A Man
Overboard

 

 

September interview with Jay F. Littell


Getting To Know Dr. Jay

There’s a famous ice-cream parlor in Manhattan, NY called Serendipity where I used to go and get the most extravagant Sundae treat in all the world – in one big bowl – with scrumptious trimmings! That’s what it was like for me to experience Jay F. Littell, Ph.D.

He is a multi-faceted man abounding in wisdom, grace, and joy.

Far too many self-help books, for me, are without charm. So, when I discovered his Soul Sailing: How life-stories can transform the voyage, I knew I’d found something that hit the sweet spot.

Dr. Jay’s book is a comprehensive review of men’s work, and it’s fun! It’s scintillating! It’s a workbook. Whether or not you’re a beginner in this work, or very experienced, it’s a treasure-trove of material to help a man more clearly see his life’s mission.

The author’s life is as varied as the resource material he used for his book: He’s lived in Spanish-speaking countries, served in Army Intelligence, has advanced degrees in political science, attended Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, been involved in EST and TA groups, completed five-plus years of psychotherapy, hosted a television show entitled “Calling All Laity,” and he currently works as a massage therapist, sings in two-choral groups, and attends church regularly.

“Yes, I am a Christian,” he began. “Although, I don’t think some of my views would be accepted in a mainstream church … some traditionalists would be concerned.”

Life missions … I wondered aloud with him … how do we really create a meaningful mission statement, something that will keep us from worshipping the wound?

“One has to do one’s own personal work, whatever that might be: therapy one-on-one, or with group activities like MKP, or it can be in the form of reading – I’ve done a lot of reading.”

In the end, the author said he couldn’t necessarily prescribe one method over another. However, telling one’s own story can help. Ergo, his cool book.

In the new Primary Integration Training (PIT) I-Group protocols, we have a man tell his one-minute short story, and then do it again – going deeper into his soul.

There are three key variables Dr. Jay insists must be integral to the deeper soul story: awareness, honesty, and responsibility.

“I’ve been able to develop my life mission in a variety of ways,” he continued. “Ultimately, I needed to go inward into myself. I had to be the deep miner, the person who mines his own deep psyche.”

The book begins with a verse from Walt Whitman’s Passage to India:

O we can wait no longer,
We too take ship O Soul,
Joyous we too launch out on trackless seas,
Fearless for unknown shores on waves of ecstasy to sail,
Amid the wafting winds (thou pressing me to thee,
I thee to me, O Soul),
Caroling free, singing our song of God,
Chanting our chant of pleasant exploration.

Reckless O Soul, exploring,
I with thee, and thou with me,
Sail forth, steer for the deep waters only,
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go,
And we will risk the ship, ourselves, and all.
O my brave Soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe!
Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!

Well, then. Is it possible that this poem is for all of us? Might we all have a common mission?

“Absolutely a common mission,” he said, emphatically. “I try to get at that in my book with the concept of telos - a notion I came across as an undergraduate studying political theory. Aristotle’s telos is keeping the end purpose, or ultimate aim, in mind. The philosopher talks about the principle of an acorn growing up into a mighty oak. The telos of individuals is to live in harmony with one another.”

Dr. Jay refers to himself as an agnostic Christian.

“I think there is a common destiny for humanity, but I’m not sure of the existence of God - unless it’s the God within. I believe we have anthropomorphized God as a white-haired man who sees all things.”

The most valuable part of MKP, for Dr. Jay, was his opportunity to “struggle” with his mission statement: “My mission is to co-create the New Jerusalem here on earth by opening my heart to centeredness and love, and by helping others do the same.”

A mission is different than a cause, the author noted, referring to the shadow’s portion.

“I can wrap all that energy into a finely tuned ecclesiastical flag and parade down the street telling myself, ‘Oh Jay, you’re great!’ I have to watch myself; there are many ways to the Promised Land. Instead I say, ‘Jay, yours is not the only way!’ I need to avoid judgment – anything that denotes I’m better than you are because I’ve done my homework.”

Dr. Jay tells the story of a time he worked in Boston as a co-chair of an AIDS-support committee for the Trinity church.

“It was a major downtown church with 1,000 people sitting in the pews on a typical Sunday morning that had a long reputation for fine music and preaching. So, I used to say to my committee, composed of gay and straight people, that the best thing we can do in raising awareness about AIDS … which brings up two buttons, sex and death … the best we can do is to walk around and act like normal parishioners. We demonstrate that we are concerned about this issue, but we don’t have horns.”

I could hear my new friend on the other end of the phone, choking back tears.

“That is the best witness,” he finally intoned.

I invited him to tell me about the horns.

“The horns is the perception that gay people are going to molest our children, or talk straight people into sex, or get into someone’s pants … the only thing that distinguishes gay people from others is who we go to bed with … and that is behind closed bedroom doors.”

Dr. Jay recalled a sign hanging over a church gift shop, with the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary, use words. I think that’s so wonderful.”

Even after reading his book, and participating in the personalized exercises, I did not know the sexual orientation of the author. I asked him if he should have made the book with more of a gay community agenda.

“My agenda is my agenda,” he declared, “The gay community agenda is their agenda.”

His statement surprised me. I inquired further.

“I remember I took in a guy who was divorced from his wife and we talked politics one night. He told me he was voting for a candidate because he favored same sex marriage. I told him that I was for same sex marriage too, but I was going to vote for someone else. There are other pressing issues facing the Republic than same sex marriage. I know what we’re facing as a nation; I’m a political scientist by background.”

Dr. Jay said he respects Jesus because the Biblical figure understood boundaries.

“I remember Quentin Crisp, who died eight years ago and was very active in the Gay Liberation Movement in England. He was a celebrated speaker, and author of books, including The Naked Civil Servant where he wrote that gay is an adjective, not a noun. There’s a lot of wisdom in that observation that I am a gay man. I am not gay.”

I’m talking on the telephone with a man who tells me that the sublime is the single most important pursuit in his life, not his sexual orientation.

“I feel that this is my calling,” he added. “My grandfather was a preacher and he preached as an ordained Presbyterian pastor in the 1900’s. He had eight brothers, six who were also ordained preachers. I knew only one of them, Uncle Rob. As a boy of ten, I went to his retirement ceremony at Tioga Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Over the years, North Philadelphia had changed from a predominantly white congregation to a neighborhood of mostly black, by 1950. I knew only one member of that generation, and I feel that preaching energy in me. My mission is to be calling people to their center, the godhead, and telos. I can get very emotional and passionate about my mission. And, being a gay man is a part of who I am.”

Dr. Jay and I talked about the City of Enoch in the Old Testament, and the image of a modern New Jerusalem.

“I love to sing the anthem The Holy City which is about the gates being opened wide, where no one is denied. I am not calling people to just a religious Promised land, but rather a place where an individual’s telos can be realized and where he or she doesn’t have to worry about some kind of religious Gestapo looking over his or her shoulder. I’m calling people to a wider view. And, I’m calling them with archetypal energy, rather than a more restrictive religious energy. Too bad we have to make that distinction, but there it is.”

I talked a little about my experience in defining my mission with the help of his book, and I shared my fear that I believed I was often on a fool’s errand - not really making a difference in the world.

“I resonate with what you’re saying, Reid. I talk about that in the book … one has to define what making a difference means to him or her. I pose that question, “Does one have to be on the bridge of the starship enterprise to make a difference or can it be in a smaller way? Sometimes, just taking a casserole to a person, or writing someone a note … that can make a big difference!”

We can also invoke needed blessings from a traditional God, or Spirit, or Archangels, he added.

“I want to preach against cynicism. There is a great message of hope for the world. We can recreate the energies of our founding fathers, and help people find themselves in a place of joy and harmony.”

Dr. Jay refers to Marianne Williamson’s book, “The Healing of America,” and the important question she raises: Does the U.S. government have a mission statement? That’s a profoundly important question, originally addressed by our Founding Fathers, but, I would argue, long since lost sight of. Maybe it’s time for some collective visioning on the part of our body politic. Think the powers-that-be would be open to an idea like that?”

I asked the author if MKP was “going tribal” – an expression I’ve heard from Dr. Robert Moore.

“I don’t know as that’s not a false dichotomy …. I’m going to a Rainbow Warrior’s Gathering, so I’m going to that site, or that tribe if you want to call it that. It doesn’t seem to me that the word tribe is mutually exclusive with MKP. A notion of tribes could include fathers, uncles, brothers … it doesn’t have to be a bad thing if the tribe is aware they are still members of MKP, and the work that was facilitated for them during their weekend.”

Dr. Jay referred to what he called the destructive dualism mentality of Us vs. Them.

“MKP calls us to something greater than that … that’s what got mankind into trouble in the first place. Isn’t MKP about getting beyond that? Why fall back into good/bad, right/wrong, dichotomies?”

Does the author believe we need more mythopoetic influence in MKP? Yes.

“Too many men in MKP are not aware of when their story is coming from shadow or from gold. That’s Awareness. Then we have to tell our stories. Honesty. Then we have to ultimately take Responsibility for what happened to us.

Yeah, but that could take all night long …

“Haven’t you heard? A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end!”

Ah, says I. There’s where Aristotle comes in with his theatrical principle of catharsis for us the audience! And ultimately there can be a healing – a blessed treat at the end! Folks, this is my renewed mission that Dr. Jay helped me to get – to bring joy into the world through my bold creativity.

“Yes!” Dr. Jay concluded. “Bless you and all the men who are telling their stories as they journey toward their destiny – their telos – their mission in life. Let’s remember from our NWTA that our missions need to be something greater than ourselves. We are here to serve humanity and leave behind a world that is kinder and gentler than the one we came into.” - RB

Check out Jay F. Littell, Ph.D. at www.tellingyourstories.com

Returning to a longtime family retreat on Lake Michigan, Dr. Littell created Telos Institute, an educational service offering one-on-one dialogue, consulting, and workshop on personal and spiritual growth.

A Spiritual Biography

"In his brilliant volume about the Christian Bible, “The Good Book,” Reverend Dr. Peter Gomes, in a chapter entitled “The Bible and Wealth,” quotes the familiar “From those to who much is given, much is expected” (Luke 12:48). For many years now, that particular sentence has spoken to me in a very profound way. Especially in later years, the concept of stewardship has come to have more and more meaning for me. Giving back is an important part of who I am.”

© 2007 Reid Baer

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The fame you earn has a different taste from the fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria Vanderbilt

Reid Baer, an award-winning playwright for “A Lyon’s 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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