The Flying Boy Letters: Getting Back to Y’all 30 Years Later

This is a most unique and comprehensive book, which is a culmination of thousands of hours of teaching, counseling, key noting clinical conferences on relationships, men’s issues, recovery, anger, regression, grief, and passivity. This small book is the “best of” 30 years.

I would be honored and appreciative of any support you may provide. Please buy it if you can, read it and post a review on Amazon; or recommend it to your friends, family, clients, and colleagues.

If you have a podcast, radio, or television program, I would like to do any and all interviews.

Thanks so much for over 3 decades of support!

JOHN

Order The Flying Boy Letters

Schedule sessions, or to bring JOHN  to your treatment facility, community group or place of worship or an interview, please contact me.

 

Seeking the Truth

If you tell the truth, you have infinite power supporting you; but if not, you have infinite power against you.

~ Charles Gordon

I’m a man who has told lies and lived lies and listened to the lies of other men. Lying is what I was taught to do. I was told that if it hurts, you put on a smile; if it cuts or bruises you, be a “big boy” and act like you’re okay. And if you fail – fake success.

Now I want and need to tell the truth about my hurt, my pain, and my disappointments, and I need contact with other men who are learning to do the same. I also want to learn the truth about a man’s special capacity for intimacy, joy, and serenity.

Nothing less than the truth will suffice at this point in my recovery. But I also don’t want to turn the truth into a battering ram. I may feel shame and regret for past untruths, but none of these mistakes is who I really am. Not one of them diminishes me as a man. If I begin to shame myself, I can raise a shield, saying, “Stop.” If others use the truth brutally against me, I can leave.

Today I honor, search for, and embrace the truth about myself and my masculinity.

Excerpt from A Quiet Strength: Meditations on the Masculine Soul

Self-Esteem

“A man falling in his own esteem needs more ground under his feet; to stand again he may need the whole world for a foothold.”

~ Wendell Berry

So many men try to live up to the expectations and visions of others (as our fathers did) by acquiring land and things, even by “collecting” people! We must finally come to the conclusion that we, in ourselves, are enough. All those who ever implied or said outright that we weren’t good enough were wrong. Until that moments of awareness arrives, we will continue to work and worry ourselves to an early grave.

Once we recognize ourselves at our full value as the priceless, irreplaceable men we are, we can begin to let go of our choke-hold on a world that can never confirm our manhood, our inner worth.

Today I’ll let go of one thing I’ve been using to measure my manhood, to validate my existence, to confirm my right to be here.

Excerpt from A Quiet Strength: Meditations on the Masculine Soul

Returning the Earth

“We have conquered the environment, and in our obsession for control, we no longer allow the environment to live in us.”

~ Valerie Andrews

Humankind has “tamed” the wilderness, bought and sold land for profit and loss. For too long we have mortgaged the earth and bankrupted its resources, pouring fumes into the skies and sludge into the oceans as if they were ours to destroy. Much more than rhetoric and legislation are needed to change this pattern of control and conquest over nature. I must begin a new inner relationship to my environment. Only then will the right action be clear to me.

I resolve to let the great trees live in me. I accept their strength and the wisdom of their years. I invite the land back into my legs and back and bones so that I might reclaim the rhythms of birth, death, and renewal. As I stand on the shore, I’ll feel the sea rushing into my gut. I’ll let my arms reach to embrace the painted sky. I’ll walk right through the mud! I’ll receive the meaning of those mountains at which I used to blankly stare, wondering who “owned” them. To be truly alive, I must relinquish my illusions. To truly survive, I must learn to receive the grace of this earth with gratitude, respect, and love.

Today I let go of the illusion of control, the dogma of dominion. I set my soul on automatic pilot, letting it soar through this world. Today I am touched and taught by the earth.

Excerpt from A Quiet Strength: Meditations on the Masculine Soul

Centering

For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all tasks, and the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

As men we were often taught that the center of our universe is work, that we are only satellites orbiting our occupations. We were told that our country is the focal point of the world, and that we must defend her at all costs. With good intentions our dads showed us that we should focus on our families’ external needs: food on the table, clothes on our backs, and a roof over our heads.

Now we men are searching for our truest center – the spiritual focal point of our bodies and souls. From this newly discovered center we can still serve our jobs, our country, our families, but we’ll do so in ways that our fathers and grandfathers never dreamed possible.

Through time and recovery, we learn that it’s not a “selfish” act to become Self-worthy. By first giving our attention to what is essential in our own life, more will be accomplished, more will be healed, more will be helped, and less damage will be done.

Today I take a deep breath, and it carries me to the center of my being. It is that center I share with every man, a center of pure love, passion, truth, strength, gentleness, and beauty.

Excerpt from A Quiet Strength: Meditations on the Masculine Soul

A Quiet Strength

“A thoughtful book like this encourages contemplation, rather than hyperactivity, and, oddly, we need good words in order to find fruitful silence.” 

~ Thomas Moore – Care of the Soul

Who will mentor, teach, and touch the souls of the boys who have been bullied, bloodied and beaten literally or figuratively?

Each day from now until the 11th Annual Creative Change Conference, “It Happens to Boys,” I’ll be providing a daily meditation excerpt from A Quiet Strength: Meditations on the Masculine Soul for the boys inside all men and for the man-father to the boy, and for women who love their sons, husbands, lovers, and fathers.

I hope you will join me for this important conference to be held on Oct. 4, 2019 at the ABC Recovery Center located at 44359 Palm Street in Indio, California.

Making Peace

“Blessed are the peacemakers.” ~ Matthew 5:9

Many men are uncomfortable with peace, though we may like the idea. We’ve been programmed since childhood to prepare for war, prepare to kill or be killed. We played army at five years old, imagining sticks into sub-machine guns, dirt clods into grenades, pretending to sneak up on the enemy to destroy them. Later on, some of us went on to wage wars on battlefields known as gridirons. If we didn’t engage in combat there, then we did with fellow classmates, particularly the ones who tried to wrestle away our girlfriends. We carried our propensity for battle into bedrooms and corporate boardrooms, believing our manhood would be won or lost there.

Without a war to fight, we rested only to prepare for the next great conflict, the next chance to “prove our strength.” We came to associate peace with boredom.

I want to teach my children that peace is greater than pistols, quiet and contentment more necessary than counterattack.

Today I’ll make peace with an old friend or relative I’ve hurt, a child I wounded with words. If nothing else, I’ll declare a cease-fire with myself. I’ll refuse to shame myself for learning what I was taught.

“Why?” The Most Useless Question

Yesterday during an intensive session with a client, he said, “Why did she leave me? Why didn’t I see the red flags?”

Today during a phone session with a man in his late 60s, he said, “I’ve always asked myself why did I get to come back from Vietnam and so many of my buddies didn’t?”

Some of my “Why’s” include: “Why did my father become an alcoholic? Why did I?” and “Why did God/He/She/It make man’s best friend the dog who gets so few years to live when whales and parrots and elephants get to be 50 and 60 years old and you can’t take any of them for a walk in the park?”

There are 10,000 answers to every “Why?” we could ask, and none of them will really give us the peace “…that passeth all understanding…” as the Bible says.

The question, “Why?” can take up lots of wasted time and energy and get us humans to use so much of our allotted time on earth looking for the answers.

Ah! But, “How?” Now that’s a question worth devoting a lifetime to answering. How do we survive a divorce, a death, a longing? How do we heal and recover from alcoholism or being born into the family disease? How, as Stevie Nicks once sang, “…can the child within my heart rise above? …can I handle the seasons of my life…?” How can be taught and modeled for us; experiences, strengths and hopes can be shared among us.

But I have to tell you the truth, I still find myself in the deep, dark, empty well of “Why?” But I don’t stay there nearly as long as I used to.

I wish I knew what to tell you regarding why the things that hurt you, lost you, or found you occurred. However, I will keep encouraging and supporting you no matter how smart you are, jump into the oasis of “How?” and drink the cool waters of life.

…Be patient toward all that is unsolved and try to love the questions themselves…

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would

not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything…

~ Rilke Letters to a Young Poet

 

Designated Problem: Let’s Get Rid of the Label

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding about ourselves. C.G. Jung

“Mend his life.” “You really need help.” “Fix her.” “If he would just get into therapy.” “If she would only stop drinking.” “We’d be all right then.”

No, you wouldn’t be and neither would they. You see, one of the greatest barriers for people to overcome is being the “Designated Problem” in the family, marriage, or workplace.

The label impedes the growth and healing of everyone concerned. When all the focus and attention is put on the alcoholic, addict, non-communicator, the one unable to be in touch with their feelings or their reality – that’s just too much weight on anybody’s shoulders. The shame, embarrassment, and guilt is enough to make anyone unable to really change.

For over 35 years I’ve worked with angry, depressed, aggressive, traumatized men and women, and one of the first things I do is help them see the truth: that it is the system, dynamic or context that is the real culprit.

You see, even if the Problem Person does deep psychological, emotional and spiritual work and grows and changes, if he or she goes back to a toxic workplace, an untreated family, or a dysfunctional marriage, he or she will soon be the Designated Problem again, and again break everyone’s heart and hope.

For decades I was the designated problem in my family—the outcast, black sheep, troublemaker, alcoholic. No wonder my shoulders were bowed to the ground all through my twenties. Lord, the therapy and recovery I had to do to lift that burden!

I wrote about my work in the men’s and recovery movements in The Flying Boy: Healing the Wounded Man and Flying Boy Book II: The Journey Continues and aired my family’s less than clean laundry, and my own problems with relationships, alcohol and not knowing a feeling if it bit me on the ass. My dad and I didn’t speak for ten years he was so angry. Back then I was beginning to see that there was more to these problems than just me, my dad or my girlfriends.

“We” are the problem – wife as well as husband, children, grandparents, and even the babysitter. We all are the problem.

Most of us, I know I did, have to turn to an objective, third-party like a therapist, coach, sponsor, who can help to more readily identify each person’s patterns of behaviors, problems, histories, hang-ups and character defects, and I promise the formerly so-called Designated Problem will get better – indeed we all will.

So when you think you are or they are the sick ones, remember Rumi’s words: “The fault is in the blamer. Spirit sees nothing to criticize.”

THE FLYING BOY LETTERS: Getting Back to Y’all 30 Years Later

These are excerpts from my forthcoming book. They encapsulate my work with clients, workshop participants and key-notes. Hope you find them helpful.

Letter #7

Dear John,

Sitting in the audience listening to you on that Saturday night at the International Men’s Conference in Austin, I was struck by your voiced desire to simultaneously honor what you are doing/have done and your need to move on into what awaits you. The depth of my response to your seeming paradox was to want to write a letter to you. This is it in your hand.

In my first 10 years in the program I understood recovery to be a process of seeing and owning what had happened and how I contributed to it, making amends and cleaning the house as necessary, and then leaving it all behind to begin life in a new, “recovered” way. Sometime after my 10th AA birthday, which coincided with being in my mid-40s (a cataclysmic combination if there ever was one), I came to understand Recovery completely differently. In the process I began to feel somehow estranged from many of the people to whom I had been the closest. I came to understand Recovery as the realization that the experiences of my life, although I might not wish them upon my sons, were actually the building blocks which had made me who I am. Without them I couldn’t be me. Therefore, the question became not, “What are the traumas of my life and how do I recover from them?” but rather, “What were the experiences/building blocks of my life? What did I learn? What I have I done with the knowledge? We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it” took on new meaning. Recovery became owning my own building blocks and who I am becoming.

You probably have very little time and receive lots of letters saying, “Yes! I relate to you and your experience!” While it’s true, and I do, that isn’t the point of my being inspired to write to you. I heard you say a version of what I described in the paragraph above. I haven’t heard many people say it cleanly. I also haven’t heard many people say, in effect, “I am tired of being a guru. It can be nice but it can also be isolating, and I want to change something. It’s time for me to take some more steps.” I quit my job earlier this year for those very reasons. Where does the guru go for release and spiritual and temporal nutrition? Laying down the robes can be tricky.

As presumptuous as it may seem, I am reaching my hand out to you. If you would like to break real or metaphoric bread in person or over the phone with someone with life experience, no axe to grind, and no particular needs for you to meet, I would like the opportunity to exchange value, which is my definition of an adult relationship.

Peace.

Sincerely,

George H S

 

Dear Laying Down the Guru’s Robes,

You say you haven’t heard many people say, in effect, “I am tired of being a guru.”

That, my friend, was nearly 30 years ago. “Guru” is an Eastern Indian term for “teacher.”

I’ve been a teacher now for 45 years, but haven’t been a guru in 39 years, or at least, not thought of myself in terms of “guru.”

I must say that when I wrote my first book, The Flying Boy, I was a struggling, poor graduate student at the University of Texas and a card-carrying New Ager right down to the bone, equipped with long beard, kinky hair, and only wore tee-shirts, jeans, and the official shoes – Birkenstocks way before they became a fashion statement you now see elders wearing to Walmart. I had a leather “medicine bag” with crystals, hawk feathers, and some other stuff I can’t recall. And oh, wait; I had some I-Ching coins in there in case I needed to consult the oracle. I used to be Mr. New Age; now I’m Mr. Old Age. 

I finished that book instead of my dissertation, went on the road giving lectures and workshops thinking I’d be a one-book author and head back to graduate school, finish, get tenure and die on some small campus in Anywhere, USA.

I didn’t go back, and yes, I might have thought of myself as a guru for about 15 minutes only to realize, like a lot of people, I was constantly worried that audiences would see I was an example of the Imposter Syndrome, where any moment, someone in authority would tap me on the shoulder and tell this recovering redneck from Alabama that the jig was up.

You ask, “Where does the guru go for spiritual and temporal nutrition?” Your question suggests that you were a robe-wearing rascal who was ready to look for a new vocation. I trust now, 30 years later, these robes have been given to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. I know that is what I did with my imaginary saffron duds.

Yes, 30 years later, I’m still on the road teaching, but I don’t for a minute, after all the mistakes I’ve made, think of myself as a guru.

Shanti, Shanti, Namaste (just kidding),

JOHN

 

The Flying Boy Letters: Getting Back to Y’all 30 Years Later

Letter 21

St. Louis, MO

Dear John,

I need to thank you for your book, “The Flying Boy.” I am in the midst of reading it for the second time. The first reading tore me to pieces and put me back together. I had to become consumed with intense pain before I was willing to take action, which led me to the bookstore at the treatment center I went through for chemical dependency in 1980.

It would look as though my pain’s immediate source is being unemployed, broke, and currently trying to let go of a woman who has left me. The pain I am experiencing is the worst I can remember. Your book has shown me that these things are the result of a pain I have always been aware of, running very deep, and anger I thought only the Devil was capable of. You’ve helped me realize how much work I need. I am deathly afraid of having to go through what you did, hoping I can somehow escape it, or that it won’t be necessary.

The first reading, at many passages, brought tears to my eyes. Only recently has my pain been strong enough to allow myself tears, and only this book, hitting so close to home, has brought them out of me.

The second time reading your book, I stop as certain passages bring back memories as far back as saying my first words and many more painful memories.

I have never felt so completely hopeless and lost as in recent days. All I know is I hate my pain and I want it to stop, and I certainly don’t want it to last as long as yours did. In one way, I really don’t like knowing how sick I am, because it seems like so much to go through. On the other hand, I am grateful and feel like your book saved my life, reaffirming the fact that I have always know that what was in me would kill me before it would go away on its own.

I don’t know for sure where to go for the help I know I need. I don’t know for sure what kind of help I need, except I know I need a lot. You have many times heard people, when undertaking something say, “If it saves one life, it’s worth it.” Well, I am writing to verify to you that your book was worth it. If I am ever in Austin, I will look you up and thank you in person. If you are ever coming to St. Louis, I would enjoy meeting you. Please call ahead.

Forever grateful,

Joe L.

Dear Who Never Felt So Hopeless and Lost,

You know what fire and rescue teams try to get into our heads? If you’re lost in the wilderness, stay put and they will come find you, and yet nearly everyone tries to find their own way out and they end up getting terribly lost for days or weeks, or die out there because they were so afraid no one would come find them.

It’s okay to be where you are. Be where you are. Be where you are so that you can move out of it.

Then there’s the old saying, when the student is ready, the teacher will come. Once again there is great wisdom in getting still, silent, and trusting that now that you are hopeless and lost someone is on their way.

While we are hating our pain, we must give it time to prepare us for the healing, and God, that’s hard to do. I hated my pain so much I did everything I could to numb it with alcohol, women, and work. None of them worked. It was going into the pain, letting myself be scared of where my pain would take me. I felt there was so much in me, no firefighter or rescue squad would ever find me if I just stood still and trust and wait, trust and wait. So I grew wings and flew from the pain, flying from woman to woman, job to job, beer to beer and rum, whiskey, and vodka. Man, did I rack up some frequent flyer miles on this body. I couldn’t commit to anyone or anything too long for fear if I landed someone would find out who I really was and how much wreckage and trauma had been put in my young body as a child and adolescent.

Finally, my soul sickness caught up with me, and like you, I really did have the intellectual awareness at least that, as you said in your letter, “what was in me would kill me before it went away on its own.”

So once upon a time, long, long ago in a house on 9th Street in Austin in a shabby house even God wouldn’t live in just as the sun was sinking down and the moon was slowly rising, Laurel, the woman who left me saying I was angry and full of sadness, came around one more time.

Bottom line, she, the forest ranger of feeling and search party for a young man’s pain, came and found me. From dusk until dawn I was like a newborn colt who fell into the deep grass of her arms and I wept out, screamed out, three decades of pain as she held me and kept saying, while she couldn’t come back she wasn’t going away that long night into the darkness that was in me so deep I didn’t want her or anyone else to ever see.

So, my friend, like I said years ago when I was playing my own music regularly, “Pain, I love it, it will make me a country singer…” Then there is the whole other point of view, get up off your ass and go find a therapist who has done their own work and who keeps doing it, a counselor who helps take you into your body as well as your brain, a men’s group who will support you while, as the poet Rilke says:

Sometimes a man stands up at supper and walks outdoors and keeps on walking because a church that stands somewhere in the East and his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.

While other men stay inside with the dishes and glasses and dies there while he forces his children to go far out into the world to find the same church which he forgot. Translated by Robert Bly

So Dear Never Felt So Helpless, I see you in the woods, while you wait for direction, wait to be found or on the road and looking for that “church” that can help us heal.

John