On Being Better Humans — With Eric Bowers


Last week I got quite a gift. My friend and colleague Eric Bowers, shown above left on the zoom screen, invited me to an interview for his podcast on The Golden Repair.

Eric is an interesting guy. He’s an artist. A musician. A farmer. A group leader. An author. He plays a mean didgeridoo and guitar. I know Eric primarily through our connection at Soultime, a regular gathering for men’s work and men in community.

Eric recorded the program. The video is a bit wifi-challenged, but is here. If you prefer the audio only, you can download it here.

It’s a gift to be invited to reflect, which is what Eric did with me. I didn’t know the questions in advance, which is really how I prefer it. He surprised me with a few. It’s exciting to me to feel the improv-ness, the in-the-moment-ness of the encounter, the unscriptedness.

This is a long one (54 minutes). With slow-speaking. It covers a lot of territory, including some threads from my growing up years in Edmonton as a sports kid, my years in faith community when I was practicing Mormon. It carries forward to the work I do with groups and some of what I would call the fundamental issues of our times — being better humans, reclaiming an ability to live in the tensions, dislocating certainties, acknowledging the fears of our times, becoming adaptive, recognizing the medicine that men need from men, and sense-making that only comes with community.

It was fun to do, to reflect on these threads of life and work over the years. It’s some of my story, listened out of me in the moment, thanks to Eric.

I hope it might open some of your own reflecting.



I Want To Hear Our Voices

In 2014 I wrote a poem, “I Want To Hear Our Voices.”

To help explore the uniqueness of men in inquiry together. For healing. For wholeness.

I wrote it after waking from a dream. It is the yearning that I hear in many men and in men’s work that comes from a place beneath the calcified surface.

I’ve shared it with a few people recently, who have asked me to share it further.

For inspiration…

I Want to Hear Our Voices
Tenneson Woolf, January 2014

There is something I want in the company of men. I think it may be masculinity.
Theirs and mine.

Mine that has weathered away
like chipped paint,
flakes blown to the corner of the garage with the other dirt and debris,
where nearby hangs a rake and a hoe.

We’ve been silenced, men, haven’t we?
Our deeper knowing voices.
By ourselves. By societal habit.
Distracted by the games of contemporary life, the battle rooms of sport and work.

Addicted to the numbing of spirit
that comes from a bottle, a remote control, and wifi.

What is true for you, real for you, man?
For us, men?
I want to hear our voices.
Not the ones that we routinely speak
to impress our women, or silence them.
Not the guarded ones like when we first meet other men,
proving ourselves, chests puffed, feathers plumed, and cocks dragging.

Like, are you afraid that your youth is passing? I am. I’ve started dreaming about it lately.
It was always there for me.
But then, in a blink, it wasn’t.

I usually can’t squat to tie my shoe.
I have to get on one knee.
The man I see in the mirror
has wrinkled, squinted eyes like my uncles, like my grandmother. And what is left of my hair is cut very short.

because it’s the best way I know to work with absence.

I want to hear what is real to you. What aches to ooze
from your silence, your wound, from your buried DNA memory that knows we need each other.

Without apology. Without performance.

Just raw and true for you.
I want to hear what are you chasing in those images,
in your dreams,
or in that porn?

And what is chasing you? To be born.
To find you.
To claim you.

To call you, brother.

from the silence,
from the song,
from the drum,
I want to hear our voices.

from the silence,
from the song,
from the drum,
I want to hear our voices.


Goodbye Son

A poem I wrote earlier this year, from a tender moment of saying goodbye.

“Goodbye Son.”
That’s what I said to him,
holding back my tears,
when he went south to begin college.

He left with one of my old frying pans
and a wooden spatula I’d been given recently.
And a new crockpot I bought for him,
like one that my grandparents gave to me
when I moved away.

I wished I could have given him more.

“I’m proud of you.
You have a good heart.
A good mind.
Do some good.”

We hugged.
Two softened men.
He held it a little extra,
which was tender to me,
and which was what I wanted to do.

“I wish for him everything
that I would wish for myself.”
That’s what I said to the stars
as he drove away that night.

“Good friends.
Good teachers.
Opening up in his soul.
People who love him.
People who can see him
and know immediately
how absolutely stunning he is
just as he is.”

Steady Work

I had a kind of aha experience this weekend, gathered in a four day men’s retreat called Soultime. It’s worth noting that in this retreat there is nothing that we need to produce. Not a plan. Not a project implementation schedule. Instead it is a collection of good men, eleven of us, in a lot of figurative hunting in the forest that is soul. Men learning together — through exploring, sharing dream fragments, listening to story, eating, cooking, cleaning, singing, dancing, silence — well this is highly productive.

I was joking with one of the guys as he was doing dishes. I wanted to compliment him in a playful way. “As my Grandpa used to say, if you keep this up, we’ll get you on steady.” It was mostly just fun to say. We laughed together and I got to remember my Grandpa, Billie Gould, who passed away last year at 98 years old.

I got to thinking, “steady work” was a big thing for my Grandpa. He lived through the great depression of the 30s and 40s. He had a sixth grade education, and a family. Steady work meant providing for family. It meant meals on the table. It meant wood for the stove. Steady work was security.

Steady work is important to me also. A part of the aha is realizing that I carry some of the anxieties my Grandpa had. My circumstances are far different than his. Funny how genetics can carry fears through generations, embedding emotions when there is no or little direct experience, right.

I learned on the weekend that steady still feels important. It just looks different that it did for Grandpa. Steady is being willing to challenge thoughts and assumptions that no longer fit an evolving world. Steady is practices of kindness, simplicity, courage to remain honest enough to acknowledge mystery.

Steady work. A job well done. I want this too. Need it. Maybe, like many of us. Steady presencing and clarity in self as regular practice.

Thank you Soultime brothers, friends. For dishes and friendship that remind me of a new kind of steady and why it matters so much to me.