There is this popular belief in our modern age that woman now need to control and train their men in order to have the relationships that they really want. I have heard it said so many times in workshops and empowerment seminars; “ladies, you must train your men and teach them what you want.” Personally, I welcome that woman can and should openly express to men what they really want rather than wait for it in expectant silence; us men are admittedly slow, stubborn and often not very perceptive. But where it has gone pear shaped in our society is when woman believe it is now their role to raise and train men how to be men, to presume to define masculinity and male vulnerability or even to attempt to heal a man's pain.
There is nothing more disempowering for any man to hear than “man up”, “grow some balls!” or “be more of a man” from a woman. It is simply not a woman’s role to tell a man how or when to be a man because no woman can ever give a man his balls or even define his vulnerability. I believe it is as destructive to the cause of raising healthy whole men as is the misguided messages we have gotten from patriarchy.
I am speaking specifically to the generation of men like me who have been raised by powerful and independent woman, single mothers, the dominant woman in homes where the father was not fully present in his role as a man. We have a generation of men who now look for permission and cues from woman on how to be men or who get influenced by the media and act out distorted and toxic notions of masculinity. We have lost the linaege of the sacred masculine in our modern society of men teaching men how to be men, love between men, men passing on the ancient wisdom of men, men holding the space for men, men calling other men out when they break their sacred contracts of manhood. This imbalance is at the heart of the chaos we are currently experiencing where some men are either behaving more like woman, cowering in guilt and apology, shutting down emotionally, running away to work or compensating in the opposite extreme by becoming overly assertive, aggressive and macho. This is a complex global transition period we are in that few truly understand.
I found myself on a shamanic journey, a vision quest this last weekend, connecting for the first time to the deep whispers of my masculine ancestry and I experienced so much anger and hurt at where I had been left and isolated as a man. My masculine heart was opened for the first time and I had no language and understanding for it. I had no true context of inheritance except for the legacy of the sins of our brothers, fathers and fathers’ fathers. In my own experience growing up men showed up poorly as role models, they were simply not powerfully present and were unable to truly teach me about love, spiritual connection, integrity, nature and male sexuality. As a result my narrative of men and being a man had primary been crafted by women. What I am pointing to is that this is not about parenting, I know that both my parents love me and did their absolute best, this is the collective narrative of the age that we are in.
I had only known and trusted woman in my life because they were the ones who were present and dominant. I was raised by a strong independent single mother (who played the role of mother and father) and so I only understood how to connect to woman; I have only known feminine strength, love and pain. I met my father for the first time when I was 15 years old and I thought for a long time it was because he did not really care for or love me. What I later discovered was that he loved me very much but was essentially waiting for permission to be involved in my life again. He is part of the generation of fathers who believe they need permission from mothers or the courts to be the father and so miss out on the most important years of their child's growing up. One of the biggest disasters of our age is both men and woman underestimating the critical importance of a fathers presence in the raising of a child.
As I grew up I have realized that much of the independent female power, this feminine strength or force that I experienced was mostly rooted in deep hurt and mistrust, in stories of past abuse, abandonment and violation mostly by the actions of men. I realized, as a result, that I as I grew up I was mitigating my own masculinity in an apology of being a man to assuage this feminine upset. The biggest fear, the thing that disturbed me, the thing I avoided most was a woman’s upset because that meant for me a withdrawal of the only kind of love I had ever been familiar with.
I found myself, particularly in my marriage, looking for permission from my wife to define what was appropriate male behavior in order to make her feel safe, happy, to get her to trust me and to avoid her upset. This had been the cause of so much frustration, inner conflict and anger within me. In our altercations my wife would sometimes yell at me: “step up and be the man!” and I would yell back at her “step down and be the woman!” I felt so emasculated and confused by these words. I would experience such a rage rising in these conversations that I would want to break and destroy everything in our home. In those moments I can fully understand how domestic violence is possible even though it goes against the grain of all my values. How else do we know how to express our manhood other than by a physical show of force or by leaving especially when we have not been taught how to hold our own space and peace as men.
On this weekend for the first time I realized that it is simply not my role as a man to heal a woman’s pain or solve her upset; that is not the space we need to hold or even know how to hold. In a feminine sense that role is for other woman. This is worth repeating: It is not the role of a man to heal a woman’s pain or solve her upset. It is women who need to step up for woman to hold that sacred space; this was a huge revelation and relief for me. So many men burn themselves out trying to hold the space for injured woman and the same is true for woman trying to hold the space for injured men.
My focus as a man is to heal my own pain and masculinity with other men so that we can be better men. More than anything in our society, especially as the sacred feminine power remerges, we as men need to heal our own sacred lineage and our ancestral connection. We need to heal our hurt, guilt and disconnection and discard the habits and substitutes we picked up and learnt along the way to mitigate this. We must re-create our sacred fires in a urban context where men can collect, share wisdom, embrace our darkness and our light and create spaces to initiate the young ones. Only men can truly teach men to be men and this transcends sexual orientation, its about deeply connecting to the wisdom of ancestry. This does not look like men standing around a braai drinking copious amounts of beer talking about sports, concepts and complaining about politics. Men need exclusive spaces to be vulnerable with men about what they are dealing with and to hold a firm space of love for each other; to connect to the primal source of our wisdom and strength. The vulnerability of a man is distinct from that of a woman and it does not look like being apologetic or walking with our tail between our legs. For too long now woman have been trying to solve men and men have been trying to solve women, it is simply not our business. We have had it all the wrong. We try and do that in our romantic and marital relationships and it simply does not work.
When men can powerfully and with integrity hold an enlightened and sacred circle, to define and own our roles as men without waiting for permission to be the fathers, husbands and leaders that we have the potential to be, then woman will have the space to step once more into their true feminine power. As the masculine confidently holds the outer circle, the feminine will feel safe once again to hold the inner circle and bring forth the healing we all need. That is the true space we need to learn to hold for that is when we start to restore the divine balance of the feminine and masculine.
That weekend at the fire ritual which brought the last ceremony to a close, I burnt my permission slip. I have taken my permission back to define my own contract as a man, as the head of my marriage and my family, to be a leader of men even though I do not have a clue what that looks like in reality. I am grateful for my journey into the feminine landscape but it is time to return home with the gifts I have received and to cultivate a new masculine sensibility, one that embraces gender equality and the shifts of our age and fosters a healthy balance of all life. I call forth the ancient masculine ancestry to assist us to reconnect and to guide our way forward with wisdom and power.
A new journey has begun and I call on all the men who resonate with what I am saying to join this conversation and movement even if you do not know what it will like moving forward.”
This post was written in early 2017 after I participated in a San Pedro Ceremony as part of a Vision Quest that I was co-facilitating. While the shamanic facilitator who gave me this this gift to my masculine lineage was a woman it was clear that my journey of healing and reconnection through that door would need to be with men. This was the motivation for me joining the Mankind Project and starting #JustMen project in early 2018. While the initial focus of #JustMen was to interrupt the epidemic of gender based violence in our country, I am ultimately passionate about guiding men to awaken their higher purpose and to rebuild a tribe of connected, integrated men who are a benefit to humanity. I believe, more than ever, that what we need to create are safe spaces where all men can get together to do their inner work, reclaiming their wholeness, purpose and love. This is the space I create in my one on one coaching sessions and through the events that I promote with the #JustMen project such as the Mankind Project New Warrior Weekend Training and IMBADU men's workshop.
To find out more about men's coaching go to: http://www.heinrichreisenhofer.com/coaching.html
I never understood what people meant when they said ‘get out of your head.” It was a frustrating phrase that I never quite grasped, ‘I am not stuck in my head’ would be my mental retort, ‘this is just me, it is how I am.’ It was only later that I got it; I was profoundly disconnected not only from myself and my relationships but from my experience and greater purpose in life. It was only when I could connect to my emotions, my vulnerability and face my hurt did I realise that I had barely been present in my own life. I was actually walking around dead inside and it was the main reason I was struggling on and off with depression, why I overworked and why my relationships never lasted.
In these many years of doing transformation work, being a coach and facilitator I have seen the same thing over and over again. When I ask men what they are feeling, the common answer is “I am fine” “ok” or “good” or they will give a conceptual answer. They struggle to actually identify what sensations and emotions they are feeling in their bodies and when they do: ‘numb’ or ‘anxious’ is one of the first words that emerges. Most of the international coaches and facilitators, I have met, who come to run workshops in South Africa say the same thing: South African men are notorious for being stuck in their heads and we think it is normal; we struggle to orientate to our heart centre. We believe that all issues in life are either sorted out by rational and conceptual solutions or physical force and as a result we have one of the most emotionally suppressed and therefore explosive societies in the world.
And this is a big issue, in fact it is a national epidemic. It sits at the heart of why men have not been showing up well. It speaks to why we have such a violent and unequal society, it speaks to our crime statistics, it speaks to our divorce rate, it speaks to the huge absence of involved fathers, it speaks to the concerning rate of addictions with alcohol, drugs, eating and gambling, its speaks to the alarming rate of gender based violence and the rate of depression and suicide. Disconnected men are, essentially, unsafe.
It has everything to do with our country’s violent and oppressive history, just as it has everything to do with the demands and impact of industrialisation, patriarchal culture, western education and information technology; all these causes are relevant considerations. But the core issue remains that this is how we have been raising our boys… to be machines, to be soldiers, to be conquerers and to be time bombs. We don’t teach boys how to connect to their sacred masculinity, to understand their relationship to the sacred feminine nor do we teach boys how to process their hurts or communicate their vulnerabilities. What we have engendered instead is a disempowering, ambiguous and confusing narrative of what it is to be a man. It is no wonder that we as men withdraw into our heads, cut ourselves off from our hearts and from our greater consciousness. Its no wonder we find ourselves now in all kinds of trouble.
Fortunately a new narrative is emerging, birthing itself into our modern culture. The tribe of men is slowly beginning to redefine itself from the inside out reincarnating ancient and indigenous distinctions of sacred masculinity and wholeness like a phoenix rising from the flames. It is finding shape in processes loosely defined as men’s inner work. It is in these spaces where we are being shown a world where we can shed this matrix that has kept us trapped in a flawed and dysfunctional design of what it is to be a man, where it is safe for us to step out of our heads to be magnificent, whole, compassionate, powerful and contributing men again.
This is why I do the work I do and support the initiatives that I do. This is how we change the world one man at a time. So if you have ever wondered about doing men’s inner work, I invite you to get curious. Mens work ranges from workshops, shamanic journey work to private coaching and guidance.
Join the FB group #JustMen to find out more.