Community may just change men’s lives like they never imagined!
I have been involved with “Men’s Work” for over 18 years.
I became involved because my partner and I were expecting our first child and we agreed that it would be helpful for me to have a community of men to turn to for support. What I didn’t realize when I first sat in a Circle of Men was how powerfully supportive it would be in my life. What I have discovered over the years is that, like women, men ultimately need to feel supported in their lives. It is not enough for a man to be part of a sports or business team, they need a safe space to be able to talk about their life’s challenges without feeling judged, shamed, or blamed.
There has been a lot of discussion in the media in recent months about male suicide due to the untimely death of Robin Williams. What I have learned about men over the past 18 years is that many of us have been taught to go it alone – to not ask for help. Even though I have been involved in men’s work for all of these years, I am still challenged to remember that it is ok to reach out to men in my community for their support.
Five years ago I helped to found the West Coast Men’s Support Society (WCM) based on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada – an organization whose vision is to support a community where men and women of all ages live with equality, equity and peaceful co-existence. During my time with WCM I transitioned from being simply the Executive Director to becoming more and more involved with therapeutic interventions as a peer counsellor. I have been facilitating men’s circles for over 10 years.
What I have learned from many men with whom I have encountered is that many of them are used to isolating. Quite often what happens for these men due to their isolation is depression. Why? Because we human beings need interaction with others – we need feedback – we need to be seen. Ideally, what we also need is more intimate human interaction with significant others in our lives – whether this includes a spouse, boy or girlfriend, parents, siblings, extended family, and close friends. Unfortunately for these men who spend a considerable portion of their time alone, their world shrinks enormously.
When I think of depression, I consider very dark places with no sound, texture, or sweet smells. I imagine the scene from The Man with the Iron Mask – deep in the dungeon, barely seeing any light – absolutely amazed by the site of the moon. It is no wonder for me to imagine how these men end up seeing no hope, no way out of their deep dark dungeon. Do you notice how I didn’t refer to it as a cave? Because for me, a cave is a place where many members of the animal kingdom turn to hibernate – a place to rejuvenate for another season of hunting and raising kin.
What I have discussed in the previous paragraph speaks to the vital importance of men being invited into communities around the globe; and I am not underestimating the importance for women to do likewise and that many women also end up in deep dark dungeons. Right now I am focusing on men. What I have witnessed when men have taken the risk to walk into a space where a circle of men gathers is amazement on many faces – they are amazed at the warm welcome that they receive.
I have witnessed many men move from a place of being shut down and untrusting to a place of opening up and sharing extremely vulnerable heart wrenching stories.
I have watched many men transform from individuals who did not trust other males to creating very deep bonds with other men.
I have observed many men go from shaking hands to hugging in one evening.
Imagine men who have taken several months to finally showing up at a men’s circle taking the very deep plunge into a men’s adventure weekend and coming out the other side being fully lit up and ready for anything! It is a magical moment to witness! I have had the privilege of witnessing this moment many many times over the past 5+ years and it is life affirming. This is why my hope is that more and more men let down their guard and risk being vulnerable with other men in a very safe container – a magical circle of men. It may just change their lives like they never imagined!
Photo: David, Bergin, Emmett and Elliott/Flickr