• Eric "Aspen" Marley

Toxic Milk-ulinity: Separating Fuel and Milk

Updated: May 13, 2021

The Owls: A Warrior Society, was conceived in its current form when my friend Julia asked me to do something to help her give her teenaged son some tools to use to grow into a good man. This compliment, as deep as any I have ever received, was echoed by several other single mothers who approached me separately not long afterward.

At the time, I was in the middle of a period of deep introspection. I wondered what I could do to bring something of worth to the young men who were struggling, and who would struggle. I thought of the term, “toxic masculinity,” and how it bucks my belief that there is such a thing at all. To me, there is nothing toxic about masculinity. But there certainly is incredible toxicity within certain men who choose to hide behind their strength, sexuality, or financial prowess to mask their insecurities.

They’re humans with male genitalia, hence they represent the masculine, the reasoning went. Furthermore, they’re toxic. They destroy love and trust. They hurt. They force. They pollute.

What’s more toxic than this?

Without seeming to dismiss the pain that me and my fellow humans have suffered at the hands of these oversized, noisy, obnoxious children with guns that we’ve called, “men,” I’d like to propose another way of looking at “toxic masculinity.”

Picture a gallon of milk in a two-gallon container. Got it? Ok, now picture a small dropper full of gasoline. How many drops of gasoline in that milk does it take to change its essential qualities into something else? In other words, would you drink the milk from this container if it had, say, a half-drop of gasoline in it?

I mean, I probably would, if I still drank milk. But then again, I’ve been known to eat month-old mayo that has only been refrigerated in a cooler buried in the dirt. (Ah, the joys of tipi living.) Aside from that, I guarantee you that there are things in milk we’d rather not discuss, even without the half-drop of gas. There’s a reason it’s processed before it hits store shelves, after all.

Let’s say that you would drink this semi-contaminated milk. Especially if you really desire it - as if it accompanies a plate of warm brownies, for instance. Let’s not forget to factor that in, here. Desire can make us do all kinds of things that we would rather not do. More on that in a second.

Ok, so you’d drink the milk with a half-drop of gas in it. What about a full dropper – maybe ten drops? I’d probably still drink it. How about you? Maybe it would smell a little “off,” but whatever. Again, if the desire were sufficient, right?

Now, what if we poured a quart of gasoline in it?

At this point, we have a seriously contorted concoction. It doesn’t smell like milk anymore, right? Does it taste like milk? Probably not. Let’s take it one step further and pour a whole gallon of gasoline into the container. At this point it’s 50/50 milk and gas.

Here’s the question: is it still milk? If it is, drink it up, buttercup! If it’s still milk but it’s toxic, let’s call it what it is: toxic milk. Isn’t that what we’ve been doing with masculinity? It looks like masculinity, but it's not very desirable and will probably make you sick. To some, it may be worth a try. But there's not much hope, is there?

So, what do you do with 50/50 gas and milk? You can’t do much with it, can you? You can’t drink it, and you can’t run a car with it. Best thing to do here is to take it to the dump and try to explain to the attendant there that you have a toxic mixture to dump somewhere near the oil recycling center. The upshot is that both perfectly good milk and perfectly good gasoline are wasted when they’re combined. Worse, if this is your experience with milk, you probably aren’t touching it with a 10-foot pole. It’s beyond redemption – good for the dump, only.

Here’s the point: some of us have forgotten what it is to experience real, wholesome, pure masculinity. Instead, we now think that all masculinity is disgusting. This is where many people are; we’ve been through so much war, abuse, rape, genocide, family trauma - and that's the short list – that many people including women and children have no use for anything that looks like a man. For these, Gloria Steinem's old quote - "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" - is true. And I can't blame them.

For instance, my friend Em told me that she’s sick and tired of going on dates with 40-year old men that can’t make a decision about anything, have no vision, no control over their destinies, and no drive. They seem to want, in her mind, a “mommy.” Em has 5 kids already. She doesn’t need another one – especially one that orders "a beer from the ‘fridge.”

Em is an amazing woman that would like to have a man in her life. This is where desire comes in. She “desires” a partner. The tough part of it is that this is an inherent desire. It’s genetic for her. This is healthy and natural. But it’s also extremely frustrating because she’d actually take that dropper of gas in her milk. She doesn’t require perfection. Most women that I meet that share her position are similarly wired: they’re compassionate by nature, understand that no one is perfect, and that everyone has wounds - themselves included. But they keep running into so-called men who are the equivalent of milk with a quart of gasoline in it.

Worse, these men, many of them, become verbally abusive when they’re refused. That’s the equivalent of the milk cussing you out when you take it to the dump. It’s as if it wants to shame you for dumping out perfectly good milk, when no person in their right mind would accept it.

If the milk were honest with itself – this is getting to be a stretch, but stay with me – it would call itself something else. But once it gets to a certain point, it doesn’t even see its own value. It would rather force acceptance through rage, or manipulation, or shame others for rejecting it. Because acceptance by others is the only kind of acceptance it can experience in its current condition.

What a mess. At this point, what do we do? This may seem counterintuitive, but the solution lies with men.

We, my brothers, have a responsibility to raise the bar, and we have to raise it higher than it’s ever been if we expect men as a whole to improve. This starts with ourselves. Here are a few examples of standards that, if implemented, would begin to make a difference. It's only a beginning, but it would be a start.

First, let's agree that it’s ok to notice a pretty woman. (We want to be men, not automatons.) It’s less-healthy to “notice her” for an extended period of time by running your eyes all over her, particularly when you’re in a committed relationship. Noticing is fine. Leering is creepy.

Imagine your partner is looking out through your eyes, and that at the end of the day you get to review all your eyes see with her. How do you feel about this? Is this easy? Or might you have some ‘splainin’ to do? Make your adjustments accordingly.

By the way dudes, porn is out of the question.

This may seem like a stretch. This industry is bigger than the NFL, the NBA, the MLB, and the NHL, combined. (The four major US sporting leagues.) Why even attempt to take this on? Because the principle is this: we are being asked for nothing less than to move away from a preoccupation with the material and mundane, so there is greater room for the ethereal and transmundane. We need them both, but we are historically too addicted to our eyes at the expense of the heart. Again, not to get too airy here, but this is the journey from the mind to the heart that has been prophesied for millennia.

If porn does anything, it solidifies and addicts the mind to the material world when it comes to our most intimate relationships. In this culture, a woman has to look a certain way. Her value depends on it. This is not helpful and is at the root of a metric poopload of milk/gasoline trouble, guaranteed. I have no problem claiming that this change alone, abandoning our addiction to porn, would transform Masculinity into something beautiful, graceful, and powerful as it was meant to be. Femininity would be stronger as well.

Moving on.

Second, let’s agree that it’s ok to feel anger. It’s less healthy to express it before we use whatever tools we have at our disposal to get centered, grounded, and seek to understand both our part in the situation and to diffuse extraneous emotion out of it.

Jocko Willink, who as a former Navy SEAL and ju-jitsu combatant looks a lot like “bad milk” but who is actually extremely thoughtful and compassionate, plays a game with his family called, “normal face.” The idea is to keep your face relaxed (“normal”) no matter what. They may want to laugh, but the game is to keep their faces perfectly un-ingaged.

This is kind of funny, but it has application in the real world, too. For instance, the next time you feel like you want to punch a hole in the wall, play “normal face” with yourself. Relax your jaw. Take all the anger out of your eyes. Now, go to your breath. Connect to the Earth through your feet. Give away whatever part of your anger wants to go. Some may stay, and that’s fine. Again, we aren’t automatons, and sometimes anger is completely appropriate, or even helpful. After all, feeling emotions in our bodies is part of being a healthy man. But you’re far less likely to over-react, or to react in ways that cause more damage than assistance, if you can get centered before you act.

How about this one? It’s ok to consume sweets and other foods that are less than healthy. But it’s below neo-masculine standards to ignore your body to the extent that you become unhealthy. You have one body, yo; take care of it! It’s your receiver, man! It houses your consciousness! And, for a long time we’ve been taught to ignore it.

This is part of the toxic “men are tough” routine. Yes, we are tough, and we’d damned sure better get tougher in appropriate, targeted ways. This does not include ignoring our health. That’s counter-productive. Without going down metaphysical rabbit holes, we literally can’t feel real, legitimate emotion or deep inspiration when our bodies aren’t healthy. Plus, if you’re like me, it brings great satisfaction to serve your partner. Call it my inner Golden Retriever. I limit my ability to do that, in the long term at least, when I make choices that limit my health.

The Owls is called “A Warrior Society” because it’s the Warriors that will lead this charge. It’s Warriors that can look within themselves to find all the battles they’ll ever need to fight, and that can see into their own darkness to find the treasures that are hidden there. And, it’s these Warriors that will come to understand that force was never the answer. Instead, love is the answer - and always has been. This starts with self-love, which is enhanced through self-discipline and the successful adoption of higher standards.

Men, whatever you need to do to begin to take on higher standards, please do. First off, admit where you are. It's true that you might be a dirtbag. If so, admit it with passion! Then take action. Visualize your wins – the non-dirtbag man you know you can be. See him. Imagine him making helpful choices in times of stress. Set goals. Start getting up early and working on yourself. Get a counselor or a coach. Join a men’s group to get further accountability. The Owls is set up to suggest to the rising generation that there are other ways of conducting themselves. But we are beginning to work with “Great Horned Owls” – those of us who are a little older, that might need to “un-learn” a few things.

Hey, most of us do. There’s no shame in this. We’re undoing millennia of gas-y teachings, after all.

As the torch-bearers of a new way of expressing the sacred concept of Masculinity, it’s incumbent upon us to act from a place of compassion for the Feminine and the younger ones who have suffered for so long under the oppressive regime to which we have all been subjected. There is a lot of anger out there. Deal with it as best you can. Either way, it’s time to uncover our sacred, awesome selves that have been buried under self-loathing and the suppression of feeling. It’s time to get control of ourselves, implement lovingkindness-fueled self-discipline, and raise our standards. We can do this!

Besides, I’ve had enough of toxic milk. How about you?

--Eric Marley


(art by Sheri Silver)

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