I was dejected, hurt, saddened, frustrated…
Not words a typical “MAN” uses, but I can’t shrug it off anymore. Something was missing, and I think I know what.
“I don’t think I’m spending enough time with men”
As a straight male, perhaps not the best choice of words to say to your girlfriend.
The Men’s Circle
Last year, I was invited to attend a men’s circle. I had no idea what to expect, my friend almost talked me out of it:
“So i’m invited to this Men’s Circle…”
“What? Sounds an awful lot like a Jerk Circle”
“What’s a Jerk Circle?”
Wary and worried, I attended anyway, and luckily I did.
Alongside the discovery of meditation, reading the 4-hour work week, lessons from modelling, losing weight eating Nasi Lemak, this video, this blogpost, and attempting to walk around filming myself…
The Men’s Circle ranks high as a personal “quake moment”. It was a bi-monthly gathering I never knew I needed.
Here’s how our 830pm to 1030pm sessions went:
8.30pm: We (ranging between 6 to 10 men) sit in a circle, on the floor, with cushions to pamper our rears.
Sessions were held at a yoga studio. Dimly lit, mostly with orange lighting, carrying a faint, but constant waft of essential oil.
But we’re far from Zen. No timing can be worst than 8.30pm on Mondays. Most of us rush from dinners, family time, office, through peak hour traffic to arrive there. Thus, with the intention of calming down, we start off with 5 minutes of breathing meditation.
8.40pm: Then, the best part of the night, lead by the
cult leader facilitator- 10 minutes of personal sharing. When it’s your turn, you get to recount and open up about life since your last circle.
One of my sharing: my frustrations on the inconsistency of state, and how it affected the quality of my conversations, work, relationship, health.
I remember, because this particular session spiraled into passionate discussions of mind body “hacks”, which became the inspiration for this post.
But as we got tighter as a circle, we explored deeper.
I’ve listened to “successful” men speak on being ousted from the company they founded, stripped of millions, and forced into bankruptcy, overnight. I’ve seen middle-aged men cry when recounting a parental divorce… 30 years ago. I’ve seen men go from confusion, to frustration, to rage, to absolute despair in the weeks of unraveling a cheating spouse.
Stuff we don’t talk about in bars or at the gym water cooler.
“Oh, a group for men to bitch about their stupid problems?”
But there’s a happier ending to this.
From bankruptcy, not back to riches, but now being able to better appreciate the beauty in day to day life. From family issues, with no one in talking terms, to mustering up the courage to organize a family dinner for the first time in years. From an ugly divorce, to mending a broken heart, to being able to accept someone who he knows is good for him.
From anxious, negativity-avoiding, everything must go my way every minute of the day, to being able to accept and act on less than stellar day. Because I now know, there are better days ahead.
Most of us have made progress. While our wars haven’t ended yet (and I’m not sure if it ever will) , we’ve won enough battles to know that the only option is to keep fighting.
So yeah, spot on, a bitching group for men wanting to get better.
10.30pm comes by, and I don’t want the night to end.
Sensitivity is a Strength
The men’s circle made me realize how difficult it is to establish authenticity and be vulnerable in day to day conversations.
Of course, one doesn’t just go around asking “What’s truly bothering you?”, “What’s holding you back from living an authentic, happy life?”.
It doesn’t work; I may or may not be speaking from experience.
Compounded with the hi-bye, “I can only do a quick lunch”, 280 characters or less nature of communication; not exactly fertile ground for deep conversations.
But all this makes such connections even more important.
The person speaking is granted opportunity to seriously discuss some event, usually unhappy or even tragic. Everyone else responds sympathetically. These conversations are important because the speaker is organizing the troublesome event in his (or her) mind, while recounting the story.
The fact is important enough to bear repeating: people organize their brains with conversations. If they don’t have anyone to tell their story to, they lose their minds. Like hoarders, they cannot unclutter themselves.
The input of the community is required for the integrity of the individual psyche. To put it another way: It takes a village to organize a mind.
(Rule 9, 12 Rules for Life)
There is something psychologically healthy about opening up.
“But… why men?”
Despite the massive progress towards gender fairness, some things, I find I’m more comfortable discussing among men.
Different life experiences from being of different genders just doesn’t allow for certain conversations to go as far or as empathetic when it’s between men and women.
I appreciate a sincere female friend’s “I know how you feel”.
But it’s very different from “I know how you feel, bro”, from a male friend who is giving you his full attention.
(Is it the same for women? I’m inclined to think so. Do correct me if I’m wrong, I’m really keen to hear a different POV)
Perhaps it’s the conditioning from being told how to “be a man”. We’re not supposed to, thus we now struggle to show our vulnerability to women.
Perhaps it’s the brotherhood simulating presence of father and brother like figures that allows us to lose our armor; we no longer need to be strong and alone anymore.
Perhaps it’s an age thing. When you’re almost 30, you’re supposed to have your shit together. When you don’t, commiseration is somehow a smoother ordeal when it’s with people who you’re not directly tied to, because they can be a direct reflection of what you’re lacking.
Whatever it is, man or woman, the best way to deal with your darkest struggles is to expose it.
“First, you’ve got to get in the shit.
And then you can maybe come back and sing it”
Helping others for your own good
I always feel like a million bucks on post circle Tuesdays.
Being able to articulate my struggles is a bi-monthly catharsis I think everyone needs some form of.
But another side of the coin, one I only realized after reading this– it feels good to be help.
“…we like to be bothered. Not at all time and over all things, nor at the expense of our own critical needs, but fundamentally, we have a powerful urge to feel helpful. We need to be needed. All of us suffer from a fear of superfluity, which the requirements of others has a critical capacity to appease. However nice presents may be for our friends, the real gift we can offer them is an insight into our problems.
People can’t feel their valuable sides until they are called upon to exercise them: they won’t have a sense of their strength until they’re needed to lift something. We should risk doing what we at heart have always longed to do: to reveal some of the fear, sadness and angst we genuinely feel to those we care about. We will be helped in our pain, we will remind others of their capacities”.
We suffer more in imagination, than in reality. Charity – a preoccupation on something other than yourself – is an anxiety killer.
It doesn’t take much to feel better:-
- Ask for help
- Offer help (3. act like you need help)
One thought on “Lessons from a Men’s Circle”
I think it depends on either the personality of the man or the friendship dynamics amongst men.
A couple of my guy friends that I’ve known since high school open up to each other all the time, they cry, they breakdown and they list all their issues but we know we’re there for each other. That’s kind of relationship we understand of each other.
Conversely, there are some friends I’ve known since high school and are as close, I do not disclose anything. It’s just who you find more comfortable opening up to and whether the personality of yours can do so la.
Over time, I feel that many men are opening up more compared to men of the past.