Being male is something you’re born as; however becoming a strong, emotionally intelligent and open man is not a given. Being this type of man takes practice, a practice that gets worked out in the intimate and everyday relationships that make up our lives.
Relationships with other men carry a unique potential. Whether through competition or cooperation, men have always needed other men to help develop and refine their abilities. When functional, friendships and alliances with other men give us a sense of grounding, of comradery, of play, and of insight. Men’s work is very much about creating a stable platform to develop these possibilities.
I come to this work from a Jungian perspective. Central to Jungian psychology is the concept of “individuation”, a dynamic process of personal and social inclusion: i.e. having the fullness of one’s individual self and the fullness of relationships with others. Jung describes individuation as “a slow imperceptible process of psychic growth [that produces] a wider and more mature personality”. It is a term extremely relevant for group work because it recognizes psychological evolution and growth as requiring interactions with others. Think of individuation as the great task of taking one’s rightful place on the stage of life, which includes a number developmental subtasks, such as:
- Cultivating an authentic social personality.
- Being able to access and express emotions.
- Having the capacity to tolerate and resolve conflicts, with others and within oneself.
- Determining one’s own value and contribution.
- Managing sexual needs and sexual relationships.
- Being willing to generously give and receive support from others.
In men’s work there is an invitation to take an active role in how your life is playing out. We each come into adult life with different abilities and challenges…Some may say it’s karma, others call it the luck of the draw. Both of these perspectives are too passive to my mind. I like the definition for “good luck” used by the Bantu people in Southern Africa. “Good luck” is not merely a passive thing to be wished for, but rather the combination of opportunity and preparedness. Being ready for opportunity is an activity, one that may even generate opportunities by magnetically drawing them to you. I think of the men engaged in men’s work as the lucky ones: For in a committed circle of men we get to actively explore issues central to our lives, practice self-awareness, and therefore be prepared for whatever opportunities life presents.
It seems to me that we live in particularly restless and lonely times. Feeling lost and disconnected is very painful, and as we get older the sense of time running out adds to the pressure. There is an Irish proverb which says, “The true home of the people is in the hearts of one another.” We need the sheltering support of others, who know us and care about us. And while this is true for both men and women, men tend to survive on a much leaner diet of social connection. Our need for others seems inherently more difficult to navigate, which is a theme that often comes up in group. The fears of exposure and possible betrayal weigh heavily on the hearts of men.
For many years now I’ve been running a men’s group called “Coming Home”. I call the group Coming Home because that is the direction we are headed: courageously and improvisationally making our way to the center of who we are as individuals and as a collective. The group meets weekly, providing a stable, trusting environment in which to explore the issues that present themselves. It is a place to practice the fundamentals of being a man.
As men living during this time and place, we have a lot of work to do. The world, especially our families and loved ones, need us to show up and do what we came for. No one will do it for us…but, blessedly, we cannot do it alone.