NPR has a story this week about loneliness in American men, and I just listened to a new podcast from Steven Forrest about astrology in which the question of Mars out-of-bounds in Capricorn plays a large role. Both of these audio stories come at the same problem from two different directions, one scientific and social and the other astrological and magical. Yet both are concerned with fundamentally the same subject — the relative solitude of men and the toxic ways that hurts them individually and hurts us all societally.
The NPR story focuses on the health impacts of loneliness — issues of personal health, such as heart disease, seem to magnify when someone is alone. Mental health takes a beating; lonely men are more likely to commit suicide, or take out their loneliness on romantic partners — or lose their connections to romantic partners due to their refusal to take on emotional labor related to making new friends. Older men in their fifties and above tend to be much more unforgiving of other men who are lonely — which magnifies the risks of solitude, of course.
Steven Forrest in his podcast speaks of the challenges of Mars out-of-bounds. In astrology, of course, Mars is the warrior and the soldier, both the primal hunter and the dignified general. In astrology, the position of Mars in the sky at any given time speaks to the mundane challenges of the age, and the individual challenges of a single person; at the moment, Mars stands in Capricorn which represents the norms and ordinary regulation of society — and Mars is out of bounds, somehow outside those norms and regulations and desperate to figure out where he’s supposed to fit.
For Mr. Forrest, Mars is about many different kinds of energies and archetypes. The loving father, the fierce but careful warrior, the general in command of legions, the serial killer, the dignified torchbearer, the arsonist. Mars stands in as both Beowulf and Grendel — the chief who fights for his people and the monster stalking the darkness of the hall. Mars is both the honorable man who defends house and home and family, and the stalking youth who plans to attack a school. Mars out of bounds thus carries with it the image of the protective warrior going a little insane, and lacking clarity about what he’s supposed to protect. The NPR story says that men who are lonely, who don’t know how to form new friendships or awaken connections to others, are a serious health risk to themselves and to others. According to the NPR story, for the first time in American history, older men are at as-serious risk of suicide as their teenage and early-twenties compatriots… there’s a kind of unfulfilled longing to be part of something, to be remembered and valued; one might call it a desire to join the ancestors honorably and justifiably. And that means that we have to have clear models of how one joins the ancestors, and what acts are forever beyond the pale. For me, Forrest’s point is well taken: as he said, we all of us (men and women) have a little Mars in us, and if that little-Mars doesn’t have good role-models, it will take the bad ones.
Talking about it with my partner this morning, and with others online, I realized that part of the reason I’ve invested so heavily mentally and physically in Toastmasters over the last five years (I belong to two different clubs, hold nine different education awards, and have served in nine different club and district-level offices. I am not a biased observer).
Toastmasters has been the place where I have activated some of my higher Mars archetypes. I don’t think I’ve ever been at risk of suicide or poor health due to loneliness… but in part that’s been because I’ve have a wonderful community of men and women colleagues in my two clubs and in my larger division and district — I see them several times a month at meetings and conferences, I trade emails with them often… and MOST importantly, I hear them speak about their hopes and dreams and interests at length; and I offer them constructive feedback and opinion on how to get better at expressing themselves intellectually and emotionally. In return, I get the same feedback, advice, and evaluation.
More than that, though, I get a community. We shake hands every meeting, occasionally back-slap or hug, and connect on the issues and topics that are important to us. We get to talk about our passions to a caring audience, and practice going deeper in a relatively safe space, when we get to know one another a little better as individuals. We sit down and have lunch or supper together. We engage one another in our personal projects, too, and help one another launch our efforts to support and grow our particular local organizations, and the larger work of our Areas, Divisions and Districts.
I don’t want to say it’s the only place I’ve learned emotional intelligence skills as an adult, because it’s certainly not. But a Toastmasters club is a place to practice this particular magic of not being lonely any more. It’s not for everyone, either. But it did work for me, and I often recommend to everyone I know who’s wrestling with these issues, or with the related issues of professional and interpersonal communication and leadership.
It’s nice to have places to practice magic with others, after all.