can certainly be labelled under the category of ‘drugs’ and ‘substances’, which for many people carry extremely negative connotations, including the ideology mentioned earlier: that introducing certain substances into our bodies that induce certain states of consciousness are ethically wrong and unacceptable.
There’s also the idea that substances shouldn’t be used, or shouldn’t be needed, to attain certain states and traits of being.
To draw similarities, we could expand that train of thought and say that we shouldn’t use or need gym equipment to help us keep fit and healthy, or, calming herbs and teas to relax our nervous system. We shouldn’t use or need vehicles for transportation, or, coffee to make us more productive and energized. We shouldn’t use or need transformative breathwork practices to release and process childhood trauma, or, sex and sexuality practices to experience euphoria, bliss, divinity, and unity consciousness, or, yoga practices for overall wellness.
By making silly comparisons (or perhaps not so silly) I’m making the point that we have access to a wide variety of both artificial and natural tools and modalities, to help us grow, align, and connect on deeper levels than we might have otherwise been able to.
When it comes to the idea of forgoing and excluding sacred medicines as a potential path for reconnection, the old Chinese proverb comes to mind: There are hundreds of paths up the side of the mountain, but the view from the top looks much the same. In a similar vein, not everyone will want to walk the same path, however it’s important to be conscious of where our greater reasoning is actually coming from, as there can be many flavours of our underlying negative associations, unhealthy beliefs and our overall disconnection surrounding the natural world.
Depending on bio-geographical location, many different plant, fungi, and animal substances, which are considered sacred-conscious-altering-allies, have played a vital role in establishing and maintaining a healthy connection to ourselves, our communities, and our planet.
Is denying this paradigm - in men’s work, women’s work, and in general - removing an important stepping stone in our progression and evolution as conscious human beings?
My perspective is that it should at least be a inclusive topic open for further education and discussion, so that in the context of men’s work, we as brothers carry less stigma and judgement, and are better educated to explore these relationships if we so choose, for the purpose of self discovery, healing, spiritual growth, heart connection, rite of passage, or any of the other intentions that we may hold as responsible, sovereign adults.
With the seemingly progressive nature of men’s work - pushing the boundaries and moving towards self discovery, healing, heart connection, growth and freedom - I feel it’s essential to keep moving forwards and to not stay cooped up behind closed doors, taking the conservative approach for fear of judgement or being seen as too edgy. It’s absolutely possible to work within the law and provide responsible content that educates and dispels detrimental dogma.
Many men are disconnected from their hearts and from nature. Sacred medicines, which include both legal, illegal, psychedelic, and non-psychedelic substances, are some of the most profound pathways for us to re-engage and reconnect with great potential to allow an extraordinary depth of richness and meaning inside us, and between us.
They hold the potential to shift decades of emotional baggage, limiting patterns and programs, trauma, and countless blockages that hold us back from making real connections with other men. Some of the closest bonds that I’ve made with other men, and vice versa, have been through the intentional, heart-opening, responsible, and reconnective experiences within the field of sacred medicine.
So to answer my initial question…
I do believe that in this day and age, there is a place, and an important place at that, for the intentional inclusion of sacred medicines - both educational and experiential - within modern day men’s work.
Agree / Disagree?
Would love to know your thoughts. Drop me a line in the comments section below.