Here’s a list of basic principles that have proven useful in starting and running men’s groups. We offer them as an invitation to discover your own guidelines and not as rigid rules of order.
Men’s groups have from 5 to 12 members and are usually closed to new members after the formation stage. Our community also sponsors open groups twice a month so that men who are new to the work can explore the possibility of creating or join an on-going group. The focus is on authenticity, connection, mutual support and personal soul work.
Take the risk and do it.
If you want to be in a men’s group and there are none in your area then you must take the risk and put out a call. This can take any form that works for you: flyers in public gathering places, therapist’s offices, or restaurants, etc. or you can start a Facebook page or simply call and email potential participants. You can start a groups with just yourself and one other man – then each find another man, and those men find 4 other men and that makes the group of 8. There is awesome power in intention.
Get commitment to the group.
Getting commitment to the group is essential. Spend whatever time it takes to get some agreement about what group members are committing to, both in terms of intentions and time. We recommend that several sessions early on be devoted to giving each man ample opportunity to make his needs and intentions known. Most groups ask for a certain time commitment to build the container. Three to six months gives most groups time to know if things will work. It is a good idea to meet every two weeks, but some groups meet every week and some meet monthly. Just decide what works for your group and stick to it.
Expect everyone to show up for every scheduled meeting and notify the others when they can’t make it. If you don’t make the group a priority in your life, it won’t be. All members should be committed. If someone decides to leave the group they should notify the group and have some sort of closer. Even when only one man leaves, the group chemistry changes and you need to ritualize the ending of the old and beginning of a new group.
A strong group depends upon the willingness of the members to keep it strong. The most important part of that strength is confidentiality. It is also important to recognize that the men will talk about what happens at meetings to someone, sometime, so it’s a good idea to know where everyone’s boundaries are on this issue. It is good to make clear with your group that if men speak to others about what happened at a meeting you do so very selectively and in the same spirit in which it was spoken (in a sacred context). Men should speak only from their own personal perspective and avoid discussing and speaking about another men’s experience. Men should agree to get permission to make anything public.
Mark a gateway in space and time.
We believe group time is very special and out of the ordinary. Consciously recognizing the particular time and space of the meeting gives us more power to work with. We usually move some furniture around so that we have an open area in the center, light a candle and put it in the center. We have also used cloth, rocks, sticks, knives, pipes and other items as part of our centerpiece.
Formal openings can start by sitting quietly for several minutes with your eyes closed. Internally each man centers himself in his own way. Then open your eyes and make contact with each man there. Often one member will smudge the group with sage or make an evocation for the evening calling the seven directions.
Sit in a circle at the same eye level.
It is important that all members are in this as equals, and sitting at the same eye level makes that a concrete reality. For some groups this is more important than others. Just see how it feels for your group.
Share leadership and take “radical freedom”.
Agree that everyone in the group is responsible for the course of events, at all times, even when one man is serving in the role of leader for the evening. Taking “radial freedom” means being honest and strong enough not to go along with any process that doesn’t feel right. You can either sit out and witness, or if the feeling is strong enough, and you sense that something is “off”, you can call for a check-in time. We view this way of operating as our highest priority. We want group work to cut through the old patterns of suppressing our inner knowings. If some members are new or have difficulty speaking up it may be necessary to build in checkpoints. The more everyone feels responsible and respected for his input the more vital the group will be.
Using a talking object.
The talking object is a stone, feather, staff, or any object we choose that signifies whom the speaker will be. With it we ensure that each man will get his say without interruption. Our guidelines for its use are: speak your own truth, speak from personal experience, speak and listen from your heart, no interruptions while another is speaking, each man has an opportunity to speak before anyone speaks a second time (even if it’s to say that he passes), let feelings be, don’t rescue one another, end when it feels like everyone has had their say, and last but not least, keep it brief and to the point. We often have a time-keeper who lets each man know when he has spoken for the agreed upon time limit.
Speak your truth. Be willing to face conflict & shadow.
This has to be the toughest guideline to follow and is perhaps our greatest gift to one another. This especially includes negative judgments and feelings one group member has toward another. Everyone is responsible for expressing conflicts openly and directly. We have found that it helps to make “I” statements but that rule sometimes gets tossed out in the heat of the moment. So we have to be willing to apologize and admit mistakes when we go over the line into shame or blame.
As men we are trained to draw away from another man’s uncomfortable truths and pain, to avoid vulnerable or embarrassing feelings that might come up, or to use the discomfort to our advantage when dealing with a competitor. Only by staying present and being courageous can we continue to draw our attention to what is really going on. We all agree to hang in there when the going gets tough and to support one another through these difficult times. Fortunately, this guideline gets easier over time as we learn to trust the process. No group will last without being able to handle conflict.
When one man as an issue with another it is important to have a process in place to handle it. (See the Conflict Facilitation Model we use as an example.)
We also remind one another that all personal business has a larger social, political and spiritual component. How each of us is doing his own work affects the whole group and the larger communities of which we are all a part. Our groups provide support and training for our work in the world.
Use ritual to access the many realms.
Ritual is the bridge between the physical, psychological, the socio-political, the mythic, and the causal realms. We define the sacred container with a simple ritual opening and closing, and we use ritual within that space to give multi-dimensionality to our words, feelings, dreams, and visions.
We apply the principle of radical freedom with special diligence in all our ritual work. Ritual without freedom is oppressive and opposed to what we are striving for.
Men’s groups are containers for soul work. We are constantly opening to deeper and deeper levels of ourselves, our brothers, and to the mysteries of life.
When groups first begin it is often appropriate for one or two men with more experience to lead the group and provide structure. The ideal after a few months is to share leadership among all members of the group on a rotating basis. Even on a given evening responsibilities can be shared. If your groups use the 4 archetype model of King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover roles for the evening can be divided along those lines.
Open groups in our community are seen as entry points, practice for developing group skills, and since the composition of these groups changes from month to month all open groups are facilitated by an experienced leader.
Look for changes in your group members and yourself.
If we expect the group members to stay the same, the group energy will wane. One of our greatest gifts to one another is that we can often see changes in others that they haven’t yet noticed in themselves. We can see them in their fullness and beauty, and encourage and honor their development. We all grow strong in the blessing, support and appreciation of one another.
Make group business a higher priority than worldly business.
In our meetings personal business and soul work are the first priority. Outside business is discussed in the context of how it impacts us personally. We avoid working with details and logistics of any outside activity until personal business has been taken care of first.
Make a clear closing.
It is important to mark the end of your meeting in some way. You can join hands and remain silent for a few minutes. Or each man can give thanks in his own way and makes a closing statement. Or men can make eye contact and release the circle by blowing out the candle. Find a way that works for your group. This is important.
Honor free social time.
We usually save personal conversations for before or after the meeting, but we are very aware of the need for and importance of open time. In most successful groups some of the members have contact with one another outside lodge meetings. Occasionally we schedule meals or other events where interactions can flow more spontaneously.
A basic model for group structure:
– All men greet one another.
(Prior to the meeting decide on leadership responsibilities.)
– Secure the privacy of the space.
– Gather in a circle.
– Welcome each man into the circle.
- Light a candle in the center of the circle, sit quietly for a few minutes or call the 7 directions. (Sage smoke is often used in our circles.)
– Confirm confidentiality and guidelines for the group.
– First level check in. Short and to the point about how each man’s life is going.
– Second level check-in. Share what is going on at the soul level. We often ask how burning the issue is and if the man would like some support.
– Check to be sure no man has a conflict with another man in the group. If so clear that conflict using the model below.
– If no man is in need of special attention and there are no conflicts the group leader can offer a process the whole group can share in.
– Either paired or whole group sharing about the process.
– Appreciations & blessing circle round.
– Final check out. Ending with eye contact and releasing the circle. (Blow out the candle, release the 7 directions, or final collective breath.)