The Good Man and Good Woman-
Changing gender roles and archetypes with therapeutic altered states
I have revitalized an ancient tradition of holding transformative practices (holotropic breath work) at the winter solstice. According to my ancestral past, the Celtic tradition was to review the bygone year at the winter solstice when the earth is in a state of calm repose (Anderson, 1987). The earth pauses in her rotation then, and so we can also pause in self-reflection before beginning another cycle of life. In this way, we develop a greater vision to guide us in the next cycle of seasons and life.
The journey to the ceremonial space is always challenging. Last year, a blistering snow fall blocked the road to the yurt we had chosen for our all night ceremonies. The treacherous pot holed, gravel road was covered with overhanging branches heavy with snow. Participant’s vehicles slipped off the road and slid into snow banks. All the participants worked together to get others unstuck. A metaphoric lesson-personal transformative work is never done alone. By the time we were ready to begin the evening, we had bonded as a fellowship- red cheeked, laughing and triumphant.
Last solstice we rented a beautiful large house on the edge of a rushing creek. The ceremonial space was warm, dry and well protected. We were isolated enough that we didn’t have to worry about loudly processing inside or outside. That night as we journeyed, a wind storm gathered, whipping trees against the windows and filling the creek below us with white water. Towards morning, the wind picked up even more, falling trees and bringing down the power lines. By morning we had lost hydro power.
When we began ceremonies in the early evening, men immediately shifted to one side and women choose the other. Not by my instructions, but by some unspoken agreement, perhaps a reflection of what Bache (2017) calls the field dynamics of mind. He states after noticing how field dynamics acts in his classroom, that human group experiences can be compared to systems dynamics of advanced physics.
“In the subatomic world of quantum mechanics and the macro-world modeled by non-linear mathematics, all individual, particulate existence shows itself to be inseparable from its corresponding fields. Individual pieces of life cannot be realistically isolated from their surrounding matrix.” (Bache, 200, p.156)
As the evening progressed, the men on the left quickly embarked on difficult journeys, cycling thru series of crying, moaning, curling up into fetal positions followed by short periods of exhaustion and rest. My assistant and I comforted the men as best as we could, but much of their internal suffering could not be assuaged. At one point, one of the men dragged his quilt over his head and crawled over to his friend’s bed to hold him silently. His friend was too deep in his journey to respond. But later the held man said he was aware of his friend’s concern and felt loved and cared for. Normally I wouldn’t allow participants to interact during ceremony, but these two men were good friends and the one in distress was clearly comforted by his friend’s presence. Another interesting group dynamics was that all the men in the group were slim, smallish men who had suffered at the hands of bigger, dominate males in their lives.
During the more intense parts of the journey, I offered a technique I call, ‘holding with heart”. This is a non-invasive somatic integration of being held in a secure and loving way in areas of the body that can dispel fear- feet, neck, heart, kidney, lower belly. This holding is done only with permission from the client, and is discussed before the session. This gentle somatic support in informed by Integrated body energetics (Erken & Schlage, 2012) as a technique to allow the nervous system to adjust to the neurological changes that are taking place, which elicit fear and anxiety from the Default Mode System (Buckner, Andrrews-Hanna,Schacter , 2008)
E (synonym) was able to sit up for a while and told me he was processing male roles taught and expected of him since he was a child. He felt that as his journey progressed, the dominate male aspect within his psyche was transforming into a more compassionate aspect that could understand the effects of the cruel dominate male hierarchy on others. E re-experienced trauma that had been imposed on him by school grade boys who isolated him the playground, took him down to the ground and punched him. He told me that all his life he held a deep sense of shame because at that moment, instead of fighting back, or calling for help, he’d ‘played dead’, didn’t resist, just lay there and took the beating. Finally, the boys tired of their abuse and left him alone.
Although this reaction was probably wise at the time, it imbedded itself deeply in his being as the response of a helpless victim. Throughout his adult life, he had struggled with being assertive and dealing effectively with male domination. During this journey, he clearly saw what he called the alpha male syndrome, or in the River’s terminology, the imbalanced Earth Way-the path of production, work, control, social status seeking, usually associated but not restricted to males of the humanoid species(Star, 2007)). This is the imbalanced soul path that is causing so much suffering at this time in our history.
J shared in the morning that when he was younger, he had been a smallish boy who had been bullied. Then he started to get involved in sports and developed a liking for running (not surprising), and had become very fit and physically strong. He disclosed with sadness that he moved from victim to being a bully himself. This is the classic way trauma is imposed and spread, like a virus from one generation to another. Boys are commonly hurt, challenged and bullied so they either become submissive males or they become bullies themselves to friends, colleagues, intimates and family. I can clearly hear in my mind the voice of my father who often lectured me:” There are two kinds of people in the world-those who push and the pushees. You have to decide which one you want to be”.
Perhaps these men, being small and on the ‘weak’ end of the physical male continuum, had unique opportunities to see the way the effects this domination is created, maintained and perpetuated through the generations. Certainly after approximately three thousand years of patriarchy as the predominate human cultural model, we can pause and assess if this is the way we want to continue. I believe we have the choice of transforming this toxic male role into the male role as steward of Gaia and life everywhere on the planet.
The women on the other hand were having entirely different experiences. They were either concerned and distracted by the sounds of the men processing their traumas, or drifted off into memories of beautiful places in nature where they felt safe and wise.
I went to bed later that night, most of the participants had finished their journeys and were on the descent, quietly lying and processing, listening to music. I left the male assistant in charge and crawled into my own bed. I was exhausted after hours of holding people, checking on them and generally monitoring everyone’s journey. A few hours later, J, went looking for me. He didn’t ask for help from the male assistant. Instead he went upstairs, couldn’t find my bedroom, nor determine how to make some tea and a snack. He collapsed on the kitchen floor, feeling helpless, crying and sobbing. He suddenly remembered the loss of his own mother who left him when he as an infant. Gradually, he realised that he was an adult man now, and he had to heal his mother wounds by finding nurturing and strength within, developing and nurturing the mother architype within himself. He realised that he was looking for ‘mother’ in his spouse and he had to progress from this dependant state and allow himself to be an adult man. He also understood that he had to allow his wife to be more independent and pursue her own life goals even if they were sometimes separate from him. He later said this realization was ‘like tearing off the bandage”. It had to done but it hurt. For J, the transformation of his own male role and archetype within allowed greater freedom and dynamics within himself and without, in his relationships with his wife and family.
Often immediately after a session, inner dream archetypes which appear during the journey, will appear in the outer world. A few weeks later, He was verbally attacked by a male leader of a group where he was learning, ironically, counselling skills. We talked about this challenge and how this was an opportunity for him to meet the bully in his outside life as well as the oppressor within
As Dr. Fredirika Fischer stated in her seminal (excuse the term especially in the context of male domination) work, Therapy with substance:
Truly effective and sustained changes in feeling, mood and behaviour can only really be achieved if the unconscious, pre conscious (psychic material that can be remembered again through questions and association) and conscious psyche can be drawn carefully into consciousness and processed in such a way that change become externalised in the everyday world.” (Fischer, 2015, pg.36)
Men and women are both traumatized by the toxic world view of the Patriarchy. This manifests inwardly as the sick man archetype, and continues to be perpetuated mostly by the males of our species. However, it is a cultural construct which is embraced and integrated by both males and females. Females engage in this kind of socialized gender roles also, although they generally are not as physical with their control tactics. However, with the increase of the sick man archetype, in our culture, girls are adapting these patterns and the sick woman archetype is now also on the rise. She is the disconnected, distracted, self-centred often mentally ill woman who perceives herself as either a victim or becomes a bully herself.
The old world view of patriarchy which has controlled humanity for the last three thousand years, has now developed into the domination of what I call, the Dark Machine-the culture of domination, manipulation and unwholesome focus on power and control over others and the environment. The Dark Machine cossets unfathomable economic inequality and dominates and gains control of our time, economics, futures and children. Much of this domination is through the misuse of technology, resources and Gaia’s creatures and inherent beauty. Instead of being stewards of Gaia, we have become plunders of Her resources.
However, we can have hope. With men like the ones who traveled with me at solstice, we can all see that there is a third choice to either adopting or supplicating the role of the oppressor. We can now stop the proliferation of these toxic roles into future generations and choose to transform them. By realizing and changing archetypes within transpersonal experiences, such as what we experience when we journey in altered states, we can also profoundly change our personal daily behaviours. We can realize in an instant that we no longer want to continue with the toxic roles of the past which have been handed down through socialization in childhood. These ways of being are deep; they reside within our very DNA structures, so deep that only therapeutic altered states can shift them. Only profoundly deep work such as is initiated by therapeutic altered states can allow us to become aware, and then intentionally transform these layers of roles, beliefs and identity. Once these roles and archetypes are changed, then our daily behaviours and attitudes towards others are profoundly and permanently changed. Ashes cannot return to being wood, so too, once these toxic roles are realised and transformed in the fires of awareness, they will never return to have control over us.
We must be able to imagine the alternative to the dominate male-the Good Man and Good Woman gender roles, within our own lives as harmonious relationships between male and female. The roles of Mom and Dad, husband and wife, parent and child, anima and animus can be transformed in an instant. Then healthier archetypes can guide our daily lives and foster less oppressive relationships. We can re-create them to be in harmony with a greater vision of the whole, to be healthy and allowing of each being in the network of Gaia to prosper, grow and attain their life’s purpose.
This new world view is part of the great leap up of consciousness that therapeutic altered states are fostering. It may be a last ditch stand given to us by the plant world to prevent our species from annihilating and destroying our home, the good mother Gaia. We can return to love of Her, of Her many animals, plants and eco systems worldwide.
Can we respond adequately to these crises? Only time will tell, but certainly reflecting and changing the Old World male and female archetypes, especially the sick man and sick woman archetype , will foster this quintessential leap up in growth and evolution-individually, familial, communally and globally.
Anderson,R. (1989). Celtic Oracles-A new system for spiritual growth and divination. New York, NY:Crown Publishers
Bache, C. (2000). dark Night, early Dawn. State Albany, NY. University of New York Press.
Buckner, R.L., Andrews-Hanna. J.R., & Schacter, D.L.( 2008) .The brain’s default network. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 1124,1.
Erken,R.& Schlange,B. (Eds).(2012) Transformation of the self with bodymind integration: postural integration-energetic integration-psychotherapeutic postural integration. Berlin, Germany:Holzinger
Fischer, F.M. (2015) Therapy with substance-Psycholytic psychotherapy in the twenty first century. London,UK: Muswell Hill Press.
McNaughton, I (2004) Body, breath, &consciousness-A collection of articles on family systems, self-psychology, the biodynamic model of somatic developmental psychology, shock trauma and breath work. North Atlantic Books: Berkely .CA.
Star, J. (2007) The River Books: Book one-The Three Great Ways: Love Work and Wisdom. Cowichan Bay, Canada: River Institute.