Collecting bottles, tossing leftovers, taking out the garbage
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I met forty-seven-year-old Danaan Parry in Reston, Virginia, at his three-day Warriors Of The Heart workshop, in which he teaches conflict resolution and leadership skills. Recognizing him from a photo I’d seen, I watched him hug people when he arrived. Hugging Parry, I decided, must be like hugging a declawed grizzly bear. On closer inspection, I found that he has eyes so soft and inviting, you want to crawl into them for a nap. He has freckles all over his face and on the top of his bald head. Parry carries his bear body like that of a feline, probably as a result of twelve years’ training in aikido. When he talks, his gestures are deliberate, and his hearty laugh seems to leap out of its own accord.
“You can wrestle with your internal dragons or project them onto others,” Parry tells workshop participants. He encourages them to be “warriors” in the Buddhist sense, which means those with the courage to know themselves — dark side included — and to face their own fears. For the Yaqui of northern Mexico, he observes, warriors are those who bring change to the tribe. Indeed, bringing about change in people’s lives is the crux of Parry’s work.
Parry grew up in Keansburg, New Jersey, “a funky little amusement park town,” where he ran the ferris wheel as his summer job. With degrees from Rutgers and the University of California at Berkeley, he spent eight years as a nuclear physicist for the Atomic Energy Commission. He quit to pursue a degree in clinical psychology, and worked as a therapist for a while before once again deciding he wanted a change. He traveled around the world, went to India, and studied with a Native American shaman in Hawaii. During his shamanic training, he fell off a cliff and nearly died. It was a profound experience that led him into a year of isolation, after which he founded a spiritual community in the redwoods of northern California.
After meeting Mother Teresa in 1981, Parry felt a need to “come out into the world again.” He turned his desire for peace into active peacemaking by creating the Holyearth Foundation, through which he practices conflict resolution on a worldwide level. Groups he has worked with include Moslems and Christians in Pakistan, and Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
The Earthstewards Network is the branch of the Holyearth Foundation that brings together people in the United States and abroad “who support one another as they co-create a more peaceful, caring world.” The Network sponsors many programs, including citizen diplomacy tours to such countries as Northern Ireland, Israel, and the Soviet Union. One upcoming project involves sending youths from the United States, the Soviet Union, and Third World countries to work camps in India and Costa Rica. The Network also offers Warriors Of The Heart workshops in various locations, providing training that enables people “to transform the negativity in their lives into usable, positive action.”
Anyone interested in the Earthstewards Network can write P.O. Box 10697, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110, or call (206) 842-7986.
I talked with Parry on the last day of the workshop. We found a spot by a lake where we settled quietly and unobtrusively beside three mallard ducks. Offended by our presence, they dropped into the water and swam away.
— Dana Branscum
THE SUN: You speak of conflict as a cry for intimacy and an avenue toward intimacy. Can you elaborate on that?
PARRY: As children, we observe the way people strive for intimacy. We see our parents screaming at each other and then hugging to make up. We see people creating negative situations when we intuitively know they want to be close to one another. We begin to get a message very early that there is a direct connection between relating in these negative ways and being close. I believe that every human being seeks intimacy as a primary goal. We need it like we need air. We would shrivel and die without it. So the question is not whether we should seek intimacy, but rather how we should get it. Unfortunately, we don’t have many models of people seeking intimacy in positive ways. We grow up accepting that people start fights with one another so that they can hug and make up. I want to get to the hugging and feeling good without the fight.
THE SUN: Is being in healthy intimate relationships a way to avoid conflict?
PARRY: Yes, but let me add that I do not think there’s anything wrong with conflict. If you’re a human being, you’re going to have it. Avoiding it when it’s there means shoving it inside. It’s like taking a toxin into the body. It will affect us. It will come out in some way. Sometimes it comes out physiologically — we get ulcers and colitis. I see many diseases as direct manifestations of our inability to deal with conflict.
THE SUN: You also speak of “being present” as an avenue to intimacy. How does that work? [Parry shifts positions and inadvertently presses his palm into a small pile of duck droppings. He has to lean down to rinse his hand off in the lake.]
PARRY: Being present. [Laughs.] I believe we also learn to avoid being close to one another by withholding bits and pieces of our consciousness. As I’m sitting here talking with you, I have the desire to be close to you, and I’m also aware of my wet hand, the guy in the boat over there, and my kids back in Seattle. There are a lot of ways for me to extract pieces of my consciousness so that I’m not fully available. When I am present to you — totally present — it becomes intimate. It becomes an intense, almost passionate situation. I don’t mean sexual passion — it could be — but passion in the full sense of the word. When we’re here, as real human beings, and I get to feel you, there’s no way I can stay separate from you. I have to be in a dance with you if I’m going to be present to you. That dance, for me, is the joie de vivre, the wonderfulness of being alive. But it makes me vulnerable. It lets you see through whatever I put in front of me — that my name is Danaan Parry, and I’m a conflict resolution professional, and I have so many degrees. When I’m really present to you, you see the scared little kid behind the big grown man who’s trying to behave a certain way with a woman.
The most powerful tool that I can share with people in terms of resolving the conflicts in their lives is to be one hundred percent present with one another, and to deal with the fears that come up as a result. When we begin to see one another beyond the games that we’ve been playing for thousands of years, it can be frightening. But that’s the way to intimacy and peace. That’s where conflict resolution begins.
THE SUN: Why?
PARRY: Because we have to be psychologically naked with one another. You and I and every human being I have met in any culture — we have all been conditioned to put a barrier between ourselves and other people, to stay safe. And it is that safety that creates most of the conflicts in the world. It’s that crazy paradoxical situation whereby if I stay safe from you in that way, I can make you the enemy, and we can go to war and kill one another. That kind of safety has to end — especially in this nuclear age. We have to make ourselves unsafe to one another personally and psychologically so that our planet can be safe.
THE SUN: What other advice can you give people about resolving their conflicts?
PARRY: Of course, every situation is different. But there are some general patterns that seem to come up. When a conflict arises, we tend to do one of a few things, none of which seem to work. One is to run away from it. Running away is sometimes appropriate — to avoid getting punched in the nose, for example. Running away might be better than starting a fight — and, if you’re in a fight, you started it. That’s a difficult concept for most people, but it’s important to keep in mind. If I got myself in a fight, I need to consider what my responsibility is. It does take two to tango. So if you choose to get out of the way — to run away — you will not resolve the conflict, but at least it will not exacerbate into violence.
Another familiar behavior is playing victim. Better to run away than to play victim. Assuming the victim role is a very violent tactic. It generates an incredible amount of hostility or guilt from the person who is supposedly the victor. Actually, the victim role is usually the more powerful one. It winds up controlling the relationship. The victim-persecutor dynamic gets played out in many relationships. Some people base their entire married life on exchanging the two roles. It’s a hurtful way for people to live.
Another interesting method is fixing it up — let’s make it better, let’s make it go away. We good folks who want peace are so interested in fixing up the problem that we ignore the first step in the conflict resolution process. And that is called “creating a safe space.” Unless we’ve taken this step, fixing it doesn’t work.
Creating a safe space can happen in many ways. There’s a physical dimension to it. If you are arguing with someone in the midst of a group, you will both have a strong investment in maintaining your position and being right. Whenever there are other people, you’re not in a safe space to resolve a conflict. But the most important aspect of creating a safe space is psychological. It’s as if you create a vessel within which the conflict can resolve itself. It has to do with tone of voice. It has to do with the willingness to step back and consider the possibility that the other person has a point — which means not having a death grip on being right, not wanting to win the battle even at the risk of losing the war. It requires you to breathe a little bit, and to honor the humanity of the other person. It requires you to realize the responsibility factor. We are not victims of the universe. We do not live in reaction to other people. We are active participants in our lives, and that includes our conflicts, even when they seem to come out of the blue. They never come out of the blue. There is always something between us and another person that triggers a dispute. Conflict doesn’t mean we’ve done anything wrong, but it doesn’t mean the other person has either. What it does indicate is a difference of opinion. We need to get to a place where we’re not so stuck in our opinions, but where we’re collaborating on a solution.
The word “collaboration” is important. There’s a big difference between collaboration and compromise. Compromise usually means that nobody gets what he or she wants and everybody goes away disappointed. It rarely works. We have to stick with the problem until we get beyond compromise, until both parties get what they want. That is possible only if we’re able to let go of our position. We come into conflict saying, “This is how it has to be for me, or I’m going to feel like a loser.” That’s being stuck in right and wrong, which is the reason for most wars.
We are not victims of the universe. We do not live in reaction to other people. We are active participants in our lives, and that includes our conflicts, even when they seem to come out of the blue.
We are not victims of the universe. We do not live in reaction to other people. We are active participants in our lives, and that includes our conflicts, even when they seem to come out of the blue.
THE SUN: You say that what people appear to be fighting about — what you call the “presenting problem” — is usually not the real problem. How do you get to the real problem?
PARRY: Essentially, it involves identifying what I want beyond what I’m yelling about. A divorcing couple might scream about how much the alimony payments should be, or who should get the house. The presenting problem is how to divide up the spoils of a lost relationship — and while that’s important, it’s almost never what’s really going on. The real problem is the pain of two people who have been battering each other’s egos for years. To come to a solution about who gets what car without addressing the scar tissue underneath is to put a Band-aid on the situation. Getting the house may solve the presenting problem, but when something else comes up, the animosity and resentment are still going to be there, probably multiplied.
In conflict resolution, the idea is to find out what baggage I’m bringing to this moment. How can I let go of some of that baggage, so that I’m acting not from the position of needing to screw the other guy, but with the goal of getting what I really want? Instead of reacting to a situation, I can act positively within it.
THE SUN: You talk about the “comfort zone.” Can you explain what it means?
PARRY: The comfort zone exists in the realm of the psyche. It’s a place inside me that I use for regeneration. It’s where I go to recharge my batteries and to heal myself. If I am not in touch with my comfort zone, then my life is in a great deal of stress. I’m living on the outside of myself all the time, on the edges of my personality, and there’s no place for me to go to heal.
The comfort zone is a place for healing and recharging, but not a place where change occurs. In the same way, the meditation chamber is not a place where you dig up the soil, or turn garbage into compost. You have to leave the meditation chamber and go into the fields of your life to make that happen.
The process of leaving the comfort zone takes place a little bit at a time. It requires you to be very careful of your own resistances — to honor them. The encounter group’s beat-them-over-the-head-and-make-them-tell-the-truth method causes more woundedness than growth. You can’t be dragged kicking and screaming out of your comfort zone. You have to walk out one step at a time, of your own volition. You move to the edge of this healing place inside of you, and you test the waters. You find a place where you still feel connected to your supply line — your comfort zone — and you take a step outside of it. It may feel a little scary — because real change requires moving into the unknown — but it also feels connected to what you already know, and supportive of your beliefs. After you take that step, your comfort zone expands — it grows to meet you. And then you take the next step, and your comfort zone expands again. As you keep taking little excursions into a world of change for yourself, and your comfort zone keeps growing to meet you, there is finally very little in your life that happens outside your comfort zone. That, for me, is the definition of an actualized person — not someone who’s had a big flash of nirvanic enlightenment, but someone who has done the hard work of integrating the change process every step of the way.
THE SUN: You also use the phrase, “owning your power.” I’d like to know what you mean by the term and in what ways people give away their power.
PARRY: “Power,” for me, is a magical and scary word. I’m big, and I was always big. I was six foot four when I was a freshman in high school. And I was taught, as a kid, that it wasn’t OK for me to be powerful — physically or psychologically. Don’t rock the boat, don’t make changes — because if you scare other people, you get attacked and your support gets cut off. Mom and Dad won’t love you if you’re more powerful than they are.
We grow up in our culture with a double message. One is that you have to be powerful to be successful — and of course, in our culture, success is at the top of the pyramid. The other is that it’s bad to powerful. Power is evil; power corrupts. This double message, I think, causes a lot of us to pretend to be powerless. And there are forces in the world that are ready and willing and able to claim the power we give up and use it in ways that are inconsistent with our values. There’s a saying: “All it takes for the forces of evil to work is for enough good people to do nothing.” For me, that has real meaning. I have to learn how to use my power so that what I hold sacred in the world has sway. You and I and every one of us are here for a purpose. If we violate that purpose by giving away our power, then forces of opposite purpose will use our power to effect their ends. If I don’t say something about the destruction of the rain forests in South America, it’s not just that I’m not voting on that issue. I am giving my vote, by proxy, to the interests of those who are tearing down those forests so that cattle can graze and North Americans can have their fast food restaurants. I am voting for that interest if I do nothing, if I say nothing, if I pretend that the situation in South America doesn’t exist or that I, in some way, am not connected to it. We are all connected to everything on this planet.
One of the major underlying designs of the Warriors Of The Heart training is to help people re-empower themselves. The term “empowerment” is being beaten to death these days. But personal empowerment is a very real concept for me, because my faith is in the grass roots — in ordinary folks like you and me, and the folks living in downtown D.C. who could never afford to take a workshop here in Reston. Their power — if they feel it and direct it in positive, peaceful action — is the greatest force in the world.
In the Sixties, I was at Berkeley. I was right in the midst of the anti-war action and the free speech movement, and I demonstrated and got locked up. It was personally very exhilarating and ego-fulfilling. I think that what we did then was perhaps appropriate for the time, but it also set up a pendulum swing. The fact that we’re dealing now with Ronald Reagan and his administration is in some way connected to the way we used our power in the Sixties in seemingly peaceful ways. We got very good at saying no in the Sixties. We said it very powerfully. In some ways I’m proud of that because we were part of some important changes, especially in the Vietnam war. But we spent all of our energy on no, and when the no began to work, the movement fell apart. No yes had been formulated. We had no positive alternative.
The 1980s and the 1990s are a time for us to redirect that same power toward saying yes to something life-giving, rather than simply saying no to what is life-draining. Most of the governments in the world exist to say no. For me, that’s what the grassroots movement is all about: saying yes to something better.
THE SUN: You’ve said that international change happens from the bottom up, and that it results from enough people owning their power.
PARRY: We are all deeply connected. The totally overused concept of brotherhood and sisterhood, for me, is real. We are a global family. What I do with my life directly affects a woman and child starving in Somalia. In my life, I stand a chance of meeting those people, but those who will never meet them affect them just the same. The United States has such impact on the rest of our planet that the way an electronics engineer decides to earn her or his living directly affects the desertification in Northern Africa — in some obtuse but very powerful way.
In the Earthstewards Network, we emphasize the concept of right livelihood — earning your living in consort with your beliefs. It’s not OK to earn your living five days a week at something you don’t believe in, making a product that violates your values, so that you can volunteer on weekends for a peace organization. Our planet is in a state that requires us to be totally congruent, which involves taking risks: moving out of “defense work,” which really is offense work as far as I’m concerned; moving out of jobs that destroy the environment. Our choices may keep us from making payments on the car or on the new washing machine. But people in a position to make that kind of choice don’t have to worry about whether their children will starve because of it. We have more options than the woman in Somalia, who’s doing what she can to get milk in her kids’ mouths. We are not in that situation. We may have to go through some trauma about reorienting our lifestyles or letting go of stock options and health plans. That’s part of what it means, I think, to be a warrior of the heart: to have the courage to do that; to be able to say no because we are moving toward a yes that is more fulfilling. When our lives are fulfilled, everybody on the planet is affected, because we’re connected.
You and I and every one of us are here for a purpose. If we violate that purpose by giving away our power, then forces of opposite purpose will use our power to effect their ends.
You and I and every one of us are here for a purpose. If we violate that purpose by giving away our power, then forces of opposite purpose will use our power to effect their ends.
THE SUN: I’d like to hear more about the work you’re doing in other countries.
PARRY: I first got involved in Northern Ireland about four years ago, when I was asked to speak at a peace conference in Belfast, then to do some negotiating work. This led to taking youth groups from the two warring factions, the Catholics and the Protestants, to Europe to get to know one another through Outward Bound experiences — in which kids learn camping and survival skills. I think it’s been very successful, although it will take years for it to bear fruit, as those kids grow up and assume positions of leadership. They’ll have to make choices about how to exert their leadership. Someone might choose, for example, between being an officer in the IRA or a community organizer for peace issues. That’s a difficult choice, that could have dangerous consequences.
Our organization works on two fronts. One is the citizen diplomacy effort, where we take a large group of people from one land to live and work with people in another culture and hopefully build bridges in a particular community. The other arm of our work is that of personal dispute management, or conflict resolution. For that, one or two of us go somewhere to help create a safe environment for people to come together and talk to one another — people who are in deep, usually violent conflict.
One of our efforts that was particularly successful involved helping some people in the most heated area in Belfast who felt they had to do something but didn’t know what. We provided consultation and arranged for them to take community-organizing classes. They decided to plant a garden on Farset Hill, a piece of land that was a battlefield — a symbolic DMZ in the middle of Belfast. For maybe a hundred years, it had been a free-fire zone between the Catholic and Protestant ghettos. So these people borrowed some bulldozers from the Belfast city government — in fact, some they didn’t borrow, they just took — and they plowed down the bombed-out, burned-out structures at the top of the hill, and pushed them off to the side. They uncovered Mother Earth, and they planted a garden — a simple, but profound act. They turned a symbol of death into a symbol of life. All of a sudden, green plants and potatoes were coming up in a place that everyone thought of as hopeless. It’s interesting the way small things can have such an effect on the psyche — especially the psyche of people in deep conflict.
After the garden was planted, somebody gave them some chickens. They got some kids from the two ghettos to come up, bringing pieces of wood from the bombed-out buildings in their neighborhoods, and they built a chicken coop. They built it together — which is a big deal. Then somebody gave them some ducks, and they got some kids from both sides to dig a pond, so the ducks would have a place to swim. Then some of us chipped together to buy them a pig, and they built a pig pen. Little by little, Farset Hill became Farset City Farm, a wonderful ray of hope in a very troubled area.
I remember standing on that hilltop early one morning, a couple of summers ago, to watch kids from the two warring factions coming up the hill and going into the chicken coops to collect the eggs. But this morning, the Catholic kids took eggs to the old people in the Protestant ghetto, and the Protestant kids took eggs to the old people in the Catholic ghetto. It was like watching a pivotal shift in human consciousness. I felt so privileged to be there at that moment for this little act — an act so simple that someone who didn’t understand the situation would watch it and think, “Kids taking eggs to old people. So what?”
THE SUN: What have you learned about conflict resolution through mistakes you’ve made or through premises you were working from that turned out to be wrong?
PARRY: What comes to mind is what happened last month when we brought some folks from Belfast over here. There have been groups bringing people from Northern Ireland to the United States for vacations for years. They stuff them full of pizza and McDonald’s, and take them swimming and to the amusement parks. They have a wonderful time, but when their month in the United States is over, they go back to Belfast and enter a stage of acute depression. They haven’t been given any tools to deal with going back into that environment. What they’ve had is a vacation in a place where they can never go again — it becomes pretty morbid for them. They end up spending the rest of their lives trying to get out of there. We don’t want to drain off from Northern Ireland potential leaders who can solve their internal problems. We don’t want to bring them over here, flash and dash them, and have them decide that they don’t want to grow up in Northern Ireland.
So when it was time for them to come over here, we decided that we’d have a great time together, but we’d also try to share with them some skills that we had found to work in different parts of the world. We’d let them see some of our grief; we’d let them see that our society is not all “Dallas” and “Falcon Crest”; and we’d create a space where we could share what’s real for us and offer them the chance to do the same, without pushing too hard. So we designed a program for that.
They came over, and the first day was an absolute disaster. We learned very quickly that not only was sharing their feelings scary for them, but they had spent their whole lives finding ways not to do it. One of the American women talked about being raped in the park, and an American man talked about his struggles as a recovering alcoholic. But the Irish couldn’t talk about getting their kneecaps blown off, or getting tarred and feathered, or being used as a shield for an IRA terrorist at the age of three. They had spent years covering up those things. If they let themselves feel, they would be unlocking a Pandora’s box.
There’s an interesting dichotomy there. We see sharing grief as a way of working through it; these people were telling us that sharing their grief would strip away their protection — and you can’t exist in Northern Ireland without that armor. I know from working with those folks that this is quite logical. But I also see it as part of their problem. You steel yourself against the pain, so when your next-door neighbor gets shot, you don’t feel it. Not feeling it means not doing anything about it. What you do is pray that you don’t get shot. This method for surviving within the system is exactly what perpetuates the system.
In any case, our ideas were all wrong for them. We literally threw out the whole program after the first day and decided to get out of the classroom environment. So we took the group to the George Mason University Conflict Resolution Center — a retreat center in the woods, in Clifton, Virginia. And we all went through a ropes course — a wonderful, team-building kind of thing. It’s set up so that if you try to work as an individual, you don’t get anywhere.
In one part of the course, everybody stands on a big board with ropes attached to it. The people have to move the board from one place to another, using the ropes. You can’t lift the board unless everybody lifts at the same time. Later, there’s a net that you can get over only by lifting and helping each other. Then you have to walk across a high-wire, with a safety line strapped to you. And at the end of the high-wire, you ride a cable down to the earth — an eighth of a mile away. You’re strapped to it, so that if your hands let go, you wouldn’t fall. But your psyche doesn’t know that, and you ride the cable down screaming. [Screams.] The ropes course is a very good teacher — in a non-intellectual way. You learn that it doesn’t matter how big or small, how weak or strong you are — you need the whole team to do it. We were all scared, and we were all laughing and making fools of ourselves. It created a bond in the group that was very powerful.
One of the Irish men was blind. He had been shot in the head when he was seventeen. He’s now about thirty. The bullet severed the optic nerve, and did a lot of other damage as well — he almost lost his life. He is now one of the most effective peace workers in Belfast. He’s an incredible guy. And he went up on the high-wire, too. There were a lot of tears that day. He showed his fear, but he also made it clear that he wanted to do this. When he was up on the high wire, I said, “How are you doing, Hugh?” and he said, “Oh, I could do this blindfolded.” And somebody yelled, “Don’t look down!”
THE SUN: Were these both Catholics and Protestants?
PARRY: Yes, the program was designed so that there were half of each. They stayed with host-families in the Virginia and Washington, D.C., area — one Catholic and one Protestant together in each home. At least two-thirds of the people in the group had never met anyone of the other religion before — except to throw fire bombs at them. They’re not human beings to each other; they’re projections of some vague enemy mentality. Sharing homes was perhaps the most powerful part of the experience. They would have meals together — sometimes take showers together.
This took place during a time when the bombings in Northern Ireland were being broadcast very vividly. There was a bombing at a funeral. A Protestant terrorist threw hand grenades into the middle of the mourners and some people were killed. When I watched this on television, I was sitting on a couch with a Catholic young man, Patrick, on one side of me, and a Protestant young woman, Caroline, on the other. Patrick yelled, “That’s my sister!” He was pointing to a woman on the screen who was running and holding her face. Patrick looked over at Caroline — we had the battle between the Catholics and the Protestants right there. When the broadcast was over, we shut the television off and talked about it. Patrick said, “I want to get back there, and get a rifle, and do something about it.” Caroline said, “Is that the way to do it? How about if you kill me? I’m probably related to the guy who threw that thing. I’m the enemy, too.” That was a great experience. We talked about it until the wee hours of the morning. But we talked about it. Most of them never get that chance. The whole tribal culture there is configured so that they can’t talk about it. It’s not random that it doesn’t happen — it doesn’t happen because they’ve made it not happen. The leaders of those two communities make it impossible. Sitting in the same room with someone from the other side could result in your own people tarring and feathering you, because you’re a traitor to the cause.
THE SUN: What are you personally struggling with right now?
PARRY: Two things pop up immediately. One is governance, and the other is sexuality. The governance issue is more a part of my professional life. I believe that ordinary people are the ones who really do or do not create peace on Earth — not professionals, not diplomats, not politicians. When I work with people at the grass roots, I don’t like to work in opposition to anything. I like to find ways to say yes. It is increasingly difficult for me to do that in the political sector. In Central America, for instance, I see how the masses of people there strive for freedom, and how United States government intervention — which is so powerful — thwarts their efforts again and again. It is then very difficult for me to stay in a yes position. I tend to get reactive. It’s very easy for me to make the United States government the enemy. In the areas I work in, I get a lot of support for that position. I can make a really good case for it myself when I’m watching on a first-hand basis what goes on in El Salvador and Guatemala — countries that we support, and call the free world, which are actually prisons and torture chambers. Then I go to a country like Nicaragua, which is supposed to be the godless face of the Communist hordes taking over our beautiful land, and I see people struggling with something new and beautiful; it is not a prison or a torture chamber there. Even under the adversity and the hunger and the deprivation they suffer — mostly because of our actions — they’re still hopeful, working to create a new and better model.
But I cannot make the U.S. government the enemy. Because when I adopt a position of good guys and bad guys, I become ineffective in my work. I become polarized, and therefore part of the problem rather than part of the solution. So I’m struggling with that. I’m struggling with feeling proud of my country’s people and ashamed of my country’s government. As I travel, not only in Central America, but all around the world, I have to deal with the residual anti-American feeling that almost all the rest of the planet has. There are very few places in the world where American is looked upon as good. That hurts me, because we have a lot to give.
The question of gender and sexuality is also a professional question for me, but it is much more personal, because I’m a sexual being — more than I’m a political being. I grew up in New Jersey, where men were supposed to live up to the macho image. That model has always been a lie. It’s amazing that it’s lasted this long, because it’s a very thin veneer. We’re a bunch of scared little guys. When I can let out this scared little boy, Danaan, to relate to other scared little boys, it’s wonderful and refreshing. It’s not debilitating at all. Men recognize that immediately, once they get past ripping open the hairy chest to let the little boy out to play. That’s the tough part. It hurts. It’s scary. But after that, we never have trouble going deep and becoming intimate.
We’re somewhere on that path toward integration of the masculine and feminine — on the path to feeling our androgynous nature. But as I begin to allow my softness and gentleness and intuitiveness to come out, to really feel and to share my feelings — even to cry — I find that I’m being affirmed only for those things by the women in my life. As I move farther away from being macho, another form of maleness emerges, which isn’t fitting in with my old pictures of androgyny. It’s a deeper state of male energy, in which my maleness manifests itself in very passionate, physical ways. I’m not getting affirmation for that part of me from women. Sure, I can give great massages. I can cry and feel good about it. But there’s also part of me that is masculine and comes out like a roar. That part of me has been in jeopardy of dying because I thought I should be only soft and gentle. I can understand sometimes why women get scared of this energy, because from their perspective, it probably looks a hell of a lot like that old macho stuff. But I realize that I have a need to express that side of me even when nobody’s looking. I’m not doing it to prove anything. I’m doing it because it’s me.
THE SUN: What kinds of things are you talking about? Can you think of anything — besides roaring?
PARRY: [Laughs.] That is one of them. Standing on the beach naked, screaming — God, I love that. Taking chances. Seeing what’s over the next hill just because I don’t know what’s there. Throwing away everything that I’ve worked for because something else calls to me. I’ve done that a number of times.
I’ve driven a motorcycle a lot in my life. I love it. I love me and the bike out there — and I’ve worked on it until it’s a fine-tuned machine. I’m on Route 1, in northern California, and I know there’s a curve up ahead. I know that if I take that curve a couple of miles per hour too fast, I’m going to lose it. If I take it a couple of miles per hour too slow, it won’t be very exciting. But if I am in total attunement with the road, with the bike, the air, the sun, myself — we become one unit. It’s not Danaan riding a bike on a road anymore. We are one organism, and my mind is calculating the wind factor, the probability of a gravel spot in the road up ahead. That’s an incredible exhilaration for me — knowing just how to do it. Then I come out of it and I say, “Holy shit, why did I do that? Is this old macho bullshit?” But part of me absolutely loves it.
When I share that with women friends, they think I’m a total ass. Then I take a look at my need to share it with them, and I wonder what I’m trying to prove. I still do it, but I don’t talk about it so much anymore, because I don’t feel understood. I’m moving beyond needing to be understood about this. When I just do these things, it feels wonderful, but when I analyze it, it feels kind of dumb.
I think there’s more going on in terms of gender than we know. I don’t think we really understand the deeper nature of androgyny yet. There are all kinds of wonderful energies down there that we haven’t reached.
THE SUN: Do you think we will?
PARRY: I do. And I think maybe it doesn’t matter, because the journey is what’s important. It’s an intimate journey that’s going to bind us all together. Everywhere around the world — whether we’re yellow or white or red or black — we’re all men and women. We’re all dealing with sexuality and issues of gender. And we’re all moving toward a greater understanding of what it is to be a sexual being, and letting go of the old role models and stereotypes and the happily-ever-after crap. I see progress in that area. Progress comes with pain, and some misunderstandings and setbacks, but I see progress.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Danaan Parry interview [“From Conflict to Intimacy,” Issue 151]. A British feminist told me that I couldn’t possibly call myself a feminist because, “Man, you’ve got the wrong sexual organs.” A hot issue — nobody likes to be excluded from a club to which he thought he already belonged. It was nice to read of Parry’s search for his understanding of his sexuality and feminist awareness, and of the boundaries where those two meet, clash, or envelop each other. To read about a man who in many ways seems very comfortable with himself, who refuses to feel inhibited simply because he is physically big and passionate, gives me license to explore those parts of my own life that appear similar to Parry’s.