Eric Diamond, Gainesville Men’s Center
It’s natural for males to join together in groups, such as teams, gangs, armies, organizations, hierarchies, task groups, poker games, leagues, and clubs . Men have likely been sitting in story telling, truth telling, and decision making circles from time immemorial. Therapy, process, and ritual groups are special forms of these circles.
The “men’s movement” in America picked up steam in the early 1980s, hot on the heels of the “women’s movement”. Men headed to the woods for “wildman gatherings” in the “mythopoetic” style; men’s centers (such as John Lee’s Austin Center) offered growth work and counseling; the Mankind Project offered initiation weekends; men’ councils (including Gainesville’s) operated as containers for men seeking to speak openly about their experience. Remarkable teachers about manhood, soul, and myth appeared: Robert Bly, Michael Meade, James Hillman, Malidoma Some, John Lee, Martin Prechtel, Robert Moore and others. Men’s groups sprouted up from the councils, within which developing meaningful and deep friendships seemed crucially important to many.
For me, men’s groups rest on three pillars: one, the sense of brotherhood and commonality arising from opening up in a safe ‘container’; two, opportunities to process personal issues; and three, delving into men’s themes like fathers, mothers, shame, fear, sexuality, anger, fathering, mortality, etc. Typically, men are dissuaded from advising and problem-solving (valuable as these tendencies usually are), and instead are encouraged to risk sharing whatever arose in listening to another man. Process work may include emotional expression, ‘shadow work’ (in which men role play parts of each other’s families, or internal worlds), or any other creative interventions.
The “ritual” aspect means that the container is set off from regular life with symbols, fire, drums, invocations, evocative poetry, a framework around archetype, forms of “checking in” and “checking out”, and use of a “talking stick”. Pure ritual groups universalize men’s experience by working with stories and myths.
Men’s groups in the GMC require a serious commitment, and are no quick fix for anything. Some men stay for many years for the fellowship and brotherhood, and this is good. The best groups have fierceness, compassion, purpose, playfulness, and strongly felt support--when all these energies come into play, the space feels like magic is happening, and change occurs at the level of the soul and spirit . Ideally, men develop personal power, better love relationships, a kingly feeling of being a man among men, and the capacity to give generously to other men and beings.
On men’s retreats, a community of shared purpose forms quickly as men take emotional risks and embrace being challenged. We go deeply into men’s anger, grief, fear, and their edge where change needs to happen. The yearnings for father, brother, and mentor energies begin to be filled. Being truly accepted and free to be real is a pleasure beyond words.