I learned something important about myself at an event last month, the annual convergence of a men’s organization called the Sacred Sons. Though I was there as a speaker, I decided to experience it from the vantage point of a participant as well. That is how I found myself in a circle of men that Friday afternoon, being asked if I wanted to put on boxing gloves and fight another man.
Sacred Sons is dedicated to the reclamation of a healthy masculinity in service to life. This is a bold ambition, when so many in the culture have, understandably, repudiated masculinity either as innately toxic, or more recently, as half of a false and outmoded binary, a mere social performance. To hold masculinity as real, essential, beautiful, and necessary is already these days a bit politically suspect. Yet this is no right-wing organization, nor is it left-wing. I met people of every political persuasion, complementing a highly diverse mix of ages, races, body types, and sexual orientations. Everyone was there with an openness to the alchemy. One of the organization’s slogans was self-evident: “Brotherhood is the medicine.”
I had already been part of the morning circle with the same 20-odd men (of the 400+ present). What I witnessed confirmed my hope for the future of earth. I thought, “Without the kind of healing I am seeing here, this world has no chance. The world can heal only if men heal. And it is happening. We are ready.”
Men, ordinary men from every walk of life, were bursting with readiness to heal. Most of the men who stepped into the morning circle were not veterans of New Age seminars, meditation retreats, or psychotherapy. They were representative of tens of millions of men. The facilitators were masterful, verbally and physically, and it didn’t take much for man after man to access deep grief, rage, shame, brokenness, forgiveness, joy, or peace. There weren’t just tears, there were wracking sobs that came from the depths of the soul. There weren’t just shouts; there were screams of rage that came from generations of pain. Men grieved what they had lost and what they had done, what they had inflicted and what they had suffered. Be not too quick to judge a man. How do you know what has made him into what he is? At least half had been physically or sexually abused. One man held his daughter on his chest as she died. Another suffered years of an invisible chronic disease. Another was tormented by bullies in school to the point of suicide. Every perpetrator was once a victim, and every victim has the potential to heal. Several times I thought, hearing a man’s story, “If this man can heal, every man can heal.”
No man could step into that field and not experience healing.
The field of love in the circle was palpable, dispelling the fear, the posturing, the guarding, and the hiding that keeps men apart and denies them “the brotherhood that is the medicine.” It was a masculine love: uncompromising in its stand for what we know each man can become.
About half the men stepped into the morning circle. I was not one of them, since I knew I had to preserve my voice and didn’t want to scream myself hoarse. That is how I came to have the opportunity to fight. I was asked why I wanted to fight. I said, “I was outspoken during the pandemic and came under a lot of attack. I experienced betrayal, denunciation, and cancellation by people and organizations I’d considered friends and allies. And I didn’t fight back. I didn’t fight back, because I believed something more important than myself was at stake. I believed attacking my attackers would not serve a useful purpose. At least that’s what I told myself. But I wonder, did I have a hidden motive? Was I simply averse to conflict, afraid to fight, a coward? So now I want to know in my body whether I was being honest with myself. I want to know I am not afraid to fight.”
And so I stepped into the ring. I wasn’t afraid, that was true, but I was in for a surprise. What surprised me was how much I enjoyed it. I always thought I was a pacifistic person, but actually I like fighting! I like it almost a scary amount
The result of the fight was illuminating. My opponent and I were pretty evenly matched. He was younger, but I had a longer reach. No one landed a devastating blow; instead, we basically exhausted ourselves. That’s what seems to happen in most of the political fights of our time, and that is probably what would have happened if I’d gotten into a public fight with the thought leaders and influencers who denounced me. And as at Sacred Sons, a rowdy crowd would have cheered us on.
What I will say next, though I am speaking of men, applies also to women when circumstances call forth their inner masculine. In my speech that night, I invoked a story I heard about one of America’s all-too-common mass shootings, the Aurora Theater shooting of 2012. Four of the men who died there died because they interposed their bodies between their girlfriends and the shooter. I said something like this: “That is a core aspect of masculinity. Each man here has it in him to do that. Each man here would offer his life to protect what he loves, to protect life itself.” I continued, “The fact that many men, including ourselves, have often failed miserably to live up to that potential does not make it untrue. It is who we really are, and our purpose here is to bring this, our true nature, into full manifestation.”
In those words I was also suggesting what the higher incarnation of the fight is. The true warrior is not the one who is willing to kill. That doesn’t make a warrior. The true warrior is the one who is willing, if need be, to die. Courage and not violence defines him. The fight, then, is a special case, appropriate in special circumstances, of the willingness to put everything on the line, to offer even one’s own body and all the ego holds precious, in service to life.
The world is in bad shape right now. Rainforests are disappearing, insects are declining, children are going hungry, entire nations are falling into poverty, wars are raging, health is declining, totalitarian powers are ascending. We need men who are willing to risk themselves to change all that. Sometimes, this does involve an actual fight, for example legal battles, debates, political battles. I honor the fighters. However, the ultimate victory will not be won by fighting.
Charles Eisenstein is a writer and a speaker. His four main books are The Ascent of Humanity (2007), Sacred Economics (2011, revised 2020), The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible (2013) and Climate — A New Story (2018).