The Way of the Warrior
Last Summer I attended a workshop run by an old associate of Alexander Lowen - whose writings I had enjoyed in the late sixties. It was called Core Energetics and was of the cushion-bashing school of emotional workout.
It was a huge group and, when the people introduced themselves, there were clearly a lot of "strong women" seeking to discover their femininity, and "weak men" in search of their masculinity. But I also sensed a lot of prejudice against the passive, so-called "weak" role, regardless of gender.
Whenever someone strong in yang energy (whether male or female) stood up, they were seen as admirable; and when they expressed a desire to contact or develop their yin qualities, then they were also seen as enlightened. But those strong in yin energy were reviled by the workshop leader, being told "you are passive!", "a slave!" "weak!" and they were exhorted to find their inner warrior, the "man" in them, or the "bastard" instead of the "nice guy". Cue for pillow bashing.
I objected to this unbalanced attitude. Positive, active or yang people were treated as "rich" - in the sense that they came with a wealth of admired yang qualities which they could trade with the group for lessons in yin. But negative, passive or yin people were treated as paupers, because their qualities were not seen as having any value. Having nothing to give the group, they could only beg. And yet these people apparently came back year after year for their inner warrior "fix".
This did not seem healthy to me. I wanted both yin and yang extremes to recognise that they both possessed valuable qualities - albeit in excess - and that both deserved respect and were both equally welcome to trade some of those qualities to achieve better balance. When I suggested this, the devotees present felt I was "rationalising".
One exercise was a sort of psychodrama where we were divided into groups where "angels" were to be attacked by "devils" and dragged down to hell. The devils were coached to "bring out the bastard" and that meant jumping up and down bellowing like ape men. I found myself thinking that these folk must be pretty innocent if that was their idea of a "bastard". My idea of a bastard was rather to smile sweetly at an angel, then stick a dagger in his back!
I was facing the same dilemma that I faced back in the early 90s when I wrote "Slime Warrior" (published in "What I Did In My Holidays"). The only acceptable manifestation of warrior energy in this crowd was to grab a cushion or wooden sword and vigorously and noisily lay into a mattress. Bang! Bang! Bang! and everyone then cheered you on - especially the "strong" women. In frustration I took the stage and instead found myself arguing with the group's guru.
I likened this vigorous display of warrior energy to the Zulu librarian who paints his face at weekends to do warrior dances for the tourists. This is not a role I reject - it is an important public art-form. The stamping, bellowing soldier in the red coat and shiny buttons displays an energy that promises security and strength for society. A grand display of force keeps many an enemy at bay, I agree.
But what happens when this fails? When a real war breaks out? Is it the barrel chested redcoat with a gleaming sword who will save the nation? No it is the soldier in camoflage - the man who is prepared to melt away and makes himself invisible. Is the saviour the man who will stand up and be counted? No it is the man prepared to crawl on his belly through the mud carrying a heavy burden of weaponry! I saw no recognition in that group for the strengths of the passive male - endurance, invisibility, humility, an ability to obey orders - and his equally vital role as a warrior.
And when even those qualities run out and the nation faces defeat, then the person who offers the last line of defence is the one who is prepared to wave a white flag, go over to the enemy side, and then blow themselves up in their midst. The ultimate loser becomes the kamikaze hero when the situation demands it.
I challenged those who had cheered on the cushion bashers - did they really believe that the sole purpose of a warrior's role was to make spectators feel good? Surely a warrior has an equal duty to make an enemy feel bad? There was a wooden sword on the stage that people had brandished when attacking pillows, and I took it and said "this is how I would use this sword - see, I stare you in the face and slowly slash my own arm with it till blood runs down the blade!" The crowd booed and hissed and said this was "sick".
I told them that they thought it was sick because they came from a culture that did not really understand or respect the warrior role. Look instead at the Maori warrior - his face is covered with tattoos and scars. These self-inflicted wounds are the mark of the true warrior - and this fact is recognised even in our world by certain underground subcultures who take body piercing and tattoos to extremes. When the yang warrior gives ground it is a defeat, but when the yin warrior surrenders it's a declaration of war.
It was strange for me, used to being Mr Nice Guy, to find myself booed off the stage. In that company I was a heretic and without honour. In a group which must have been over a hundred people, only a handful wanted to discuss with me any further - and most of them were simply trying to make me "see the light" and recognise the error of my viewpoint.
I felt that it was not right to treat the more negative qualities of the warrior male with such contempt. A demon was being created that would come back to haunt society. If those "passive men" could acknowledge the strength of their role, then they might actually achieve some balance and not have to keep coming back for their yearly ape-man fix.
Take the pairing of a yin male and a yang female. The man tends to admire and be inspired by the woman's positive qualities, and can pass from being a wise servant to a slave. Meanwhile the woman goes from champion to bully. One outcome is that the woman feels sickened by what she is becoming - a loud mouthed, opinionated and inflexible nag - and blames it on the man's deplorable passivity. But what is actually happening, I believe, is a simple trading of power versus strength.
Every time a slave carries his master's burden, the master's power over him is reinforced, while the slave grows stronger through using his muscles. The end point is a ruler who has to be carried everywhere by the slave because the ruler no longer has the strength to stand up. Strength has been traded for power.
In the same way, when the submissive partner accepts the wishes of the dominant partner, power is traded for strength. Partner S wants to go to an Indian restaurant but partner D says they "can't stand" curry and insists on a burger bar. Partner S does not like fried food, but is hungry and survives eating at a burger bar - "what does not kill me makes me strong" - while partner D has once more got their way and been protected against making the potentially strengthening discovery that they can actually "stand" curry if they have to.
A car's big end bearing was traditionally made of two metals - one of hardened steel and one of soft 'white metal'. When the bearing gets worn the soft metal is replaced with a thicker piece of the same material - why? Because it is not the soft metal that wears away but the hard metal. Whereas abrasives grind bits off the hard metal, they are simply absorbed into the surface of the soft metal, and they form a crust which in turn grinds away the hard metal. There is nothing "wrong" in this, it is a sound way to make bearings. So also, the fact that a dominant partner finds themself being subtly degraded in the company of a submissive partner, cannot be simply blamed on the latter's "passivity". It is actually a simple process of strength being traded against power, and it will continue unless you know what is happening and both take equal responsibility for the process.
There is a seduction in the pillow bashing warrior "fix". It is a display of testosterone that makes a strong woman feel good without having to address her own strength. It is as if she has a heart of limestone and so demands a man of steel to make it crumble. The strong/weak polarity is reinforced and becomes an addiction that sends people back again and again to their warrior workshops.
Instead I advocate the approach outlined in The Good The Bad The Funny. First examine the polarity till you see the trickery in it - in this case recognising that submission actually fosters strength, that fighting requires one to be invisible and so on. Then take on the trickster role and what was once a war becomes a game.
As long as people despise the passive male role, then they are trapped in it. Buy a red sports car, go to the gym and build muscles, lay a hundred women... whatever remedy they take it will be mocked and they will be told they are only trying to "mask their innate weakness". But when the yin qualities are truly respected, then they are no longer held prisoner.
At the end of Torvill and Dean's medal winning Spanish dance routine, the man casts the woman onto the ice as if she was just a piece of cloth to be used and discarded. It is a supremely butch gesture, but it is only possible if both partners share this sense of play. If the woman despised the passive male, she would see his scornful gesture as a sham, she would fall heavily on the ice, be hurt and accuse him of violence and repressed anger. But if passivity itself is respected, then it flows freely into the adorer - she falls as softly as a piece of silk and gazes up at his oh-so masculine expression of prideful scorn and she is convulsed with orgasms. Oh what theatre! what role-playing! what comedy!
And don't despise the repressed anger of Mr Nice Guy. It's actually the ultimate deterrent. Contrary to so much New Age dogma, anger is far more precious if you don't "let it out". The atom bomb was more effective at keeping the peace through the cold war simply because so few of us had ever seen it used as a weapon.
One reason Mr Nice Guy avoids confrontation is that he is not sure he can handle the explosive rage he senses within. The upshot is... less confrontation! Let's celebrate this fact rather than calling it a cop-out.
It's simply a question of doctoring the spin, then seeing if we feel better for it.