How Hitting A Hay Bale With A Big Stick Changed My Life.
In 1999, I began a two-year apprenticeship with author Stuart Wilde. If you are not familiar with the work of Stuart Wilde, you can find his twenty books on Amazon. I first read Whispering Winds of Change and was hooked. I have noticed how some authors seem to literally grab me by the throat with their words, as if to say “This is true!” Hemingway, Thoreau, Whitman, Jed McKenna, Bukowski and Castaneda all had the same impact on me. Stuart passed just a few years back driving the winding bucolic country roads of Ireland, an apt departure for a remarkable being. Back in 1999, Stuart was very alive and fully embodied his mystical, magical, powerful, take no prisoners self. This is when my journey with Stuart Wilde began.
After reading several of his books, I felt I had found a kindred spirit. Therefore, I searched for live Stuart Wilde events and found him at a presentation in Sipapu, New Mexico in the fall of 1999. Following that experience, and feeling Stuart’s immense energy and charisma, I knew I had found my teacher. Consequently, my wife and I flew from San Francisco to Sidney, Australia a few months later to attend a more intimate intensive weeklong gathering of 20 spiritual seekers at his large castle like home in Milton. On the fifth day of the event, after spending most of our time training on the subtleties of meditation and energy, Stuart asked me to go out into the local woods and find a big stick. He gave me very specific instructions: Five feet long. Two to three inches thick. Smooth surface. Stuart handed me a saw, and off I went. Two hours later, I returned with the perfect stick. I had no idea for what purpose I had found the stick, but I was proud of my stick. Stuart carefully examined the stick, accepted the stick, and that seemed to be the end of that.
The next day, mid morning, Stuart asked all the blokes to meet him outside at the driveway in the front of the house. There we found a big hay bale. “Hmmm. What is that for?” I thought to myself. There on the hay bale rested my stick. Stuart had wrapped a white cloth around one end of the stick to create a protective handle. He proceeded to give us instructions for what was going to happen next. One by one, we were going to approach the hay bale, grab the stick, and take massive whacks at the hay bale. It was important, Stuart said, to use all of our body and strike with everything would could for as many times as we could until we felt complete, or totally exhausted. Equally important, Stuart instructed us to yell out loud the target of your anger and rage. This would make the experience more real and more cathartic. Immediately, upon hearing these words, fear started to settle in amongst my newfound band of brothers.
Allow me to step back from the story and address the fear. Having now experienced and led men in several hundred of these hay bale rituals, I have observed that the primary fear is “how will I compare to the other men?” “Can I do this?” “Can I truly let go and allow rage to consume me?” I am often surprised by how difficult it is for men, even when given full permission and group agreement, to let go and fully express their rage. I have no doubt that every man does the best he can. However this ritual demonstrates the self imposed barriers we place on ourselves. The great majority of men walk away from the hay bale experience feeling they did not give it everything they could. All men experience a breakthrough, however the little voice in our head whispers we could have given more. Fear stops us. In the end, this was a huge lesson for each and every man who did the hay bale ritual. It opened up each man’s inquiry into his own relationship with fear and self-expression.
One reason Stuart became my mentor for two years, the thing that always impressed me, was that he showed no fear. He never asked anyone to do anything he would not do, and he did everything full out. So when we started the ritual, Stuart was the first to go. He grabbed the stick and swung it over his head and hit the hay bale hard. He yelled out “Stuart, you fucking wimp!” and then again “Stuart, you fucking piece of shit!” and on and on, taking it out on himself, and all the lies he told about himself. Stuart had kicked the door wide open, and now we were to follow.
I was inspired. I went next. I apprehensively walked up to the stick, grabbed it and felt the weight of it in my hand. Then I took my first swing. Oh, it felt good. After a few tentative whacks, I forgot that anybody else was watching. My whacks at the hay bale became more intense. My target was god. I cussed at god. I yelled about how he had lied to me. I yelled about what an asshole he was for creating a planet with so much death and pain and misery. I called god a fucking hypocrite. I continued to whack the hay bale until I was ready to collapse. I gave it my all and felt complete as I walked away. When I returned to my place in the circle around the hay bale, I felt changed. I had never expressed my full masculine presence in that way. Never had I been given permission to fully self express, and speak aloud my deepest anger and rage. My body continued to tremble for several minutes, the effects of the adrenaline coursing through my veins. I felt like my balls grew in size. My inner warrior had been released. But I was not done, not by a long shot.
Then I watched as each man, one by one, took the long walk toward the hay bale. I observed how each man had his own way of striking the hay bale. Some whacked it as if with a baseball bat. Others, like me, raised the stick way over my head and brought it down with all the force I could muster. As it turned out, I was not the only one who had an issue with god. He was definitely the number one target. On and on it went. One by one, I saw men transformed from my friendly workshop mates to rage filled creatures who had quite a bit of rage to express. Over time, I relaxed, feeling complete, and ready to resume our more subdued and subtle mystical activities.
Next, Stuart said, “Now that you are all warmed up, we are going to do it again!” “For fuck’s sake,” I thought to myself, “what’s left?” This time, Stuart did not need to go first. I wanted to lead, and see what I had left inside me. I walked up to the hay bale with absolutely no idea who or what was to be the target of my rage. I picked up the stick, my stick, and started to hit the hay bale. Whack. Whack. Whack. And then, the name of an ex girlfriend that had broken my heart started to erupt out of my throat. “Carol!” Whack. “Carol!” Whack. “You fucking bitch!” Whack. On and on it went. The second round allowed me to go to a much deeper place of hurt and despair. With each whack, I was releasing the pain and freeing myself up of that gut wrenching memory. The second round was longer, more rage filled, and far more self-expressive. I found a new energy that sustained me, even when I thought I had given everything during the first round. Finally I was complete. My body trembled once again. I threw the stick at the hay bale and walked away. As I returned to the circle and I saw Stuart smiling. My buddy said to me, “I don’t know Carol is, but I hope I never meet her.”
Many men had a similar experience. The second round was much deeper, and more profound than the first. Once I had gotten the fear and self-consciousness out of my system, a whole new level of self-expression opened up. The superficial Jay had to take a back seat to a more authentic and real Jay. No longer was I a sensitive new age guy who discounted his masculinity. Now I was feeling like a real man. Jay meet Jay.
Over the years, I have led the hay bale process in my own weekend workshops. The hay bale ritual is powerful in its simplicity. Men are given permission to rage and fully self-express. I have seen men take whacks at god, their wives, their mothers, their fathers, their girl friends, that childhood bully, and at themselves. I have seen men in the depths of fear, take that long walk to the stick, and let it all go. It is liberating to see such courage. It is inspiring to see men take full responsibility for their fear and rage. It is enlightening to see and begin to understand the dynamics of our own fear and rage.
Two incidents stand out amongst the many hay bale rituals I have seen. The first took place in Santa Rosa, California. During our morning circle, in which we introduce a topic and each man is required to speak as open heartedly as possible, one man shared a gut-wrenching story about how his father has sexually abused him. Tears rolled down his eyes as he told his story for the first time to another human being. This often happens. Men, in a safe and confidential environment, inspired by the vulnerable sharing of others, often release painful experiences for the first time. No one who heard his story remained unscathed.
As this man approached the hay bale, we all knew that the target of his rage had to be his abusive father. He grabbed the stick, and placed the end of it on the hay bale. I had never seen this before. Crying profusely, he was literally unable to lift the stick up and take a whack. I cannot begin to imagine how conflicted he must have felt. As boys, our dad was our hero. However in his case, his dad was also the devil. After a few minutes, as the leader, I instinctively took action. I asked him if I could take a few whacks to get him started. I was definitely feeling the rage towards his dad, especially seeing the devastating impact on his now paralyzed son, so this all happened very naturally. I began whacking the hay bale, swearing up and down about how horrible he (the dad) was to betray such a sacred covenant as father and son. I was so enraged that I began gouging the stick into the hay bale, as if I was stabbing the abusive father with a lance. Suddenly, the stick bounced back and hit me in the face, putting a nasty gash above my right eye. Blood flowed. Everyone looked in terror, concerned I may have lost an eye. I told everyone I was ok and headed off to the bathroom. But before I did, I said to the man, “Kill that fucker. Do it and free yourself!” I understand he was able to begin whacking the hay bale and the healing had begun. He was a man finally becoming free from the grip of horrible events from his past.
The second incident took place in Sebastopol, California. We had one participant who was very reserved and quiet. He was the last of the group to go. Everyone else had taken their whacks in the first round. We all looked at him. He expressed that he felt he did not have the same kind of rage living in him. He shared that in his family, he was never allowed to fully express himself. Then one of the participants spoke directly to him: “What if this is your last chance on earth to get this shit out of yourself?” That seemed to light a fuse, and he proceeded to take his whacks. Afterwards, he too was a man transformed. You could see it in his face, and in the way he confidently walked around and interacted with us all.
Do I hate god? Do I hate my ex girlfriend? Do men hate their wives? Do men really want to inflict physical harm to any of these people? No, of course not. However, we do often have conflicted feelings. The hay bale process is a powerful technique to release painful memories, and allow more energy for love and appreciation. I know when I carry around pain and hurt feelings; it is hard for me to be present with another person. These experiences I have shared are a safe and very effective way to purge those feelings. I would liken it to taking your car in for a tune up. Over time gunk builds up, and it is good to get a regular cleaning. Otherwise, these feelings may be expressed in far more harmful and often violent ways.
My two-year stint with Stuart Wilde, in Australia, in America, in England, and in Ireland was a time of profound learning and personal transformation. You could not hang out with Stuart and not be changed. Stuart was a tough teacher. Many of the lessons he shared with me had a very hard edge. He exposed many levels of what he called my dark side, those qualities like competitiveness, female objectification, and dishonesty that I had never had to the courage to look at and claim as my own. It was a hell of a ride. And it all began in earnest the moment I picked up that big stick and started whacking away at my own painful memories that early December morning in Milton, Australia.
Photo: flickr / Avel-Breizh