Man Seeking Woman

In the Biblical sense, to be a “Man” is to enter into the world to wrestle with its moral compromises.

Those compromises are rooted in the ancient competitions that Darwin called “natural selection.” So it’s not just humanity that we must wrestle with – no, the burden is much larger than that. Judgment is passed on us because our very presence catalyzes win-win collaboration that threatens the survival of the most successful zero-sum competitors. They marshal all their tools to eliminate that threat to their dominance.

There’s no point in complaining about it. The things that we love evolved that way. But we end up physically and psychically battered.

As I have persisted in surrender to that process, every now and then I feel a presence of infinite feminine patience, compassion and healing reach out to me. She sends me thoughts such as “Oh, my precious son. You are so lonely.” Or “Thank you for being strong for us.”

Sometimes that presence finds a route into the world through a female. Those moments, often occurring on the dance floor, are intensely beautiful. But when the dance is over, she finds herself confronted with this choice: to surrender herself to service to that compassion and healing, or to dally with males that don’t demand so much work.

And so I find myself confronted with this dilemma: they want to be pursued, but the Divine Feminine that reaches out to me requires a space of absolute stillness. I find myself often standing stock-still in the middle of the floor, eyes closed in concentration, trying to create that space. And so the ladies dance away.

That hurts, but the alternative would be far, far worse. Any lady that receives that presence and turns away from it to pursue other options would be completely crushed by the forces that oppose Men. Sustaining Men in their struggle requires absolute devotion to Her. Again in the Biblical sense, it demands that they become a Woman.

This is why I am alone in the world.

City on the Hill

I’ve started attending a contemplative prayer gathering. The process starts with twenty minutes of silent meditation on any devotional word that comes to mind. Then we read a passage from the Bible three times, allowing time between each recitation for it to settle, until a single word or phrase stands out from the text. After sharing our personal reflections, we close with reflections from the greater church on the passage, allowing us to project our personal focus against the longer backdrop of Christian experience.

This week’s passage was Matthew 5:13-16, the famous “You are the salt of the earth.” Most of the reflections celebrated both the salt and the light. But before the incongruous image of the city on the hill, I heard a contrast in Jesus’s assertion:

But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

This was the condition of the people – their kings and priests had sundered their bond with God, and the Romans arrived to trample them underfoot.

I held my tongue, though, as the gathering celebrated the qualities of salt, only after the meeting had ended calling the facilitator over to engage her in discussion. When I suggested that Jesus was offering a metaphor on the condition of his people, I felt truth cementing our connection. She did not repel it, as so many do when confronted with a contradiction of received wisdom, but bowed her head and said “Yes, that is how it was.”

So I continued, as I have never been allowed before, observing that Jesus was proclaiming that they were no longer salt, because he was making them a light to the world. He, the lamp lighter, would not hide their light, but send them forth to inspire faith in God. And she simply continued to nod, saying  “Yes, yes. Brian, you have a gift.”

We talked further, affirming each other. The things she said were so terribly confounding. I have decided to move out to Port Hueneme, seeking to find simple people with open hearts who don’t ask “What’s the price?” when they are offered a gift. It is a form of withdrawal from the world, which has given me some deep wounds recently. But I woke up this morning, and realized that nobody in my life had ever said what she said to me, an affirmation that sums up to this:

Brian, people need you. They might not realize it; they may even act frightened of you. But keep on doing what you are doing. They need to hear what you have to say.

Planning Your Mid-Life Crisis

To be blessed is to receive gifts before knowing that they are needed. I’ve survived several mid-life crises thanks to wisdom I received from Delorese Ambrose back in my mid-forties.

Ambrose wasn’t speaking about mid-life crisis, although the context may have warranted it. My employer, a large national laboratory, had discovered that scientists might be motivated to master project management, but very few of them mastered human relations. During an era of declining budgets for basic science and a reduced role for nuclear weapons in national security, people needed to learn how to work together so that new missions could evolve.

Ambrose came in as a management consultant, which in part involves providing an organization with a framework to facilitate selection and support of leaders. In a plenary session, Ambrose spoke about the cycle of power. Her model had six stages, each stage involving a ground-breaking shift in perspective that made it almost impossible for people at one stage to understand the behaviors and priorities of those at the next. In many respects, the structure echoed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but the cycle as Ambrose presented it illustrated the dependencies of those at the upper reaches on the strength and success of those below.

When I sent Ambrose an e-mail, I was given to rue that I had passed the “sexy” part of the arc she described. The cycle begins without power, an existence in which almost every waking moment is concerned with the basics of survival. It ends with wisdom, in which enormous influence is contingent upon the continued success and good will of the community we serve, and thus power again is (paradoxically) elusive. The “sexy” stage – the stage at which we can be assured of getting things done – is at the half-way point of personal achievement.

Achievement evolves from association when our peers recognize that we have unique skills and traits that can be supplemented to create a competitive advantage for the community. This is the first true stage of leadership, and the leader often believes that it is due to their initiative that the organization succeeds. But the reality is more subtle. Success grows from the meshing of behaviors acquired through years of adaptation and compensation. The uniqueness of the leader’s innovative drive requires that others adapt that urge to the rest of society. In that process, they gain unique insights of their own, and become qualified to take their own turn in the sun.

When that time ripens, the leader feels abandoned. I observed several people wandering through this period of their lives, and the experiences were terrifying. It is to watch an individual in the prime of life, at the full height of their powers, watching the end of a life that they have struggled valiantly to obtain. It is like dying, and some will go so far as to destroy others in their attempts to avoid the inevitable. Among our commercial captains are those that are masters of this art, methodically exploiting middle layers of management in order to sustain reputation and position.

The end, when it comes against such resistance, is crushing. The individual is left without support or purpose. Those that studied their methods no longer need them. Lee Iaccoca was inspired to run for president while thus adrift, wandering the halls of his mansion. My mother spoke of retired businessmen who, working as fundraisers for the American Cancer Society, had never learned to book their own travel.

The exit from this stage is self-knowledge. It is, ultimately, the realization that it wasn’t simply the things that we did that brought us success. It was rather our ability to adapt to the constraints of success. When first mounting the ladder of achievements, that process happens organically. The changes in ourselves occur one step at a time as needs are presented. We often fail to recognize that those changes were indeed choices. We could have chosen to take that second honeymoon, rather than flying to Singapore to open a new market. We could have coached the little league team, rather than staying late in the lab to perfect a new fuel mixture. While these choices may have been formed under pressure, our decision to respond and adapt to those pressures was our choice, and the outcomes reflected our capacity to control ourselves.

Self-awareness is a taking stock of who we are, with the purpose of preparing ourselves to become the person that we want to become. From that place we enter the last two stages on the path of power. Given that we have complete control over ourselves, what is it that we want to do? What purpose do we wish to serve? And once we have entrained a community in the wake of our purpose, they then turn to us for wisdom.

So my advice to those entering mid-life crisis is, “don’t fight it.” Yes, resist it. Get as much as you can for your achievements. Allow people the time to envision a future without you. Force those that replace you to become as good as they can be.

But attend also liberation from the tedious requirements of a life that chose you into a life that you have chosen. Take advantage of the good will that surrounds you to ask “What moments with me were most inspiring to you?” Trace the evolution of those moments to recognize the strength of the choices you have made. Prepare yourself to enter again into the furnace of self-creation to rediscover and reclaim all the passions and dreams that were surrendered so that others could share in your success.

But for heaven’s sake, don’t succumb to the sad spectacle of trying to repeat your unreflective youth!