An interview with John Lee
John Lee is an author; he's even more of a
personality - one of the more wonderfully warm and
friendly personalities you'll ever meet.
I'd read his Flying Boy many years ago,
and recently read Facing the Fire - Experiencing
and Expressing Anger Appropriately, Growing
Yourself Back Up, and the sweet
autobiographical love story Courting a Woman's
He's a very accessible person, as well as a
notable writer. He's also got depth. A man who
quotes Blake and writes poetry is okay with me.
A Poison Tree
By William Blake
I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
A Thunderstorm in Mentone
By John Lee
The wind is different tonight.
The leaves on the trees move easily.
Summer rain cleans the horses
grazing the wet grass in the pasture
across the road.
I saw lightning for the first time
in months. It looked like a ragged
tuning fork, and I felt the thunder
roll through my body.
Today, in a house a hundred miles
away I saw my father for the first
time in ten years.
He sat beside me with his bare shoulder
against mine as we looked at a map.
Years ago I would have wanted more to
happen and felt a disappointment,
but this meeting moved easily.
A part of me (the part that always wanted
felt cleaned. The lightning comes
down in straight lines and then
separates into its tines. A father and a son
and a tuning fork are like that too.
We talked about mileage; then
he showed me the peas he'd grown in his
This is the most affection I am going
to get, I thought.
Today, this amount of affection was enough.
- Excerpt From Growing Yourself Back
John Lee, considered one of the pioneers in
men's work, talks as much about addiction recovery
as anything else. Many men credit their work in AA
and other programs as the catalyst that got them
involved in men's work.
"Had it not been for men's work and recovery, I
wouldn't be here talking to you now," he said on
the phone from his home in Atlanta, Georgia. "All
the men's work in the world would not have gotten
me to where I am now if I was still into my
People suffering with addictions to alcohol,
drugs, work, or sex need to address those issues
before they're ready to do men's work, he said.
"If he gets involved in men's work, he'll be a
better man, but he'll still be an addicted man," he
continued. "There are all kinds of addictions,
including work. If a man works 80 hours a week,
he's padded on the back and made chairman of the
board. At the age of 50 or 60, he's as addicted to
work as my father was to alcohol. He's an empty
shallow man. That's why so many men of my father's
generation, who were praised for that addiction,
fell apart when it came to retirement. The work
process was not there to bolster their self-esteem
Sex can be another addiction that prevents a man
from doing his personal work.
"The whole act of wooing, courting, dumping, and
starting all over again, was what I was told you're
supposed to do," Lee stated. "This kind of
addiction is not as easily treated or seen.
Codependency is an addiction. Many men will feel
abandoned and fall apart if their wife is taken out
of the picture. Addictions to alcohol or heroin are
easier to see. There's not a treatment center in
the country for work addiction."
The author said he believed the roots of
addictive behavior are about not being seen as
"The self-psychologists talk about this in early
childhood development from ages 2 to 4 - it's the
applause stage of development," he instructed.
"What it means in layman's terms is that children
are looking for praise and applause for everything
they do and everything they are, and when they
don't get it (and you know most parents, single or
together, don't get sufficient praise and
applause), the children get sent away prematurely.
That's what's living in these men that become a
greedy soul or what Robert Bly refers to as the
"insatiable soul." That's where you can never get
enough there in adulthood. You weren't meant to get
it in adulthood, you were meant to get it in
childhood. People that teach and speaks publicly
are some of the more wounded people on the planet.
There will be a few that say that's not so, but the
majority of men and women - those seriously looking
at their own wounds to a greater or lesser degree -
will agree. We're some of the most wounded people
out there because we're out telling people about
our own wounds."
The way to tell if a speaker or a therapist is
beginning to do their own healing, is when they
start talking about cutting back their activities,
"Really, who would want to talk about divorce,
alcoholism, child abuse, rape, and incest every day
for a living? People who have really worked on
themselves will eventually talk about giving up the
limelight or being a therapist because they're
starting to heal up their own wound."
Lee is the son of a farmer, "a blue collar man."
The author said he did not consider himself to be
well educated in his youth. He went on to the
University of Alabama where he excelled in
literature and religious studies, receiving his
Master's Degree before going to the Univeristy of
Texas, and finally working on his doctorate - one
that he never finished, thanks to the success of
his first book, The Flying Boy.
"What I've always wanted to do was explore this
soulful stuff and speak about it in a language that
I, and my friends, can understand," he said. "I
compliment people like Robert Bly, Robert Moore,
and James Hillman who speak in scholarly tones.
That's why I've loved teaching with Robert Bly and
Robert Moore. I sit there and take notes. A lot of
what I know comes out from them into my
If Lee is "arms length" from academia, he is
enfolded within the arms of the public. His affable
style to men's work attracts thousands, with most
of his constituency coming from people who are
college educated - but "not severely or
"I'm hoping that my voice can be of use to
people," he continued. "If I read Iron John, and I
do not have the background in this work, it's hard
going. If you read my books, I'm only a couple
steps away from a comic."
This self-effacing, good humored gentleman is
happiest to hear about a man's introduction to
men's work through his immanently readable
"At a book signing, I had a man tell me that he
had refused his wife's gifts of my books. He told
me she bought him one of my books and he took a
band saw to it and cut it in half. I asked him
which half he wanted me to sign. By then, he'd
gotten himself another copy."
As I began my discussion of the "L" word, Lee
skillefully addressed my own skepticism of the
modern usage. Fortunately, he was versed in the
work of my hero - C.G. Jung.
"I've tried to talk about love over the years,"
he recalled, "but it's been a strange mix with
men's work. Many men, like myself, were trying to
contact their anima. In a way, it was a retreat
from the masculine. Both my masculine and feminine
had been exposed to so much damage."
According to Lee, Jung had not dealt
sufficiently with his own masculinity. (I do know
for a fact that Jung did have the largest female
constituency when he showed up to psychiatric
association meetings. Hmmmm.)
"Jung had not wrestled with his own father
issues, as was depicted in his failure to wrestle
with Freud successfully," Lee postulated. "What
Jung did was prematurely move in the direction of
the feminine. That's what I try to point out to
men; we too often try prematurely to contact the
feminine and end up cherishing the false feminine.
As I explored some of that in myself, with lesser
and then greater degrees of success, it allowed me
to access my true feminine where I wasn't
projecting all the time. I had to wrestle with that
masculine, and the distrust of men ... wrestle with
the Oedipal stuff."
I commented to Lee that he doesn't seem to
usually get into this much depth in his books. In
his best Jungian references, he continued.
"My inferior function is my thinking. My feeling
function is superior. A lot of times my insecurity
around my thinking is so great I may have
difficulty articulating what I would like to say,
but I can easily use a metaphor or a story. That's
my way. That's the mythopoetic way. Flying Boy is a
story. (It sold 375,000 copies.) My strength lies
is story telling. Because people tend to be in
denial about regression and childishness, you have
to be awfully adult to read a book about how
regressed you are. I don't know how I ever came up
with enough adult in me to write such a thing ...
hmmm, I suppose I had a temporary moment of
I can't remember the last time I had so much fun
and laughed so hard during an interview. I like men
whose wisdom is funny.
Lee said one of the failures of modern men's
work, and psychology in general, is the absence of
integrating the "spiritual" into the personal
"Psychology cannot do any more than bring one
into the awareness of the inferior function," he
explained. "It takes something greater than
psychology to heal our wounds. There's always been
a spiritual undercurrent in men's work. For
instance, I was recently in Mentone with Bly and
Moore and we ended up spending more time in the
realm of psychology and always too little on
spirituality. It's not because anybody means to do
that, it's just one of the things we do. In my life
and work, I'm trying to redress that
My favorite book is Facing the Fire because it
actually addresses the gold within the shadow of
"First of all, a man shouldn't be shamed for
anything in my opinion," Lee stated. "It may
have been one of the flaws in the early men's
movement. Bly and I had a discussion about that
issue. In 1989, some of the New Warrior men, (now
the ManKind Project) would come to my seminars and
cut me down. Again, nobody should be shamed, but
nobody should have to endure a man's rage. Rage is
the adult who regresses and then acts it out.
Adults are usually not prepared or taught to
express anger in a clean way. We tend to regress to
this earlier state, this fight or flight state. We
live in a country full of immature adults - men and
women in constant states of aggression. We've come
to believe that rage is anger, but it's not. Most
of us would not know how to express anger as an
adult because nobody's taught us how. It takes
learning to express good clean anger. I learned it
the hard way by raging at the ones I loved the most
and doing a lot of unintentional damage. And, well,
they walked away or ran away.
Modern psychology tells me I'm supposed to get
these feelings out, but the psychology does not
teach my how to do it. Most often when we think we
are expressing anger appropriately, it comes out by
way of preaching, teaching, analyzing, criticizing,
shaming, blaming, demeaning, demoralizing, and
judging. On the other hand, if a man says he's
going to tell his truth for four hours and then he
comes back in two months unsatisfied, then there's
something wrong with that process. All he did was
rage. Real relief comes from adult expressions of
anger, not those ragings of a three-year-old."
At his seminars, Lee said he used to indulge a
man who was raging. Now, he invites him to take the
necessary time "off line" with one of Lee's
associates to help the man get in touch with who
he's really anger with; then they help him to look
at his history and his past angers that never got
fully expressed back then ... angers that are
trying to find a way out of his body, angers
directed at the wrong person.
"After he's identified his anger at his boss or
his dad, then I tell him I'll take the time to
stand toe to toe with him. He usually feels fine
and I don't have any arrows in me."
The ManKind Project has progressed dramatically
since the early 1990's in its approach to dealing
with anger, Lee admits.
The "charges" men get are not simply
psychological, but physical as well.
"Men get this physical charge and then try to
release it intellectually," he said. "If I have a
knot in my stomach, it's going to be real hard to
just talk out that knot. Too often, men will
converse for hours and never work through the
energy carried in their body."
This is the strength of The ManKind Project, in
its ability to safely help a man find a more
complete healing experience through its
Lee referenced the 1993 book, Writing From The
Body, which he said helps people write out their
"Many people have emotional blocks to their
creativity because their emotions are so stirred
up," he explained. "They try to address their
issues with only the intellect. Most people are not
able to access their transcendental function
(Jung's words). Most people are too distressed
emotionally to ever get to what you've just
described. That's why you have a few people who are
creative for the many. First it's catharsis, then
Lee said men's work comes secondarily to Robert
Bly's exquisite poetry.
"Culture grabbed on to the secondary and let go
of the primary," he said. "Men's work has tended to
overshadow that voice. Many of us are battling to
get our artistic vision out. Robert Bly is to our
time what Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, William Blake,
and Yeats were to their time. Men's work got Bly in
The New York Times and on the cover of Newsweek;
and it is my deep hope and trust that it will be
his poetry that puts the Pulitzer Prize in his
We headed toward the end of our conversation by
Courting a Woman's Soul. (Bly called it
"The best love story I've read in a long time."
Being happily married myself (for the second time),
I told him that I thought a good relationship was
simply finding "a good hearted woman." He
"And you have had to do your own work in order
to recognize it when you see it," Lee said. "That
was your half, her half was her ability to give
love to someone and cherish it. My wife did the
same with me. She taught me about four kinds of
love, because my family showed me a little about
Eros (romantic love), but what my wife showed me
was Agape or spiritual love, Phillios, or
friendship. Then Robert Bly, Robert Moore, and
others taught me about Caritas, or love of
This is where John Lee blew me away with an
additional idea of the love of community. I've
always been drawn to the power of community through
the works of Martin Prechtel and Malidoma Some.
Here, Lee introduced the idea of sharing community
with a woman.
"In my past when I was with other women, I would
not involve my community in that love for her. It
was mostly erotic love. My community and I would
stay over here and the women in her community would
stay over there. When Susan and I got together, one
of the major things I did differently was set up
times for us to be together with primary people in
my life. We went to dinners and gatherings, and at
the end of each, I'd come back to these people and
ask them to tell me what they thought. I've got a
"defective picker" and I've never picked women
well. So, when my community said this is the right
person, you've picked well, I knew I had the right
woman. I remember consciously asking them why they
hadn't given me feedback with my previous
girlfriends and they responded by say they'd known
all along "but you never asked us into the decision
Love of community and community love.
And the conclusion is almost trite, but with
this understanding, it makes sense. Lee tells us as
couples to become friends.
"It's cliché, but nobody really does it,"
he said. "In my past failed relationships we never
really got to the heart of friendship and very
often we weren't that compatible and so we could
never really be friends. I'd say 'let's be
friends,' but not until after we'd both beaten the
hell out of each other, psychologically,
spiritually, and socially ... it sounds like a lot
of gall to say after a disaster of a divorce, ' now
let's try to be friends.'"
Adding poetically, Lee said "Spirit is the
thread that weaves those four loves into wedding
Don't we all tend to segment love? I do.
"Why not have a fuller awareness of spirit in
all four loves," said Lee, more like a blessing.
"When we can acknowledge our narcissistic and
negative grandiosity, we are better able to access
our enlightened sovereign." He referenced Robert
Moore's work again. "Once the shadow king has been
acknowledged and dealt with - even applauded - we
can then go back to our rightful place standing in
Boy Book II: Journey continues;
Fliying Boy Book III Stepping Into the
Mystery: For sons, lovers, mothers and
Wounded Lover: A book for women raising
sons & men coming to terms with their
fathers; Recovery: Plain
& simple, Health Communications
Facing the Fire - Experiencing and
Expressing Anger Appropriately, Growing
Yourself Back Up, and the sweet
autobiographical love story Courting a Woman's
Soul and the re-release of
Recover: Plain & Simple
available on my website at www.jlcsonline.com
© 2005 Reid Baer
* * *
The fame you earn has a different taste from the
fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria
Reid Baer, an
award-winning playwright for A Lyons
Tale is also a newspaper journalist, a poet
with more than 100 poems in magazines world wide,
and a novelist with his first book released this
month entitled Kill
The Story. Baer has been
a member of The ManKind Project since 1995 and
currently edits The New Warrior Journal for
The ManKind Project www.mkp.org
He resides in Reidsville, N.C. with his wife
Patricia. He can be reached at E-Mail.
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