Monday, August 19, 2013
So many of us wish to meet a "soul mate," another human being with whom we share a deep connection, with whom the level of intimacy seems rich and endless, and where we may feel like we've known the other person forever, even when we have just met them. With a soul mate, we can talk about seemingly anything,and the potential for joy, growth and fulfillment through relationship seems profound and exquisite. What we often don't take into consideration, and may not be aware of, is that when we have a deep connection with another person, not only do our most positive qualities have the opportunity to shine, but also our shadow parts come to the surface as well. Deep connections, because they are safe and far reaching, allow us to connect with our undeveloped, unhealed and unexamined parts so that we may heal and integrate them as we grow. When we do this critical shadow work, the rewards are soul rendering. However, if we do not realize that with soul connection comes soul work, we may run from this important opportunity for growth, sometimes abandoning ship--our own and the one we share with a soul mate. My colleague Jeff Brown, one of the most brilliant articulators of matters of the heart I know, has made a beautiful and very helpful distinction: soul mates and wound mates. A wound mate may be a soul mate who is not ready, willing or able to do the essential soul work needed to grow, both for oneself and in relationship. As a result, Jeff says the wound mate relationship is sourced "in unresolved emotional patterns, issues and holdings." Instead of recognizing what is being brought to the surface and mining it for gold, "wound mates just flounder in the mud, trigger after trigger, downward spiral after downward spiral." From a soul point of view, this kind of relationship really is a waste. To do our soul work, to point the finger inwards rather than outwards, takes great courage and consciousness. Yet, the fruits of such efforts are sweet and rare. If two soul mates do their work, they can bring out the best in one another and be the wind under one another's wings. If they run from the dark side of the mirror, they can feel as though they are clipping one another's wings and holding one another down or back. How sad it is when instead of recognizing that shadow work can bring us closer to ourselves and our loved ones, we run away, shut down, or reject the very source of love who at first appeared to be a gift from God. Perhaps even having this frame of soul mates and wound mates can help bring more awareness to the delicate dance of love, intimacy and relationship.
One of the hallmarks of this American culture is self-reliance. Messages about doing it all on our own, and being strong and tough and persevering abound, not only for men, but also for women. When a woman finds herself in the position of being a single mom raising a son on her own, most people look the other way and tell her to just carry on. When my son was 2 ¾ his dad and I separated. He was 4 ½ when his parents divorced. I was the primary custodial parent, but my son did have contact with his dad. When my son was 12, he and his dad stopped seeing one another. My son had asked his dad to address some serious issues between them, and his dad responded by pulling away. Initially, the separation was very good for my son. He and I together finally had the space for my son to have a more “normal life.” Soccer, Red Sox games, movies and leadership conferences all became easier to take part in for my son with his life unencumbered by the issues with his dad. Realizing that my son needed good male role models in his life, I sought out organizations and activities that allowed my son to interact with male mentors. I found Boys to Men New England when he was 12, and over time, BTMNE became a critical part of the emotional foundation for my son’s life. One part of Boys to Men is an annual Rites of Passage teen weekend workshop in August. My son participated in the workshop when he was 13, and staffed it when he was 14, 15 and 16. When he was 15, following the workshop weekend, it became clear that my son was feeling deep pain from what I have come to call “the father wound.” Even though he was part of a community of men and boys during the workshop, the absence of his father cut deep. My son started to ask questions about who his father was and who he might be since his father provided half of his genetic material. My son wondered why his father might disappear and leave his son. And my son also felt the pain of his parents’ divorce and estrangement. No matter how hard I tried to support my son’s interests and find resources that also supported his interests, there was a huge void inside of him that I could not fill: the father wound. Over time, I came to realize that no matter how good a mom I was, no matter how hard I tried to find resources to help my son and to help him learn to help himself, because I was his mom and not his dad, there were many things I just could not do. A teenage boy looks to men in his quest to determine what it means to be a man. I was not a man. A teenage boy needs to hear the story of other men’s journey to manhood. I did not take that journey as a woman. The mentors in Boys to Men had something to offer my son that I could never give him: the experience of growing up male in this culture, and coming to define the men they wanted to be through their experiences growing up—with and without the support and involvement of other men. As my son’s struggle deepened, I realized it was the other men he needed to talk to, not just his mom. And having other men really see and know him became invaluable as he started to face some increasingly difficult and painful passages in his own personal journey towards manhood, a journey that is still underway. It takes a village to raise a child, and the village must include male mentors and role models deeply committed to the best interests of each male child. When my son feels connected to other men who care, his spirit grows. When my son feels isolated and alone, especially from other men, his pain grows. I am very clear I cannot do it alone, and I cannot successfully guide my son to manhood without the care, commitment and involvement of other good men. If you are a man who cares about boys in their transition to manhood, become a mentor with Boys to Men. There are many other boys like my son out there counting on you. And even boys who have two parent homes need a village that includes emotionally available men. Opening your heart to a teenage boy can be the difference between helping a young man learn to fly, and watching someone with great potential crash as his pain weighs down his wings. This post was written for The Over My Should Foundation