Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What Is Secret Men's Business?

Observant readers have noticed that some of the post labels on include a cryptic reference to "Secret Men's Business."  Many Australians have at least a functional understanding of this concept, because it is an Aboriginal invention, and possibly their greatest contribution to the world (after the Stick, of course, second most useful thing ever.)

In an unbelievably harsh landscape such as Australia, in which survival is not at all certain, what is there to aspire to?  To posses?  Conquer?  What is there to attain?  There is one thing.  And it is the only thing worth having whether you are alone in the middle of a burning red desert or on the throne of an empire surrounded by subjects.  There is mastery over your own self.

Secret Men's Business is a general category of things that men do only amongst themselves or entirely alone, and includes sacred initiatory rites or rites of passage, rituals of atonement, preparation for battle or marriage (surprisingly similar), grieving, renewal, investiture of authority, and prayer.  It is not that women can't do these things, the point is that these things sometimes need to be done separately. Women have their own "secret women's business," events which men are forbidden from witnessing on pain of summary death . Women post their guards with spears and orders to kill on sight any male that approaches, no matter who or why, strangers, husbands, boyfriends or children alike.  It is strictly enforced, far more so than secret men's business.

"But how is it secret if you're telling us all about it?"  Good point, and the answer is that "secret" doesn't refer to the general content, but only to the conditions.  Certain things have to be done alone or only in the company of men in specially designated places, even though everyone knows exactly what is being done.  And this is for the good of all.

One of the results of this arrangement is that spouses do not get the mistaken idea that they own each other like property, and that they get to be involved in every aspect of their partner's life.  I know western women who think they are entitled to know every detail of everything their husbands do every minute of every day, and if possible to be directly involved in it if not actually in charge of it. I suppose their greatest fear is infidelity, but ironically they are doing everything necessary to ensure that it happens.  Eventually.

When men and women openly embrace and respect Secret Men's Business, there is greater trust, respect and understanding in a relationship.  If a man is faithful to his wife, it's because he chooses to be, and that should mean far more to a woman than enforced fidelity.  He is to be far more respected than if he never had the opportunity to stray.

But this goes far beyond western society's mad, blind obsession with fidelity in the midst of almost universal infidelity.  As essential as it is for a happy life, it's only the warm-up lap of the Indianapolis 500. The main event to which so many people never gravitate is the growth and development individuals experience as a result of their circumstances, and in particular, as a result of their relationship with a spouse or partner. As the Aboriginals discovered over countless generations, a man's development into an Elder, a wise, trusted, powerful and benevolent leader upon which the survival of his family depends, is a spiritual quest undertaken on two parallel tracks.  First, it is done quietly, privately, in secret and under the guidance of experienced and accomplished men of immense spiritual stature.  Second, a man must be married, live in the world and have sons to finally understand.  Is this for everyone?  No.  Some men will choose not to become an Elder and go a different way.

When families, clans, businesses, churches or nations fail to develop their boys into men of leadership quality, they eventually cease to be.

But when we say to our sons and to our men, as in this initiation rite recorded in ancient Bedouin scripture, "arise from the dust, my sons, and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart," then almost anything is possible.  Boys will not be swept up in gangs, drugs, and violence, but instead will prepare for their future with a will.  Men will not be defeated and ruined by depression, addiction and suicide.  Instead, men's lives will be meaningful, purposeful and fulfilling.  Communities and families will be strong in the face of the unfathomable challenges to come.

Men, be "united in all things, that ye may not come down into captivity. Awake, my sons; put on your armor. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, arise from the dust and come forth out of obscurity."

Guys, do you have a place you can go to do your Secret Men's Business?  Here is one place, for a start.

A church or temple is also an excellent place for men, and you don't have to be a Ned Flanders, a God-Botherer, or some kind of religious zealot, either.  Although I'm not Catholic, I've had many great experiences at the Benedictine monastery at New Norcia in Western Australia. Taking an evening meal in the male-only Rectory in the Benedictine way of total silence is a wonderful experience.  It is the most dignified, respectful, self-respecting, calming, meaningful and affirming way to eat that I have ever experienced.  Up until that point in my life, mealtimes were demeaning, accusatory, belittling, and inflammatory exercises in male denigration.  Had I not usually been responsible for cooking the meal, I might have declined any invitations entirely.

In our society, fathers have lost their authority and the respect of children and spouses alike, and this much to the detriment of everyone.  It is not necessary to equate patriarchal authority with subjugation or abuse, nor is it useful to uproot all tradition just for the sake of a few occasions when it didn't suit. We teach those around us exactly how we are willing to be treated.  Men who live a life of respect for themselves and reverence for their Secret Men's Business, whatever it may be, will be treated with respect, and will be revered when they are old.  Those doing the respecting of their husbands and fathers will experience the benefits of more security, stability, protection, and comfort in a very uncertain world.

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