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Men's Groups

Stages in the Group's Life:
Going Deeper

from Talking with Our Brothers

Copyright © 1995 by George Taylor


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CHAPTER 8: Stages in the Group's Life: Going Deeper

In the second stage in the group's journey, men feel excitement, deepening trust and new depths of friendship. Often group members are exhilarated that such great obstacles as fear and logistics were overcome and that they actually can meet together and bond.

I remember reading in Alan Ginsberg's journals where he described the long, cross-country journeys he and Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder and others would take to meet. He wrote something like, "We would hitchhike across America to talk to a friend." In Ginsberg's comment I heard his great loneliness, and also the bond he shared with his fellow travelers and dharma bums, a bond in which their hearts had been touched by some capacity for truth or joy or creativity in their brothers. A heart once touched by a kindred spirit will never be the same. Many men like myself have experienced these powerful emotions of bonding and brotherhood through men's meetings.

In the early 1980's the men in the Bay Area who attended retreats together created a group called the Golden Gate Men's Council. We drove from all over the Bay Area to a small community center in San Francisco one Sunday a month, and well I remember the fondness and even hilarity with which we greeted each other after a month's absence.

We were new to such intense male friendships, and we created funny rituals and awkward activities, as we experimented with community building. One time at the Golden Gate Men's Council meeting, my friend Doug and I tried in one afternoon to bring back a ten-thousand-year-old tradition of initiation, a tradition that the men there agreed we had lost in our childhoods, somewhere between the "Ozzie and Harriet" show and little league.

Doug and I dressed up in robes, and we wore the bones of cattle over our heads. We asked the thirty men at the meeting to line up blindfolded all around the walls of this small gym. We tried to terrorize them by blowing conch shells in their ears and jostling them, because we knew that indigenous tribal rituals contained the threat of death, or at least embarrassment, for the boys. But unfortunately most of the men there knew when they took off their blindfolds, they'd still be in the gym. No lives were at stake. Doug and I wondered why these guys weren't permanently transformed by our attempts to bring back ritual into their lives. Then we sat down together to a lunch of spaghetti, after which we played volleyball with terrific zeal and little skill.

In the second stage of the group's life, besides the excitement, men are testing each other. How safe is it? How much of myself can I reveal? As we share secrets about our lives, we look around the room, afraid to be so vulnerable. Will we be received, or will someone shame us, and recommit the abuses we've all experienced in the past? There is only one way to find out.

As my friend and colleague, Lou Dangles, suggested, the group is deepening into contact in at least three different ways. Personal stories and discussions both bring the group together, and they prepare the ground for direct sharing and interactive work between men, the second form of depth. Ritual work provides a context for men to work and bond in; we see ourselves as part of the great forces and mysteries of the universe, not just guys stuck in our personal dramas and traumas, but men wrestling with important issues of community, creativity, and compassion. This larger picture brings yet a different form of depth.

In the exercises for Chapter 8, I have included a number of discussions, creative arts activities, and rituals. A couple of the discussion activities encourage direct dialogue between group members. These direct dialogues prepare the way for activities which help solve group problems in Chapter 9, Plateaus and Problems.

These activities are taken from a longer chapter in Talking with Our Brothers, about activities which you can use when your group appears to be stagnating or having communication problems. Sorry, the book is currently out of print. E-mail me if you eant to be notified if it is again available.

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