Saturday, July 21, 2012

Why Mens Groups?

I’ve been in groups of boys and men all my life and it’s likely you have too. Or, if not in them, around them. I’ve learned a lot from watching, interacting, ducking and avoiding, sometimes even leading. From classic books, like Lord of the Flies by William Golding or The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris through today’s books about masculinity and male archetypes, there is certainly more than one explanation or interpretation of male bonding behavior, male aggression, and male rites of passage.

And in the media, we have stories of heroic acts, feats of daring and, well, stupidity. There is a steady stream of stories on the BBN—a composite of many outlets that I call the Bad Behavior Network—that focuses a great deal on the criminality and dark side of men. The tender moments portrayed between people are usually reserved for the romantic genre and the genres that do include male camaraderie have it posed in the face of a very dark foe.

And so we are left with our own direct experience of men in groups—which may be limited—or the studies and conclusions, screenplays and books of others.

Another kind of men’s group has grown and evolved over the last decades of the 20th century and the first decades of this one. Somehow I was one of the lucky ones mentored into such a group while in my 20’s—with many unresolved questions about what it meant to be a man, questions still going unanswered for many of today’s young men. 

Little known and unheralded by the mainstream media, these thousands of groups around the world have been a quiet movement of men for the most part. Understandably so, as the whole point is to finally land in a place that is safe and sacred to be oneself; apart from old male scripts around performance, daring do, conquest and domination of others, “the game,” or the merry-go-round as John Lennon called it.

It’s a movement of men in living rooms, dens, community centers, churches, and outdoor camps sharing their authentic selves with one another. They bravely share the trials of growing up in isolation and confusion about expectations in relationship, the workplace, and the world—and the joys of self-discovery in one’s creativity and potential.  They challenge each other to learn about their own power to mold a life based on an inner compass instead of outer distorted images of male power, influence and, gratification.
These mens groups are places to build new friendships, new traditions, new histories—both personal and collective—that hold these truths to be self-evident:

Men are inherently good, from the time of our innocence as babies right up to the present, regardless of age, ethnicity, sexual preference, or any other category we can contrive. Men are givers, providers, protectors, lovers, and partners seeking to complete ourselves in a modern world that was offered in parts, some of them very broken. Boys and men have been systematically hurt, not by one particular group but by an entire system forcing them into roles that inevitably lead to conflict, abuse, war, self-destruction, and destruction of all kinds. Once given a choice, a real choice, men heal  (become whole) and then we realize what we were meant to be and in fact are: a beautiful physical manifestation and soul particle of the larger Source from which we came and to which we will return.

Within these groups we begin to respond to each other with that truth about us in mind. We give each other what pioneer humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers called “unconditional positive regard.” We give each other the fathering we might have gone without, the brothering we longed for, the love incarnate that is what we came here to be and express.

This movement then, gives birth to a new rite of passage for half of humanity. The implications for our species’ survival and evolution are profound. It’s here that I leave you with a letter written by a dear brother in this movement reflecting on the gifts of his experience, addressed to the men who have held him up to his own light long enough for him to see it too.

Dear Men,

I’d started to title my piece on the 20th annual North Coast Men’s Gathering “Thanks for the great Bar Mitzvah!”, and then Googled on Bar Mitzvah to make sure I had some understanding of what that really meant. I’m glad I did that, as I found some much deeper connections there than I had imagined. (

Apparently “Bar Mitzvah“ isn’t a party or ceremony, it’s something you become. Under Jewish law, a boy isn’t held accountable to the law until the age of 13, at which point he becomes a “Bar” (son) subject to “Mitzvah” (commandment.)
As soon as I read this I felt a jolt of recognition, because that’s what happened to me at the gathering.

My whole life I’ve struggled with authority, personal integrity and accountability. The pivotal crisis of that struggle came almost 40 years ago, when I found myself sitting in a jail cell contemplating indictment for a very serious felony. As I sat imagining the horrors of time in a state penitentiary, and taking solace in the thought that if it proved unbearable I could end my life, words formed in my mind to the effect that “You have come into this world with a purpose, and you will not leave it until that purpose is fulfilled.”

I had very mixed feelings about this revelation! On the one hand it was comforting to think that there was a purpose for my existence beyond simple biology, but it was also scary to think that something of which I had no conscious awareness was apparently driving my life.

Fortunately I was not directly involved with that crime and was released, and for both of those circumstances I give fervent thanks. I’m also thankful that the experience led me to take a hard look at my life, and began the long and arduous journey of discovering what its deeper purpose might be.

What the 20th annual North Coast Men’s Gathering brought me (more accurately, what all of you men brought me!) is a huge milestone on that journey, a far deeper experience and affirmation of my purpose than I’ve ever felt before. You showed me how that purpose leads me into the heart of my conflicts with authority, money, status, sex, and personal integrity; how those conflicts shape my passions, and how my passions demonstrate to me what my purpose is.

Through the Passion Test I discovered that my five great passions are:
1.    Finding peace and fulfillment in silence.
2.    Listening and speaking in deepest truth and compassion.
3.    Co-creating music, songs, dance, and stories in sacred space.
4.    Serving highest good with integrity, joy, and transparency.
5.    Enjoying loving, beautiful, respectful, passionate sex.

All but #5 showed up big time at the gathering, and as I surrendered into those passions I felt truly at one with my purpose for the first time in my life.
 When I saw the article on Bar Mitzvah, I realized that what I’d surrendered to is the true King within me, the wholeness that comes with the integration of love, authority, power, creativity, sexuality, wisdom, courage, service—all the things I’ve struggled with for so long thinking that they were in some way outside of me.

I see myself now as a (non-Jewish) Bar Mitzvah; a son who has surrendered to the commandment within me, the commandment to live fully my passions, and to willingly accept the blessings and hardships of living in this way.
You men are among the greatest of those blessings, and I give my deepest gratitude to you all.

Love, Bob


  1. Wow Randy, thank you! Reading my letter again after your powerful statement and introduction made it much deeper for me. A lot has happened since the 2010 NCMG, and I'm seeing that all the top 5 passions I discovered there in your Passion Test workshop are still with me, and manifesting in some new and very challenging ways. Thank you for your many years of passionate service and leadership, in the NCMG and the world. Ook!

  2. I can honestly say that there is nothing like the unconditional positive regard that a Men's circle provides. The word nurture is very applicable here. The gathering of men provides an opportunity to receive an authentic, uniquely masculine infusion of encouragement, love and accountability. I am deeply fed and challenged by each of the guys in my men's group. This work is invaluable in helping men mature and develop fully. The healing that I have received personally is beyond words. My life is evolving and becoming all that I desire it to be and the Men's Circle that I am privileged to be a part of has been pivotal in my growth. Randy thank so much for talking about the things that all men need to hear and understand. Great Post!


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