This is the third in a series of blogs on the Men’s Rite of Passage (MROP), a unique, five day experience for men to prepare them for the second half of life. In the first blog, “The Rite Stuff: Why Initiation?” I discussed why initiation is so vital in the disconnected, alienating society we have created. In the second blog, The Rite Stuff: What Is It? I attempted to explain the process, without giving anything away. In this blog, I am seeking to identify the men who are ripe for MROP.
I believe it would be a tragedy if a man never encountered a rites of passage, whether it be MROP or something like it (to my knowledge, there is very little like it). But I am also aware that men love to be in control, and no man is willing to surrender control until whatever he does to make himself feel in control stops working for him. So the man who finds himself on MROP is often at the end of his rope. This is probably the best place to start.
“I’m real real gone
I got hit by a bow and arrow
Got me down to the very marrow
And I’m real, real gone
I’m real real gone
I can’t stand up by myself….”
(Real Real Gone, Van Morrison)
Down to the very marrow. When a caterpillar ceases to be a caterpillar, it does not become a butterfly. It does not become a pupa either, so to speak, because whilst it is in its pupa state it is not a thing, it is essentially caterpillar soup. The Latin word for this state is liminal space, or in English, threshold space. It is a space between places, where there is a loss of all things once held sacred. Men must let go of everything they have been, but they cannot know what they will become. Values are turned upside down (there is no certainty of which way is up) and interior darkness reigns. It is where our best work is done, if (this if is crucial) we have wise counsel to hold the process, much like a chrysalis holds the pupa and protects it as it hangs upside down in darkness while the transformation takes place.
A terminal diagnosis. News of retrenchment. Separation from a wife. All these are examples of liminal spaces we experience. But these are simply contexts in which a much deeper truth is revealed. I sometimes ask my male clients to define a man. “A man is……” Ask yourself that question. What is a man, distilled to a single quality that distinguishes him? Almost without fail, every client I have asked that question to (and I have asked some wives over the years too) have answered with the same word: strong. If I were to go on, a man does ….. work (provides). A man has …… power. Power and control, strength, security in provision, and worth in being esteemed, this is how a man constructs his persona. And in the West, it looks and feels for all the world like a very clever, powerful and worthy persona. The system is set up to make a man feel like he’s got it all worked out, if he does the first half of life well. But once a man does not fit inside this very narrow definition, he feels one overriding primary emotion. This primary emotion so terrifying he is likely to be completely oblivious to it, and will present any number of secondary emotions. The primary, underlying emotion is shame.
But there is an even more profound truth within a man, beyond this shame. Liminal space uncovers this truth, because he can no longer run from his shame or medicate it with wealth, fame and success (or porn, or whatever habit he clings to in secret). This deeper, more profound truth can only be discovered by the man, and MROP is an ideal container for that to occur. That was my experience. You might ask “what is this deeper truth?” but it cannot be answered. It must be encountered. Here lies the great mystery of the journey that spirals a man downward and into the very ground of his being.
Now, if I were a man who had never done MROP and was reading this, I would undoubtedly say “forget it! I don’t want to know! This sounds too painful or mysterious for me!” I spent decades running from pain, glossing over the cracks with great success. But I was running, and that had to end. Pity the man who can hold it together until everything is taken off him in late life, when there is too little time and too much grief to make sense of what life was really all about in the first place. May you come to the end of your rope early.
Some may say “I don’t need MROP, I know the answer and it is Jesus!” Or “it is the Holy Spirit!” Or “it is prayer and fasting!” or whatever floats your boat. I do not wish to disparage the importance of these truths, and I lived them as well as I knew how, was as surrendered and prayerful and so on as I could muster, but I still got to the end of my rope. In liminal space, these things simply don’t work. A devotee of any faith system might argue till they are blue in the face that they do, but it does not change the simple fact that they don’t. They don’t, because God is orchestrating this liminality, and he’s not going to let you out of it. Like Balaam fighting a donkey, in our dark night of the soul, the donkeys of our lives are wiser than us. Like Jacob, we have to be knocked unconscious before God can wrestle with us properly.
Strangely, what we initially experience as a curse is in fact the sign that we have journeyed well through the stage of life we have been in, and have come to its conclusion. This ‘falling apart’ is a sign of growth. It is an invitation into the next stage, where new tools are needed. Some men stumble around in wilderness for many years before they recognise they need a guide. Henry Cloud once said that we don’t change until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of growth, but many men have an enormous capacity for pain! O the stubborn ego, how tight its grip!
How old? Men as young as twenty and as old as eighty have embarked on MROP. A man needs to have encountered life and experienced failure first. Typically, men in their thirties to fifties are prime candidates. They don’t need to be falling apart, they might simply be hungry for much greater depth to their lives. They don’t need to be from any particular faith tradition; Buddhists, atheists, agnostics and people from all flavours of Christianity have embarked on MROP. It is not physically arduous, nor is it dangerous. No man is asked to do anything embarrassing. But it is confronting. No honest man would expect anything less. Einstein sagely defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Perhaps this is why MROP is so different. If what you are doing isn’t working, perhaps you need to consider whether MROP is right for you.