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Ritual and Spirit

An Interview with Tom Daly

Copyright © 1995 by Bert H. Hoff

This article appeared in the December 1995 issue of M.E.N. Magazine

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Tom Daly is a nationally respected elder in men's soul work. M.E.N. Magazine editor Bert Hoff called him in Colorado to discuss his current work and interests.

Bert: In a nutshell, what is the common thread to the men's work you are doing?

Tom: The common thread through everything I'm doing now is the piece about shadow. I got into this work as many men do through my own process of self-discovery. I found that my bottom line interest is working with the parts of myself that are in the shadow, the parts of me that I don't like or that I've rejected, denied, or projected onto others.

So what I do in my work is create ritual containers so that men or men and women together can bring out the shadows in themselves, so that they can be true to themselves, and be blessed for their whole being. That includes those parts of themselves that they formerly thought were awful, too hot to handle, too grandiose, too painful, or too bizarre. We all have those parts. To get at this shadow material I do what I call Shadow Work or Shadow Dance. In all the workshops or trainings I do include those pieces.

Bert: What kinds of workshops do you do? I know you do men's leadership training, and that you lead a number of ritual workshops for men.

Tom: Yes, I'm still doing the Men's Council Project Leadership Training Program which is now in its sixth year and I also lead a variety of weekend workshops for men on topics like: initiation, race, gender, and money. Right now I'm getting ready for another Inner King Training which I created with Bill Kauth and Cliff Barry. Bill had a vision about a King training years and years ago. He put out a call and I was one of five men that responded. It has come down to the three of us now. Cliff is the originator of Shadow Work, I created Shadow Dance, and Bill held the vision and the organizational piece. The key to the Inner King Training is empowering men to re-own parts of themselves that they have projected onto authority figures, kingly figures, godly figures, or higher Selves. The King Training gives men the opportunity to take the negative projections off their higher Self. When they do that, they often feel a tremendous compassion for themselves and others. Even though it's called the Inner King Training it has a lot to do with the lover. I believe that the Lover is probably the hardest of Moore and Gillette's four basic archetypes (King, Warrior, Magician, Lover) for modern men to embody in a positive way.

Bert: Can you talk a little more about your men's leadership training?

Tom: We conceive of the Leadership Training Program as a way for men to get in touch with their indigenous intelligence. What we mean by that is their cellular knowledge. That includes feeling themselves in their bodies, feeling their connection to their surroundings, remembering the wisdom in their instinctual selves, and reconnecting and honoring the primal wisdom of maleness. The place where we hold this training is very beautiful and it helps men to open their hearts and connect with each other and themselves and remember their most fundamental wisdom. We help bring out the best in them.

Bert: I think you also do workshops for men and women, could you briefly describe those?

Tom: With my wife, Jude Blitz, and our partners Cliff Barry and Mary Ellen Blanford we do a workshop called The Power of Paradox. Basically it makes the assumption that we all have difficult paradoxical situations in our lives and when we get stuck on one side or the other we are miserable because then we project that other side onto our partners, the other gender, other races, or other nations. Healing comes when we can own both sides, own our projected shadows.

The POP Training gives us a chance to see that we're all in this together. The whole process is about a flow rather than being stuck in one place. People come out of POP workshops feeling very relieved that they've been able to experience a rejected inner part such as a witch or a tyrannical parent or a gangster or whatever. They also have an opportunity to experience the inner saint or super hero or wise elder that they have projected. As you know, that golden shadow material can be just as repressed. In fact it's often more difficult to own our disowned positive than our negative. That same thing process of owning and blessing all our many selves happens in the Leadership Training Program, the Inner King Training … all my work.

Bert: Marion Woodman has this imagery that I love, about the paradox of being in two places at once. It's not either/or. When you don't try to resolve the paradox by going to one end or the other, but leave yourself in that empty space stretched between the two ends of the paradox, some third thing that you never would have envisioned emerges.

Tom: Yes, that is the wonderful mystery that can emerge when we are blessed for all of who we are.

Bert: I understand that you are big on ritual work. Could you say why you feel that is so important?

Tom: This comes out of my personal story. I got both a sense of appreciation and fear of ritual from being raised a Catholic. As a kid I was fascinated by all the pomp and ceremony of the church. I felt there was something to it because I was actually moved by it. At some point I started getting interested in personal ritual, or what I call radical ritual. By radical ritual I mean ritual that individuals use for self-empowerment. I got so interested that I've made it a life-long study. I'm fascinated by how ritual, ceremony, and the creation of sacred containers makes learning and healing possible. I've studied rituals from all over the world and have looked for the common threads and unifying forces in them. In every event that I do I create some kind of ritual container in which to hold the work.

Fragmentation is a huge problem in our society. We're all fractured. We don't feel like we're at home, or that we belong. In the work I do, I create a connection to place and community and to both inner diversity and outer diversity. We bring in all the directions, a three hundred sixty degree connection and feeling, so that everyone has a chance to feel that he or she is not just an isolated little ego, that we're actually connected with all that is. There's no dogma attached to this, it's very generic. There's space for many different beliefs.

Bert: Earlier you said that all of your workshops involve shadow work. I take it that you see a clear connection between ritual work and shadow work.

Tom: Yes. Shadow Work and Shadow Dance are tools for the kind of ritual work that we do. Sometimes I feel these are unfortunate names because when most people think of shadow they think of the dark side. We have to explain that we're talking about positive parts that we deny and reject too. Without a sacred ritual container shadow work is what we do every day . We get more and more fragmented because we have no larger container for facing our shadows. Without a sacred container participants could leave a workshop more wounded than they came. If we are shamed by somebody at work or we have a huge argument with someone in our family, there is no ritual container for that. It goes right into the shadow bag. Healing doesn't happen because we can't connect the event to the larger circle, the mythic and the sacred.

And don't get me wrong, ritual containers don't eliminate pain and wounding. Cults are an example of the negative potential of ritual. Ritual containers can be very damaging if participants don't have the freedom to leave or refuse anything that isn't right for them.

Bert: You're striking a chord with me. That's something I've been thinking about for awhile. A lot of people who do workshops or rituals do an opening of the person. It seems that people may not pay enough attention to the importance of closing. Once the spirit and soul are open in a ritual, everything comes out, and you do all this shadow work, it's important to do the necessary ritual closing to encase the person again, bless him, and send him out into the world.

Tom: That's absolutely essential. We are very poor at endings in this culture. In all our workshops we take special care to ensure there's a clear closure at the end and that everyone experiences this. We make sure they have a sense of protection and give them tools to help them, so that they can go out in the world feeling that their boundaries are in place. We need our Warrior energy on line to protect us. In many workshops as we make deep connections with one another and our higher selves, we basically go into the Lover place. But we need to keep our Warrior engaged to make sure that we keep appropriate boundaries. We want that protection, that ability to say, " No, I don't want to do that," or "That's too much", or "I don't want to speak about that." That closing work is absolutely essential.

Another essential part of closing is thanksgiving. We give thanks for what happened, even if sometimes we don't understand clearly what did happened. At the least we can honor our unknowing or our living the questions.

We always work on integration too, how to take the work back into your community, into your family, or into your men's group. If we know that a man or woman is in a group or has a support system, we talk about how to get more strength there. We try to make sure that everybody has a court of support. We believe that is one of the wisdoms of the sovereign quarter, forming a court of support.

A lot of the pain and the dis-ease that we experience in our lives comes from our lack of support. It's almost generic in our culture that we don't get enough support. The whole sense of feeling homeless, rootless, and the large number of homeless people in society, comes from that disconnection. Lack of support is also manifested in violence and addiction patterns. One great aspect of Shadow Work and Shadow Dance is that you can bring the addiction pattern, or anger right into the workshop. You can dance it out or work it out as a part of the process. There's nothing too hot to handle. No subject is off limits.

We can also deal with the cultural issues in these situations. Nothing is strictly personal. They're community issues, world issues. It's a collective process that we're in. Some problems that we can't seem to solve in ourselves are there because they are problems in the world right now. Everybody's working with them, the solutions have to be lived out. We'll all have to dance the problem until we all get some sense of how to deal with it.

The isolation problem is now being addressed at many levels. There are some really wonderful things happening in psychology, and in business, surprisingly. Innovative businessmen are beginning to see that community building and collaborative learning are really essential for success. They are allowing for a kind of opening to happen within the business community. They have started asking some of the deeper questions, similar questions to what a psychologist would ask, or to what someone in our mythopoetic men's movement would ask. It's very exciting.

Bert: Have you read David Whyte's book, Order on-lineThe Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul of Corporate America ?

Tom: No, not yet, but I have the sense that Whyte is resonating with Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline, Paul Hawkin in The Ecology of Commerce, and Margaret Wheatley in Leadership and the New Science. There is some wonderful synergy happening.

Bert: James Hillman, in his new book, Kinds of Power, asks us to re-envision power in a much more deep and broad way, that power isn't control over you, that power can involve maintenance and service, and the power of presence, the power of veto, the power of saying no, the power of making a stand. So I see a lot of threads coming together on the business end.

Tom: In the Jungian tradition there is a notion, that we hold in Shadow Work and Shadow Dance, that the deepest, darkest parts of us, no matter how far they've been down in the psyche and no matter how repressed they are, always have gold in them. The gift is in the shadow. This notion is appearing in a lot of cutting edge work, in Connierae Andreas' process called Core Transformation and in Arnold Mindell's Process Therapy. There is tremendous faith implicit in all this work that if one allows the difficult material to come up in a safe container then the answer emerges. As you were saying earlier about Marion Woodman's idea, if you can hold this place of paradox in a sacred container then a third option can emerge. The people with the problems actually have the solutions. That to me is a wonderful, trusting premise that diversity actually has the answers within it. If we allow the minority opinions, and what's on the edges, and what gets marginalized to come forward, if we allow those voices to be heard, then the answer will be there somewhere for us. That's really exciting. And all the more so because it's happening on so many different levels, in business, psychology, the arts, and even politics.

Bert: I'd like to go back to something you were saying earlier about personal ritual. You were saying that anything can happen in a sacred space. What that brought to my mind was something I read in Robert Johnson's book Owning Your Own Shadow, that the unconscious can't tell reality from non-reality-the psyche is unaware of the difference between an outer act and an interior one. If I feel angry at someone, then if I act this out in some ritual in a ceremonial space it's just as impactful as if I had done it in the real world.

Tom: Yes. That is one of the premises of Shadow Work, that you can actually set up situations where you encounter your mom or your dad, your boss, your partner, or whomever you have an issue with. By acting out the situation in ritual space your body feels you going through it, and says "yes, this is possible." For instance, if you are taking back your metaphoric balls from your mother, and you actually have a chance to ritualize that and, say, go through a gauntlet of resistance and get those balls back, you integrate that on many levels, not just intellectually.

In the Hawaiian Huna tradition, they see spirit flowing down into the physical body and then coming back up through the other bodies, the emotional body, the intellectual body, and then into the spiritual body. It doesn't flow from the top down as we often conceive of it in western spiritual traditions. The manna flows down into your physical body first, and then it comes back up and is integrated by your ego and your higher self. Your higher self can call it forth, but it actually comes in through the physical body.

There are at least two reasons why a lot of talk therapies don't stick. One is that they aren't done in the context of sacred space or ritual space. The other is that they are not physicalized. The body doesn't feel connected.

Bert: Marion Woodman talks about bringing spirit into body, and she sees drumming and body work and motion work as very integral to the work that she's doing.

Tom: Yes that's essential. That's my sense of why Shadow Work and Shadow Dance are so potent, because both are body-based. You stand up and move through the whole process. There's often music, it's an experience for the whole being.

You can get all your inner characters out there, and decide which ones of them you want to play. Then you can dance any of those characters in the Shadow Dance. It's a wonderful way to try out possibilities in a really safe place. There aren't many opportunities to do that in everyday life, unless you found a "Come As You Are," "Suppressed Desire," and "Halloween Party" all in one. And then you still wouldn't be in the sacred context. It wouldn't be in a learning community. All those elements are essential for a feeling of completeness, a feeling that you're okay the way you are, that you don't have to fix yourself.

That's the other important belief of our work. There isn't something wrong with you that has to be fixed. We are all longing to know that we are okay, that we are enough the way we are, and that all those processes and rituals and initiations that we've had in our lives were perfect for us. When our wounds can be made sacred and acknowledged and blessed, then we don't have to continue old patterns that keep rubbing salt in the wounds.

Another assumption in our work is that these seemingly intractable patterns that we have in us are there because we needed them for survival at the time we took them on. It's another paradox that we take on negative patterns as a way of honoring our connection to our parents or grandparents or somebody in our lineage, or the Catholic Church, or whatever. We keep certain patterns in place in our lives as a way of loving them. Once we can love them more clearly, completely, and spontaneously, we don't have to repeat that same addictive pattern or repressive pattern over and over. By going through the process in a community, a village environment where everybody honors and blesses your process, you can actually complete it. You can come to a resolution with some part of yourself with which you seemed to be at odds.

Bert: You just reminded me of an e-mail that I got from a man from the Netherlands. He said that he's thirty-two years old and he's been feeling adrift, and he's been moved by Malidoma Somé's books. He says that he is crying for initiation. He's hoping for someplace he can go to have that kind of initiation experience and be accepted. You're suggesting that ritual and initiation needs to happen in a village, and the community that most men have is not the same.

Tom: I would tell him to reach out to his local community because there probably is somebody there that has the same kind of awakening consciousness. I know it takes tremendous courage to put up a little sign up somewhere, or call a couple of others, friends or whatever, to take the risk. That was how I started in men's work myself. I believe that the call is so important, that we have to put out the call. We can't wait for someone to give us the answer.

Bert: I don't think that response would be very satisfactory to him. What he's saying is that he's aware of other cultures and that he can go someplace and do a particular thing under particular elders, and at the end of that experience he will be initiated. There's something about that question that is sticking in my soul. I'm not sure that you can go somewhere and have somebody give you something. It strikes me that it might be more productive to find ways to incorporate ritual into your own life and to recognize your own initiations.

Tom: Yes, and for that man to really feel initiated, he would have to be part of a village, be part of a community somewhere. He certainly could go on a solo vision quest and get tremendous value out of it, but at some point he would have to bring that vision he received back to the people, and have it recognized and blessed by an elder for the process to be complete.

We all have that problem, there aren't enough spiritual elders in our culture for everybody to have that feeling of having made it to adulthood. You and I know that man has already been through a lot of initiations. Probably most of them just were not blessed. If his many small initiations into manhood had been blessed then he probably would now be asking a different question. I really feel that if he's asking the question, then there's a part of him that's almost there. What isn't there is a community of support, but his desire can create what he longs for. That's what I meant by the call. The call is very strong right now. The longing itself calls up the answer. The longing itself is part of the question that he's living right now. So if he stays with that longing he will get an answer. He will magnetize a response.

Bert: You are plugging in so much to what David Whyte talks about in The Heart Aroused. Thomas Moore hits on this theme, and the religious and spiritual people talk on that theme too. Rumi is a classic example. I am aware of this longing in me. As soon as I open up and become aware enough to recognize the longing and let myself fall fully into the experience of longing, then some answer that is perfect and right for me will emerge.

Tom: It's part of the cycle that we go through. We start being fearful or angry. When we move through the anger the grief often comes, or the longing comes. The heart opens, and we get the blessing. It's the completion of the cycle, and then we start over again.

Bert: Do you equate grief, then, with longing? Robert Bly spends a lot of time on grief work. But he doesn't talk about longing.

Tom: There are many kinds of grief. One of them has this kind of longing quality.

Bert: Then I can do a differentiation. Tom Golden, who has written a couple of articles for us on men, grief and ritual, talks about the grief of a loss. [Ed.-Tom Golden has a Web site devoted to grief, at] A parent dies, or a divorce happens. The term grief as you are using it now is a lot more eclectic. I think Robert Bly would use it in that sense as well, that it's not attached to any particular life crisis, but it's more like an emptiness of the soul.

Tom: Grief can have a lot of those different qualities. In fact that's a question I often ask if I see tears starting in a man's or a woman's eyes in a workshop. I say, "What kind of grief is that?" You get the nuances of a person's soul when you ask that question. They know.

I recognize this place well from my own experience. When I'm in grief sometimes its very satisfying, and sometimes it feels very blocked, and the tears burn. There might be a lot of anger in it. At other times it's a joy to be crying. And at still other times there's that longing place. I have a heart-ache, I feel that whatever is happening isn't working right, or it's not enough or incomplete. The question, "What kind of grief is that?" brings up as many answers as there are people. Grief is such a complicated thing because it's human. It's as complicated as we are. The other theme I love about the discussion around grief is that it answers so many questions about this culture and us as individuals. Both Michael Meade's and Malidoma Somé's books, Men and the Water of Life and Of Water and the Spirit , are about the grief water. I have heard Some talk about grief as being the antidote for this hot culture and the burning and the violence that we are going through right now. I totally agree. It's obvious that the Promise Keepers have grief as a big piece of their work, too. There are lots of tears at a Promise Keepers' event. Those men's hearts are opening. They are dropping down into a place where the water of life is available.

Bert: You connect water with grief. I'd like to read you a poem by David Whyte, "The Well of Grief."

Those who will not slip beneath
	the still surface on the well of grief
turning downward through its black water
	to the place we cannot breathe
will never know the source from which we drink,
	the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering
	the small round coins
thrown away by those who wished for something else.

Tom: That's great. Your reading reminds me that poetry is a way of praying and helping us touch into the deeper places in ourselves. Poetry opens up the heart, creates a sense of possibility and connection. It gives us a chance to come into a place that a lot of us haven't been for a while. We are discovering our wholeness we are redefining what it means to be men in this culture. It wasn't okay to cry in our fathers generation. We learned what it cost them and we want to live life differently.

Bert: I'm sure you've heard Michael Meade and Malidoma Somé's response to that. They point out that when we cry, and actually allow tears to leave our eyes and leave our body, there's a physical and hormonal change that happens to us, that opens us up.

Tom: Yes, I certainly know that in myself.

Bert: And then when you talk about grief and longing I think of Marion Woodman's meditation prayer from T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets."

I said to my soul, be still,
And wait without hope,
for hope would be hope for the wrong thing.
And wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing.
There is yet faith,
but the faith and the hope and the love are all in the waiting.
And do not think,
for you are not yet ready for thought.
So the Darkness shall be the Light,
and the Stillness the Dancing.

Tom: That's beautiful. That's bringing in the Lover. In Shadow Work we think of the Lover quarter as the one that brings in the tears. Grief becomes the gateway to the Lover quarter, the place of connection.

Bert: I also hear so much of the longing in there, that when we long we need the opportunity for the soul to be still.

Tom: That's another great piece. In order for me to feel my longing I have to slow down. I have to get off the workaholic treadmill, and slow down enough to pay attention. I think that's another essential part of what I'm doing lately; slowing down enough so that I can feel the longing and the tears.

I had a dream in response to a question I've had about what to do about living in such a hot, violent culture. Many times in my dream imagery our culture is symbolized by a powerful locomotive speeding along the tracks. How can I as an individual ever do anything about it?. Maybe I could jump off the train? Then where would I be? I'd be off the train but not connected to many of my people. In the dream I allowed water to start coming onto the tracks. It doesn't take much water on the tracks, just a couple of inches, to slow the train almost to a stop. I woke up from that dream very happy, because I viewed that water as representing the dreamtime, the unconscious, the tears, the water of life. This freight train of civilization can be slowed. It's part of my mission in life to help in the slowing down process. I try to bring this home with me. I'm doing a lot more gardening now and fewer workshops. My wife and I are doing a Sabbath every week that we're home. It's a very personal thing with us, it's something that we get to live in our everyday lives more and more. The slowing down has made an enormous difference in our lives. We honor the sacred. We rest. The Warrior in me says, "Let's go right on doing things." But now there's another part of me that says, "Okay, lets' use that Warrior energy to protect sacred space around Sabbath."

Bert: What the Bible says is to keep this day holy. What you just said was to keep this day sacred, to be in that sacred space one day a week. And interesting things happen.

Tom: It's amazing how tranformative it is.

Bert: Do you do the spice box?

Tom: Yes, the Havdalah ritual.

Bert: Elaborate on that. My vision of that from the one or two that I've been to is that when you leave the sacred space you sniff the spice box, eat some food, and do other things that bring you back into the physical world to celebrate the sacredness and the wonderful beauty and richness of the world around you.

Tom: That's right. We have the reminder to smell the sweetness of life at the very end. We acknowledge the polarities and the paradoxes and then we blow out the candles. It's a wonderful ritual, and it's really helped me to remember to slow down.

We always make that slowing down a part of our workshops. We randomly ring a bell or ask for a few moments of silence. In the Leadership Training Program, after each piece of work is done we pause and allow for integration before we go on to the next piece. The pauses are so important because they recognize that silent time, that sweet time, that time of nourishment that you were talking about.

We need the stillness because we're such a hungry culture. We are always going right on to the next thing. We're making ourselves and the whole world sick, so we have to figure out some way to redefine what it means to be human. I don't believe that certain cultures in the past had it all together. I believe that we're all evolving as a whole. We're all doing the best we can right now. As Walt Whitman says, "There never was any more good or bad than there is now, there never was any more heaven or hell than there is now." I agree with that. The world is not better or worse than it ever was. We're always just doing the best we can. When we can feel those moments when we are okay just being, then the whole universe breathes a sigh of relief with us.

Tom can be reached at: PO Box 17341, Boulder, CO

FAX: 303-530-3337, e-mail:

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