Not long ago, I was handed a copy of Simple Abundance.

Within days of reading it, in one of those no-coincidence encounters that she writes about so convincingly, I met Sarah Ban Breathnach.

I told her that much of the wisdom in her book about finding a realistic path to authentic success----success as a person, that is----was just as relevant and of as much interest to men as it was to millions of women who had already grasped it.

Sarah, of course, had heard this countless times before, and asked me rather I’d be interested in helping her put together a Simple Abundance for men----and, she hoped, for women who wanted to understand them better. It was an interesting challenge, for the profound differences in men’s interests, talents, and concerns meant that the book would be dramatically different in style, tone, and content from her first.

Some weeks later, after signing the contract on the project, I was describing the difficulties I was having in deciding on a format to a woman seated next to me at a dinner party. “Well,” she said, her smile doing very little to conceal her derision, I don’t see any difficulty at all. Isn’t everything about men simple?”

It’s the kind of comment men hear a lot these days.

Turn on the television, and the characters in sitcoms and movie-of-the-week are either worthless wise guys or bumbling boobs. To judge by today’s magazine covers, you’d think the only issues in men’s lives are wether their pecs are big enough, their testosterone levels high enough, their erections hard enough. Can you meet the Ironman challenge? Can you locate the forty-six erogenous zones of the totally insatiable Modern Woman?

Other media, too, give the impression that men, when they’re not winning about lost entitlements are demonstrating a historic lack of communications and commitment to their wives and family.

What’s wrong with this picture? EVERYTHING!

The arbiters of what passes for zeitgeist----and I’ve spent many years in that role myself—rarely do more than skim the surface of the culture before making their pronouncements. There’s an old rule in journalism that it takes three of anything to make a trend.

So if a trio of disturbed boys in separate corners of the world commit hideous acts of violence, all boys will soon be part of this alarming movement. If three men complain to a writer of a woman’s magazine that they’ve been reduced to girl toys, men everywhere must be flummoxrf by angry about their shirking power and dominion in the post-feminist universe. As much fun as it is to write about, the zeitgeist simply bears little relevance to the lives of the vast majority of us.

So, here’s a radical proposal!

How about a book that explores the rich complexity of men’s lives, and the goodness that underlies them?

How about a book that, by the example of its many distinguished contributors, offer guideposts to achieving the kind of authentic success that Sarah Ban Breathnach articulated so brilliantly in Simple Abundance?

For despite my dinner companion’s view, men’s lives are anything but simple!

We fall in love just as hard as women, and are just as desperate when our hearts are broken. Though we have different ways of showing it, we feel fierce loyalty to and love for our wives and families.

Less demonstrative than women, and less regular in our attendance at church, synagogue, or zendo, we nonetheless lead spiritual lives of quiet intensity. We have a reverential interest in and appreciation of the natural world and an instinctual understanding of the mechanical. We’re playful and purposeful, competitive and curious, bound by an innate male code to produce, protect, and provide. We derive great pride and self-esteem from our professional lives----that is to say, from our skill and competence, from the respect we deserve and the rewards we earn. And we like to have fun!

The fifty essays on the following pages, contributed by people as diverse as a backwoods hermit, test pilot, professional big-game hunter, champion surfer, mystical rabbi, and some of the finest writers of our time explore, often very movingly, the richness and color of men’s lives. The stepping stones that Sarah identified on her own journey to Simple Abundance—gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty, and joy----also serve as trail markers in this book, only here they are navigated by a variety of writers who offer a personal and uniquely male perspective on these passages.

To wit:

Gratitude is expressed by a devoted husband whose wife has been stricken with a deadly illness.

Simplicity is the lifelong pursuit of a Zen master who wishes to experience the world purely, “as it is.”

A brilliant computer programmer looks at the role that order plays in his work and life.

The natural world serves as the medium through which an eminent religious scholar achieves harmony with the past, present, and future.

A novelist articulates his definition of womanly beauty.

And cultivating life as an act of love is the only way the wise and learned psychologist knows how to experience joy.

I hope,( and know, really ) that on the following pages many men will recognize, perhaps for the first time, their authentic selves, stripped of the posturing, conceits, emotional armor, and macho impedimenta that normally obscure the view. Despite our individual uniqueness, most of us depart on our journey through manhood with similar baggage, stumble up to the crossroads, and have the same destinations in mind. Along the way, we find that our interests, preoccupations, and goals gather into discrete clusters. They make up the six sections of this book.

In the first, “Latitude and Longitude,” a sextet of writers identifies the important foundations that fathers, brothers, kids, and wives provide for them. “Private Pilgrimages” delves into men’s complex interior lives, exploring fear, vulnerability, grief, the sexual self, and the mystifying, often overwhelming moods men are subject to—and to which they subject the women in their lives. “Rules of the Road” examines some of the most important, and often morally complex, obligations of mature manhood----to mentor, nurture, protect, and be a man of conscience and duty----while “Islands of Fame and Fortune” explores the vicissitudes of ambition and fame, disappointment and failure.

Most men take their recreational life as seriously as they do their professional----thus “Diversions and Detours” and the importance that hobbies, sports, hunting, cars, women, and other obsessions play in the manly pilgrimage. Finally, the authors in “True North” identify what constitutes, for them, the real rewards of authentic success and the human condition.

Wherever, you presently are on this miraculous passage, you’ll find yourself with some very fine traveling companions in the following essays. If you’re well launched , you’ll be treated to a fond look back upon your early voyages as well as a preview of the joyous sojourns that remain. If you’re on your way “home,” you’ll see yourself, happily, on nearly every page. And if you’ve yet to begin the trip..... well, the important thing is that you get on board.

You’ll be surprised whom you’ll meet along the way.

Michael Segell. (2000)

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