The journey leads to the liminal place. This “space” is described by Rohr as necessary for entrance into second half life experience. I believe it is necessary in the process of becoming a real man. Liminal is from the Latin, liminus, “a threshold.” A kind of hold, void, or purgatory. With a door, however, for something new, better, evolved, or real. You see, when you’ve lost everything familiar, all that you have built, you are out there “flapping in the wind” and wondering what to do next. Rohr explains:
It is when you have left the tried and true but have not been able to replace it with anything else. It is who you are between your “comfort zone” and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to trust and wait, you will run…anything to flee from the terrible cloud of unknowing
The liminal is a place where one is alone with oneself. A place of introspection, reflection, and contemplation. One can stay there and do the work, or one can run. I did run for a while. While one cannot divorce oneself from one’s past trauma (in my case, trauma as a child, and severe combat in Iraq as I saw firsthand the carnage and mangled bodies of 19 close comrades, the severe woundedness of hundreds of other Soldiers), and any use of these traumas as excuses for our actions are misunderstood, criticized, and judgement from others. These calamities are necessary for the destruction of the persona, and the deconstruction and reconstruction of the ego, and for becoming a real man. The persona is not necessarily evil, but necessary for structure in our lives. Literally from the Greek it is hypo—mask, its what actors wear. We role play instead of real play. We are actors. Without it we may go to prison, die early, or succumb to vices which lead us to be one of society’s derelicts. The persona seeks certitudes and safety. My Catholic upbringing and my evangelical training and ministry, by and large, provided this for me. It helped me to be a responsible man, but not a real man. It was my identity. Have you ever observed that when two men meet, within seconds the question: “So what do you do?” is asked. We answer, “I do this”, I do that”, I’ve done this, I know them”, etc. Woman don’t do this. Being a real man is just that, being, not doing. It’s about releasing from the closet our shadow (another Jungism archetype). We do not want others to see the real us, so we keep it in the shadows. We are fake men instead of real men in life’s first half. We resist revealing our shadow for fear of rejection. The shadow is the opposite of persona. It too is not innately evil, but it’s what we hide from others. From children we learn what is appropriate and socially acceptable. On our journey we dismiss our shadow, and in our libiminal space, if we continue to hide our shadow and try to project our persona, we impede our progress of becoming real men. There is a difference between ignorance and stupidity men. Ignorance didn’t know, stupidity did and did it anyway. We then experience a clinical term called cognitive dissonance. Essentially living in such a way that is antithetical to our true self (values, beliefs, morals, ethics). A horrible place to be for sure! I was there… Even in the libiminal space our persona can allure us to become masters of denial because we naturally attempt to eliminate anything to deconstruct what we have built our first half. Progressing to the second half is not linear. We don’t become “sinless” and “perfect”, but we try harder to stay on the right path. I am no moral paragon, but I know what is right and try to do it. In the Army, before the days of GPS, we were taught land navigation. This involves the use of a compass and the shooting of an azimuth. Simply put, we have a True North that gives us our starting point and destination. In order to get to where we are supposed to be, we must fixate on a visible object (a tree, mountain range, house, etc.), shoot the azimuth, follow that trajectory, and repeat the process to our destination. It always works. That is, until you deviate from the desired direction. When this happens, you end up in the wrong place. Get my drift?
The libiminal space provides character development, shadow work, and it is hard and humiliating. It is painful, primarily because we have this construct called conscience, and we’ve hurt not just ourselves, but others we care about. Being real is being free. It is freeing the shadow from the persona. It opens the door with the threshold to a new, more real existence. The first half container was necessary to hold the contents of the second half.
One cannot live in the afternoon of life according to the program of the morning; for what was great in the morning will be of little importance in the evening; and what in the morning was true, will at evening be a lie.” –Dr. Karl Jung
Being a real man does not involve the demolition and removal of the ego, but a dismantling and reconstruction. The ego still has it’s place in the true Self or the Soul. Existentialism (meaning of life) may still involve adventures, successes, and achievements, but now these concepts are not the goal or the “end all” for being a real man. This process will involve unlearning (another Rohrism) of one’s religious beliefs, political view, ideologies, philosophies, family of origin expectations, and conventional world views. All these have changed for me.
Let us take the words of Lady Gaga seriously: “You’re on the right track baby you were born this way.” It is the allowing of our shadow to come to light. Becoming a man, the reconstruction that is, involves the integration of our personal conscience (what we have learned since birth), and our collective unconsciousness (what we inherited cognitively) through our ancestry. These materials are what make up our persona and shadow. Let me explain. Drawing from my graduate theological studies, I do not believe what I was taught about coming into this world as a blank slate (Latin word is table rasa). We have genetic memories and cognitions passed down (just as our DNA) from our ancestors. When we reconstruct our ego, we experience our true Self. Jung also refers to this as individuation. Erickson referred to it as the Generative state (when we can truly help others), and Integrity (wholeness) in contrast to despair if we fail to do so. Erickson called it Self-Actualization.
Finally, part of this process of becoming a real man involves what Jung called the anima (the female side of the masculine psyche). Get ready for this good fellows. Becoming a real man is getting in touch with our feminine side (the part of us that is creative, showing emotion, allowing the non-socially subjugated idea of self to be revealed, pluralism-multiple roles of men such as washing dishes, clothes, cooking, arranging flowers, nurturing, getting up with the crying baby, being a stay at home dad, etc.) The opposite is a displace anima and results in self-seeking behaviors, lack of creativity, moodiness, bitchiness, constant attention seeking, poor relatedness with others, masochism, and greediness, to name a few qualities that are not present in real men. Trust me, you will be surprised if you already didn’t know, how many feminine and maternal references there are to God in the bible (mostly a patriarchal and masculine image in our minds and in the pronoun usage).
Now listen, no brag here just fact. While in the Army my fellow Soldiers (subordinates and superiors) knew me (and would tell you) that I consistently lifted more weight in the gym, was consequently more buff, and that from 40 to 50 years of age consistently scored extended scale (300) on my APFT (physical testing). I did more pull ups, sit ups, pushups, and ran better than most 20-year-olds in my units. I went with my infantry units on dangerous missions in HUMVEES and Black Hawk helicopters. I had security forces sent with me for my own chaplain specific missions of commiserating and negotiating with Muktars (Mayors) and Imams (Clergy) at various tribal regions in Iraq. We delivered construction supplies for schools and mosques and homes, rice, oil, petroleum, blankets, clothing, and toys to the populations. To the same cities and villages where 19 of my own close comrades were blown up and shot to death. I saw the aftermath with these two eyes. Additionally, I saw hundreds of others wounded (some critically) in my own unit. I spent about 3 years separated from those whom I love. None of this makes me a real man brothers.
Being a real man consists of experiencing an actual fall, a journey, a liminal space, and a reconstruction. It involves essentially taking a good look at the mirror, honestly acknowledging what you see, exposing this to one’s self and to others, and a willingness to change for the good of yourself and others.