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.