Masculinity – Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Part 2

attacking-213676_960_720

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Masculinity: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

man-1461448_960_720

 

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?

6

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.

 

moon-325083_960_720

 

You are not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

..

 

Thoughts From the Village: on Fishing and Friendship

rsz_img_4514

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts From the Village: on Permanence and the World We Hope for

IMG_4405

…And I knew just as surely, just as clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last.

Norman MacLean, A River Runs Through It

 

 

We are still here, and so is the heat. Thankfully, the breeze is also here, and thankfully, we are still within the time-frame of our August vacation.

I love this place.

Of all the places in the world, this is the only one where the deepest pain and the highest joy of my past are so present. In contrast, our new home on the beautiful Sussex coast in England is something that, for the first time in my life, I can truly call home. It is my nest — an independent and separated place, away from any other person in my life, save for my wife and our little daughter. In this new home joy is abundant and the flow of life is light and clear; memories are yet to be made there, and the sense of calling, of the greatness of the human soul — its art and its place in the world — is strongest there.

But it is not this home I wish to talk to you today; not the nest of pure beauty and clarity, that place of sea and greenness; of late gulls and moonlight, of foxes and hedgehogs. No, not now. Today, my soul roams the very place that surrounds my body. Today, there is not much clarity and very little purpose. The fog of confusion is strongest here, and the battle is most fierce. Much is felt here, yet very little discerned; there are too many shadows and not enough swords; there are too many barriers against feeling the unfelt and too many signs and signals to know the right way.

Oh, but it is so breathtaking… It is so calm, so deeply mine, and so haunting…

 * * *

After a long and sweet night with old friends, I woke up feeling raw and tender on the inside. It was a night of depth, of memories and stories. The gentle breeze, the garden lights, the freshness of the vines, and the darkness of the old familiar street — they all came together in a fragrant, colourful amalgam; and our souls were light and free. In moments like that friendships can be richly intoxicating — every uttered word is met with knowledge and joy, and each felt emotion is joined by knowing, loving siblings. Loneliness cannot exist in such environment; falsehood and hostility are banished.

In this old and richly deep place, late at night when my parents — my old family — are sleeping in the cool bowels of my childhood home; when my wife and child — my new family — rest in the rooms above; when the old friends are around me, merrily raising glasses — in those times, I feel truly happy and known…I am home at last.

But I wake, and there is longing again; I have dreamed, but my dreams fade too soon…

As I open my eyes, the breeze of my sweetest times gently kisses my face; I look up and see the deep sky, and before I have the chance to rise and become and adult, my heart is pierced, and I am defeated.

How is it that we can gaze in the heart of eternity and go about our business without batting an eyelid? How is it that we can stand in the presence of holiness, and not weep and fall on our faces in worship?

Tragic is the fate of the human trace; darkened and numb we have all become…

But I am returning, and though the road is strewn with pain, I am gradually arriving home. And the closer I get — the more I am pierced by the pain of grief and longing — the more hope and joy I also feel. Here, for a brief moment or two, I gaze upon the heart of Laughter…

The sky that smiles at me in the morning also weeps, for I have gazed upon it when I was little — back when my soul had not yet succumbed to the numbness of the world. When I see that sky, and the roads, and the trees; when I bask into the warm dark air that surrounds my old home; when I hear the crickets and the laughter of my old friends — this is when joy is merged with grief…

Because I know that it would not last.

* * *

The message we have all been given by life, often too early, at the very start of our earthly sojourn, tell us that, as MacLean wrote, ‘life is not a work of art’, and that ‘the moment’ — the best moments of all goodness we would ever know in life — would ultimately not last.

Is it any wonder then, that we have all lost heart? Does it seem so strange that our race is locked in an endless cycle of reaching and grasping, endlessly trying to hold on to our best times and make them last, while keeping darkness and death at bay for as long as we can?

We have all been made for more, and deep down in our hearts, we know it — if it were not so, we would be content with our misery, and indeed not be miserable at all; for it is namely that — our misery in the face of mortality — which proves our hidden eternal design. We must therefore see these two messages — the ones that tell us that life is not a work of art, and goodness does not last — for what they are: lies.

The realm of my youth — the village and its hills, and the friends who still laugh as they once did — all of these things fill my heart with joy not because I want to return to my childhood — God forbid! No, but I long to come back to the heart I once had; the freer soul which was far more open and wondrous, far more aware of the deepest truths of life than the one I am bearing now. Then, I was closer to the Promise…

Yes, children know, and this is why the world is ever set against them; this is why their knowledge of eternity is quickly shamed and silenced, long before they are old enough to see the lies. This is why we have all become wraiths…

This is also why we must all come back to the heart and its desires. For without the heart there is no life, and without the heart true hope does not live…

* * *

Through that immortal longing, awakened by the spirit of this haunted place, I am searching for the self I once had — the heart that had not yet suffered its fate of latter times; less suppressed in its emotions, less dark and less burdened by shame and defeat. Yet, it is also true that there is more, much more, that I am actually searching for.

My heart, as do the hearts of us all, seeks permanence.

It looks not simply to return to carefree days, for there are no such days in the realms of mortal men; but it looks for deeper, older things, in deeper, older places. Places and times that once were — the heart in its immortality remembers them; places and times that will be again — or else the heart would not hope for them with such fierce intensity.

The summer evenings when I was a little boy… The time when all the grown-ups sat around the table of my grandparents; the time when the smell of fresh tomato salad, of peppers, onion, and spices (all homegrown, of course) preceded the aroma of the roasted meat and the laughter…those times spoke to the little heart about home, and about lasting goodness. Later, when I am sitting under the same sky, under the warm caressing embrace of the same evening air, it comes again…the friend on my right lives close by and knows me and my whole family well; so does the friend on my left. No, I cannot go back farther in the limitation of this finite world; I cannot go deeper than this. The happy celebration with people who know and love me, the sense of effortless belonging in a place where the very rocks are soaked with the happiness of my younger self… Endless joy and comfort in my own skin, in the old fellowship of those who feel the same and would never become less, never in a thousand years — this is what my heart yearns for, and this is what I am always seeking.

Moments that would not end. Peace that will not cease. Love that will not fail. The brief whispers of my most romantic childhood hopes becoming a solid, tangible truth. The world that we already know and love; the world as it was meant to be. I think it is a world where all people…no, wait — I will let a better writer describe it:

I have seen a land shining with goodness, where each man protects his brother’s dignity as readily as his own, where war and want have ceased and all races live under the same law of love and honour.

I have seen a land bright with truth, where a man’s word is his pledge and falsehood is banished, where children sleep safe in their mother’s arms and never know fear or pain.  

I have seen a land where kings extend their hands in justice rather than reach for the sword; where mercy, kindness, and compassion flow like deep water over the land, and men revere virtue, revere truth, revere beauty, above comfort, pleasure or selfish gain. A land where peace reigns in the hill, and love like a fire from every hearth…

Like Taliesin in the Pendragon Cycle books, like king Arthur in Stephen Lawhead`s amazing works, I have seen it too, though only in few brief glimpses. I have read the signs of immortality and redemption, back when I was a little child; back when I listened to the sounds of peaceful human existence merge with the songs of crickets and owls; when I looked at the bright stars in wonder and knew that I was known. I saw the same stars again last night and I recognised them; my heart leaped, and I knew…

You too, have seen your glimpses of this world, though perhaps you have forgotten. Be not afraid to remember, for in your pain, there is redemption. There is also a Promise, and it is a promise for permanence…

Where have you searched for permanence in a world that offers none?

Remember — even the best the human life is a long string of great victories and great defeats — both measured by time; both passing.

Do not despair…come back, and face the heartbreak; be brave and face the broken hopes within…

And if you are brave and face your battles; if you do that well and hold nothing back, who knows, you may find that which you have always searched for…you may find yourself returning to that first true Love whose touch once sensed, back in your times of wonder, even though they have been cut short by the darkness of this world.

Go — go against the currents of your life, and against the defences, habits and escapes of your own broken self — go deeper and go higher, for the truth is waiting for you there, and the life you search for is waiting to be lived. You are known, and you have a destiny.

Believe not in the loss of your darker times, but trust in the hopes hidden in your heart…

They do not lie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts From the Village: on Emotions and Bulgarian Stoicism

11169403_10205654077005583_9064278939910070645_n

Every generation
Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door
Oh, crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got
Mike and the Mechanics — The Living Years
1984 — this is when I entered the world
this is when I entered my home

We have been home for a couple a weeks now. August is always hot here, often nearing the forties; sometimes, like the year before, even reaching beyond that. This vacation is no exception; after suffering through our first week when the gauge hit thirty-nine almost daily, we can finally take a breather — it is cooler now, and there is a pleasant breeze almost every day…

As I write this sitting under the shade of the vine, in the comfortable nest of my old home, I leisurely behold the sights of my past. Looking at the old, familiar street — the walls, the fences, the people, and the clear sky of my childhood — I feel the old, familiar sense of…what do I call this…?

A sense of feeling less, and being less; a kind of suppression and a block to being fully alive; something like a dam, made to be a barrier to strong emotions — the good ones as well as the ‘bad’ ones — a wall, erected against their expression…

I see my old friend: one of the oldest, truest comrades I have ever had, going in and out of his house — but why is it that I do not feel the joy which I have when I am away from him and think of our next meeting? Why do I feel so numb and unable to express how I really feel on the inside? Why am I so reserved; why do I always hold back?

And I know that, just like me, my friend also feel the same way.

Perhaps it is the culture here; we have all been brought up like that. We are all gravitating between unspoken love, hidden hatred, and well-controlled joy; we are all, to a degree, living a life which is stifled life. It should come as no surprise then, that I do not know how to live from the heart — that heart which feels so much and has so much to give, yet is often silent.

I do not know whether it is a cultural thing, like the proverbial ‘stiff upper lip’ of the British; I am no expert in nationality and culture. But I have become a student of my own life and, after years of one painful and glorious discovery after another, I have learned a thing or two about myself and those around me.

On this little quiet street, in the green Thracian lowlands, me and my few peers grew up as happy as any group of average children could be, perhaps even more, yet expressing our true emotions was never trully a part of it all; it was always that missing, unmentioned, and seemingly unimportant part of life. Later, when we entered youth, we drank and celebrated young age as most young people did; then we embraced and kissed each other, but those displays of our affection toward one another were never carried into the new day — we left them behind, abandoned and hidden in the dark smoky corners of the old restaurant, waiting to be remembered and picked up again the next weekend. The restaurant, just like ourselves, came alive only on Friday and Saturday night; it became a nightclub then, and the old Soviet-style interior took on a colourful and glorious glow, along with our own neglected selves.

But our joy could never last.

What we felt while we were basking in the fleeting light of our short-lived glory, we could not take with us; what we were when we were most alive and most able to express our hearts — their nobility and beauty, but also their ugliness, their sickness and their pain — we could not be permanently.

This is why we so chase our addictions — the addictions we all have, for we have all been born into a world that has no room for our true selves; a world that offers no fulfilment for our deepest desires.

And so, even after years of facing my old pain and offering the most secret places of my heart to be healed, I am finding myself locked into the old patterns still, in the days when I am too weak or too tired. During those times, like the proverbial dog, I am readily returning back to my own vomit; back to the dirt and the death from which I have been lifted. I know the river well; the old river which, flowing for decades within my soul, has eroded a deep bed for itself. And since the direction of its flow has been my path for decades, I do not need to do much; I only need to simply let myself be carried by the waters, back to the familiar, back to the effortless comfort, back into the mire of my past.

Being home always brings me on the bank of that river, as close as I have ever been; for this is where the river first flowed, and this is where its deadly, wicked course was first set. Yes — deadly, for in my life, like every other life, there are unseen forces that seek my destruction; those were the hidden powers that once preyed upon the child…

I must make it clear here that my parents, like most, did their best to raise me in a good and healthy way. Sadly, like me, they are broken human beings, and, back in those times, their best was rarely enough to protect me from that which they themselves have not been protected…

 

* * *

 

While we were in my wife`s hometown — a little, charming spa town called Varshets — we met a spectacular young woman, and she quickly became our friend. This woman, who had, until recently, a professional volleyball player, had traveled the world and seen its wonders; she had also traveled her inner world, and explored its light and its darkness…

She was tall and lean and fit, glowing with the sunshine of Israel where she lived; she was radiating something else, too…

She was a warrior who had fought many battles; a heroine who had found and reclaimed a great deal of her truest self, and for this reason she was calm, free, and happy, totally unashamed to be — simply be — herself.

It was this — the power of her presence, this unhindered being — that so impacted both me and my wife, and made us want to know her better; this was also what encouraged us to keep walking the path of redemption, and not let the constant battle steal the joy of the present moment.

I am bringing her into this story because, during one of our conversations in the swimming pool, she put words to, and answered an unspoken question that had formed in my mind ever since we began our vacation.

‘Most of us around here,’ she remarked in her fiercely passionate way, ‘ might not abuse our children physically, but we crush them with our words!’

She was right: words that have the power to darken the eternal glow of the child`s heart; they can bring shame, worthlessness, or inadequacy to the soul so early in life, while the little one depends on the parents’ words for self-worth and identity as much as the body depends on oxygen and food for its survival.

Stop crying…

You are such a baby…

Behave — or else!

You should be ashamed of yourself!

And even:

You are worthless

We have all heard at least some of these; we have all felt their bitter sting. And we  have all been changed as a result of their message.

 

* * *

 

Although words have the power to change and shape the soul by bringing life or death to it, there is something more dangerous and deadly than words. Dangerous, for it is much harder to discover, and deadly, for it does its work in secret and, if left unaddressed for long, can shorten and even abort even the most promising life.

This is the unspoken coldness which creeps in from our parents to us while we are still young and helpless; this is the voiceless whisper in their eyes that tells us we must conform to this world — their world — and be less, simply because they have become less, and do not know any other way of being. Perhaps they have also felt threatened by the brave dreamer, by the little beauty and the young hero in their child, whose bright eyes speak of immortality and tell of a life that is too wild and too free — too eternal — to be manageable.

The Stoic-like mindset which me and most of my peers have inherited has indeed been a result from words — mainly the words of our mothers and grandmothers, for the women in our culture are far more free and unashamed outspoken than the men. It has also been a product of that unseen and unheard message which, like poisonous fumes or deadly sickness, once spread over us from our fathers` silent eyes…

And we all became like them, in one way or another — seemingly connected to those around us; never alone, yet lonely and silently suffering inside, bearing the curses, the wounds and the scars of all the generations past; the unhealed and unredeemed pain of the grandfathers who once groaned inwardly but could not make a sound as the heavy boot of the Sultan crushed their neck.

Today, men here die quickly, one after another, long before their time. Some are drowned in alcohol — their only escape from the pain; some are lost in sudden or gradual madness…

Most of them, however, the strong, upright, working-class people like our fathers, simply fade away; their once strong and powerful selves slowly erode with the merciless onslaught of time which steals their dreams and hopes. Then comes the final blow — normally, a sickness of some kind, an affliction which has been laying dormant for years, waiting for the weakness of spirit to set the stage and open the door for the destruction of the body. This murderous work is often done by the cancer which is so prevalent here, especially among the men; this most feared terror of our time kills, steals, and destroys with an alarming rate in this green, fertile place. Yet, we must know that in too many cases, maybe even most of them, what is seen is conceived by what is unseen — and the sickness of my people is no exception. Think of a broken spirit, too shameful to be acknowledged; of old pain and past heartbreak that are too painful to live with; imagine a lifetime of denial and repression of the true self and its feelings…

Take the strong emotions of grief, or better yet — anger, which has been cut off and stifled, pressed back down in the soul during childhood, only to surface later as a mysterious condition of weakness, lifelessness, or some other living death…

And you will see why we suffer as we do; you will perhaps learn something of your own suffering too.

But you do not need to flee from it as the people of my homeland do; you do not need to seek numbing pleasures and fleeting comforts as most people in the world do.

For I am here to tell you:

The way up is down and the way out is in. Go against the flow of the old river; turn against your own deep patterns; rise up and fight, even though you do not see your foe…

Do not fear your pain, for it hides a great treasure; indeed, it was once sent as a weapon, as a veil, to cover and silence your true, glorious heart; it is the device forged against you and the expression of your truest self…

There are diamonds in the dirt; there is new life and joy to be found, only by those who are brave or too tired to live in the shadows of grey, compromised existence…

You are brave, I know; and I know you are tired — tired of the endless search and the endless charade. Do not despair, for it is now time to find that lost treasure; it is time to enter the battle…

 

Do not fear.

You are not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

. . .