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
For our eighth conference, we articulated what we believed were some essential stages of that return – three were described in the brochure for our 8th conference, Longing, Terror, and Blessing, Stages of the Return.
The longing we feel is what calls us home from exile. It is the gravitational pull carrying us to where we belong… the salmon swimming upstream… the river dreaming of the sea. When longing is not felt consciously, it leads to a multitude of addictive behaviors and to the ravenous consumption of our world. When we fully understand and appreciate the deep longing of Soul, we transcend personal desire and experience what is calling us at an archetypal level.
Longing infuses everything, and articulating and making it conscious is key to almost all men’s work, inner and outer, desired or mandated. This may be why the great medieval mystic Jelalludin Rumi, master at expressing longing, has become the patron poet of our recent awakening. A prerequisite to the freedom and fullness a man seeks is to feel and acknowledge the depth of his primordial and irreplaceable longing – a longing for home, for wholeness, for some completion of self. But the emotional deficits in most men, resulting from their competitive and closed-mouthed conditioning, blocks their understanding, even more their relishing, the universal and eternal aspects of longing.
At the Soul level longing is a transformative pull to merge with a higher consciousness, a movement towards more integral understanding of self, a wistful ever-present motivation to come home to wholeness. Most men in their developmental immaturity however, are condemned to translate this longing at an ego level as a pervasive restlessness, to experience it as relentless discontent. They attempt to possess one object after another, strive for greater accomplishments, seek renown in order to satisfy this mysterious hunger within them. But, that hunger, once recognized not as insatiable needs but as a deep and indispensable longing, becomes the delicious source of its own satisfaction. Rumi, comforting a devotee discouraged at not receiving an answer to his prayers, declares in his poem “Love Dogs,” “This longing you express is the return message.”
Countless myths tell us that the road home leads through the Underworld. Terror arises when we realize our vulnerability and limitations. Plunged into darkness we careen out of control. For many of us this means a bout with depression or disease or failure. But at the heart of terror lies awe, which reveals itself only when we are able to embrace our fears and face our shadow selves.
My own terror in the year preceding this conference was an overwhelming dread which came to me in the immediate wake of my elder son’s serious accident. I was racked by a realization of the fragility of our lives, and, overwhelmed by the “terror,” could not for many months feel any counterbalancing grace or mercy.
I was emotionally distraught and my perceptions were distorted. The walls of the hospital melted grotesquely as I raced down the hallway to see my son. The personnel performing their duties in those corridors looked misshapen, hunchbacked and limping. I had been transported in a moment to an Underworld of my own.
As so many attest, however, once what was deemed a disaster is faced and accepted, embraced as a transforming event, the feared occurrence becomes a doorway to a greater appreciation of the enormous and unfathomable magnitude of life. “Tragedy” shatters our complacent habits of control and through surrender we enter the realm of perennial mystery. Our response is awe. We are humbled and, as the poet Rilke puts it, “made great by that harsh hand, which kneaded [us] as if to change [our] shape.” The blessing of terror and the Underworld is that, at last, encountering and enduring what had previously been feared and avoided, we transcend the naiveté of a supposed immunity to life’s fullness, become immeasurably stronger and wiser.
Blessing comes in the healing vision that all is well, in the recognition of a benevolent shaping of Soul beyond the control of our personalized will. We find beauty and solace in realizing that all that has happened was exactly what needed to be. As we come to see our ordeals as a necessary prelude to blessing, our struggles become the practice in which we deepen our connection to Soul. The richness we experience brings the blessings in the wisdom it yields.
The healing vision in the blessing we had received a few years before was our ability to see one another carrying our reflected gold; it came with the realization that the wholeness we ultimately sought was, on the other side of our struggles, already ours. An initiation had taken place, expanding our sense of ourselves from separate confused egos into a collective trusting and knowing Soul. All was and, indeed, would be well. We were learning that pain and sorrow could be “medicine” to our Soul and, more than endured and tolerated, could be welcomed and revered.