After a recent men's meeting had moved to a place of great sadness, one participant wrote to tell us he felt discontented. Grief work's important he thought. But if we get stuck there, we men will not move on to assume leadership, take action, be out there.

What he wrote left me discontented in turn. So I'm grateful to him for leading me to think/feel about it. Is "taking action" a necessary part of my life, or of our "Men's Movement"? And what, after all, is the connection between ashes work -- as Robert Bly calls it -- and action?

After only four years, I'm a long way from fully understanding my grief. But whenever I grieve over some part of my experience, the center of my sadness seems to be my realization that some part of me was shamed, damaged, "lost", told "not to exist".

So grief is bitter and sweet. Bitter for what was "obliterated". Sweet for the kind realization that the obliterated part of me is still there, available to me at last.

At the heart of the matter, my experience therefore leads me to believe it's dangerous to divide my grief work from action in any kind of 'before and after' way. "First, I'll do my feeling work, then, I'll get involved." And the danger works two ways.

For me, the first danger lies in what I view as my typically male instinct to lead, to act, to become political "before" I do my feeling work. This way my temptation is to lose myself. I will act without regard for who I am. I will not "wait" to realize my real characteristics -- what the parts of me are. This is, in short, a perfect way back to my own shame.

This is also the road to shaming and harming other men. Take, for example, our brothers who are in prison. Just what am I supposed to do for them -- come through the door like some shining knight of truth? And what about any man with a problem or a fault?

I feel it's only when I've found the murderer in my own soul that I can at least walk through the door knowing the minute difference between the man in prison and me. And what difficulty or fault does any brother have that isn't reflected somewhere in me? The most I can do is learn from them what they have to teach me.

The opposite danger lies in refusing to act until "after" my feeling work. So far, my road to perfection has proven strangely long. I believe if I wait for it, my brothers will see very little of me short of the tomb.

So how shall I live in this obvious paradox? As far as I can see, real life for me lies in acting with constant consciousness of my real feelings. Maybe something like a warrior monk. I must act looking for what it tells me about myself and about you. This way I will grieve and I will act right up to my grave stone.

Life turns out to be quite a learning experience. And after that, who knows?!

John Guarnaschelli


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