One man at a time

Jimblog1How come all my clients are men? I’m not sure, and that’s OK, it’s not a problem …

I enjoy working with men. But when someone hears this and asks me about what happens in ‘man-to-man’ therapy, I find it hard to say. One reason is this: men are not men. I mean, who exactly are we talking about when we say ‘men’? I’m a man, so don’t call me ‘men’. Am I a definable or categorisable man, a so-called type? Have you ever called someone a ‘typical man’? I suppose we all think we know a few.

I woke up one morning recently and realised I’d been studying men, in one way or another, all my conscious life. Let’s say my father’s physical and emotional distance had something to do with that keen interest. But more significantly I grew up in the ’60s as the roles of women and men were being radically questioned and debunked, and I was confused about what kind of man I would or could become.

Every man studies men, one way or another. With fear and desire, with wonder and bewilderment, men watch each other very closely indeed.

Here’s the thing: I’ve done counselling and therapy with hundreds of men of all ages in the last twenty-five years or so; I’ve read dozens of books about men and masculinities; I’ve been a member of men’s groups and led several groups myself, and I’ve run courses and workshops for and about men; I’ve had journal articles published on ‘The Bloke in Therapy’ and ‘Men at Midlife’ and so on – and the fact is I don’t think there is a big story or a grand narrative to tell about men. There are many kinds of men and there are no kinds of men. And yet all the while we go around telling stories about ‘men’. We try to figure them out.

Men are as queer as anything. Of course they are! We find manifold examples in all cultures in all eras. Men love men in all kinds of ways. Men like to play with gender styles and sexual roles, from boyhood onwards. Portraying manliness is always a kind of experiment because we’re not completely sure what a man is. Games of disguise and revelation that subvert traditions of maleness and femaleness are fascinating to men. And – most importantly – men are as straight as anything too. Absolutely straight, conventional and unquestioning. Of course they are!

We’re full of feeling, us men, even when we’re full of crap, and that’s a hell of a feeling.

I’ve met a lot of men who turn away from exploring what it means to be a man. I get on fine with them in therapy, though I’m baffled by their incuriosity. Ideas about ‘toxic masculinity’, for example, mean almost nothing to them. For this blandly self-assured man, any enquiry into how he derived his performance of masculinity is of little or no interest – which makes even him even more interesting to me.

Perhaps we simply want to be free to be who we are. But what’s the context for that freedom? If the society I live in tolerates only narrow, exclusive definitions of masculinity, then although I’m certain about what is masculine I am restricted as a man. If my society accepts wide, multiple definitions of masculinity, then I’m uncertain about what is masculine and I am liberated as a man.

If there’s one thing I can say about ‘man-to-man’ therapy that could apply to almost all my work with men, it would be about how a man reveals his emotional wounds to another man without being pitied, judged or dishonoured. It’s part of what’s called, simply enough, ‘men’s work’. Not everyone understands the healing effect of this. But if you’ve done it, you get it.

Men’s muscle power, physical skill and hard graft make all our lives possible. At the same time we know all kinds of men feel deep emotional pain. What happens to men’s misery and grief? Many seem to suffer alone in armoured silence. I see this in therapy. Men come in and at some point the way we talk and relate helps them to take off the armour and speak of its terrible origin. I’ve done that in my own therapy of course. When men accept they are grievously wounded, and trust themselves to tell the whole shameful story, then they can embrace that wound and take good care of it, and manfully so. The mythologist Michael Meade says the way to guarantee that a man will continue to wound others is to keep him ignorant of his own wounds. A man who doesn’t know he is wounded can’t see that others are wounded. That’s where so much trouble starts.

 

Jim recommends …

Men and the Water of Life by Michael Meade (1993)

 

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Jim Holloway 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

Easier done than said

Jimblog1Silence is the natural part of speech that never lets you down.

If at your initial meeting the counsellor looks even more miserable than you, don’t go back.

Laughing and weeping and sighing – it’s what humans do best, in no particular order.

I lie in order to bring myself roughly into being and only then can I begin to speak the truth.

To make yourself out to be happier than you are is to be happier than you think.

It goes without saying. Of course I’m happiest when I forget all about being happy.

Common sense would suggest that common sense is a good thing.

Your particular suffering is always somehow perfectly unspeakable.

Who exactly is insisting that you live your life the way you are living it now?

That unusual word you use, that odd turn of phrase, that untamed metaphor – there’s your magic.

When your therapist tells you a slightly different story about you as if you didn’t already secretly know it …

Lighten up and get over yourself – the best advice I’ve ever given to me and ignored.

It can feel great to play it but don’t let your therapy become merely a language game.

My opinions strike me as provisional no matter how long I spend forming them.

A smart thought rarely dispels a bad mood but running on the spot for a minute or two will do the trick.

Know your profound emptiness amidst abundance and nothing is ever lost to you.

Not just clearing my throat. Sometimes in a session my body sings and I can barely utter a word.

If you find some other people wonderful why not let yourself be just as wonderful to others?

Saying nothing much to your therapist is only human after all.

Your first solo act of responsibility as a little child was to talk candidly to yourself.

Soulfulness seems to become deepened by the mundane as much as by specialities.

When you pay your therapist you are instructing them to look after their own mental health.

It helps us to understand each other better by looking like we could.

The power of then. The past isn’t happening now so let’s get going before it restarts.

In another life I’m still dreaming of this one.

It could be scarily liberating to realise that hardly anyone knows anything about your existence.

That subtle and penetrating insight you had yesterday – where is it hiding out now?

Profoundly therapeutic dialogue can’t help but generate moments of divine silliness.

Your life may be no more or less painful than anybody else’s but you’re the only one who can live it.

To heal means to become whole, so get ready for a mighty slow-motion internal explosion.

Reassuring to know your inner child is always listening intently to you talking away like an adult.

Every gleaming sentence is a spell cast in the hope of teasing out the next crappy one.

What’s almost true is more exciting than what’s totally true.

Perhaps nobody ever truly empathises with another person without making bland assumptions.

Partiality. You’re talking to me as if I know you, when all I have is my version of your version of you.

To listen to counsellors and therapists having a discussion you’d think they were in love with suffering.

He could see my puzzlement and smiled at me like I knew what he meant, then suddenly I did know.

In good therapy, when two people talk and one is a therapist, both become therapists.

Jim recommends …

… Presley, E. (1960). ‘It’s Now Or Never.’

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Jim Holloway 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

Indiscreet notes on the wisdom of reading too much

Jimblog1All possible thought could stream instantaneously through your mind at some point and then what?

How we fill the void of our terrifying incomprehensibility with an infinite number of stories is the only story.

Life might have no deep meaning. Wondrous relief, not to make an effort one way or another!

For me to ignore my luxurious experience of excessive reading would be even more decadent than this.

One mind, one thousand million books – all full, all empty. All fucking infuriating. All a complete wonder.

No matter how introverted you are, it’s always other people’s suffering that brings you to the fight.

It helps to walk around a bit and talk frankly to your other self and spit things out.

Bookshop as quiet war zone. Wandering out without a text to hand, feeling like an unarmed monk.

Call the world, it will come. Turn away and it will come even more ferociously. Not available in book form.

Infinite reading room in the eternal library – and your real life is the one in the best seat by the window.

Far too many words in a book. A handful of sentences would do for a lifetime.

Several lifetimes just to wake up.

The smell of books brings me to tears because of all the death and love and because there’s nothing else.

Your knowledge is no use until you’re free of it.

How to mind the gaps between sentences, where meanings live and die and shudder.

Gap the mind. Don’t be clever. Be the idiot-spark in the timeless gap. Just go on.

No, actually, the meaning of meaning is always already right here and suddenly understood.

Reading a book to find myself in the world, to recognise myself in it, then realising we’ve already met.

Don’t read yourself too carefully, you are already more wild and random than you know.

Books are other people without the change of mind.

My fresh and sophisticated maxim is your tired and ancient homily, and the other way round.

Even the smallest library is an excess of absence, like a graveyard. Evidence of our burning desires.

A person free from all pretence would be constantly fearless and a bloody pain to hang out with.

I am superbly pretentious, especially when I think I know you well. You get my fear just fine.

There is not much self to be found other than this constant, slow, brilliant shattering of syllables.

Don’t meet me in the field but in this very word which places us there already.

A single sentence: no less presumptuous than a novel, just forgotten sooner.

The most important book on this planet is mud.

How well we live when we put our books down and laugh at nothing!

Over-reading or over-eating or over-dreaming – the only difference is your odd degree of spiritual torpor.

Count the people now in the world who have the same thoughts as you and count yourself a fortunate idiot.

Make yourself up by going along with your destiny.

Deep truth as error. When you know a wise person has said something unforgettable, you forget it, wisely.

Sitting behind my wall of books with a head full of mind, the freedom not to read is unsurpassable.

The pause between reading and not reading is the actual reading.

What we seek is always (a) utterly impossible to find, and (b) under our noses, and (c) neither a nor b.

All the books in all the libraries at midnight, breathing out slowly, forgiving themselves for no reason.

The right books find you through chaotic acts of fate. You find the wrong books likewise.

Jim recommends …

… Fish, S. (2011). How To Write A Sentence.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Jim Holloway 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.