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
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.