Fathers and Sons

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Shiva – male Hindu deity

For reasons too personal to go into here, it is very important to me to regain some sense of confidence and pride in being a male. My reconnection with the natural world and a sense of wildness in nature are part of that. I have recently been reading Robert Bly’s “Iron John – Men and Masculinity”, which takes its name from a German fairytale that tells of a young prince who is mentored by a ‘wild man’ in a forest.

Bly’s thesis is that myths and folk tales can offer clues and paradigms to help modern men reorient themselves in a culture which has lost touch with its mythic identity. Bly spent years researching traditional societies and their mythologies; he believes that industrial societies lack the initiation processes needed, particularly for boys to become men.

Although I found parts of the book hard to grasp because of the poetical nature of Bly’s musings, some sections were riveting to me. Particularly his reflections on fathers and sons:

“When a father and son do spend long hours together…a substance almost like food passes from the older body to the younger…I think a physical exchange takes place, as if some substance was passing directly to the cells. The father gives this food at a level far below consciousness…(the son’s) cells receive some knowledge of what an adult masculine body is. The younger body learns at what frequency the masculine body vibrates. It begins to grasp the song that adult male cells sing, and how the charming, elegant, lonely, courageous, half-shamed male molecules dance.

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During the long months spent in the mother’s body, his body got well-tuned to female frequencies…Now, standing next to the father, as they repair arrowheads, or repair ploughs, or wash pistons in gasoline, or care for birthing animals, the sons body has the chance to retune. Slowly, over months or years, the sons body-strings begin to resonate to the to the harsh, sometimes demanding, testily humorous, irreverent, impatient, opinionated, forward-driving, silence loving older masculine body. Both male and female cells carry marvellous music, but the son needs to resonate to the masculine frequency as well as the female frequency.”

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Bly believes this masculine learning process has been disastrously disrupted since industrialisation:

“…by the middle of the twentieth century in Europe and North America a massive change had taken place: the father was working, but the son could not see him working. Throughout the ancient hunters societies, which apparently lasted thousands of years…and the subsequent agricultural and craft societies, father and sons worked and lived together…in all these societies the son characteristically saw his father working at all times of the day and all seasons of the year. When the son no longer sees that, what happens?…a hole appears in the son’s psyche. When the son does not see his father’s workplace, or what he produces, does he imagine his father to be a hero, a fighter for good, a saint, or a white knight?…demons move into that empty place – demons of suspicion. The demons, invisible but talkative, encourage suspicion of all older men. Such suspicion effects a breaking of the community of old and young men.”

I’m sure many men will relate to that.

Fresh Feet in the Forest

Today I went to a place that is rather special for me: Freshfields forest near Formby beach. I’ve been feeling a deep need to reconnect with wildness. Inspired by a friend I did it without shoes.

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As I enter the forest I spontaneously greet the trees with a call that echoes across the undulating landscape – this forest is on a gently descending hillside created by sand dunes that have become covered by pines. The trees are quite widely spaced, letting dappled sunlight in to the forest floor. Moss coats the ground, and brambles and ferns grow thickly in the hollows.

I find a high point to look down on the hillocks of dunes. There is a stillness here. Only the occasional bird calI can be heard. I sit down with my coat for a blanket. It’s late September but this forest is still looking lush – sunlight twinkles off a million leaves and butterflies flirt here and there.

I lie down and take my shoes and socks off. These feet are amazed at the shock of fresh air.

I sit for a long time. Nothing is needed in this immersive re-connection. I am bathed in warm and green. For my ears, there is only the faint rustle of the pines in the merest breath of breeze, the occasional bird call, and the acceptable intrusion of a small propeller aeroplane overhead. And there is something else – the silence behind it all. Just being there is my meditation. Occasionally the distant ghost of something like a thought seeps in to my consciousness, but finds no purchase and melts away.

Lying at ground level, I find I am becoming part of the landscape for invertebrates. All around me tiny spiders and ants are making their way through the micro-forest of moss and shoots and continuing their journeys over my hands and feet, up my back and into my hair.

I set off across the moss-covered dunes, savouring the cool natural carpet underfoot. My feet bend and flex according the contours of the ground as they were designed to; gripping the slopes as I walk rather than just landing on them. It’s like my feet are remembering something that they hardly ever had a chance to learn in the first place. Walking barefoot is a natural sensory experience that we deprive ourselves of since – who knows, a thousand years of footwear? Until very recently in much of the world, shoes were a rarity and a luxury. The connection with the earth taken for granted by millennia of human beings has within a few generations been obstructed by these “coffins for the feet”.

Of course, walking across the landscape is easy if you have the leathery soles developed from everyday  walking. Mine are lily-white, baby soft feet. Locked up and sweaty inside shoes for forty-odd years they have barely aged. But my enthusiasm knows no bounds. Scrambling across the dunes I reconnect with abandon, grinning as I wince at the sharp sticks and brambles. A bloody scratch appears between my toes. I wonder how soon my soles will remember their true calling and toughen up into primal leather.

I stop on a gentle slope covered with pristine moss. The pines end here the sun floods in. I take out sesame seeds and carrot sticks and look out on the dense scrub that slopes down to the beach. I start to hear tiny impacts on the ground around me. Something is dropping from the tree above, small chips of vegetation. I reach for one; it looks like a fragment of nut casing. I look up and see a tail twitching far above – dark red against the sky. Soon after, the squirrel discards the core of a pine cone, then another.

After lying, then meditating I experience a strong breakthrough into the profound present moment. Everything is suddenly more sharp and real.

I curl myself around the trunk of a pine and don’t move for ten minutes. Hugging a tree one is aware of a uniquely still energy. I have heard that if you put your ear close to a tree you can sometimes hear it growing. The sap actually makes a noise as it travels up the truck. I can’t hear anything but the blood flowing through my ears. These life forms are living on a very different timescale to us. They can teach us, but not in a way we can understand.

I have no idea what time it is but the sun is getting low in the sky and the breeze becoming fresher. Small birds start to appear in the trees around me, chatting to each other as they find their roosting spots.

Freshfields, I hope you don’t mind that I took some pine cones and sampled your blackberries. I’ll be back soon.

Waiting For the Mantra

TOM GEORGE ARTS

Nowadays it seems everyone is getting spiritual. Meditation and mindfulness in particular are booming, with courses and classes available all over every city. We tend to think of meditation as a silent practice, but there is one meditation method which is anything but silent.  

Mantras are repeated phrases, chanted or sung as part of various religions to induce a feeling of connection with the divine.

The person chanting a mantra isn’t thinking about anything; the chanting stops the flow of thoughts and allows them to find a beautiful, calm place inside and a feeling of ‘oneness’ with the universe.

This approach has had a small but significant influence on rock and pop culture.

In the late sixties, George Harrison became interested in Hinduism, and started to reflect it in his music with the Beatles and then in his solo work.

In “My Sweet Lord” from 1970, George celebrates…

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