Thanks to those men commenting on the last blog post titled Men's Groups!
In the last post I made a high falutin' claim that the kind of groups of men we are talking about here are really significant for our species evolution in this 21st century, evolving toward a world that works for everyone. It was suggested that being involved in a men's group is even a kind of initiation for some into a whole new terrain of claiming all of oneself in order to live a life based on one's passions and highest sense of purpose. And it moves men from being in fear of other men or in competition to a sacred space of honoring each man. I had not yet talked about the tools and yes, the "technology" of a group that can foster that kind of experience for men.
There is greater emphasis these days on the wisdom of elders being something that can be useful in this evolution. In many minds, that could summon the image of a Native American chief or elder with long white hair--thanks to Dances With Wolves--and other popular media. We now have within our aging population greater numbers of elders that may not even consider themselves as such but contain a profound body of knowledge and experience. This is true within this less known world of men's groups and what it takes to create and sustain this kind of gathering of men. It certainly helps if a man has already committed to looking at what is working in his life and what is not. As we'll see in the sharing of these two wise elders (my words), it is not always a precondition for joining this kind of fire circle. It can begin with some felt intimation that being an island or feeling separate and alone does not have to be one's destiny as a man.
Here’s Tim from Tucson, Arizona
My involvement with the pro-feminist men's movement began with a men's group at Drake University (where I was working) in the mid-70s. Since then I've had many experiences with men's groups, mostly positive ones, and I've been in a very special men's group in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona, for many years. Here's what I've noticed about characteristics of men's groups that have been meaningful and fulfilling for me:
1) Our discussions/sharing are almost exclusively about ourselves and one another, not about other people, sports, politics, etc.
2) It really helps if most/all of the participants are psychologically healthy and at least somewhat sophisticated, i.e. having been through therapy/counseling, acquainted with our feelings and patterns in our lives, and not uncomfortable with being vulnerable, asking for help from others, etc.
3) A common pattern, especially for men, is to try to solve other people's problems. In my men's group, after someone has shared a problem or struggle that they are having, the others of us typically respond with questions, what we notice about what has just been shared with us, asking the person what would be helpful (especially what kind of support might be useful), and occasionally briefly sharing similar experiences that we have had (without changing the focus from the original person). Even more rarely one of us might challenge the person if what they're doing seems self-destructive or unhealthy.
4) If the group is functioning well (which fortunately ours does most of the time), we don't have to focus on our process very often. But we're always aware of our process, and we address it when necessary, such as apologizing when one of us gets into a problem-solving mode, or we interrupt someone. Because we usually meet only once a month, we often begin with a process question: "Does anyone need time at this meeting?" If not, we usually go around and each of us checks in, discussing personal aspects of our lives (both problems/struggles as well as achievements and positive things).
I refer to my fellow men's group members as "wise guys" because being together often feels like being with a group of very wise therapists. We deeply trust and love one another. If I were to ever move away from Tucson, one of my greatest sorrows would be missing my men's group. I feel deeply blessed to be a part of my men's group.
Here’s Don from Socorro, New Mexico
Like Tim, I have been active in men's groups for 3 decades. I still see myself, as do the men in the group, as part of the group in Tucson that Tim participates in, even though I moved from Tucson more than 9 years ago now. The men of that group go out of there way to schedule a meeting if they know that I will be in the area. I want to echo Tim's characterization of the men as "wise men." And to that I would add courageous men. We know enough of each others' stories to appreciate the challenges we have faced and the character it took and still takes to face those challenges. When dealing with some stressful event, I often turn to the internalized "wise and courageous men" of my group and ask what have they done or might do in response.
After leaving Tucson, I started a group in Las Cruces where I lived for four years, and have just had the first meeting of a group in Socorro, NM where I now live (two of us, initially). Here are a few thoughts about my experience to add to Tim's:
1. Talking to men about a "men's group" is tantamount to speaking in a foreign language. Men typically have not had experience in meeting with other men "just to talk and share." While talking to a potential member recently, and trying to use his experience of hunting and fishing groups as a bridge, I said that a men's group is "like being with a group of good hunting and fishing buddies without the hunting and fishing, and without having to go anywhere to do it."
2. Homophobia is so much a part of men's culture that it tends to get activated if the hearer can't place men being with men in any known context, i.e. hunting, fishing and war. It is difficult to talk about the debt we all owe GLBTs for helping us know who we are, without the other person hearing us be anti-heterosexual. Especially if it is made known that the group is open to all men. Being homophobic is often the most significant barrier to someone joining a group, and the most important to grapple with in order to benefit from being a full member;
3. Men have a hard time understanding that intimacy is an experience of the self versus something that we do with our sexual partner(s) (in-to-me-see), and that we can experience intimacy with others and other things. If the reluctant, potential group member could form his question about the "whys" of such a group it might sound like this, "Well, if it's not a therapy group then why do it? (And, I'm not interested/don't need therapy!)." It is important to acknowledge that the group is not for therapy, although it may be therapeutic. As men, we do not need to be fixed, and we are not looking for someone or something to fix us.
4. There is a wonderful poem about how men lose the benefits of sharing by not doing it. The poem contrasts how women unburden themselves by sharing. The poem concludes with something to the effect of "and men leave with the pain of no one knowing." I can't find it at the moment but will continue to look and send it along when I do.