Sport, spectator sport at least, is a serious ‘weapon of mass distraction’, to borrow a phrase from Lewellyn Vaughan-Lee. Men particularly are attracted to sport as a form of escape, where perhaps women might go shopping.
Sport provides a relatively controlled outlet for men’s need for a sense of belonging and for some form of combat as an outlet for aggression. It fulfills a need; its better than going to war! it can even be therapeutic.
But all of this, in my humble opinion, is part of an epidemic in modern men, to reach out for anything that focusses attention on the relative safety of their outer world, to dampen, hide and escape from inner pain. There is a huge need for us men to stop running for our chosen form of addiction, whether it is sport, gambling, alcohol, drugs, sex, porn or any combination of these. We need to face the truth of our collective pain and personal woundings. Sport plays its part in this escape and the denial that lies beneath it.
I need to say here, that I was a keen sportsman at school and I learned a great deal about team spirit, tactics, co-operation and courage. I learned what its like to win and what its like to be a loser. I learned that it is not always about winning or losing, ‘but how you play the game’. I learned about the killer instinct that is needed to be at the top of one’s game; and I found that I didn’t have enough of that.
I now see my interest in sport was a combination of enjoying the agility of my body and its thrilling hand-eye coordination, along with the regular opportunities it provided for me to gain the approval of my peers and teachers, avoid the misery of shaming that the non-sporty boys were subjected to, and to prove myself to be manly; thus enhancing my fragile self-image; something that all teenagers desperately need. I can’t speak for the girls, but I would imagine their attitude to sport might be similar in some ways and different in others.
Our culture holds up the most successful sportsmen as heroes. As role models they can play a useful and effective role in helping young people to find their way along the treacherous path to healthy maturity. These sporting role models promote, strength, dedication to a goal, loyalty, teamwork, bravery etc. But it is a path with little room for tenderness, vulnerability, compassion, empathy, emotional intelligence and spiritual depth. I can understand why many women are bored, dismayed and angry at their partner’s dedication to sport at the expense of their commitment to their relationship and family, as an avoidance of facing and dealing with their wounds and multiple fears, be it of intimacy, as a result of early maternal abandonment or engulfment ( I suffer from both), fear of exposure, weakness or disassociation.
There has always been a small minority of men who, either driven by the need to heal their trauma, or directed by some inner light that they have brought with them from a previous life, become seekers of truth; to know and accept their inner world, to heal their wounds, and thereby grow and then serve humanity in some way. It might be through a powerful calling to engage in many years of spiritual practice, it might be through psychological depth work. It might be through a combination of these paths. Either way it stems from an inner calling of the soul.
In fact we all have it and it is based on love. Love of life, of others and crucially of ourselves.
We just need to ‘re-member’, but that can be a hard one. Our society doesn’t as yet acknowledge that we all have an inner calling, let alone honour and respect, then nurture it to enable everyone to find their true path in life along with the sense of fulfillment it brings.
I’m not suggesting that everyone has crippling inner pain and wounds to heal. Many people’s true path in this life is related to a gift or talent that is very much rooted in the outer material world. The world of sport would be an example of this. Society relies on most of us to find satisfaction in practical jobs in a day-to-day world.
I am referring to the need for individuals, men and women, to take responsibility for their emotional health and intelligence, consciously working with it. There is help out there, but only on the fringes. It is still considered by the mainstream a thing to do when there is a crisis, usually by less fortunate, un-together people with problems. Without time and money to pay for private training or psychotherapy, the help does not go beyond patching people up and sending them back to work in order to pay their mortgage and their taxes.
The cultural view that prevents this changing is underpinned by the rigid denial that takes Mr Average off to his football match or sends him down the pub to drown with alcohol the unsettling feelings of dissatisfaction with his life, the hurt and private shame that sit just below or on the periphery of his consciousness and which his conditioning tells him must be kept hidden and out of sight at all costs. He might allow himself the thought from time to time: ‘there must be more to life than this?’ But its a question that threatens, that carries fear with it and which all too often triggers the denial response and the illusion of safety that accompanies it, leading back to whatever distraction works best. I speak about this from experience!
So I come back to my starting point. The problem is everywhere and although it is deeply entrenched, the potential for change is huge. There is a growing trend among women in the western world to do their inner work. This is supported by women’s natural tendency to be more relational, more willing to share problems and vulnerabilities, more motivated to get out from under thousands of years of oppression by men and the patriarchal systems men have created. We are entering a third generation of women willing to do this work for themselves and for the cultural benefit of their gender. Its a minority of course, but women are streaks ahead of the men.
The women are longing for men to step up, do their inner work and meet them. But even when men respond, there is a valid fear in men that in facing their gentleness and vulnerability, they need to reveal their weakness and women can feel very threatened at the loss of the strong man they have become dependent on at their side, even if it is only temporarily. It is a double bind for men. Codependency is rife in our culture.
Now its time for men to pick up the batten – to use a sporting phrase – and do the inner work, that is crucial to their healing and conscious awakening – moving up to the third stage in David Deida’s terms. As men we to need to learn to share our inner realities and support each other in this process. It is necessary for the natural death of the old paradigm, that is anyway crumbling, so that a new and more conscious MANkind can evolve.
This call is a call to myself. I too am implicated in this process, as someone who has been stuck in Deida’s ‘second stage’ for too long, soft male, comfortable with feminine ways, but missing the dynamic energy of the integrated masculine. Without it, humankind, stuck in the destructive patterns of dominator patriarchy, will surely destroy the very ecosphere that has supported human and all other life on this planet since the beginning of time.