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Mensactivism.org Feature: Male Paths to Healing

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  • Scott Garman
    The Men s Activism News Network, www.mensactivism.org, would like to share a feature article submission from Thomas Golden. Tom is a psychotherapist who
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 13, 2000
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      The Men's Activism News Network, www.mensactivism.org, would like to
      share a feature article submission from Thomas Golden. Tom is a
      psychotherapist who approaches his work from a male-affirming
      perspective, and recently released a book on the ways that men deal
      with loss. The essay below is an excerpt from his book Swallowed by a
      Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing.

      Whether you've lost a loved one recently, gone through a bad divorce,
      or have to struggle very day to maintain your sanity while trying to
      regain custody of your children, we have all felt pain and loss at
      some point of our lives. Tom's writing acknowledges the unique ways
      that men deal with hurt and loss, and honors them with the essays and
      healing methods he describes in his book. This is one issue every man
      must confront, and this book is rare find in how it speaks to men in
      such positive, productive ways.

      Mensactivism.org is a web site dedicated to tracking news on men's
      issues. In the past five months we have tracked over 350 articles on
      men's rights and dignity in the world. Please stop by the site and
      check it out. I hope that by maintaining a dynamic and relevant web
      site for men, we can help advance awareness and activism for men's

      And now, onto the essay...


      Scott Garman, Site Administrator: scott@...
      The Men's Activism News Network: http://www.mensactivism.org
      Daily News & Info on Men's Rights Issues

      Note: Feel free to forward this e-mail to anyone, but please
      preserve this message in its entirety.


      Fixing a Hole: Grieving With Other Men

      by Thomas Golden - golden@...

      (Note: Although this excerpt is about Tom's own personal experiences,
      the majority of Swallowed by a Snake is focused on understanding pain
      and loss, and practical methods of healing from loss.)

      There I was dripping in sweat, the kind that rolls down the side of
      your head and innocently into your ear. The still summer evening was
      allowing me to hear my own breath and my own thoughts. I was
      determined to make this a great hole and I kept digging - probably
      farther than I really needed to, but on I went. What seemed like a
      great deal of sweat was swallowed effortlessly by the hole, absorbed
      as a matter of course by the dirt in the bottom. The hole and the
      dirt were equally unmoved by the tears I shed.

      This hole was to be the home of a tree that was being given as a
      memorial to my father who had died the previous November. I had known
      the hole needed digging, but had put off the task until now - now
      being just about the last possible moment it could be dug. As I
      continued digging, I found myself flooded with memories of my father.
      My thoughts moved back and forth between recent events leading up to
      his death and childhood experiences. I remembered his engineering
      talents and nature and tried to dig the hole in a way that would
      please him.

      As I dug, the feelings flowed through me: the sadness of missing him,
      the gratefulness of having been his son, and the anger and frustration
      of my powerlessness. All of these feelings found their way into this
      hole. The act of digging became an avenue for the various thoughts
      and feelings to arise. Through the action I was opened to my own
      inner world.

      I started wondering why I had put off this job, then realized that I
      hadn't, and didn't, want to do it. Actually digging the hole brought
      the death more into reality, and a part of me didn't want that. I've
      learned to accept this part of me that wants to deny things. Denial
      is not really such a bad thing, and it doesn't go away as quickly as
      some people seem to think. I've noticed it has a slow, zigzag decay
      that can last a long time. In a way, denial can be our friend,
      allowing us to slowly accept the reality at hand. I became aware of
      the battle going on between the denying part and the digging-the-hole
      part. As a friend of mine says, "We have wetware, not hardware."

      The tree was planted in an emotional ritual attended by myself and the
      six men who donated the tree. The activity became an avenue for all
      of us to delve into our interiors and connect with a variety of
      issues, from relationships with our fathers to the finality of death.
      The activity of buying, digging, planting, and gathering together
      became a hub for a wide variety of spin-offs. As we stood around the
      tree, we all had a chance to speak and to listen, and somehow having
      an activity made this process flow smoothly. It would have been much
      more difficult to simply sit in a circle and talk about our feelings.
      It was through the doing that we could connect.

      Death professionals have long been confounded by the difference in men
      and women in visiting gravesites, which is that the men tend to visit
      more often. My own experiences have given me a deeper understanding
      of why this takes place. Men tend toward linking their grief with a
      place, action, or thing. There have been many examples presented in
      this book: the man who wore his deceased daughter's ring as a
      remembrance of her, the man who carved a bust of his wife after her
      death, the man who built a pond in memory of his murdered brother, the
      man who wore his father's watch, and so on. These activities are
      often quiet and unseen by most people. The casual observer might
      assume that the man is "not grieving," but that is many times not the

      I have found a wide variety of activities that, like planting the
      tree, help me in connecting to my inner spheres. Writing, gardening,
      and music are examples. All of these activities can take me into
      myself and my grief and joy.

      Another activity I have used is a ritual practiced by Cree Indians, as
      discussed in chapter seven. Tree wounding is a simple and beautiful
      ritual. Following ancient custom, Cree men who are grieving go into
      the forest, select a tree, and after uttering a prayer, strip away a
      piece of the bark. Now the tree, like the man, has lost something
      whose loss causes deep pain. Many times over the following months the
      man will return to visit the tree. As the seasons pass, the wound in
      the tree heals, and so does the wound in the man's heart. With the
      tree as a visible reflection of his loss, the man is reminded that he,
      too, is healing.

      In this ritual there is both an action and a place, and both serve as
      "containers" or "hooks" for the inner state of the man. As the man
      performs the action or visits the place, he is afforded the
      opportunity to experience his pain and to have his healing reflected
      back to him. I have used this ritual a number of times and have found
      it extremely helpful. The trees I have chosen are mostly in my back
      yard, and they stand as reminders to me of my grief, pain, and

      The use of activity as a means to connect with one's grief is not
      exclusive to men; women also find this approach helpful. The
      difference is that women have a strength in connecting their emotions
      to their words and then are inclined to "share" those words with the
      people in their life whom they love. This proclivity fits nicely with
      the keyword of "intimacy" that Deborah Tannen used to describe women
      in her book You Just Don't Understand. According to Tannen, a woman's
      world revolves around her intimacy and connection with others. We
      would expect that when a woman experiences the chaos of grief, a
      primary mode of healing will be connecting her pain with her intimacy
      to others.

      Tannen uses the keyword of "independence" for men. When independence
      is your keyword, you are probably less likely to want to "share" your
      feelings with those around you. You will be more likely to seek out
      modes of healing that will be harmonious with your interest in
      maintaining independence. I know for myself, and for many men, the
      verbal connection is facilitated by linking it with some action,
      place, or thing. I am less inclined to simply "share" my feelings
      with those around me. I am grieving, but I do it in my own way, a way
      that is more quiet and less visible and harmonizes with my interest in
      independence. It is for this reason that it is unwise to judge a
      man's grief by how much he "shares" it with others. A man's pain
      cannot be judged by outer appearances or the abundance of tears. All
      people are unique in the ways they find to heal themselves. There are
      probably more individual differences in grief than there are gender
      differences, but the gender differences do exist and need to be

      My father's memorial tree now stands in a park that is adjacent to my
      home. Not only was the activity surrounding the tree helpful, now the
      tree has moved from being an activity to being a place. Each time I
      come or go I see that tree sitting there, being itself. When I see
      the tree I am reminded of my father, my grief, and the men who
      lovingly honored both my father and my pain.


      You can purchase a copy of Tom's book, Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift
      of the Masculine Side of Healing on-line at:


      The book is also available at other on-line booksellers, and should be
      hitting the shelves of local bookstores by the time you read this. ***
      Please note that the book is in its second edition, and to make sure
      you are ordering the correct edition when shopping at other on-line

      Would you like to write an editorial for Mensactivism.org? I make no
      copyright claims to submitted articles, so you are free to have the
      article printed in other journals and newspapers if you wish. E-mail
      submissions to: scott@....
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