The Letters of Robert Bly and Tomas Transtömer is a collection, written over the long friendship and collaboration of the two poets. Amid the news of the day conveyed in the many exchanges is a beautiful longing, affection, and courtesy that the two men showed each other and their families. This collection is a model for how we might revive two endangered species; the practice of putting thoughts on paper and the practice of maintaining a generosity of spirit in our relations.
What does William Stafford say?
…it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give – yes or no, or maybe –
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
In the 1990s, at the Minnesota Men’s Conference, Martín Prechtel taught us that men in his village practiced eloquence and the appreciation of eloquence. From the time they came of age they spoke men’s language, characterized by style, grandiosity, grief, and praise. He told us a story about twins—the big twin and the little twin, the blue twin and the white twin, twins who looked completely different and were exactly the same.
What follows is a set of twin letters, different and so alike that you can’t tell them apart. The first is a letter sent to a Unitarian minister. The second is one from a Lutheran minister. Both employ the voice and style of the Conference, where being expressive and engaging is an end in itself. These letters speak boldly and are grounded in a generosity of spirit.
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Dear Reverend Soodonim,
Today’s sermon was an instructive one about the generosity of women and the benefits of being raised with sisters. In our culture, it is too easy for men to project their capacity for generosity and kindness onto wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters and lapse into a passive acquiescence. Here, men may be left the short straw; the role of being the realistic moralist that is not healthy. Elsewhere, the Dalai Lama was raised almost exclusively in the company of men and educated by male teachers yet is the emblem of kindness, generosity and compassion. After what I heard in your sermon, I was not joking when I said that you need to get your ass to a men’s conference.
My thesis is that men do not know themselves and their capacity for loving kindness until they experience a community of heart made up only of men where they drop the pretense to being manly and are just humane.
I do not take exception with your evidence that women have been shown to be more generous, more willing to make “the individual commitment to group survival.” I think the evidence speaks more to the “hostile world” you mentioned than to our inner capacities. There is a tremendous invisible weight on men’s shoulders that they carry just to be minimally acceptable in the eyes of women. At a men’s conference, where there are few if any women, the weight can be dropped and at that point we begin to appreciate how much we have been carrying. With other men in an inspiring natural setting and relative safety, as the ten thousand joys and sorrows of life wash over us, we become round, whole, and open for a while.
I write you to caution that there is a danger to promulgating an easy stereotype of any group (men, women, blacks, whites, conservatives) as lacking in the full potential of humanity.
with fondness and appreciation,
Mark Gardiner, AuD.
* * *
To the many great men,
that I have the privilege of knowing and learning from in the Minnesota Men’s Conference this is for you. For the one week out of the year that I take to travel and live among all of the men at this event I want to say thank you.
I say thank you to men looking to come to this holy week where men laugh at themselves, laugh at each other, and laugh all together. Where men weep in recognition of beauty rather than in cowardice and find gold not in the ground but in the ground of their own being, as men being themselves. If you are thinking about coming to this holy space and a holy week, no matter what your faith or non-faith, welcome. The event is holy because of the intentionality and preparation that is set in motion months before you arrive. Come and be part of this.
For those of you coming to share in this vision come without your armor, come without your pretense, come without your judgments but come even if you cannot shed your armor, pretense or judgments. You will not be alone in that.
I do not know what to expect other than unexplainable happenings, poems sweet with the honey of treasured memories carried off on the wings of amazing relationships strangely built upon one week a year over the years. I haven’t been to all of the events. I have missed a few times but I strive not to miss any more because gold flows from the souls of the men.
I come to see and to know men who lead, men who prepare, men who come broken, men who build, men who listen, men who scare the living shit out of me, and men who sing. I don’t always lead, prepare, show my brokenness, build, listen, pay attention, or sing. Yet I strive to take time to lead where I can, prepare for the time together way in advance, I am often a broken man with many scars when I come, I build relationships, I am willing to listen, I know I have probably scared the shit out of a few of you. and I love to sing and to dance and to laugh and to love and to write once again attempts at poetry.
When you see me next I will have turned fifty in April. I can’t help but think of the many wasted years of just existing and taking up space. The well-worn path in my mind is not something easily changed and yet for all the brokenness in my life I am grateful to those of you who sat down to get to know me and were willing to struggle along with me in my struggles. I am sitting in my very messy office on a very chilly day in February and I am hoping that the rhythm of your lives is flowing toward our meeting in September.
Peace be with you all.
Reverend Jeff Otterman
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Those of you who know them will attest that Jeff and Mark are blue and white heyoka twins who look completely different and are exactly the same. The challenge for you is to find your twin and write that man a letter. Pretty scary, but you are up to it. Remember, paper, pen or pencil, envelope, stamp, and courage.
…Boldness has genius, power and magic in it….