For the year of 2020, I set myself the goal of reading 52 books — an average of 1 per week. The following tweet from Naval Ravikant describes the growth in focused attention I seek.
Unintentionally, a number of the early books I’ve read this year center around the theme of personal development. They have been useful as tools for examining my own conception of what it means to be a man. In truth, I think many women would find value in these books too. However, I chose to stick with framing them for men, as I closely identified with my masculinity while reading them. My intent was not to be exclusionary but to be honest. I welcome any feedback.
King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine by Robert L. Moore and Douglas Gillette
I first heard of KWML while attending a holotropic breathwork workshop in the Chicagoland area. One of the workshop attendees had mentioned that the book had a profound aspect on him in the past several months. I didn’t think back to it until hitting an emotional low point in my life— the timing worked out well. Moore and Gillette dissect the male psyche from a Jungian perspective into four archetypes or energies: the King, the Warrior, the Magician and the Lover. All men have these four essences within them, and careful cultivation and balance is necessary to blossom the wholesome, mature man. The book explains how to avoid the pitfalls associated with each archetype and access their energies.
One technique discussed near the end of the book is Active Imagination Dialogue. The concept is simple, and I’ve found it helpful in untangling my own internal bullshit. When grappling with a dilemma, imagine watching a conversation with the four archetypes. I find it productive to associate a memorable visualization with each. For instance, when I think of the Warrior, I imagine a buff, chiseled version of myself wearing armor and ready to march forward. When I think of the Lover, I see myself as a DJ at Burning Man, drinking in the beauty of the universe and life. Imagine these archetypes debating your problem. It’s similar to the use of inner angels and devils in media, except here the “Self” is parsed into four archetypes with the “Ego” as observer of the conversation. By watching the conversation from a place of objectivity, you can sort through your conflicting motivations and make an informed decision about your problem.
There’s a lot of good stuff in KWML. I haven’t done a deep dive into Jungian psychology (Joseph Campbell is on my reading list), but I found it useful to read with an open mind and reflect on how the concepts manifest in my own psyche.
“We need to learn to love and be loved by the mature masculine. We need to learn to celebrate authentic masculine power and potency, not only for the sake of our personal well-being as men and for our relationships with others, but also because the crisis in mature masculinity feeds into the global crisis of survival we face as a species. Our dangerous and unstable world urgently needs mature men and mature women if our race is going to go on at all into the future.” (page 7)
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Published in 1943, what amazes me about The Fountainhead is how it reads as if it were written yesterday. From its prose to the sense of recognition for each character, the book retains an aura of timelessness. This makes it easier as a reader to extract nuggets of wisdom since Ayn Rand chose not to remain loyal to the zeitgeist of the early 1900s.
The Fountainhead is a series of character studies. Centered around the protagonist, Howard Roark, Rand seeks to demystify the “perfect man” in both his attitudes and actions. There’s plenty of room for debate on whether Roark really embodies perfection, but what remains undeniable is that Roark knows his “truth” — erecting architecture with an aesthetic nature only as a byproduct of purpose and functionality — and has the unwavering confidence to worship it through his actions, regardless of the consequences. It’s inspiring to behold and begs the question, Are knowledge of truth and full loyalty towards it constituent elements of the human spirit? Confidence has always been seen as an attractive quality in men, and it takes a vast, perhaps inhuman level of courage to honor one’s truth completely in the face of life’s adversities. As men, we must take it upon ourselves to know our truths and honor them not for acknowledgement but for the progression of society. Selfishness for selflessness.
“It is said that but for the spirit of a dozen men, here and there down the ages… none of this would have been possible. And that might be true. If so, there are — again — two possible attitudes to take. We can say that these twelve were great benefactors, that we are all fed by the overflow of the magnificent wealth of their spirit, and that we are glad to accept it in gratitude and brotherhood. Or, we can say that by the splendor of their achievement which we can neither equal nor keep, these twelve have shown us what we are, that we do not want the free gifts of their grandeur, that a cave by an oozing swamp and a fire of sticks rubbed together are preferable to skyscrapers and neon lights — if the cave and the sticks are the limit of your own creative capacities.” (page 399)
Osho, a spiritual teacher from India also known as the “sex guru”, led quite the controversial life. Putting this aside, it’s impossible not to feel the depth of his vitality when reading his words. Osho states that to experience fear is a normal part of life. When this happens, we must summon the courage to face fear directly, perhaps with a smile of recognition. Osho’s teachings ring to the tune of exposure therapy, in which patients with phobias learn to deal with their fears by gradually confronting them.
I don’t classify Courage as a spiritual text, yet it is the spirit of the book which has remained inside me. In times of internal resistance, I catch myself being more mindful and seeking out the source of my fear instead of fleeing. By choosing to face our fears on a more consistent basis, we build internal strength by plowing over the grooves of old behavioral patterns. We choose to grow, to live a life less inhibited, embracing the joy of exhilaration.
“Those who are courageous go headlong. They search all opportunities of danger. Their life philosophy is not that of insurance companies. Their life philosophy is that of a mountain climber, a glider, a surfer. And not only in the outside seas they surf; they surf in their innermost seas. And not only on the outside they climb Alps and Himalayas; they seek inner peaks.” (page 103)
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