Conference History: 1997

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

Part Two: The Return of the Creative Masculine

Wanting yet more time to go even deeper, we scheduled our 1997 conference for the full Memorial Day Weekend, which became a tradition as it gave us not only an additional day to meet but an opportunity on Memorial Monday morning to engage in a moving ritual remembering and honoring dead friends and ancestors.

We adopted the practice of developing different themes for each succeeding conference. They provided metaphors around which our ideas could coalesce and, by reminding us of the feelings and understandings we wished to elicit in community, were of invaluable help in designing effective group processes. They also served a much wider use than the confines of the conference by clarifying the predicaments, dilemmas, and challenges of modern day manhood.  In planning each conference and composing the brochures, we asked ourselves always “what was needed, what might be the next archetypal stage in our healing and empowerment?”

We were richly rewarded. Our time together, both in the planning stages and at the conference itself, became more precious, and, as the strengthening bonds of our brotherhood assured greater safety, our hearts opened further and more fully. Insights, as if from the well of some collective knowing, arose with their own momentum.

1997

Home from Exile, the Return of the Creative Masculine was our theme for the seventh annual gathering.

The deep masculine with its nurturing and creative qualities is in exile. The earth is calling back the creative masculine. It is time to return home.

In our fragmented world, the brochure continued, the immature, incomplete and superficial masculine dominates. We knew that, had certainly felt the devastation of it, but by archetypally naming this condition of masculine isolation as a story of exile – of wandering and longing but rarely belonging we could comprehend more deeply the costs and effects of such a condition:

In our heroic quest for autonomy we collided with our own limitations, became wounded and wounded others, and were drawn into further isolation… In our absence the garden, untended, has withered; the kingdom, mismanaged, has become a wasteland. Our skies and water are poisoned, our psyches assaulted, our fragile connection to community threatened, the refuge of family lost… Still, we refuse to grieve.

Whether defensive armoring, a fearful withholding, or whatever the cause of such refusal, we knew we could no longer hide behind it. Our condition must be fearlessly faced and our wounds, both those we received and those we inflicted, honestly grieved. Traditional cultures often ascribe specific sites for different sacred purposes, central to many is a grief-house. We chose a time, Saturday night, and space, Coalman Hall at Camp Gualala, in which to create a container safe and expansive enough to hold our grief.

We men were purified with smoke and water, then entered the darkened and, thanks to Doug, beautifully decorated space. With music and poetry enveloping us we moved around the room to take our places in a circle. It all felt familiar, hauntingly so, men gathering together to grieve and heal, to sing songs which carried the weight of preceding generations, surrendering themselves to the sacred work at hand.

Yet, we were coming from a fragmented rather than integrated, a profane rather than sacred society, so, though we had hints of elements that defined and created such sacred space, we could not rely on any intact rituals to provide it. This was actually a good thing, even essential, forcing us to create the ritual process, the magic of release, from scratch, relying on sincerity of intention rather than worn habits or professional “tricks,” such as word-association games or imposed constructs like a “hot seat.”

Nothing could be hackneyed or mere “lip service.” We trusted that if we were able to genuinely feel what was needed, offer an open willingness to have that come to us, then the spirit we were collectively creating would inspire the means of its delivery. We had our share of attempts that fell flat or brought forth inauthentic performances rather than genuine emotion, but, blessed by the gods, so to speak, our grief rituals succeeded more often than not.

I remember one moving ritual as an example of the aesthetic relief we experienced. World class potter Daniel Oberti (bless him he died of cancer this past fall, ’09) joined us one year and, as we expressed our grief, we fashioned small clay vessels in which to symbolically place a specific sorrow. A candle was set into the clay and lit to accompany and honor the imagined pain we were releasing. We then marched in solemn procession down to the Gualala River and one by one surrendered our clay containers to the water and watched the flickering lights disappear towards the sea.

It is time to return home, to see beyond the pain of our wounds, to reveal their hidden gifts. The hero’s journey is a cycle: a quest and a return. We have become obsessed with the outward half. Now, more than ever, the world needs the return of the Creative Masculine. We left as warriors; let us come home as healers!

The hero’s journey, it became increasingly clearer, consisted not only of leaving the familiar to quest for something hitherto hidden – “answering the call,” as Joseph Campbell called it – not only seeking a “holy grail” which might heal the collective ills and illuminate concealed meaning, but, once having found the all-healing balm or earned some sword of knowledge, the completion of the journey required a return home with the needed medicine and wisdom. The outer journey, usually resulting in a kind of wounding and a period of exile, had been explored by us and others in great detail, but the return was less known, even neglected. I believe this parallels western society’s far greater interest in the dramas of youth, the puer, than the realizations of maturity, the senex.