My Journey in Men's Groups

October 15, 2022

In 2012, a health crisis in my hearing cascaded into a deep mental health crisis. I had support from a loving and very concerned wife, some good friends, and a skilled psychiatrist. I tried all sorts of modalities to heal my hearing, but nothing felt like it had a meaningful impact.

In 2013, my friend Dave SG flew out from Philadelphia to be around and give support for a week. During that visit, He convinced me to visit a men’s group that he had previously been a member of when he lived in San Francisco. I was reluctant to go, but I was also desperate to try anything that might help. I was in a very dark place.

What happened that night is confidential. It was outside and there was a fire that we circled around. The impact was that I was up all that night, unable to rest my mind. I had been exposed to something unexpected and novel. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but it had an electric quality. I experienced a new way to relate to complete strangers with fierce vulnerability, depth, and compassion. That in itself felt like a miracle. It did not shift my mental health in any significant way. It simply shocked my system.

I wasn’t sure about this group or experience. Dave and Cristina (my wife) strongly encouraged me to return. My second visit to the Men’s Circle happened to coincide with one of very few times when you can attempt to begin the process of trying to join. With trepidation and excitement, I “stepped up” that night and was accepted to begin the process.

That night I began the insanely intense, laborious, and revealing journey to attempt to become a member. This group holds a very high bar to become a “man of the circle” The process takes minimally four months. I had a dedicated “sponsor” who helped me navigate the entire experience. There are ample opportunities to fail the process. Additionally, you can only pass if the men “feel you”. There’s no hiding out.

The Men’s Circle is more of an organization than a men’s group. It has highly codified practices that date back over two decades and are constantly refined. The members split into teams that shuffle every two years. No money is exchanged except to split the minimal costs of firewood and permits, or other expenses. Team leadership is elected every four months. Everybody who is a member cares deeply about this organization.

It exposed me to raw vulnerability and a depth of connection which is not modeled anywhere else in my life. The layers of support are invaluable. It is a safe, confidential container that encouraged members to swing for the fences, take significant risks (and share significant consequences). Processes and systems were invented, refined, and then codified. Sometimes it gets very cold or very wet. It repeatedly pushes me way out of my comfort zone, which ultimately leads to transformation.

I’ve grown so much around my boundaries with other people. I get more practice leaning in with my “yes” and “no.” I am offered a rare opportunity to see how I am reflected in the world. I consistently leave the group feeling more alive than when I showed up.

I connected with so many new lifelong friends. I met Adam Coutts, who profoundly affected my trajectory in life. I met someone who later became my boss. I have gone on great trips and adventures.

In my case, men’s groups have begat other men’s groups. I have been a part of 3 other groups. I’ve experienced a wide range of approaches to how to lead a men’s group. Eventually, I took a crack, hoping to discover more about what my leadership flavor is. While I am still learning to be comfortable in that role, I’ve now had a fair bit of practice at it. I am kind, gentle, and intelligent. I pay attention. I care. I want to bring some fun along the intensity.

Leading a Men’s Group is such an unusual opportunity. Really, there’s a whole bunch of this story that is unusual. That shouldn’t be how it is. I believe that men’s groups should be more commonplace. Brotherhood is quite nurturing.

One thing that also became apparent is that I have an unusually strong affinity and passion for men’s groups. I’m currently a member of three men’s groups, and I show up consistently. I’m confident I will play my part in unforeseen ways in this domain as the years go by. Men’s groups beget men’s groups.