In 2010 we celebrated our 20th Annual Men’s Conference. In honor of that occasion, Hari Meyers, the Redwood Men’s Center Master Storyteller put together a retrospective of the first twenty years.
A History of the Redwood Men’s Center’s Conference-Gatherings
by Hari Meyers
Even before the ’96 conference convened the change was markedly noticeable. The brochure announcing the event was different: instead of the usual “New Directions in Male Psychology” (although that was kept in subsequent brochures in a small ikon by the registration form) the theme of the gathering was announced as a rallying call. In bold type it proclaimed its intention, Restoring Soul in a Culture of Death.
The organizers knew the title was audacious, a bit grandiose perhaps, but it reflected our new commitment. No longer would exploring aspects of ego psychology be its primary focus but rather the collective visioning of a release of Soul from a culture which had done its best to imprison and deny it.
The suffering each of us experiences in our life is not solely personal. The collective pain is pervasive and invites surrender to a culture which is killing our Soul… What collusion and tacit agreement permits such vast levels of destruction and suffering to occur with only nominal recognition? How does a culture of death maintain itself, and at what cost to our heart and soul? Our dreams remind, our fantasies and pathologies compel, our longings move us towards re-union with Soul. It sustains all culture and all life. Soul is the place where the inner and outer worlds meet. Unless Soul is brought back to our lives, our culture and our species face extinction…
The planners elected in ’96 to change not only the style of the brochure but the structure of the conference itself. Reinforcing a sense of community amongst us, we chose to facilitate common experiences which would strengthen our bonds as brothers. No longer would we present an array of workshops and a selection of lectures competing for the men’s attention. From Friday evening until Sunday afternoon all participants were asked to go through each facet of the conference together. The emphasis was less academic, the insemination of information less important than the sharing of “soulful” experiences.
To further an agenda based on the wishes of Soul and fulfillment of Wholeness rather than the vanities of mind and demands of ego, we found that the greater changes and learning took place in “sacred space,” as mentioned above. We tried our best to invoke such space, inviting our ancestors to bless and be with us, honoring spirit, reaching for an eclectic wisdom and guidance beyond contending schools and religions. We had moved solidly and unapologetically onto the mythopoetic side of things; in fact, we had gone a giant step further and claimed our ground in the ceremonial and archetypal worlds.
The archetypal world, as we began to understand, gave us access to the universal components of our struggles and story. It enlivened and enlarged our own ideas of ourselves, brought relevance and meaning to the thoughts, feelings, and actions which in our burdened lives too often seemed humdrum, worn-out and insignificant. The archetypal world, though invisible, is a world of essence; it confers a unique grandeur, and the key to its door must be turned from the inside.
What we had termed in our brochure as “a culture of death,” however, is committed to denying the archetypal. It fosters instead the stereotypical. Its world is not of essence but image, presenting ceaselessly before us one futile image after another, and suggesting we lose ourselves in the pursuit of these impossible images. Stereotypes are everywhere foisted upon us. They invite comparison, always to the diminishment of one’s self. This endlessly comparing of ourselves to fleeting images, images which promote consumption and promise possession, is a formula for failure. Redemption and resurrection lie elsewhere – not through identity with outer images but by merging with some inner essence.
Doug von Koss was listed on the brochure as our “Ritual Elder,” the one we could rely on to choreograph our endeavors, to help carry us from the mundane to the sacred. With his long flowing white hair and beard, Doug has the power to astound as he recites poems, allowing the words to inhabit his person and bringing them forth with gestures and intonations which reveal the full magnitude of the language.
He also consistently serves aesthetic ideals. Former props-master at the San Francisco Opera, Doug has a vast collection of fabric and an eye to add beauty to any setting. For example, in our night ritual in the meadow the year Robert told the Indian epic the “Ramayana,” Doug, inimitable magician, managed to have a scarlet cloth path unroll amidst us, down which strode one of our younger brothers in gold vestments and antlers – a visual image to haunt us as we later heard in the story of the “golden deer” that led Ram astray from his vigilance, and we contemplated in our small groups the question, “What ‘golden deer’ lured you from the path of your higher calling?”
Doug’s ultimate gift is his ability to create what he calls “a perfection-free zone” in which he gets men to sing together. He’s created over the years “the Temple of Melodious Sound,” a fabric-bedecked cabin at Gualala, in which as many men as possible would gather before breakfast to sing together. The songs and chants are from around the world and they can take us deep in feeling sorrow or joy, but, whatever is sung, the act of singing together is in itself healing, ennobling – an act fostering kinship and illuminating “Soul,” unfailingly.
The stage was set, our skills and dedication heightened. We had come of age and could agree upon a statement of mission and purpose.
We at the Redwood Men’s Center recognize the need for men to come together in community to express and explore ideas which restore wholeness to ourselves and Soul to the world. As healing professionals and men of service, we move beyond the limits of traditional psychology with its exclusive focus on ego concerns, by embracing the deeper needs of Soul through mythos and ritual. We provide a container in which to heal the wounds that result from our lost connection with Soul and support men in bringing this healing back to their communities.