This process challenges you to show up and pay attention daily to the need to overcome the weight of your routine in order to realize a full, intense and well-grounded spiritual journey. Doing so is not easy, but it does involve clear elements:
- Centering- Show up and observe
- Gathering- Show up and get together
- Connecting- Show up and share
- Releasing- Show up and let go
- Serving- Show up and act
By choosing to participate, you will enrich and enliven your existing spiritual practices, and create or restore balance in each step of your journey through a commitment to do the work that is the essence of spiritual discipline. What drives this process is accountability, both to yourself and others.
As the product of the collective efforts and consciousness of hundreds of initiated men, the Journey of Illumination awakens men to two essential challenges of the Journey—to choose a specific action (show up) and to be present (pay attention) in the body, the heart, and the mind.
Your personal investment in yourself and in the process is very important so that a group of elders can be raised up who embody the full potential that men may achieve. While much of the “work” will be on your own, we will walk together in preparation.
This is indeed an exciting time and we trust that the Spirit has much to teach us and lead us into. Thank you for your willingness and openness.
We do not walk this journey alone! An important aspect of the JOI is the pairing of each man with a mentor. Your mentor will connect with you at different times of the journey to check-in on how things are going for you.
Your mentor is not your Spiritual Director or counselor but rather a man who can encourage and challenge you based on what you share is happening in relationship to the different elements of the JOI. Check-ins can occur in person or by phone as your mentor might be located in another geographic area.
Here are the five touchstones for The Journey of Illumination:
Presence matters. As men of Illuman we care to be present to Presence. In an ancient tale, a disciple asks his teacher where he should look for the truth about life. “Here and now, in simple ordinary ways,” he is told. “Then why don’t I see it?” he asks in frustration. “Because,” replies the Holy One, “you are mostly somewhere else.” We get distracted too easily, regretting what was or fretting over what is yet to be. Being present requires intention and practice.
Simply paying attention to our breathing, remembering that our breath and spirit are one and the same, helps us recognize our connection with all that is. Beating a drum syncs us with the heartbeat of all beings and brings us out of our heads and into our hearts. The simple observance of silence provides space to quiet our thoughts and listen for the whisper of another voice. Solitude in nature puts us in touch with soul and quiets the noise. As the poets say, “Sometimes the truth depends upon a walk around the lake.”
When we come together as men, centering collectively is also important. We sit in a circle when possible and place a sacred object—perhaps a candle, stone, feather or drum—in the middle as a reference point, drawing us out of ourselves like spokes in a wheel are drawn toward the hub. As we move consciously toward the center we draw closer to one another; as we connect to our brothers we come closer to what is greater than ourselves. Grounded, roots take hold and fruit is born.
To be grounded in the here and now is to honor both spirit and soul. Spirit draws us up and out of ourselves, while soul beckons from within, keeping our feet to the ground. We desire to be men who are both intimate with what is greater than ourselves and comfortable in our own skin. We are incarnational beings, embodying soul within Spirit. To be here now is to sense a larger life while on a journey of descent. Drawn simultaneously by spirit and soul, we are brought to this moment, men “awed to heaven, rooted in earth.”
- Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation
- Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening
- Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel
- Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
- Gerald May, The Awakened Heart: Opening Yourself to the Love You Need
- Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche
- Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See and Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer
- Sule Greg Wilson, The Drummer’s Path: Moving the Spirit with Ritual and Traditional Drumming
Storytelling and story-listening are two halves of a life-giving art. Both are crucial in any relationship. In ancient China, we’re told, there were two friends—one who played the harp with exquisite attentiveness and skill, and another who listened with equal attentiveness and skill. When the one played or sang about a mountain stream, the other would exclaim, “Yes, I can hear it now splashing over the rocks!” Their playing and listening were part of a dance they shared together. But after a time the listener fell sick and died. In grief, the first friend cut the strings of his harp, unable to play anymore. To this day in China, the cutting of harp strings is a sign of intimate friendship.
Speaking from the heart and listening from the heart are the two most important prerequisites in practicing the Way of Council. Being aware of how we communicate is also crucial. It helps to remember that 55% of what we convey in talking to another is determined by body language (posture, gesture, and eye contact), 38% by tone of voice, and only 7% by the actual content of what we say. We therefore need to listen for more than the words. That means paying careful attention to the other person, not trying to think of how we’ll respond. We have to avoid “rehearsing” while the other person is still speaking.
If we do this with focused attention and spontaneity, then anything we share, coming from the heart, can be profoundly healing. Once a Hindu master was asked by his disciples to summarize the truth he had been teaching through the years. “All I’ve done all my life,” he replied, “is to sit on the bank of the river, selling river water.” His gift was to invite people to see the value and wonder in what they too easily dismiss as commonplace in their lives. His stories were able to turn into mystery what everyone else took for granted. The most moving stories are taken from everyday life. In receiving them, we don’t have to stay in our heads, analyzing their content. Jack Shea, the Catholic theologian and storyteller, says that our first question on hearing a story shouldn’t be “What does it mean?” but “What am I feeling?”
- Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society
- Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal
- Terrence Real, I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression
- Thomas Golden, Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing
- Arthur Frank, The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics
For Illuman men, connecting is one of the five touchstones we want to advocate as being a necessary component in all aspects of our work, from the Journey of Illumination to our Chapter events like the MROP or Firmings, and from how we meet communally to our one-on-one relationships. We want the five touchstones to permeate all aspects of our communities.
One of the touchstones is connecting. Truly connecting should be one of our highest goals. As such, we need to know what is meant by connecting. There are many nuances to connecting, but the purest sense of connecting is the joining. To be really connected is almost as if two separate entities become one—much like a marriage.
Of course this kind of connecting between men could be very uncomfortable. Most of us do not want to be that intimate with another man. It’s a risk and implies doing the even riskier thing of loving another man. But connecting, and even loving, does not always mean there has to be a marriage. That kind of love and intimacy can and does exist outside of matrimony. A good example is the relationship between King David and Saul’s son Jonathan. When they met, “There was an immediate bond between them, for Jonathan loved David.”
Likewise, just at it would be hard to imagine being married to multiple partners, the ability to truly connect with another seems, by nature, to exclude. Most of us simply are not able to be that open with everyone and, in fact, it may be just one or two people that we truly feel connected to. Finding those people and maintaining those relationships are paramount when furthering the spiritual journey but, just like with many marriages, there are failed attempts to connect so we need to be discerning in our search.
A good starting point could be with a group of people. In AA, alcoholics are told to find a sponsor. Connecting with a sponsor is vital to maintaining sobriety. Newcomers are asked to look for a sponsor from within the local AA group, someone who demonstrates qualities that the newcomer would want in himself. Being part of the group and knowing there is this “other” out there gives alcoholics safe space and support to make healthy choices.
Ultimately our goal is to find these one-on-one relationships with someone who will truly listen to us—and to whom we will truly listen. Sakej Henderson says, “to truly listen is to risk being changed forever.” We are on a spiritual journey and we need someone who will be there, maybe not from start to finish, but someone who walks with us a significant way. So, like any man attempting to climb a high mountain, a good way to ensure success is to get yourself a good Guide (an Elder or a Mentor) who has been there before and knows the way. Some of us may need more than just a guide, possibly a Sherpa (Spiritual Director or Therapist) who can help carry some of the load when things get too heavy. Sometimes good guides are hard to find, but there is another man who wants to venture up the mountain with you. You decide together that you will start out, trying to find the way as a duo (Soul Brother).
It seems we all must undertake this journey, whether we want to or not. For many of us the journey has been hard, with lots of struggles and suffering along the way. But the mountain top will not come to us and usually, when we get to one peak, we see there is another. The journey never ends. Thankfully we do not have to venture out alone.
Recently I recognized an old pattern of behavior that was impeding my growth, and so I began to resolutely explore the thoughts and attitudes that were underpinning this pattern. I was not pleased with my discoveries, and recognized that I had only myself to blame, as I had let these timeworn thoughts and attitudes infect me like a cancer. I felt like a victim. It was time for me to release an outdated and unrealistic belief that someone would rescue me from my internal “dilemma.” I had to step forward into a new way of doing things, or I would become annihilated by my own inertia. Nothing changes unless something changes!
We are men who can let go of the thoughts and behaviors that no longer serve us. To release ourselves from our enslavement to past events or addictive patterns of thoughts or feelings is an ongoing, necessary transformative work in the task of maturity. The word “release” has its root in the Latin word relaxare which means “to stretch out again, to slacken.” This is the opposite of “to brace.” Many of us live with a braced approach to life; the brakes are on and we wonder why we are not moving forward! Everything stays the same. We find ourselves blaming everyone and everything for our “stuckness.” How can we change? “Let go of your old way of life, put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusions” (Eph. 4:22).
Developing a regular practice of releasing can assist you in living a less tense or rigid form of life, as well as get you started with a more realistic approach to your humanity. These practices can occur daily, weekly, or monthly. Here are some examples:
- Mindful breathing
- Tai Chi/Yoga
- Clenching/unclenching of fists
- Exercising forgiveness
- Shadow work
- Solo time in nature
- Aerobic exercise
- Massage therapy
All of these practices can trigger a release of tension within us when done consciously and with purpose. Like a skilled landscape architect, we use discernment in choosing what fits the “environment” of our particular life. In the end it’s about creating the smoothest possible ride through the inevitable rough patches on the highway of life by letting go of patterns we no longer need
Leo Tolstoy said through a character in What Men Live By, “I know now that people only seem to live when they care only for themselves…it is by love for others that they really live. He who has Love has God in him, and is in God—because God is Love.” Certainly, a circle drawn too close to the body is too small for love. Love always extends our borders and boundaries beyond and beyond. This is partly why all Wisdom traditions invite us to move beyond the concern for the small me to the larger Other, found not only in God, but also in our neighbor and even in the more-than-human world. Like the Na’vi, in the epic film Avatar, we greet the entire world and all its inhabitants with, “I see you,” humbly acknowledging the other as one with us. Our boundaries are enlarged to include everyone and everything, and, in the process, love has its way with us.
Our concern that inner work makes a difference in the world suggests that we cannot be satisfied with simply being good men—we must do good, because our inner and outer transformation are vitally intertwined. If our inner work has any meaning, we will leave a healthy footprint wherever we go that brings with it healing, reconciliation, forgiveness, peacemaking, generosity, kindness and generativity. We do this in every small act done with great love: a smile, making room for another, extending a helping hand, sharing resources, bringing our personal presence, feeding, clothing, giving water, as well as promoting systems of justice for all those who are hurting and oppressed. This includes a radical shift away from much that drives consumerism, materialism, war, inequality, poverty, and pollution to a more sustainable, just and ethical lifestyle. Simply put, serving is a loving way to move through the world.
In our spiritual work, an “urgent and persistent question” will always be, “What are you doing for others?” (Martin Luther King, Jr.). We cannot transform ourselves without transforming the world. Giving our lives away and finding our true selves in the service of others (Gandhi), we are serving to build a world that celebrates the beauty of all beings. We are men who know how to serve others.
- Gary Morsch and Dean Nelson, The Power of Serving Others: You Can Start Where You Are
- Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson
- Harold Kushner, Living a Life That Matters
- Leo Tolstoy, What Men Live By and Other Tales
- Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
- Sally Bingham, Love God, Heal Earth: 21 Leading Religious Voices Speak Out on Our Sacred Duty to Protect the Environment
- Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change: When the World’s Biggest Problems and Jesus’ Good News Collide
Reflection Spiritual Reading List
Following is a list of books that we have found supportive for the male spiritual journey. Journaling and/or daily reading and reflection is encouraged:
- Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft
- Richard Rohr, Adam’s Return
- Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son
- James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere
Note: We have set apart the 30th of each month for fasting, study, prayer, and/or service for yourself and other men. We invite you to join the Illuman community in this distinct practice.