Masculinity and Courage.

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Duncan Regehr as Zorro. Source: internet

 

 

If I win – I win for all our people, if I lose — I lose only myself.

— Vassil Levski

 

The mystery that was constanty calling to me in my early childhood continued to do so while those first years rolled by. And when I began to read books and started making sense of what I saw on the television screen, I discovered that the mystery was also there — on the screen, and on the pages of those first comic-books, just as it had been in the lavish gifts of the wild nature, and the ancient stories told by those around me.

During my transition from childhood to adolescence, I found myself drawn toward the screen even more, through my favorite television shows, among which were the Highlander series, and La Piovra, or Octopus — an Italian TV series about the Mafia and a few brave souls who took a stand against it. Here, in a stark contrast with the serene world of nature, I found myself stirred in a new way; I was aroused, like I had been in my explorations and encounters with wildlife, only this time I felt less peace, and more emotion. It was as if the same unseen hand that had previously lavished the wonderful blessings of nature upon me, had now placed me in a new, more dynamic, and far more dangerous, environment — nudging me, stirring me into feeling what the heroes on the screen felt – anger, hatred for evil, defiance and a wild, self-sacrificial love for that which they defended.

It was in the Italian saga La Piovra, that I found my first hero. Corrado Cattani, the brave police inspector who relentlessly pursued and fought the Mafia, was among the first men that I admired for their heroism, nobility, and fighting spirit. New emotions, unknown to me at that time, stirred my young heart as I watched Cattani live. But never was that stirring stronger than in the moment I watched him die. The brave Cattani faced his death alone, his back against a wall; he left the world bravely staring evil in the face, in utter defiance of the masked cowards who had come to take his life. Sudden grief seized me; fear and anger gripped my young heart; I was shaken by tremors and convulsions from deep within. Confusion descended upon my mind and overcame me – how could the hero die? Why did evil prevailed in a world where everything and everyone I knew seemed to be on the side of good? Something shifted inside of me, something changed as I watched Catani breathe his last, leaning against that cold, cruel wall, his body riddled with the bullets of those who hated goodness and destroyed it. Silently, awkwardly, I suffered, hiding from my parents the uncomfortable emotions that raged within me. The sudden, unexpected death of Cattani, was my first true loss. In vain my mother, who had noticed my distress, tried to comfort me by explaining to me the ways of films and acting. To me, the story and the loss was as real as the hero whose life was depicted in it. Days, weeks, even months after watching the scene of his death, I drew picture after picture of Cattani`s last moment — with his head bowed sideways against the wall, his eyes closed on a face that did not change its grim, fierce countenance even in death. Beautiful. He was just beautiful.

I had truly lost a great friend on that day. A brave, bright soul had been extinguished by men who served an evil cause. I grieved, but shed no tears.

Cattani had died like a man — I knew that, though I knew little else besides; he had died like someone who hated evil more than he feared death. No, but he scorned death, looking at his murderers with fierce, blazing eyes, and an open face in which nobility, strength and passion merged in a splendid, divine way.

Do such things really happen, I wondered? Do people like that really live today?

* * *

Another very powerful story I immersed myself in as a boy, (besides that of Vassil Levski, of course — the idol of every Bulgarian boy) was the story of Zorro — the noble masked outlaw who defied evil, defended and protected the people from their oppressive rulers, and captured the heart of the beautiful girl.

I became acquainted with Zorro in the early 90`s, when the national television broadcast a show named The New Zorro, where the main character was played by Duncan Regehr — a man whose face, just like the face of Michele Placido who played Cattani, became a symbol of everything I wanted to see on my face one day.

I was stirred beyond words by Zorro`s powerful, yet gracious presence; I was mesmerised by his courage in the face of opposition, by his strength, speed and the graceful masculine gentleness with which he treated the women around him, especially the one he loved…

I was young, very young at the time and could have never been able to put all that to words – the strong pull from within, the call that aroused a deep part of me which I felt but could neither see nor explain. That strange urge swelled into a desire, as I watched those tales of heroism unfold on the screen before me; I longed to grow and do more — be more — and live, breathe, fight and die, in the name of love, and for some great cause. I did not know what it was I was wishing for, hoping for; I only knew that the life I wanted was very different that the life I saw around me. Looking at my surroundings and then into the other world behind the thick glass of the old television, a voiceless question was being birthed within me. A question that did not come out into the light until decades later:

Why is the life we live so different that the life we desire?

There, in the safe nest of my childhood, I was not aware of any search for meaning, or even the feelings of sadness, nostalgia, and inadequacy, that had already began their treacherous unseen work within me. But I was deeply impacted by the black-clad man who embodied the beautiful, noble, and gallant warrior-spirit I so longed to possess.

Without words or even thoughts, I wondered: could I be a man like Zorro one day?

Even though the greatest blows which would soon descend upon my heart were yet to come, I felt a barb in that question, and a faint trace of shame pierced me; I began to suspect, albeit vaguely, that its answer could be disappointing.

Do not ask that again, it seemed to say. Do not open Pandora’s box.

Yet, I persisted. My dreams lifted me higher than the world around me, and my imagination gave me wings.

Could I, like Zorro, face a group of villains and, draw my sword and use it, with graceful speed, uninhibited by fear, free from paralysing dread?

Could I, like him, gaze into a beautiful woman’s eyes, and talk to her gently, opening the door of my feelings, not with shame, but with a smile — a tender smile, but manly and even roguish.

Could I be like him — slender but strong, sure-footed, and utterly confident in himself — so much so, that he even dared step in to defend others.

Could I?

As my hungry eyes took in all that played out before me, a sense of hope arose within me. This wild hope was something new, but felt very old; it was a feeling unreasonable and totally impossible to explain…

Perhaps I could indeed, be such a man one day.

And with all of my heart, I wished for that to be true. I longed for the day when life will offer me a chance to be like Zorro.

I did not know how the world would one day treat my heart; I was only a boy, and I believed.

* * *

‘If people bring so much courage to this world’ — Ernest Hemingway once wrote — ‘the world has to kill them to break them…’

There is much courage in the heart of every baby boy brought into this world. Much courage, and much strength. But it must be drawn out, nurtured, and trained — or it will remain weak and hidden; it will be stifled, darkened, and broken.

‘The world breaks every one’ — continues one of the most popular authors of all times — ‘and afterward many are strong in the broken places.’

We have all been born to be courageous; and we have all been  broken.

May you have the courage to rouse the lion that sleeps within you. He is your goodness and your strength; he is your very masculine essence — this is who you once longed to be, and this is who you are still…

Courage.

 

 

 

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Masculinity – Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Part 2

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Most people today would agree that the world desperately needs to see and experience a new kind of masculinity; and, I think, most men would agree, too.

Today, men do not need any more exhortations to do better; most of us are already labouring under the heavy load of externally imposed values, expectations, stereotypes, accusations, and the deep desire to be different, that seems to find no fulfilment in the world, no matter how hard one searches.

I do not mean to suggest that there is no proper use for such things; but if they are put before what matters most, they can enslave the soul, instead of liberate it.

The tough, hairy man of the past, and the sensitive, eco-friendly man of the present, are but mere images, false ideologies that only drive the masculine soul deeper into bondage. As a result, few men today are truly free – one needs look no further than the TV screen and the news headlines…

Or the mirror.

Like every utopian idea, the false masculine icons of the past and the present have strands of truth woven through them: it is indeed good for men to be stronger, and it is good for them to be more caring…

But we must beware.

‘’And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths,’’ said Shakespeare in his dark, bloody Macbeth; and continued:

‘’Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence.’’

A grave warning indeed – not a mere verse of dead prose, but a call, echoing from within the stone walls and the dark dungeons of the past centuries; a call we must heed, if we want to survive…

Because, more often than not, today as ever before, deception works through good intentions; it speaks to the heart and appeals to its desires and passions – only to betray it later.

We must never forget that Hitler did not force his way to power – he was elected. We must remember that the most brutal, murderous tyrants in history, used deception long before they reached for the sword. And even after they had revealed their true faces, they were still wanted by many people; they were even loved by them.

Not too long ago, as Communism came to power in little Bulgaria, most of the population rejoiced. They rejoiced, even when some of their own friends and neighbours disappeared without a trace, and soundless whispers of dark deeds slithered through locked doors at night. They rejoiced, even while rich landowners, scientists, artists and thinkers, suffered and died at the hands of those who claimed to love their motherland and her people. Yes, it was no Soviet invasion that so darkened the sky above the little sunny Balkan state; when the Red army marched in, they did not come as enemies…

And when the killings began in earnest, it was not Russian hands that dripped with the innocent blood of so many – it was those who served the people, who were mercilessly killing them. The sons of the land were dying at the hands of their own brothers – sometimes, literally…

But how was such monstrosity chosen? And why was it allowed to endure for so long?

Utopia – this is what, I think, lies behind all other reasons. The human heart longs for prosperity and peace; it is our make-up, our deepest desire. And so, well-meaning ideas, by well-meaning people, were wrapped in promises and presented to the people, most of whom, longing for peace, unity, and life with no class-system, hierarchy, or oppression, took the bait and swallowed the lie…

And, even after decades of blood and oppression – even after thousands of brutal examples of the very inequality and injustice they had once fought against and voted against – they refused to turn back, refused to see…

Even though they were normal people. Good people. Hard-working people.

More love, more compassion, more unity and peace – is this a bad thing?

No, but beware. Beware…

For in this world of ours, things are seldom what they seem; and if the innocence of the dove is not joined by the serpent’s craftiness, deception often comes, and does its secret work unseen, in the dark…

* * *

The dark, disturbing events I have mentioned above, are used merely as examples of how good ideas and good values can serve an evil purpose, if individual thinking, inner sense of calling and purpose, and personal responsibility, is abandoned. The difference between the unwritten laws that set the external standards of masculinity – strength yesterday, compassion today – and the iron rules of Communism, are only the amount of blood that is spilled, while people are trying, and failing, to adhere to those dogmas. In the case of oppressive political regimes, the blood is real, and the bodies are still being counted. In the case of the unseen, but no less harsh, rules imposed upon men, death mainly happens at the level of the soul; it is the death of joy, death of relationships, and death of the men’s connection with their own true selves – the selves most of them freely enjoyed and expressed when they were still little boys…

As I write this, I am tempted to say that, yes, while many have suffered from the harsh rules of the cult of masculinity and its various expressions through the ages, at least there had been no blood…

Comparing that to Communism would be ridiculous, I say to myself, and prepare to erase the whole paragraph above.

And then I hesitate, and stop. And the blood begins to flow.

And I see before me thousands of dead bodies: those killed in all the school shootings, and all the other senseless crimes of violence across the world. And, sadly, that is only the tip of the iceberg…

Terrorism. War. Oppression.

We would be dangerously naïve to assume that this same phenomenon – that external ‘’moral code’’ of masculinity, in all its shapes and forms – has played no part in the blood that has flown, is still flowing, and is yet to flow, under the beautiful blue skies of the planet we all call home.

We would be fools to say such a thing. And sooner or later, fools pay for their foolishness.

We need change. And we need it soon.

* * *

Unfortunately, many times when change occurs in the world, it is often external, the replacement of a set of rules with a new one. I believe that, just like our inherent desire for a world of prosperity and peace – an idyllic Eden – which are not bad desires at all, we humans also have the tendency to avoid the hardships of personal responsibility, and the toil of discovering of one’s own unique design, the hidden potential and its realisation. I think that, this tendency, for the most part, is in fact rooted in the longing for Eden, and so, is it not harmful by itself. However, when not engaged head-on and overcome, it can lead the individual to a lifestyle of compromise, which might evolve into emotional and spiritual numbness, and then give birth to corruption – and this is the best scenario. An example of the worst one would be tyranny and oppression; after all, dictators seem to be elected by groups of people who are either willingly avoiding the pain of knowing themselves and thinking for themselves, or are too desperate to care. Mostly, it is the second; sometimes, it is both.

And so, one tyranny replaces another; Communism replaces Fascism, and the old macho-man god of our fathers, is overthrown and replaced by the god who demands obedience through openness, sensitivity, and care – no matter how one might feel.

No matter how one might suffer inside.

* * *

Yet, there is a better way. It is a narrow, rocky path, cut through dark valleys and forbidding mountains…

But it is the only way to true freedom – the only way to true masculinity.

Through years of being alongside men of various ages, and through the pain of my own journey of regaining inner wholeness, I have found that every man has within himself, no matter how deeply buried, a heart – that is to say, an inner self – which is good, and filled with all that the man has ever wanted to be. There is the strength that the insecure men of the past have desperately tried to find in machismo and bar fights; there is the compassion, love, and care – for the fellow humans, and for the animals as well – that many men of today are so passionate about. In the heart, there is much glory – it has unique expressions of creativity, as well as strength; it has deep wells of wisdom, love, and knowledge of justice – all spoken in the language of that one man, all marked with the fingerprint of that one soul. There is no evil in the heart, no violence in the deepest core of being.

But rarely, if ever, are people fully connected. Rarely, if ever, are men so healed, that they are one with their heart – the self which they once knew, while it still shone it those first years, and have since lost.

‘’Comfortably numb’’ – well-fed, and devoid of passion. Lost in anger and crime. Lonely and enslaved by their dark sexual demons. Corpses that have not yet died, and time-bombs, waiting to explode.

Poor beggars, starving and diseased, while sitting on bags full of gold – this is what we all are; we do not hear the cries of the child within, we do not heed the call of the heart that is not yet dead…

Instead, we run away, and live tragic lives. Too readily we turn from truth and hate the only thing that can make us human – the heart, and all its treasures.

* * *

How then, can we get to those treasures? How can we connect to the source to all that is good, the place where all true masculinity comes from? Where do we find the dark and rocky road, so that we can walk on it?

Unfortunately, the answer that I have found to be true is contained in a single word – a word filled with potency, darkness and horror…

Pain.

Yes – the doors of our hearts behind which the best treasures are hidden, are shut down and barred, sealed by pain and guarded by horrifying darkness, anger and grief, and self-protection mechanisms – it is a sick, oppressive system, a system many have accepted to be their character, their trie self, their lot in life…

But we must know that, as in the fairy tales, the most precious gold is often guarded by the most hideous monsters – monsters that can be slain.

Monsters that must be slain.

I have found that those men who walk in the direction of their pain are noble; those who endure further and reach the source of their pain are heroic, and those who grit their teeth and press on, all the way to the other side, are transformed.

The men who reach such transformation are not only able to recover their lost strength and courage, but they are also able to embrace the heart of the child they once were – the little boy who had been rejected as weak and unmanly, the young keeper of all the love and compassion that the world today so needs to see in men.

By taking the narrow road, men become boys again – but only if they are willing.

By stooping low, men become raised to unseen heights, as those boys are slowly integrated into the whole being, as they are nurtured and ‘’grow up’’ to finally be the men they wanted to become before they were cut off by rejection, self-hatred, or other forms of trauma and abuse.

True masculinity should come from the heart; the boy inside must be liberated, and embraced by the man who once so hated him.

Only then – when every man is no longer divided within himself – will the world rest from radical division and hatred. Only then – when every man truly knows, loves and values himself – will the world know peace.

But it is pain, that we must desire, and not just an easy way out.

* * *

‘’You need to do better, or you’re not a man!’’ shouts the man of the past and kicks the fallen, wounded boy, in the ribs. ‘’Man up, and get up!’’

‘’You are acceptable and good, just as you are,’’ smiles the modern man and extends a hand to the wretched, hurting boy. ‘’You just need to love others as you love yourselves – and what’s not to love? You are perfect!’’

Yes – you are that boy. And so am I.

He does not need the brutal training of manhood – perhaps it would have helped him, if he had been whole, but now it makes his state worse.

He does not need just to be accepted, and be accepting of others – not in the state he is in now; he would have naturally been accepting and loving, if he had been whole.

He needs wholeness, and everything else can be added to him later – and everything else might well be needed, in different amounts, in different areas of his life. But wholeness comes first; the heart comes first.

May all of us men have the courage to face the darkness within, and find the hidden gold, before we look for monsters out there in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Masculinity: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

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We did not come to remain whole.
We came to lose our leaves like the trees,
The trees that are broken
And start again, drawing up on great roots…

— Robert Bly, A Home in Dark Grass

 

 

In the past, the most widely accepted standard for men (as well as women) in Europe and the West was, generally, the successful application of certain rules and principles. One of the most fundamental of them was communicated with the exhortation to ‘man up’, or ‘toughen up’ – to show no fear, even no emotion, in the face of danger; to get the job done; to be reliable, and ‘stable’. The society of the past, almost always dealing with one crisis or another, had indeed a great need of men who were strong, efficient, and determined. Thus, the characters played by John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stalone and Arnold Schwarzenegger – these, and many other famous Hollywood icons, became archetypes of true masculinity, and the term ‘real man’ stood for that kind of men – tough, serious, skilled, and fully able to live up to their ‘warrior’ image. They embodied the spirit of the ‘old generation ‘ men – those who lived and fought through the World Wars. The majority of those men never shared their true feelings with others, even with those closest to them. In the face of danger, they rarely acknowledged the presence of fear, even to themselves, and simply tried to ‘do what they had to do’, with no fuss, and no drama.

Those were the men of the ‘stiff upper lip’; the tough, hard-working men who lived a life of service to country, family, and justice, while seeking no glory to themselves.

In recent years, Western culture is seeing a rapid decline in the need for the ‘tough guy’ persona; as more and more living ideals of masculinity fail their followers by revealing a history of violence, abuse, shady deals, or sexual misconduct, the world looks away in disappointment and disgust. The icons of masculinity fall under the hammer of media and justice, and nobody cares to pick up the pieces…

The world today knows that, under the brawny, weather-beaten surface of traditional manhood, things are not always what they seem to be from the outside. By now, most of us are certain that we have seen enough of those ‘real men’ – the men whose so-called masculinity often did more damage than good…

And so, we have turned away from the rules and the principles that uphold strength, honour and courage; we aimed to create new rules and new principles, and to forge a new man out of the ashes of the old one, who was burned at the altar of our righteous anger at the injustices caused by that ‘old school’ masculinity.

The idea of the ‘modern man’ is realised through the application of those new rules and principles; they largely revolve around issues like the need for more sensitivity, and less aggression – in men – and the need for gender equality and greater consideration of the rights of women – in society. Much like its predecessor – the ‘tough man’ of the past, the ‘modern man’ is led by rules and principles that demand of him to ‘soften up’ and be more ‘open-minded’ and ‘considerate of others’. Through these rules and principles society exhorts the ‘modern man’ to be more gentle and compassionate, to care for the environment, to be more accepting of other cultures and religions, and, when all is said and done – to be less like the man of the past…which perhaps means, to be less like his father.

It is clearly evident that, in each case, there appears to be an emphasis of the need of certain qualities in men: in the old, wartime years, they were related to strength, resolve, toughness and reliability, while the modern age calls for more compassion, sensitivity, openness, and understanding. And so it seems that, whenever each of those quality groups are in demand of the current society, standards of masculinity are set by that society, and the rules and principles of that version of masculinity are used to generate the desired outcome. In the past, men had to be tough, and failing to live up to that standard, resulted in shame and exclusion: the boy who failed to win the competition on the playground, or was unable to stand up and defend himself against a bully, walked home with his head hanging low. The modern age, though far more accepting of failure and sensitive to need, is nevertheless doing the same thing: it criticises the ones who do not conform to its standards, and ostracises them, often labeling them with names and epithets that brand and stigmatise their reputation, just like shame and inadequacy once branded and stigmatised the men who could not live up to the expectations and standards of their time.

It is therefore clear that each one of those societies, driven by certain needs and agendas, seeks to exclude parts and fragments of masculinity that it has no need for, while accepting and developing the ones that it needs. Men’s true needs, and indeed, their true selves, are neither considered nor, in fact, accepted, as the political forces of their current reality are unleashed against them, driving them to either behave in the only accepted way, or be marginalised forever.

The biggest problem with both of those ways of living – the demand for toughness in the past and sensitivity in the present – is that they are based in external needs and expectations, rather than knowledge. The external rules and principles of each version of masculinity are used to enforce the external behaviour of the men who live under them, which in turn, yields external results in the lives of men and those around them. External models, rules and principles, as good as they might be on their own, do nothing to address and honour the individual reality of each man’s life; it might achieve obedience and adherence to its laws, but it does so by being no different from a cruel taskmaster who cares only for the result of his slaves’ hard work, and nothing for the slaves themselves.

It is therefore fitting to say that the widely accepted models for masculinity, both in the past and in the present, have been merely external, and could not offer any hope for those who happened to fall outside their rigid boundaries. Those who had naturally found themselves within them, and have found their laws easy and even pleasurable to keep and uphold, could only thank God for being the way they were; by the same token, those who have gained acceptance by striving hard to hide their true desires and tendencies, could only be grateful for not being exposed as impostors. Lastly, those who had neither the abilities nor the desire to fit in, could only suffer in silence, resentful and angry at fate for the hand they had been dealt, and bitter toward all who had fared better than themselves.

If we take masculinity to be, like femininity, a thing of a much deeper nature and significance than its external, purely physical expression and behaviour, we must acknowledge that modifying that behaviour will produce little or no results in transforming the inner reality of the addressed individual. And if we know something about people in general, we will see that most of them would be far more attracted by living a life of quality, well-being, and inner satisfaction, than being drawn to a life of endless attempts to adhere to external doctrines. Unfortunately, the history of humanity shows very little knowledge of this truth; too much desire for collectivism on one side, and the ‘every man for himself’ strategy on the other, has left little room for the pursuit of deeper, individual truth, and has simply offered humanity better ways of hiding behind masks. The deeper nature of being a human – in this case, a male human – has been treated as something like a set of mere habits and rituals, the altering of which has been thought able to provide us with the success that only inner transformation can bring.

So, if we say that the two most popular models for masculine behavior have failed, we must look for a third option.

When the external approach fails, it must be replaced, either with another one of the same kind, or with something better, something deeper.

The superficial address of masculinity has failed, and will fail again, because it ignores the very thing masculinity is rooted in – the inner being, the heart.

If we want to change the face of masculinity, and alter its behavior, we must first take a good look at its heart; it is the heart that must be re-discovered and redeemed, and it is the heart that must be honored, healed, and brought back to life. When men are in touch with their hearts, and when those hearts are truly free to be what they were designed to be, masculinity will at last present itself to the world in its glorious fullness.

Only then will the world begin to fully live; only then will we be finally able to forge a brand new future for ourselves and our children – a redeemed generation that would never commit the wasteful sins of their fathers, but would instead use their toxic fumes as fuel, to propel itself into a golden age of freedom and peace never witnessed by any of the generations before.

But if men are to recover their hearts, if we are to create this golden future, we must first take a deeper journey – a journey of healing; and if we are to be healed, we must first face our sickness.

It is a sickness of the heart, and the cure is received only by those who are brave…

 

You are brave.

 

 

 

 

 

To receive, one must let go first…take your mask off, you will find pain and treasure underneath…

The Father. The Power. The Wound.

baby-22194_960_720When a father and son spend long hours together we could say that a substance almost like food passes from the older body to the younger. The contemporary mind might want to describe the exchange between father and son as a likening of attitude, a miming, but I think a physical exchange takes place, as if some substance was passing directly to the cells. The son`s body – not his mind – receives, and the father gives this food at a level far bellow consciousness.

Robert Bly — Iron John: A Book About Men

 

 

I had always wanted to be like him.

He was a good man, a strong man; he was a man who did not shy from telling it as it is, and did not let bad people get away with their badness.

But now I know. I know the truth…

He could not love me, and he never did. He could protect, and he could provide — but he could never father me. My little body needed his big body; my boyish skin longed for his touch — in an embrace, or a wrestling match…

I did not see what he failed to give me, for how can one sees what is not there? But I grew with a lack, a void, an emptiness of soul; and I knew I would never be a man like him. Yet this is what I have always wanted, in a deep and primal way, far beyond the reach of reason…I wanted him, and I wanted to become like him.

After boys are born, they do not become men; they must be made men. That ‘making’ happens through the active intervention of the father, as Robert Bly once put it. In other words, we must be loved into manhood, in those precious first years, and then trained and initiated into it.

But love comes first.

Masculine love is the baseline of manhood.

The father’s love is the power that works within the boy and spurs him on to do more and be more, later in life. The lack of it…well, you probably know its effects…

I certainly do.

Not being able to give me what he himself had not been given, the great man left me with a deep hole in the chest, and a deep question:

am I a man?

The question came from the curious, hurting soul, and my wounds provided the merciless answer:

No. 

You will never be a man; you must pretend and cover your weakness…do not let them see the child within — do not even allow yourself to see him.

They whispered dark and dreadful things to my young and trembling soul. In my weakness, I believed them; in my fear, I obeyed.

Kill him and bury him. 

And I did.

Then I wondered, year after year, why I was so hollow inside — why the sex, the drugs, and all the falsehood and pretense, failed to make me alive, save for a few fleeting moments?

Inside, I wept for the boy, and I searched for him — an orphan, searching for his lost life, the family he has never known…

Or a murderer, searching for his victim in repentance.

A father holds a great power over his son, a power to make or break him with his words or with his absence. Harsh words, or the lack of words; scornful look or an absent smile — it all pierces, and it all kills…

How can you, years later, give to your family from a full heart? How can love overflow from a soul in which love has never been poured? How can you be strong and make strong decisions, if you have never been trained and fathered into manhood; if your empty, father-starved heart has either been shut down — abused and pushed out into the world — or left alone in the dark, forever waiting to receive that which only a man can give…

That which only a father can give.

A grim message, to be sure, but it is not the end of the story — only its beginning.

I will not ask you if you are ready, only if you are willing…

Are you willing?

Have you suffered enough inadequacy, shame, and emptiness?

If you have, good.

This is your time; this is your chance to re-write your story.

 

The father-wound must be entered, for beneath it lays a golden heart; the pain of the past must be re-lived, for only then it could be healed.

Do not fear.

You are not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

What Have You Become?

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Life batters and shapes us in all sorts of ways before it’s done, but those original selves which we were born with and which I believe we continue in some measure to be no matter what are selves which still echo with the holiness of their origin… I think that among other things all real art comes from that deepest self—painting, writing, music, dance, all of it that in some way nourishes the spirit and enriches the understanding… And I think that from there also come our best dreams and our times of gladdest playing and taking it easy and all those moments when we find ourselves being better or stronger or braver or wiser than we are. This is the self we are born with, and then of course the world does its work. Starting with the rather too pretty young woman, say, and the charming but rather unstable young man who together know no more about being parents than they do about the far side of the moon, the world sets in to making us into what the world would like us to be, and because we have to survive after all, we try to make ourselves into something that we hope the world will like better than it apparently did the selves we originally were. This is the story of all our lives, needless to say, and in the process of living out that story, the original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out all the other selves which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather.

Frederick Buechner — Telling Secrets: A Memoir

 

 

 

I was twenty-four. It was the most exciting time of my life. Indeed, a day would not go by without me thanking the heavens for being alive; it was as if I had been finally given the right to live the life I was always longing for.

This new life began in Varna, a city known as the ‘sea capital’ of my home country. I had gone there to be a student, and for a while, I was — right before I became the happiest man in the world. You see, it was not that I had suddenly become rich, or had met ‘the right person’; I did not win the lottery or finally had that million-dollar idea…no, I worked, like most people.

Yet my new job was different from the work I was previously doing — being a doorman in different clubs in the city; it was even different from the golden, haunted, dangerous summer I had spent in Sunny Beach, working in a big club — a job which could hardly be called work as it seemed like a dream come true at the time. No, my new work was different; not only did it pay well, not only did it provide me with opportunities to meet new people and learn more about the world of those who were successful, but it finally gave me the thing I sought the most — acknowledgment and respect, even fascination, in the eyes of people who were worthy of respect.

I remember it all; it comes to me still, whenever I decide to evoke it — that time of restful glory, of basking in the sparkling glow radiated from the deceived eyes of those who thought they knew me.

There were nights of loud music and young, lithe bodies; the sweet smell of the bourbon danced together with the tantalizing scent of perfume and made the pungent odour of cigarette smoke pleasant, even desirable to me. The inside of the car smelled of leather and expensive eau de toilette — a smell of importance, which, as soon as the door was opened, was enriched by the freshness of the sea breeze and the feeling of youthful promise for a life in which the best was yet to come…

The car was not mine of course; neither was the one bedroom flat which was being prepared for me in a building recently acquired by my employer, a place where I could live rent-free — an incredible honor bestowed upon a country boy whose only great achievement in his work was honesty and willingness to learn.

Who would have ever thought that? Who would have ever believed that the boy whose life was, at best, doomed to obscurity — or indeed the permanent despair which often befalls a soul too sensitive for its own good — would become a happy man, a man with a smile on his face, and a bright future ahead of him?

Life was good. Life was good at last.

* * *

But I was deceived.

You see, at the time, I found life incredibly good, and indeed it was, at least on the outside. Yet, I did not have very high standards to measure it by; I did not even have the faintest idea what inner peace was, what inner strength and true manly confidence felt like. Thus, I settled for what I thought was the best I could ever have and the best I could ever be. I had wounds, yes, but did not know it at the time; I did not know the darker story of my heart. I did not see that my soul was groaning with unbearable pain; I did not know that it had once been shattered…

It was all a lie; it was an act, and I was the actor. Every time I showed my face to those others whom I had empowered to grant or take my self-worth away from me, I trembled; I feared the exposure of my real self more than I feared death itself.

Yet, I did not know anything of my true self at the time; the roles we play in life are meant to deceive the world, but in the end, it is we who are deceived…

* * *

One day, me and the man I worked for (who, being only thirty-two, had become something of a friend of mine) decided to visit the countryside. We planned a day out, like tourists; our path which began at the shores of Varna, would take us through the pretty little villages of the formidable Balkan mountains and downwards, down to the very place where life began for me — a small, quiet village called Botevo. My village.

Secretly, I trembled with anticipation and joy, wondering about the reaction of those local people who would see the car — a large, silver BMW sedan — parked in front of our house. Would they be envious? Would they think I have become a criminal?

Well, let them.

We arrived just before dusk. The village, as it had done many times previously, accommodated me once more, becoming my home once again, though only for one brief night…

After we had eaten with my parents, I whispered to my boss and his girlfriend that we should go out — the town of Yambol was only fifteen minutes away, and it offered more than the gloomy little village I once called home. After some quiet persuasion from my side — for my companions did not wish to offend my parents by leaving too soon — we departed. I had much to look forward to that night as, with the much-needed help of a certain website, I had arranged to meet a girl in town, and, as always when I was about to meet someone new, I was brimming with tense anticipation — the only kind of happiness I truly knew in those days. Life was good, and life was worth living.

* * *

It was well past midnight when we drove back. For me, the night was still young and, while my companions were yawning from the back of the car, I was wide awake, alert and ready for more of life — that life which always turned the tides in my favour, and was always on my side. I was savouring the past hours with delight, bringing the sweetest moments back to life, calling them back to me, unwilling to let them go.

The powerful machine sped down the dark, bumpy road as we rapidly covered the distance between the new world and my old world — a world I had recently grown to be ashamed of. The new — this was us inside, surrounded by the comfortable, pleasant interior of the new car, by hope, and by our idea of love. The new — this was me, the young man who rested in the leather embrace of the sedan — a man with a stylish black shirt and trousers, clean-shaven head, and a fresh, tireless smile on his face: this was the new, and I loved it. I drove on; I was happy, and I did not see…

From the outside, the old was peering in.

We were fast approaching the village when, as we drove through the hushed emptiness that surrounded it, a glow of light caught my eye. I turned to look, and I was pierced.

I do not know how to evoke the moment to you; words will fail to describe it. Still, I will try:

The full moon shone brightly — directly at me, it seemed —  illuminating the fields through which ran a little river…the river that me and my friends once fished. Our river. My river. My fields. My land, and my world.

At that moment, as I looked upon that moon and its haunting white light, I found myself ambushed by sudden sorrow; I could not bear the enduring serenity of the fields and their accusing silence; desolation, sudden and severe, swept over me, and my heart felt weighed down by an unseen burden.

The land I found myself beholding was the forgotten world of my boyhood. The fields that I was passing, sitting in an expensive car, isolated and protected from all things past and from the threatening glow of this haunting, vindictive moon, were the fields I once walked almost daily, as I searched for the treasures of the natural world…

But I could not hide — I was caught off guard; I was seen.

It took only a second, maybe two; I could not avert my eyes in time, and when I did avert them, it was too late. I had seen, and I had been seen.

When I looked at the moon, I saw it as I had seen it once, through eyes much younger and a soul still filled with wonder; when I beheld the fields I had once walked freely through, I looked upon the lost world of my childhood. It pierced me, though I did not know why.

I turned away, and drove ahead, fast, toward the sleeping village.

* * *

Tell me, you who read this — where is the place where you first knew joy? Where did the mystery of life first called to you, while you were still a child? Do you know — can you find the answer?

Have you lost it, this heart of yours; have you buried it, killed it, stomped on it, like I once did?

I could not bear to look at the moon of my old days because I felt accused by it; I did not want to keep my eyes on it for I knew that its exposing light was cast over the place where I had buried my true self, the self I did not want to see resurrected — the self I hated more than everything in the world.

Friend, are you the man in the car? Are you the man who is clasping the steering wheel, clinging on for dear life, for survival; the man who hides behind a borrowed facade, presenting a face not his own to a world that has never showed him pity? Are you the man who is desperately struggling to keep this facade from crumbling and drives on toward the place of safety, faster and faster, while the night around you calls you to return — to come back, to shed the false self, pick up a shovel in your bloodstained hands, get down on your knees and dig for that lost treasure?

The treasure that you once buried. The heart that you once killed.

Your lost heart is calling to you now, just as the full moon called to me there, on that night where, in the sacred place of my beginning, new visited old but it could not defeat it.

Do not wait like I waited — do not turn your face away; your lost heart can be yours again…

You, who are the man in the car, hear me as I say this:

To be the man you wish to become, you must become the man you were born to be. Your design is revealed by your deepest desires, and to recover and liberate your true self, you must take the journey of the heart. A great quest is awaiting you, and you must only be willing…

If you no longer wish to play roles, say yes. If you no longer wish to live a life of an impostor, say yes. If you are tired of feeling insecure around others, of feeling ambivalent, lonely, and hopelessly attached to objects and deeds that defy logic and thwart your progress in life — say yes…

 

 

This is your time.

 

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You are not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

..

 

The End of a Journey Back in Time: Seeing Old Sights for the First Time

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The word longing comes from the same root as the word long in the sense of length in either time or space and also the word belong, so that in its full richness to long suggests to yearn for a long time for something that is a long way off and something that we feel we belong to and that belongs to us. The longing for home is so universal a form of longing that there is even a special word for it, which is of course homesickness.

― Frederick Buechner, ‘The Longing for Home: Reflections at Midlife’

 

 

Summer 2017.

 

I had never before caught a carp in our river, even though I always knew they lived there.

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I had never before seen Imperial eagle soar over those ancient fields, even though stories about them permeated my childhood.

 

 

Never before.

 

 

 

I had never before stayed home for such a long time; I have never before entered so deeply into my own heart and its story — its roots, its pain, and its journey to freedom…

Thoughts From the Village: on Fishing and Friendship

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The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

 

 

There are only a few days left from our holiday now, and, as always in such times, I find myself becoming a little more alive; as if, having realised the loss that I will soon suffer, I suddenly become better in using my time to rest and enjoy the place in its fullness. I savour it all, while it lasts. Oh, how I hate this mortal impermanence, the ever-looming death of all that is good…

Last night, as I walked up the outer stairwell of the house, trying hurriedly to make myself ready for the arrival of  the regulars — the few childhood friends that came almost every night — I caught sight of an orange-red glow above the neighbouring house. The setting sun sent its last rays over the roof as if to say goodbye to somebody it knew well. On the other side, above the house of my friend Stoycho — a house which I knew as well as our own, and a friend whom I knew as well as myself — there sat the thin, sharp crest of the moon. It hung in the darkening sky with an air of jolly anticipation, as if it was welcoming an old comrade into a night of forgotten adventures and renewed joy. In this no man`s land, the place of timelessness between the old and the new, there stretched the vast canvas of the dark blue sky, dotted with bright, hopeful lights — an enormous, glorious realm, invaded by burly pink clouds and old childhood memories. Ah, the memories — they flooded my soul and I remembered the children who once played on the same street, under the same glorious sky; I remembered the sounds and the smells, the stag-beetles and the toads; I remembered the laughter.

I also remembered the two great fish, one as big as myself, that were brought to our house during one such night. My father, who worked in a thermal power station near a big lake, had bought them from some fishermen and now the hysterical cries of a young boy resounded in the warm summer darkness.

Sharks! We have sharks in our house! Come and see the sharks!

I screamed the words with delight and unbelief as I dashed off to the house of my grandparents, in case they had not heard and would miss the opportunity to see the monsters that lay on the concrete near the outside sink. It was an unforgettable night for me.

I have always loved nature and wild animals. From my earliest years I have always felt drawn to every wild place where a living creature may lurk — from an abandoned patch of the garden, rich in grass, rocks, and life, to the open spaces around the village where hills, forests, canals, and ponds, all merged into one — a realm that held a promise of eternal joy. Unlike my father, who never had the patience to sit and wait beside the river for hours, I gradually took interest in fishing. My father had many friends who regularly went fishing and, seeing my passion, he often arranged short fishing trips on which he also came. Soon, though still very young, I began my own fishing expeditions; always within the realms of our village, always close…and yet, so far into the wilderness. My young heart, already filled with beauty from films, books, stories and dreams, saw steppes and prairies there, in the green wildness that surrounded my home; it saw beyond what was seen; it beheld the great Amazon, the crocodile-infested African lakes and the cacti-strewn slopes of the Far West — the world of rattlesnakes, cowboys and adventures. More often than not, I was accompanied by my trusted friends — Stoycho, Peyo, and Victor — the boys who shared my love for the outdoors.

But the depth, the knowledge, and the intensity of my love affair with the natural world were taken to a completely new level when another boy entered the scene.

Marin`s parents had moved to the village when I was around twelve years old. He was the same age as myself and, after they had settled permanently in the house where his grandparents previously lived, we began a friendship that is still as strong now as it once was…perhaps even stronger.

He was unusually tall and incredibly good-hearted; a hard-worker who has had to grow up too fast, he regularly helped his family with taking care of the livestock. Marin was a boy with a heart for adventure, my own Huckleberry Finn. He thought of adventures that led us deep into the wild, unexplored places of our village — the places where creatures hid and waited for us to discover them. We marveled at the anteater`s predatory larvae as it lurked in its sandy hideout, waiting  for an unfortunate ant to pass by; we waited long in the dark for the little owl to appear; we crawled on our bellies to get a little closer to the snake that swam in the water-filled pit near their house…

We drew close to the wildness and it revealed its secrets to us. The myths were true. The tales were true. The size of the beasts and the danger in those stories grew enormously as we told them to one another; the hope in our hearts, the belief that the best was yet to come — this too, grew, as the horizon of our wild world broadened.

Oh, the wild places were known by many — the land was rich and there was much game; there were many hunters and many fishermen…

But rarely did they see.

The little, hidden corners of the wild were not known; they were not respected. The innocent inhabitants of the hidden places were at best ignored, or, sadly, destroyed without as much as a thought.

Me and Marin did see. We saw not because were better than the others; we saw because we looked harder than them. Not wishing to abandon the wonder of childhood too soon, we hungered for the wild world and it embraced us; we read and watched films about it; we gazed in awe as the live mysteries of the wild kingdom unfolded before our young eyes.

There were evenings of stag-beetles and flying bats; there were unexpected glimpses of weasels and martens. There were stories about horned vipers and wild boar in the woods. We generously shared it with one another, this passion for wildness, and, quite literally, we turned every stone in search for its fulfillment.

And then there was the fishing.

Never before had I seen so much of the wild world; never had I been a witness so so many wonders… The little river and the ponds offered us far more than the small Crucian carp which, though they were little, were abundant at the time. Each one of our journeys, done either on foot, or with Marin`s rickety donkey-cart, was a quest — a mission of exploration and new frontiers — always rich, always deeply rewarding.

Sitting on the bank of the little river, we laughed, we watched, and we felt much. We watched in hushed amazement as the water snake swam lazily with a fish in its mouth, and the terrapin climbed a rock to dry its wet shell in the sun. We gazed in wonder as the hawk chased sparrows overhead and the carp leap from the water with joy; we marveled at the heron, the stork, and the bee-eater…

* * *

Lines, hooks, and rods; the sun and the surrounding greenness, the smell of the freshly caught fish and the dirty fingers that seemed doomed to smell the same way forever — all was good, and all was shared between us.

But it did not last.

You see, by the time when I was well into my teens, my soul was already under a heavy strain, a deep sickness, the symptoms of which would not take long to surface. Events had taken place — attacks that dealt a merciless blow to my connection with the natural world, the connection to my own self. The rock that was previously solid, now had a crack, a wound that would slowly deepen, gaping wider and wider as time wore on.

It was around that time, that I began to slowly drift away from the goodness of my golden days; the fishing trips became less frequent; the wonder began to fade…

Life had shown me that I was not good enough to live it fully; the world required me to become something else — somebody else — or I would never find my place in it…

Or I would never be accepted.

I did not know… I chose death and did not see it at the time. I killed my true heart; I buried the gold and did everything I could to forget that child and his stupid village, his weakness, and his love for fish and water. It became easier to notice the profanity of life and the emptiness of dreams — my eyes were opened and I saw. I saw the empty plastic bottles and the cigarette stubs strewn around the riverbanks; I felt the sun that burned too hot in the summer, and the stubborn mud that would simply not wash off. The summer changed too; it began to offer other adventures and other comforts…

This was when Marin became too inconvenient to be my friend.

He did not fit well under the neon lights of the club, even when he was dressed in his best; he did not belong in a world of pretending, the world of masks and many faces…he remained there, by the river, with a rod in his hand and an impish grin on his eternally young face. He sat there, where an abandoned, forgotten part of me still stood, waiting in vain to be embraced again.

I shunned him as I had shunned my heart; the sight of him drew me back to that heart and its insistent, stupid love of childish games and old, forgotten places…

Tell me, friend, about the people you feel uncomfortable with; the people who make you writhe and squirm, or the ones you simply dislike: what do they call forth in you?

Do they, like Marin, draw forth a part of your own self that you detest? Could they, perhaps, be representing a weakness — the weakness in you which you are trying to forget — while you are doing your utmost to remain strong? Do they look to you like a stupid child, while you are striving to behave like the adult you so wish to be?

I know that well; I have had my share of revulsion and contempt: those who were weak and needy, despite my deceitful politeness, were not truly welcome in my presence. Nor were the children, for I did not wish to gaze too long into their hopeful, silly eyes.

That which I had rejected in myself, I detested in others; that which I hated in them I feared in my own divided self…

Is this not the way of hatred? Is this not how violence is born, how division is created, whether it is racial, social, or religious? Is not this division within, the separation in ourselves, which makes us divided from those without, and separated from all others?

The ‘different’ ones in life scare us; we fear them — the outcasts, the pariahs — to the degree we fear the leper within, and, though we smile to them, we would never enter their world…

For this would mean entering our deepest darkness…this would mean facing the one that waits within us, with weak, pale arms outstretched, hoping to be embraced again.

Many would rather die. Many have died already.

* * *

It is not new governments, new weapons, and new customs that can put an end to wars, terrorism and genocide; it is only love that could do that.

But this love, the true Love, does not have a place for force, not even the force toward oneself, that external effort to love another which we so often need. No, true love begins by embracing one`s own broken self…

Love thy neighbour as thyself — this is the command we are constantly breaking, over and over again, for we have not loved our own selves enough; we have not had the courage to go back to those old, forgotten places, and pick up that heart-broken child in a long-awaited embrace…

We have hated the lost one within us — how then will we love them, the unloved ones, that are all around us?

* * *

 Years after our slow alienation, and soon after I had finally heeded the cry of my heart, I found myself sitting on a forgotten river bank, beside the man with whom I had once shared so much. The autumn sun shone happily down on us, and the first hopeful tugs of our bobbers had already began to show us that we would not wait in vain. There was no shame; only wonder, anticipation, and joy…

And then he asked me, in his pure, lazy fashion, about the reasons which had brought me back, doing the things I once did, suddenly remembering a world I had long since forgotten.

This was when I told him the story of my heart: the long, dark journey of emptiness and sorrow, of forgotten dreams and lost hopes…the story of renewed longing and resurrected life. And he, who rarely displayed strong emotions or desires, using that well-familiar, quiet voice, told me that he too was dying, and that he too wanted to live.

An old friendship was renewed on that day, and a heart awoke to new hopes.

Me and Marin never miss the chance to go fishing now, and the others often join us when they can.

But it is rarely about fishing…

True friendship with another is impossible unless one has first become a friend with one`s own deepest self; it is only from that love that every other love is born.

Seek it — search for that love, and search for that lost self. Go to the wild places, hear the forgotten music; visit the old world again.

 

You may find that someone there is expecting you.