L.R. Heartsong, author of THE BONES AND BREATH: A Man’s Guide to Eros, the Sacred Masculine, and the Wild Soul, recounts his experience of the 2014 Men’s Conference deep within the Northern California redwoods:
Standing in [...]
Men in community, restoring wholeness to ourselves and Soul to the world.
April 25, 2014
The work and the discovery achieved within the safe container of the Annual Men’s Conference has for each of us who attend, a pronounced ripple effect out into the larger world we inhabit. The Conference also frequently has an effect on many men prior to the Conference — a resonance that occurs when men receive the call to come join in community deep in the Northern California redwoods. The unedited letter below (reprinted here with permission) reflects one man’s response to learning of the 2014 Conference.
It has been so rare an occasion for me to read such compelling words and intentions, perhaps only twice in my life have I felt so strongly, that I need to express my gratitude to you for sending me this announcement to the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend facilitated by the Redwood Men’s group.
Let me say that the words alone are enough to give me a great sense of hope for who we are and where we are headed as a species and as men.
I sit here in total wonder and amazement, contemplating the possibility that the very real consequences that threaten our species and life on this planet are not the dark future we will face were we all to embark on an inward journey of reflection as your invitation suggests.
The invitation is unlike any other. It is written for this specific time and age. Beneath the well-crafted words are a foundation of solid unity and tireless compassion. Were the goals of this Weekend adopted by a small percentage of the male population in the world, I feel that a tipping point would occur to change the future of humankind.
I now realize you are involved in the making of a transformational model that will have a great impact for positive change in the world. I want to thank-you for being part of creating something that I hold as the most sacred and purest work that men can endeavor to pursue. It is the Right Path that beckons us to be in harmony with ourselves and nature that gives us life.
Thank-you for giving me this uplifting moment of precious clarity and exalted joy.
Thank-you for being the noble man you chose to make of yourself.
with Honor and Respect,
March 27, 2014
We define ourselves in every part of our lives by our gender and our sexuality, often in terms of what we are not. If being a man means to not be feminine, then it requires abandoning our relational capacity, reducing the erotic to the sexual and requiring women and gay men to be the only carriers of beauty. But to the ancient Greeks Eros was a god – a male god – about whom they had mixed feelings. His arrows caused endless trouble, and yet they prayed for that wounding. This god of Love is the glue that pulls the disparate elements in existence together and propagates continuity. He is the foundation of our creativity and our ability to connect to this world.
Men rely on the erotic to fuel our ambition, to inspire and compel our will. But we commonly fear the vulnerability that comes with being fully present. So we must confront the shadow of Eros – power, control and domination. Power is seductive; by dominating others we also repress ourselves. It can cost us the entire realms of receptivity and sensitivity that we were born to fulfill. From this perspective, we understand misogyny as a crude way to hold at bay the intimacy we long for, yet fear. We have all heard complaints from our loved ones that our capacity to love is somehow less fulfilling than they need. Have we as men the courage to examine our programming around the erotic to see how it hinders our quest for wholeness?
This year, within the safety of the ritual container we have carefully developed over the years, we invite all men of good heart to join us in exploring the issues that arise around our own sexuality — power and impotence, fulfillment and failure, shame and fear, seeking and giving pleasure, aggression and receptivity. We know the need to speak from the heart and be witnessed, and we know the importance of grief as a portal into healing.
Please join us amidst old growth redwoods for our annual Memorial Day Weekend men’s gathering. Over the past 24 years we have learned how to create and maintain a community that honors our rich diversity, in both in-depth explorations and exuberant celebrations. In this community we will create sacred space. We will sing, hear stories and poetry, engage in vibrant ritual, display our talents and beauty and eat great food. We will support and inspire each other. This year, for the first time, we are thrilled to have our conference at Camp Two, the site of profound men’s rituals for over thirty years.
Come! Bring yourself, your gifts, your passions, your struggles – and your friends! Come! It is time for us as men to do this great work together.
To download the complete brochure, click here.
Online registration is here.
To automatically be notified of Conference related announcements, click here.
June 16, 2012
One of the true joys of the Conference is the poetry spoken within the larger container that we create there. Their essence, like the environment we experience as we hear them, tends to seep into and become part of us, and afterwards frequently give rise to a longing to revisit those pieces of poetry that particularly spoke to us.
This posting is the first of a handful that will bring some of those wonderful poems back to be savored again (or newly introduce them), for which we thank the authors and the men who spoke them in that time and place.
The first post is from Brother Bill.
From Bill Denham:
On the Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend I was standing in a redwood grove a few miles East of the Mendocino coast line, not far from a beautifully rustic old hall with moss covered roof shingles and a giant stone fireplace and chimney, built by the strong hands and arms and shoulders of WPA and CCC workers in the 1930s and just a few yards away from a beautifully serene pebble beach on the North Fork of the Little Big River, across from which the river had carved away the earth, revealing the roots of a giant redwood tree which stretched to the heavens in the dappled sunlight of late afternoon. Everywhere was huckleberry and redwood sorrel and trilliums and moss and soft humus beneath our feet and giant old growth stumps lying half submerged in the earth or towering like cosmic alters above our heads.
I stood in awe with a friend. Into that space and into our reverent silence he spoke these words I share with you.
Twilight in Hendy Woods
This is the hour of magic
When this world and the other world
Touch in a lingering kiss
And a deep stillness settles over all things.
This is the hour of magic
When the Earth,
For one eternal moment, holds its breath
Before turning from the sun.
This is the hour of magic
When, if you listen
With an open heart and a quiet mind,
You can hear the Ancient Ones, the elders of the forest
Telling the old stories:
Of the chainsaw massacres and the fires;
Of the great ice ages and the birth of mountain ranges;
Of the times long past when they were many and covered the Earth.
They are leaving us now.
When they are gone,
Who will tell these stories?
April 17, 2012
It has been some time since I have taken time to sit down and visit with you.
This morning much is on my mind but I am especially aware of how quickly our annual conference is approaching–Memorial Day weekend, May 25th to 28th — Friday afternoon/evening through Monday morning, beneath the towering redwoods in Camp 3, nestled in the valley of the North Fork of the Little River — more like a stream than a river — between Camp 1 and Camp 2 at the Mendocino Woodlands, a twenty or thirty minute drive inland and down from the South end of the town of Mendocino — certainly we arrive at a sacred space at the end of that descent.
As I write to you I am sitting with my laptop in Portland, Oregon, in the home of my one time high school classmate, June Quackenbush, where I have come to visit each April for the last three years and where I will move in early 2013. Obviously, the land of the open heart is not limited by geography but geographic distance does have a profound impact on how we experience connection with each other. Relocating to Portland will allow the intimate daily partnership that June and I have, by some miracle, been graced to discover with each other. At the same time the profound, certainly life changing connections and even the more casual ones that I have been blessed to make and develop in the Bay Area over the last twenty years will be wrenched and stretched by this new distance — challenged to be redefined, cared for and developed in new ways.
Even as I embrace the gain, the joy of my new life, I embrace the the loss, the sorrow that is there. In fact, it is only by the constant acknowledgment of and holding of and the grieving of this loss, that I am free to love the new life I am already living.
The Jimenez poem on the front of this year’s conference brochure represents that moment of profound awareness, that, in turn, raises the question for us, “Are we already standing in the new life?”
My answer is, “Yes, we always are!” Embedded in and central to this affirmation is an acknowledgment of our loss that must be grieved as surely as our new life must be embraced, if we choose to be alive at all. As in the Jimenez poem, moments of insight are passive but they always allow a way forward, allow for action, even call us to action. So my question is always, “What is mine to do in this new life that is constantly becoming old and then new again and old and new again?”
There are many ways to go at this point but what comes to mind as a kind of companion piece to Jimenez — and I’m not entirely sure I could explain why it comes to mind — is Rilke’s poem:
The Man Watching
I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister.
The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.
What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.
When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers’ sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.
Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
What I do know, my brothers, is ours is not a passive “standing” in that realization but an active wrestling with the large angles in our lives as we try to figure out how to engage and manifest personally, among our friends, in this community and in the broader world which teeters always on the brink . . . what is mine to do? What is ours to do?
Looking forward to joining you and wrestling together under the redwoods. Until next time, I hold you in my heart,
May 15, 2011
Dearest Redwood Men,
Marc Deprey has told me that you are having the Redwood Men’s Conference at the Mendocino Woodlands Camp this year. I am so happy to hear you are together once again under those magnificent trees. I also know that you will bring much grace to the new venue. Once again, I’m sorry that I am unable to be with you, but please know that I am thinking of all of you this time of year.
My best wishes to you all,
Robert A. Johnson
May 5, 2011
I have previously sent you a poem by Mary Oliver and asked of you that you spend some time with it and take it in.
There’s a bit of a story behind my selection of this particular poem that relates to the up-coming conference at the Mendocino Woodlands Camp III in less than three weeks–Thursday May 19 to Sunday May 22 where we will gather in community for the twenty-first time and the very first time in our new home, deep in the Mendocino forest, among the tall redwoods that filter the sun’s rays as they fall through the branches as only redwood trees can.
It is a protected and cared for historic public setting, whose unique history and current scope is well documented on the web site of the Mendocino Woodlands Camp Association ( http://www.mendocinowoodlands.org/home.html). Many of you know the three camps already but for those of you who don’t. I urge you to visit the web site. It is inspirational.
But back to the poem.
Another first for us this year is our hiring of a professional caterer to provide us with nourishment for our bodies commensurate with the nourishment we always find for our souls when we gather together in community the way we do–year after year. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Chef Oscar of The Phantom Cafe who will be preparing our meals for us. Hari Meyers and I met her back in October of last year in Ft. Bragg when she agreed to be our chef. Yes, Oscar is a she, Oscar Ann Stedman, her first name having been chosen by her grandfather, she tells me.
With the conference just three weeks away, Chef Oscar has begun to do the shopping, laying in some of the non-perishable supplies essential to the practice her art and we have had several conversations and have chosen menus selected from the multiple options she offered us. I will not reveal everything to you–the smells that will be emanating from the large lodge kitchen as we go about our work and play together will titillate more than any words I could find to describe this menu or that one.
But since I’ve promised to tell you how I happened upon Mary Oliver’s poem, I will tell you this much. The committee decided to spend a little extra money to have Chef Oscar present us with one of her premier specialties, a fresh caught King Salmon banquet. When I told her this, she was very pleased, telling me she was just that morning talking with local fishermen who were thrilled to be able to begin salmon season for the first time in several years on this very Sunday. She went on to describe her method of baking the salmon–topped with seasoned breadcrumbs, resting in a bath of white wine and lemon juice, which makes it poached as well as baked and through some miraculous chemical or alchemical process of heat and moisture and flesh, the grain of the fish flesh rises to a vertical position, as if the fish itself were a souffle rising, at least that’s the best I can remember what she said. I needn’t tell you I was actually salivating by the end of her description.
But there was another thing that happened–I remembered, vaguely, Mary Oliver’s poem about the bear and the salmon and so it was on my mind this morning as I was thinking about sending out the call for our first Wednesday of the month spoken word gathering. I looked it up and loved it, again, as I most often do with Mary Oliver’s poems. After all, it was her poem, The Journey, the first poem of hers I had ever heard, when Doug spoke it on Memorial Day in the Temple of Melodious Sound at Camp Gualala in the year 2000, that launched me on to my own journey toward being what I was born to be. You may remember this. I have shared it before . . .
The singing had stopped
and with it, for a moment,
our very breath,
as if life itself had been left behind.
In that deep, transported silence
beneath the old growth canopy
where forty men
like ancient monks, in filtered light,
had sung their morning ritual,
a voice—a knowing voice,
deep and rich in timbre, spoke:
“One day you finally knew
What you had to do . . . ” 1
Like the spirit of God hovering above the deep,
these spoken words
and those that followed
breathed life once more into my soul;
and there began, again my journey
1. From Mary Oliverâ€™s The Journey
Such life changing experiences that happen when we come together in community are not unique to me.
So I simply want to remind you each of the richness of experience that awaits us in Mendocino and ask you each to consider coming to join us if you have not already made that decision. Who knows what miracles, what changes within and what connections may be forged among us if we step into this experience together. Think about it and come, if you can. You owe it to yourself and to those whom you love.
February 10, 2011
From Don Edward Morris comes this bit of background and poem celebrating the birth and spirit of the Redwood Men’s Center Annual Conference as embodied in this year’s location, the Mendocino Woodlands:
“The Redwood Men’s Center was in fact conceived at the Mendocino Men’s Conference in 1987. That was the year I got started in men’s work. I went to the conference mainly to meet my hero James Hillman. On the drive back to Santa Rosa my soul was so full in my head was bursting with the thought that we could do this in Sonoma County, we could have our own men’s gatherings. I contacted Mert Preston who was Mr. men’s work at the time in Santa Rosa and the two of us started planning the first Sonoma Men’s Gathering. Two years later Aaron Kipnis, a fellow psychologist and I started talking about a gathering for therapists and men who were actually doing men’s groups. We called it the Professional Conference. Hari Myers’ excellent history of the RMC in your blog takes it from there.” [Available here on the blog.]
Only Memory for a Map
Wonders if you’re still there?
I search with only memory for a map.
First, east from artsy Mendocino
looking for a Little Lake Road,
steeply climbing into a dreamscape
abruptly abandoning hardtop’s
as if a stone destined by gravity
rolled down and down a gravelly recollection
feeling like wandering lost
dragging behind a train of dust
around stagnant lily ponds
past meadowed clearings
amidst the thickening trees
and peeks at creeks
still trickling in mid-summer,
giving up hope
that you were ever real
until the bend.
There you are, standing as a
dark and darkly beautiful
child of redwoods like a
specter from a misty tale told by heart
of beating drums, a Lodge tangible
only to folk of a particular fate
who must go into mountains as simple
where fog is an unbreakable habit
called in each summer evening
by a sea who hates the dry inland heat,
to cool the peaks
and wipe clean the canyons
leaving silence and fragrance
of Laurel Bay and damp ferns
eager to sleep until noon.
There you are! You still carry yourself
stoutly with rafters and beams,
your eyes like small windows
reveal as much as they hide
and your heart like a fireplace
big enough for three bears.
Breathe in! This could be a time before time
or just another time
watched over by hawks and peregrines,
at the far end of coastal California canyon
carved out by an infinitely patient
creek sheltering rainbows and steelheads
and cobbled with countless small stones.
The waters keep their music
hushed so I can hear
our years-ago songs on the wind.
– DEM ’03
February 9, 2011
From Brother Bill Denham:
The road in . . .
The road in, down through the redwoods is probably thirty minutes.
I didn’t clock it back in October when June and I drove up from Oakland to see first hand what our new home is like.
I mean the new home of our Redwood Men’s Center annual conference—The Mendocino Woodlands, Camp III (www.mendocinowoodlands.org). Many of you know the place already from attending events with Michael Meade or others but I had never been there. And since I had lobbied so hard for this location, I wanted to see it first hand.
Thirty minutes was just enough time to adjust to a slower pace, off the highway—no smooth asphalt but a washboard dirt and gravel surface that dictated the pace and an overwhelming sense of going away from civilization—no dwellings, hardly any indication of a modern human presence—down through a forest—no pastures nor clearings that I recall—simply a slow and sometimes windy descent down into the bottom of the North Fork of the Little River canyon.
Camp III is the most rustic of the camps and is located another two miles beyond Camp I on the road through the forest that follows the lay of the canyon, curving and switching back at times until it opens on to the flat stretch pictured above.
I will have more photographs and thoughts about our new home to share from time to time as we approach our 21st year of convening in community, the way we do.
There are many things to like about the Woodlands—some of which are cerebral and come from reading the website—the educational mission, the non-profit status, the community involvement, the commitment to stewardship, the history—and from talking to the people who run the place—all of whom I have liked.
These connections with the people make the cerebral concrete but move beyond the cerebral, as well, to the visceral, to the feeling level, which is the level the place itself seems to encourage—the going deep down to the valley floor, the stepping away, the literal distance and the effort made to travel there and once there the unspeakable beauty of the forest, regenerating itself around the massive stumps after these ancient trees were taken.
There is the inevitable comparison with Gualala—similar in some ways, quite different in others. Embracing a new home does not end the grieving our loss of such a magnificent place but it does open us to these new experiences building new connections.
June 6, 2010
And finally, a poem that has graced the ending of more than one Conference, spoken after the closing of the final Circle.
One day I will
the gift I once had has been taken.
The place I have made for myself
belongs to another.
The words I have sung
are being sung by the ones
I would want.
Then I will be ready
for that voice
and the still silence in which it arrives.
And if my [our] faith is good
then we’ll meet again
on the road
and we’ll be thirsty,
and drink together again
from the deep well of things as they are.
June 6, 2010
Some more of the poetry we shared at this year’s Conference. These two are apt portrayals of the challenges we began the weekend with, as we turned to examine our own inner compass . . .
Something I’ve Not Done
Something I’ve not done
is following me
I haven’t done it again and again
so it has many footsteps
like a drumstick that’s grown old and never been used
In late afternoon I hear it come closer
at times it climbs out of a sea
onto my shoulders
and I shrug it off
losing one more chance
it’s drunk up part of my breath for the day
and knows which way
and already it’s not done there
But once more I say I’ll lay hands on it
and add its footsteps to my heart
and its story to my regrets
and its silence to my compass.
Learn the alchemy
True Human Beings know:
the moment you accept
what troubles you’ve been given,
the door opens.
Welcome difficulty as a familiar comrade.
Joke with torment brought by the friend.
Sorrows are the rags of old clothes
and jackets that serve to cover,
and then are taken off.
and the beautiful
underneath is the sweetness