Updated: Nov 13
By Chris “Deer” Ponzi
This is the first part in an article series.
In his book, The Hidden Spirituality of Men, Mathew Fox writes that, “The Great Work . . . ‘is the task of moving modern industrial civilization from its present devastating influence on the Earth to a more benign mode of presence.’ Such a great work will require great spirits, real warriors, and it will require steering our moral outrage and our powers of aggression and competition into more positive directions” (1).
As a male-identifying wilderness guide in the Southwest, with a history of youthful aggression, I resonate with the above. Born into familial chaos and the urban-suburban sprawls of Southern California, I grew up as afraid of “Nature” as I was angry at myself and the world. It was only well into my twenties, when an improbable mixture of (dare I say) a “mystical-like” experience in a Colombian jungle, a splattering on “rock bottom,” and discovering meditation, that the primal orientation of my being began to shift.
Photo By Felipe Tapia Nordenflycht (@Felipesh) of Deer with a LifeWays seeker bow drilling.
Since that initial seed, I have spent years making pilgrimage to many powerful wild places of the world, dedicated to the exploration of where “Nature” and “Healing” intersect. Now, this former ant-and-plant-fearing boy is a man dedicated to leading himself and others into the wildness of the worlds within and without. The concoction of my collective life experiences and vocation has led me (and my fellow guides here at LifeWays), to a firm conviction that wilderness is an essential experience in a vital alchemy of the modern masculine psyche and spirit.
Nature is our greatest teacher. The true sages of our world are the Sage plants. It’s not that Nature stopped talking to us, it’s that we forgot how to listen. Understandable, given our eyes and ears rarely take a breath from the endlessly diverse and delectable distractions of our modern world. After all, why would somebody don a backpack and risk the dangers of the wild to sit by a tree? They don’t seem to say much. Far safer, more comfortable, and more stimulating–at least at first–to watch an endless stream of flashy visual stories than the subtleties of an actual stream.
I get it. I’ve been there–been there, big time–it’s not a judgment.
You could search “being a man” or some variation of “masculinity” and receive a million videos, articles, and podcasts, all directly or indirectly steering your perception of how you are supposed to behave and be as a male-identifying human. Some of them will even be valuable and healthy, most of them . . . will not. So, that begs the question–am I just another dude espousing his beliefs on you?
Yes and no.
Yes because, well, yes. No, because I really don’t give a damn if you listen to me. I want you to listen to Her. Who is Her? The Earth–the collective consciousness and corporeal animations of countless beings. Most nature-based ancient cultures feminized Earth, but what is most important is that we don’t objectify her/him/they; that we don’t kill and convert her animacy into a lifeless object, as our western techno-centric culture so often does . . . and males in our culture are particularly good at killing. Thus the need for an alchemy of our wayward aggression.
In the observable wild, most aggression has a purpose: it serves to hunt, defend from being eaten, to mate and thus survive, protect gestating mothers and offspring. Much of that aggression is biologically male. It serves to observe then, that male-centric aggression might follow some primordial pattern. Much like many natural patterns today, however, they have been diverted, perverted, or destroyed. The aggression of males in our modern culture has reached levels of villainy, particularly amongst the young, because so much of our former natural lifestyles have been dismantled or abandoned. Yet that primal aggression remains, unguided by Nature and Men of Nature, so that this primordial pressure eventually explodes in unhealthy and often violent ways.
It does not have to be this way.
We can never return, nor should we, to the nature-based lifestyle of our ancestors, but we must reintegrate many of these ways to re-balance. Likewise, we cannot reduce the endless complexities of male woes and aggression to the antidote of “just go out into the wilderness.” What we can say, and say boldly, is that without a deeper return to the experience and values of wilderness, we will ensure that male aggression continues unhoned, unchecked, and unhappy.
This deeper return to wilderness and thus a healthier, more embodied masculinity, is one of our primary motivations for creating our Wild Heart-Warrior-Weekend experiences and other programs here at LifeWays .
A second medicinal mixture to add to our alchemy of men is “Warriorship.” Read Part 2 of this series here (link).