For three hours every Monday night, in a room overlooking a parking lot, the shit gets real for Colin Berry.
We pull in to the parking lot a few minutes before starting time: a Toyota Corolla, a trio of pickups, a BMW, an old GMC van. Me in my Honda. We gather in a circle under the sodium lights, seven or eight of us on any given week, chatting and joking and trading quick hugs.
At 7:30 p.m. sharp, however, cell phones are turned off. Talk stops. A certain tension settles in. One man lights a bundle of sage and, one by one around the circle, each of us gets wreathed in ceremonial smoke.
It’s Monday night, and men’s group is starting.
Our group is four years old and a dozen members now, and we meet upstairs, in an off-hours yoga studio in East Los Angeles. We’re a mixed bunch: an accountant, a union electrician, an engineer, a voiceover director, three writers. Family men and bachelors, a blend of religions. Gay and straight, several races, and ages from 30s to 60s.
In any other context, the twelve of us would have little in common. Here, however, we’re bound by several things: a commitment to our own personal growth; support of other men in their growth; and participation in a weekend men’s initiation, from a few months to a few years ago, as part of The ManKind Project, the parent organization our group is part of.
What this means is I know these men have my back. It means on any given week, I can bring whatever is going on for me and trust these men to hold it. Trust that they won’t try to placate me, or fix me, or gossip about me later to their wives or buddies. That when they have judgments about me—and I know they will—they’ll own them clearly and cleanly in a way that respects both of us. This alone is worth coming every week.
The night is structured for men to experience a handful of male archetypes: the Lover, gentle and curious; the Warrior, fierce and focused; the Magician, a master of mystery and transformation; the King, a benevolent source of wisdom and blessing. At times, a given man on any given week may experience loving connection, deep sadness, razor-sharp rage, and a head-clearing epiphany or two. Every week it’s different.
I’ve been in a group for nearly 10 years, and at different times I’ve had the chance to sob about my mom’s death; reconnect with the white-hot flame of my personal power; acknowledge shame I was feeling at times in my life about the state of my finances; had “conversations” with my sisters, my father, and my late brother, as well as Gestalt-style dialog with specific parts of myself—my perfectionist, my lazy motherfucker, my frightened little boy. I’ve meditated, danced like a fool, played parts in other men’s psychodramas, and nearly puked. Groups I’ve been in have watched movies, gone bowling, laid flagstone, and played poker. I know and trust some of these guys better than folks in my own family.
As a group member, I have the chance every week to hold myself accountable for things I’ve said I’ll do, for myself or others. This is a big part of our work. I can also hold other members accountable. If I come to group angry at a man, we have a facilitated process whereby I can “clear” with him. This is one of the most elegant and electrifying moments of the night. Whatever the data is between us, I can lay it out, talk about the feelings his actions have brought up in me, and levy my judgments and projections upon the man.
If that sounds like a pile-on, let me say that nine of 10 times that I clear with a man, it’s because he’s got or done something I don’t like about myself, and by the time I figure this out and the exercise is over, the two of us are usually smiling and hugging. (And he can always clear with me if he needs to.)
Are we psychologists? Nope. Do we encourage men to be authentic? To be the best they can be? Yes and yes. It’s like the quote from Thich Nath Hanh: “The most precious gift we can offer anyone is the fullness of our attention.”
Other than in a therapist’s office, I’ve never seen the kind of male positivity anywhere else. In groups, I’ve seen guys who were fully disconnected from their emotions begin to move more nimbly among them. I’ve seen men crushed by shame—about their bodies, their collapsing marriages, their joblessness, their mounting age—step into powerful and positive new beliefs about themselves. I’ve seen men at opposite ends of an ideology speak their truths to one other and uncover the common threads at the root of their beliefs.
But here’s what I don’t want you to know about men’s group: when I pull into the parking lot every week, I’m scared.
I’m scared because I know that for the next three hours, my unflattering parts will have nowhere to hide. Unlike the normal world, where I’m rarely held fully accountable, I know here I will be. Unlike daily life, where my ego is so adept at hiding my authentic human self—with its doubts, fears, shame, and shadows—here I sit exposed. If I speak bullshit, men will call me on it. Here, masks are off and personas checked at the door.
So, I’m scared.
But I’ll also tell you this: at 10 p.m. as we’re locking up the studio and getting back in our cars, I feel 100 times better. Every week. Authenticity, it turns out, feels better than artifice, and spending three hours in a roomful of genuine men has—for me—the effect of making me feel fantastic. Back in my Honda, pulling out of the lot and back into real life, I feel like the world is a safer place with my men and me making a genuine difference. For a few hours, in one room in this vast city, we’ve put ourselves and a few others on the road to being better men.
Photo: Mankind Project