Permeable to the Divine

Although the wind blows terribly here  the moonlight also leaks   between the planks  of this ruined house.     Izumi Shikibu  10th century Japanese poet

Although the wind blows terribly here

the moonlight also leaks

between the planks

of this ruined house.

Izumi Shikibu

10th century Japanese poet

There's always a tension between the need to make an effort to improve ourselves as human beings, as men, and opening our hearts to some encounter beyond our will. So many of us spend so many of our precious days trying to perfect the imperfect, to apply fresh paint to what we might see as our shabby or somehow inadequate egos, we rarely leave space in our lives for anything beyond our cramped ideas of self-improvement.

It is right that we should spend some time developing social skills, a sense of our own style, and developing skills that will help us become full and functioning members of our communities. But in mature cultures there exists a realization that much of this work is sufficiently complete by late teens or early twenties, what we would call adolescence.

Beyond this provisional ego that helps protect us and helps us plan and take action on our desires, a deeper, essential image of who we are shines. It is the place where our true purpose resides. And one might say that it is the work of a true adult, when truly ready, to venture beyond ego development and to enter that grand hall of true soul work.

The soul speaks most eloquently in images. And in the dreamtime of the old wisdom tales and in deep image poetry, the ego is at best a willing and attentive observer. The ego, so concerned with protection and control, is out of its element in the dream world, or when confronted by an arresting mythical character or a feeling that rises unbidden on hearing a poignant line of verse.

At the men's conferences we acknowledge the importance of prepping our house, so to speak, for the storms and ravages of life. We "temper" ourselves and give ourselves some heft and gravitas by fully feeling into the heat of the moment, the grief or the joy, the sweetness and the wistfulness that comes from living an attentive life. But we also make room for the grander stories we each carry that call to us amidst the hubbub and through our wild imaginations.

We acknowledge the importance of making ourselves permeable to moonlight--the divine influxes of soul and spirit, in whatever guises in which they appear. The knowing glimmer in Baba Yaga's eye, a glimpse of the Firebird, the perilous steps up a glass mountain, or the way the sun enters your tent on the first morning. As the old stories tell us, in the soul's reflected image, attended by an earnest heart, men can grow in ways that cannot be foreseen or simply willed.

The Tempering of Men

by Walton Stanley, featured story-carrier

by Walton Stanley, featured story-carrier

There is a civilized way of being that says human beings are one thing and “nature” is another. This way of being leads us to believe that there is a mechanism that produces the seasons, that has put time in motion, that controls the functions of “matter.” If human beings can sufficiently understand the mechanism, then we will be able to manipulate it for our benefit. We will be able to cheat the mechanism of death and decay for ourselves. These ideas formed about 6,000 years ago in a few places among a small number of people, but, like a virus, they have been an ever-expanding colony on the body of the world. We call this idea “civilization.” Civilization is not to be confused with culture. People have had rich and varied cultures since long before civilization. Civilization is an attempt to take humans out of nature. To extract wealth without consequences. Now the world has a great fever that has been induced by the spread of these ideas. 

There are, however, other ideas, other ways of being; ways of being that human beings followed for hundreds of thousands of years. This older way of being says that human beings are one animal in the web of life, that we have some original biological instructions to play a role in the living cosmos. Among the gifts we carry are a curiosity and capacity for amazement, a foolish ability to tinker with things, hearts that can be filled with empathy; an extravagant ability to create beauty, the capacity to sense absurdity and to laugh deeply, and a talent for eloquent grief. 

For 35 years the Minnesota Men’s Conference has called men to experience this old way of being. Why men and not men and women together? Because men are great carriers of the virus of civilization. In any system, males are more expendable. It only requires a few of us to carry on the next generation. On some level, men sense this natural hostility toward them and can become overwhelmed with fear. It is only through a tempering process, in the company of older men, that men can come to peace with their fates. At its core, civilization is an attempt by improperly tempered men to escape from death and to overpower a perceived hostile nature. In short, un-tempered men are dangerous and are well on the way to causing a mass extinction. The Men’s Conference is a small attempt to create the conditions for the tempering of the male soul. 

The tempered male is powerful in different way than that in which masculine power is typically conceived of in Western civilization, that is as domination, hierarchy, and bending the world to one’s will. Tempered male power is rooted, is cooperative, is protective, is at peace with life and with death. Hierarchies exist, but they are hierarchies of capacity. Some men can work a magic on guitar or drum, some can shape wood or metal, some can read tracks and signs, some can carry poems or stories, some have a quicksilver wit that can flip the world upside down in an instant. The tempered masculine power is as breathtakingly beautiful as it is eternal. It is not about domination. It is about a growing ambit of connection and beauty. That is not to say that to grow these capacities, these gifts, is without effort. Long ashy years of discipline are often involved, but such discipline is different than mere will. One may or may not rise to the top of a corporate or political ladder by force of will, but one cannot will a great poem or song into being. One can only prepare one’s capacity to receive and carry a work such as that. 

We center the conferences around mythic stories, because these stories are the remembered wisdom of those who have gone before. They are the oral recipes of the process for tempering souls and when the stories are replanted in human beings, the images sprout and grow and put down new roots. 

So, once again, this Spring, we will gather at Blue Beech Coulee to pick up the work. As the roots reach down to find dark cold water after a long winter, men will again gather together and voices will be raised as the fires are lit in the longhouse for the first time and for times past remembering. An old story will be unfolded, and the Earth will tremble with the sound of seeds cracking open. 

The souls of men long to feel the awakening Earth cradling our bodies and to sit shoulder-to-shoulder round the fire. The longhouse is the forge of souls where slag is smelted off and the pure ore is tempered with bone coal. 

The Earth craves the feeling of her men’s feet upon her, of men singing the Spring into being, into becoming. As an old song says: “To be alive to hear this, is a victory.”

So, to men for whom what I have said about what we do has some ring of truth to it, or to men for whom it sounds completely insane, but still intrigues you, I invite you to join us.

Spring Minnesota Men's Conference—What Was Said to the Wild Rose to Make it Open
May 17, 18, 19, 2019

This is a camping-only event held on a beautiful private property, Blue Beech Coulee, near Plum City, Wisconsin.

Fee is only $175 for a weekend of feeling, healing and annealing.

A Time of New Beginnings...

Welcome to the new Minnesota Men’s Conference website. We have streamlined the design to get down to the marrow of what it is we do and to make it easier both to update our community and to help you register for our upcoming events.


Speaking of which, please peruse the website at your leisure. Then saunter over to the Register page when you are ready and consider saving your spot at the next event, our annual Spring conference, taking place May 17-19 this year. We look forward to seeing you there.