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Finding our way through the Dark Wood.

Poets and song writers alike have written about the “Dark night of the soul.” These are the times in one’s life where the challenges of being human have us feeling deeply lost. I rarely hear acknowledgment of this from people in most of the social situations I find myself. However, when I sit with men where the intention has been made to create safe space, many men will speak to how lost and alone they have felt at various points in their lives. What we may have most in common, is what we keep hidden. James Hollis, Jungian Analyst and author, calls this the Dark Wood.

Recent events in my own life; retirement, divorce, selling the family house, my mom’s death, all have lead up to living alone on my island retreat center. Making peace with solitude I find myself challenged to enter “The Dark Wood”. This is where existential questions arise; Where am I going? What is my worthiness? How do I find significance? Am I lovable? All have emerged as I developed a meditation practice and reduced the distraction of “doing.” These, and other questions of the Dark Wood become either a beacon to guide me to where I need to go or a nightmare, where my self-critic offers judgement and shame. One of my favorite Rumi poems speaks to this.

"This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they're a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond."

As Rumi wrote, this life is a guest house where many feelings and emotions will arise. It is the Lover archetype that experiences all the feelings and wonder of life, including the sorrows, griefs, and disappointments. Here is one of the biggest challenges for men in our culture today, to feel, and fully express the Lover within.

This being human calls us to face the Dark Wood of life. Having a guide or map to enable us to find our way home seems essential. For if you do not know where you are going and you don’t have a map or guide, the likelihood of stumbling along the way and becoming lost remain high. As author Martin Shaw wrote, “Without elders to help decipher the trail through, the dark passage becomes an ending in itself rather than a stage in the process.”

One of the maps or guide posts I use for my personal journey and with those I work with are the Masculine Archetypes as developed by Carl Jung. They are: The King, Warrior, Lover, and Magician.

A brief description of each archetype is offered here, yet for further understanding I highly recommend reading, King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette.

Each archetype has its mature expression and the corresponding bi-polar shadow –repressed energies. For my purpose, here, I will only briefly frame the mature archetypes.

The King archetype is the expression of vision of purpose, values, relationships, order, and blessing. The Warrior archetype serves the King’s vision and is focused and task oriented- gets the job done, cutting through bullshit in self and others. The Magician archetype is the knower and master of his craft or technology. The Magician also is the ritual elder and holds secret knowledge to guide transformation. The Lover wants to experience and feel life inwardly and outwardly through all sensations.

This Kings vision provides the direction and focus for a man’s energy. Being clear as to your purpose is central for any man. With this focus, his inner life, home, relationships and realm are ordered. The modern version of this is depicted in the Lion King. When Mufasa- mature King- was ruling the pride, the realm was healthy, but when Scar- Shadow King- took over, there was chaos and decay throughout the pride lands.

When a man gets lost or challenged in his life, it is his Warrior energy that will provide the necessary courage to face these challenges head on and with commitment. At times a warrior / knight will travel alone, yet a healthy man knows when to ask for help- for sometimes it takes the support of several knights to slay a dragon. Hence; Therapy, 12 step programs, support groups, mentors, men’s gatherings and retreats are constructed to provide support through the Dark Wood. Robert Bly says: “The diminishment of the father and the collapse of the outer King makes the longing for the inner King intense, almost unbearable. I would say that the next step begins not with resolutions, but with a long grieving over the dead inner king, surrounded by his dead warriors.”

Unfortunately, men in our culture are trained to go it alone, since asking for help is viewed as weakness- which exposes one to one of the curses of our culture: Shame. For many men shame attacks their soul from inside and without, whenever feelings, other than anger, are expressed. Hence, many men’s Lover energy and expression is suppressed. Armed with this awareness, men now have available to them support to break, what John Bradshaw wrote, the shame that binds them.

Who do you call when you are in the Dark Wood? Which archetype is needing your attention?

To live a full and authentic life, one must have access to each of the archetypal energies. Too many stumble along the way and are lost and go through their lives numb, unaware of the richness that is available to them if they risk exploring their lives, with support, through the archetypes. The path home will inevitably take you through the Dark Wood, yet will also lead you to your passion and the meaning that enriches a well lived life.

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