Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Honoring Your Mentors in Your Ethical Will

One section of my ethical will speaks to the women and men who have mentored me and contributed most to the "life-shaping" of the man I am today. Among the men I honor as a mentor is poet, Robert Bly.

What a joy it was for me last night to listen to Robert recite his poems in a room filled with 600+ people. I had not seen him or heard him in person for nearly 10 years, but his unforgetable, distinctly Minnesotan voice sounded as powerful (and familiar) as ever. Now 79 years old, I first met Robert at a poetry reading in DeKalb, Illnois (I was 38 at the time). Ironically, I was born in the town of his birth and where he lived much of his life -- Madison, Minnesota -- and I was studying journalism at the University of Minnesota in the late 60's when he was in Minneapolis protesting the Vietnam War.

At the reading in DeKalb, I recall Robert's poetry "transporting" me back to the landscape and towns of western Minnesota where we both had lived. Poems from his Silence in the Snowy Fields especially touched me and opened my heart to the beauty of poetry in a way that I had never experienced before. And, after the reading, when I introduced myself to Robert, he told me a story about a young family member he knew (on my mother's side) who had died in a farm accident while haying. It was a story so tragic that no one in my family had ever told it to me.

Robert Bly was in the forefront of poets against the war in Vietnam and continues to speak today against the war in Iraq. In his view, the Bush adminstration has made the biggest mistake of any American presidency, pitting twenty-first century capitalist fundamentalism against twelvth century Muslim fundamentalism. His poetry speaks with great clarity about war and our response as citizen's to the actions of leaders in Washington. Here's a link to a powerful poem he wrote in August 2002:

Call and Answer

The poem is included in his latest collection, My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy, which features many poems written in the traditional Islamic ghazal form.

Shortly after I met Bly in 1982, I read a magazine article titled "What Men Really Want" in which author Keith Thompson interviewed Robert about his views and work with men. What he said resonated deeply with my experience as a man and got me interested in the so-called "mythopoetic men's movement". I attended my first men's gathering in Michigan in the late 1980's (led by Shepherd Bliss) and the experience turned my life in a new direction. I joined a men's support group in Indianapolis where I lived at the time and plunged into reading everything that was being written about men and life as a male.

The momentum of the my men's group experience continued when I moved to Oregon. As I noted in my post yesterday, I partipated in men's gatherings with Robert Bly which, together with his book, Iron John, inspired me to begin "birthing" men's support groups in our community. Dozens of groups of 7-10 men came together for 2-hour sessions over eight weeks. My intention was to build enough trust in each group so the men could continue meeting by themselves (while I moved on to birth another group). For most of the men, what began as a scary experience on the first night transformed into genuine trust over the weeks together -- leading to male friendships that continue today. Some of these groups continue as well, including one I started for my own personal support which has met every week for nearly 15 years.

Along with the support groups, I initiated a weekend men's gathering at the Oregon coast -- gatherings of 10-20 men -- and held fifteen of them over a period of years. I also created and began teaching a class called "Understanding Men: For Women & Men" at our community college. Attended by more women than men, the classes of 12-24 people met weekly each quarter in the mid-1990's. I also created several "Healing the Hearts of Men" workshops which focused on healing of father-wounds, mother-wounds, men's anger, male sexuality, male spirituality, and intimacy with women. These short-term (4-8 weeks) sessions for small groups were among the most creative "outbursts" of my life.

In all the men's work I was doing (along with my counseling practice for men and couples), I used poetry, mythology, personal story, breathwork, and "talk-therapy" to help heal emotional wounds of the past and support people in creating the life they wanted to live in the present. It was often difficult, gut-wrenching work and I heard far too many stories of abuse and neglect by fathers (and by some mothers). But the rewards came in seeing people do their healing work and transform themselves in the brief time I was privileged to be a part of their lives.

So Robert Bly, dear man and poet, I bless you for being a mentor to me, for inspiring me to bring poetry back into my life (giving me "a thousand years of joy"!), and for your "kick-starting" the most challenging, creative, growth-filled, and fulfilling work of my life -- so far, that is!
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