Category Archives: Excerpt

Excerpt: The Way Men Heal – Michael Jordan

Excerpt: page 27 The Way Men Heal

Sometimes the action that helps the man to tell his story and to help connect him with his loss is a very practical matter. One of the most common is when the man uses his work as a means to tell his story. That’s what Michael Jordan did.

In August of 1993 Michael Jordan’s father was tragically murdered in rural North Carolina. Two months later Jordan announced to the world that he was leaving basketball. In another two months he announced he was going to make a huge switch and play professional baseball. People were shocked and saddened that Jordan would leave basketball and the thought of him playing pro baseball was even harder to fathom. Why would he do such a thing? What we now know is that Jordan’s father James, had always wanted him to be a professional baseball player. Before his death he had urged Jordan to drop basketball and move to baseball. Now just four months after his father’s death Jordan was announcing that he would be playing pro baseball. It seems clear that Jordan was following the masculine path of honoring through action. He may not have gone to a support group to “tell his story” but instead told his story through the actions he took. Jordan was close to his father as a child and as an adult. It seems clear that a part of his grief for his father was connected to his honoring of his father and his father’s wishes for him to play professional baseball. Michael Jordan offers us a beautiful example of how the mature masculine deals with the difficulties of a powerful grief: We honor.

Men and Emotions

Our world is filled with those, both men and women, who claim that men are “not dealing with their feelings.” They point out that women cry easily and emote in public and talk about their feelings, and, well, men don’t. They are falling into a trap in judging men harshly without understanding the nature of men and emotions. They don’t know that men’s testosterone is limiting his emotional tears, they don’t know that he has larger tear ducts which hold greater amounts of tears, they don’t know that men live in a world that judges them harshly for public emoting while simultaneously seeing their emotional pain is taboo. But most importantly they don’t have a clue about how me actually do process emotions. I could go on and on… But how do men process emotions? In a nutshell, rather than talk so much they take action that honors their loss and men are more likely to use solitude in their healing. Let’s take a quick example of how men do process emotions. Here’s an excerpt from the healing through practicality section of The Way Men Heal (pg 27-28) that shows one of the ways that Michael Jordan dealt with his father’s death.


Michael Jordan

Sometimes the action that helps the man to tell his story and to help connect him with his loss is a very practical matter. One of the most common is when the man uses his work as a means to tell his story. That’s what Michael Jordan did.

In August of 1993 Michael Jordan’s father was tragically murdered in rural North Carolina. Two months later Jordan announced to the world that he was leaving basketball. In another two months he announced he was going to make a huge switch and play professional baseball. People were shocked and saddened that Jordan would leave basketball and the thought of him playing pro baseball was even harder to fathom. Why would he do such a thing? What we now know is that Jordan’s father James, had always wanted him to be a professional baseball player. Before his death he had urged Jordan to drop basketball and move to baseball. Now just four months after his father’s death Jordan was announcing that he would be playing pro baseball. It seems clear that Jordan was following the masculine path of honoring through action. He may not have gone to a support group to “tell his story” but instead told his story through the actions he took. Jordan was close to his father as a child and as an adult. It seems clear that a part of his grief for his father was connected to his honoring of his father and his father’s wishes for him to play professional baseball. Michael Jordan offers us a beautiful example of how the mature masculine deals with the difficulties of a powerful grief: We honor.

Bob Greene quotes Jordan talking about his time in the minors in his book Rebound13. Jordan said, “So on my drive to practice in the morning, he’s with me, and I remember why I am doing this. I remember why I am here. I am here for him.”

Jordan was clear. He was there for his father, to honor his father’s wishes, to honor his father’s love for him and to honor their time together. It is through the honoring that his story is told. Not unlike someone going to a support group and relating their story but Jordan did it through his actions. Actions that honored his father. I can imagine him standing at the plate waiting for the pitch to come and having a conversation with his father in his head.

Jordan’s actions to honor his father were practical; in essence he was dedicating his work in honor of his father. This is grief. Mature masculine grief. There are numerous other types of practical healing actions; lets have a look at just a few.


Just think about sports teams. When a teammate dies what do they do? They honor him with a patch on their uniforms and dedicate their season to him. Right? This is the masculine path of healing through action and doing so by honoring. It is just as effective as the more feminine talk, talk, talk approach but is ignored and all too often shamed. Go figure.

Excerpt: Swallowed by a Snake, the Dagura People

This  is an excerpt from my first book, Swallowed by a Snake.  It offers a glimpse into the workings of the Dagura People in Africa and the way they heal from loss.  It was this group and many other indigenous groups  which opened my eyes many years ago about the important differences in men and women and the ways we heal.   See what you think.  (pgs 124-126)

The Dagura People

 

We now turn to another example of indigenous grief rituals, that of the Dagura people of Africa.28 When a death occurs the women of the village begin to grieve. Their grief is somewhat muted, however, until the men have ritually announced the death. This announcement cannot occur until the men have created a “sacred space” for the grief of the village to emerge, and no man is allowed to show signs of grief until after this ritual space has been created. This is done by invoking the aid of the spirits through a private ritual performed only by the men. The invoking of the spirits is partly designed to elicit enough grief from the mourners to allow the dead person to move into the world of the ancestors. The Dagura believe that the soul’s journey into the next world is dependent in some ways upon the grief expressed by the mourners. Without adequate grief, the soul is thought to be stuck on this plane of existence and unable to leave the world. They have thus connected their grief with a purpose, that being the birth of the soul of the newly dead. The creation of ritual space, a safe container for the expression of grief, is seen as essential to the birthing of the spirit of the person who died. A part of this creation of sacred space involves throwing ashes around the house of the deceased and the ritual preparation of an actual physical space for the grief ritual. The announcement states that there has been a death, the ritual space is ready, and it is now time to grieve.

 

The Dagura Grief Ritual

 

The grief ritual itself is complex and beautiful. The grieving space is divided into different sections. The body of the dead person is dressed ceremonially and seated on a stool in the section called the “shrine.” Two women elders are seated next to the body and are charged with the duty to collect the grief that is being expressed and to “load it on” to the dead person to help him or her in the journey toward the ancestors. The shrine is colorfully decorated and contains some of the important possessions of the dead person. There is a boundary around the shrine which symbolically marks the separation between the living and the dead, and outside of the two women tending to the body, no one is allowed to enter the shrine, for to do so would mean entering the realm of the dead.

 

Between the shrine and the mourners is an empty space that represents chaos. Within this space people are allowed to express any form of grief they want, as long as it is related to their feelings about the death. Crying, dancing, or any expression of emotion is accepted and expected to take place within this space. There are people who are designated as “containers.” These people are often relatives who have come from afar. Their job is to insure the safety of the space for the grievers, making sure that no harm comes to those who are actively grieving. The Dagura believe in releasing grief with all its intensity, but they have also developed a system in which the intensity does not exceed the capacity of the mourners. It is like a system of checks and balances. The containers follow the grievers as they mourn and if they stray out of the ritual space, will gently tap them on the shoulder to remind them to come back into the contained space.

 

On one side of the shrine are the men of the village and on the other side are the women. Each group consists of mourners and containers. The mourners are further divided by the “kotuosob,” a small piece of rope tied around the wrist of the griever. The rope designates a person who was particularly close to the deceased, perhaps a family member. This marking alerts all the participants that someone who is wearing the “kotuosob” is what they call a “center of the heat” person, that is, a person who is more likely to be in danger of “grieving himself to death.” The Dagura see grief as food for the psyche, necessary to maintain a healthy psychological balance. But they also see its danger—too much grief and a person will “lose their center” and, they believe, can grieve to death. Thus the Dagura designate specific containers to follow closely behind the tagged person and do exactly as they do, including dancing, jumping to the beat of the drum, or pounding the ground. Sometimes when a tagged griever is experiencing a great deal of grief, a group of containers and mourners will form a line behind him or her with each person in the line doing the same action as the primary griever. It is understood that this transmits the feeling of the primary griever into all of those down the line. This type of process is viewed as a form of silent and physical support to the person who is grieving. It is important to point out that among the Dagura the healing of grief is gender specific. That is, no woman will approach a man in trying to help him with his grief, and no man would do the same for a woman. They believe that it takes a man to help release and heal the grief of another man, and a woman to reflect the grief of a woman.