What Whales Can Teach Us about the Masculine
by Dr. Deborah Taj Anapol, Ph.D.
The tropical sun glints on the ocean waters like liquid silk. The wind is unbelievably still today on the Silver Banks, the surface of the water flat and clear as a mountain lake. These conditions make it extraordinarily easy to spot the movements of the humpback whales we have come to see. This huge coral reef off the coast of the Dominican Republic is the destination for thousands of humpback whales who come each winter to mate and give birth. It is also the destination for a couple of dozen sea going humans attracted to this rare, legal opportunity to visit with the whales in the heart of their Atlantic breeding grounds.
Our Zodiac raft glides quickly through the calm waters toward a cacophony of spouts and tail slapping. Suddenly, a huge body arches out of the water, only a few yards from our craft. The rasping sound of the water being ejected from the whale's blowhole takes our breath away. Three other whales appear nearby, jostling each other for position. Our Captain tells us we've come upon a "rowdy group" of young males, each hoping to mate with the lone female.
Intent upon their mission, these whales pay no attention to us at all as we track their movements from a respectful distance. We are awed by the power of this display as we float in the hormone soup of the whales' wake. Over and over the group dives and resurfaces, moving quickly as first one, then another nudge each other aside like giant bumper cars in an attempt to take the lead. Meanwhile the female frolics gracefully, just out of reach. We can feel the intensity build as this game goes on and on.
My friend, renowned interspecies communication expert Penelope Smith, who has organized this trip, tells us that on the physiological level this demonstration of sheer raw male energy is simply part of the whales' mating ritual. There's no wild emotion being acted out, there's nothing held afterwards. No intrigue, no manipulation, no anger, no karma. It's a pure, clean, dynamic assertion of force with no ill intent. Although their interaction is potentially lethal, injuries are uncommon and death extremely rare. In the distance past, Penelope says, rivalry between human males was more like this. It was not a feeling of revenge or "I'm gonna get you," but more an innocent acceptance that if you were a powerful man others would challenge you and eventually one would defeat you.
At this close range, I can feel the truth of this strange paradox myself. Strange because in our unnatural human world we have come to associate aggression with anger, with violence, with danger. But none of us feels the slightest fear of these huge, activated creatures even though we know that if they wanted to they could annihilate us all with one slap of their huge tails. These whales are neither shy nor polite about expressing their maleness, but I feel no trace of anger or meanness, no hint of danger, though I wouldn't want to swim in between them at this moment! Instead, we human females are in awe of the whales' virility, drinking it in deeply. I find this primal male energy inspiring and oddly comforting.
On a spiritual level, Penelope observes that what's going on is that the males are expressing their beingness, showing themselves so that the female can choose the one which is most appropriate to father her child. She is intent upon discovering which energy will be right for the next generation and she weighs many factors. In a sense, the males are not really competing. They too want the best offspring to be created, whether or not it is their own genetic heir, but meanwhile they're carrying out their hormonal program. It is not a matter of the toughest whale winning, as some biologists think. Rather, the female consciously chooses a mate and invites him to descend to the depths of the ocean to continue the mating dance with her. The males all honor her choice.
Later, back on the triple deck catamaran that is our home for the week, we share about the day's experiences. My friend David says he felt uncomfortable watching the whales' display of male competition. It brought up feelings of shame about aggressive male behavior and fear that the women were judging him for being a pushy man.
I was grateful for David's emotional honesty and vulnerability and quickly acknowledged him for leading the group to a higher level of intimacy. At the same time, his words ignited a tremendous grief in me.
As a woman, my life has been impoverished by a relative absence of the very energy David was embarrassed to be associated with. We hear a great deal these days about the return of the Goddess, but not so much about the return of the God. Robert Bly's "wild man" not withstanding, our culture has very nearly lost touch with an aggressive but benevolent masculinity. I miss the opportunity to interact with clean masculine power in most men I come into contact with, and I have had difficulty finding and cultivating this power within myself. Or to put it another way, my internal balance has been pretty shaky until recently because I had no opportunity to internalize a strong masculine presence.
As David spoke, an image came to me from the videotape of a Pelvic-Heart Integration session I'd produced just before going on the whale trip. It was an image of Dr. Jack Painter working with a male client who is lying on his back with his arms extended struggling to harmonize his masculine and feminine sides. Jack is pressing his palms against the client's palms and urging him to unleash the full force of his masculine power.
"Give me your male energy, use more force, use your voice." Jack coaches. "This is what you didn't get from your father!"
Balance Is Not Neutral
When it comes to power or status, the man who is out of balance has two choices in his stance toward women: He can be dominant or submissive. Likewise, the unbalanced woman has the same two choices. Since opposites are complementary on this dimension, a submissive woman will attract a dominant man, and a submissive man will attract a dominant woman. These complementary pairings are compatible up to a point, but have several fatal flaws that sooner or later will sabotage the relationship.
A complete description of these flaws is beyond the scope of this brief article; so for now let's just say that when the man is in the submissive position he views the woman as controlling, demanding, and dangerous. He tends to withdraw, thus triggering the dominant woman's anger and disappointment with the man who can't be fully present and supportive. It's a vicious cycle. When the woman is in the submissive position, she too views the man as controlling, demanding, and dangerous. She tends to charm him with her sexual allure, which satisfies him at first, but creates a superficial, hollow connection. She becomes increasingly shut down and unreachable and he becomes frustrated by her inability to truly receive him. Another vicious cyle.
The only solution for both men and women is to opt out of this one-up/one-down game by finding their own wholeness within so that they can meet as equals. Until we redirect the search for external completion to a balancing of our own inner masculine and feminine energies, we cannot find a direct connection to Source and so are caught on one side or the other of the war between the sexes.
This internal balance does not, as some people believe, lead to a bland, unisex neutrality. Instead it manifests as an overall increase in aliveness and passion for life as the energy which has been tied up in desperately seeking to please the Other is liberated for the enjoyment of free expression of Self.
Confusing Masculine with Active and Feminine with Receptive
Another thing the humpback whales have to teach us is that both masculine and feminine can show up as either active or receptive. While testosterone driven mating behavior is clearly an expression of the active masculine, the well known "escort" males epitomize a softer, protective use of male force. Once the female is impregnated she chooses an escort who may or may not be the father of her baby. The three form a family in which the escort's role is to energetically encircle the mother and baby for their protection. Often a mother and baby would swim up to our raft to visit with us, staying near the surface as we hastily donned our snorkels and slipped into the water. The babies were particularly curious and playful, and actively sought contact with us. Meanwhile the escort stayed quietly deep underwater, barely visible in his stillness. The same whale who was overwhelmingly rowdy some months ago can be transformed into a passive guardian, allowing mother and baby complete freedom of action, springing into aggressive mode only if a predator appears.
David died, far too young, of liver cancer a couple of years after going on this whale trip. I dedicate this article to his memory. May all beings be happy.
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© Deborah Taj Anapol