When the pandemic became a reality to us here in the US, I found myself wanting to find a way I could reach out and support people. Pretty quickly, my friend and business partner Shannon and I plugged in with A Human Workplace, facilitating gatherings for people to process what the hell was going on. I also found myself thinking about men — what was going to be the experience of many, many men during this time? So, I decided to put out an invitation, and Men Connecting was born.
Over the past four months, this little gathering has turned into something special; something I couldn’t predict. I had originally envisioned a meeting space where 20 or so men would come and support each other and move on. What emerged was something entirely different. A smaller group…generally three to eight or so, that are committed and caring for one another…meeting weekly. There’s been a growing core group, and then another layer that come often enough to know and be known. This week, after four months, I decided to ‘seal off’ the current group as there are enough men coming that we can count on a great conversation each week. Sealing it off also helps create a container that can go deeper. I’ve even started cooking up some thoughts for a ‘virtual’ retreat for us to experience together.
The group meets Thursday mornings from 9 to 10:30. It’s my favorite part of the week. We’ve evolved from doing exercises that I bring in to supporting individual men in their work. And what work it is. These men aren’t holding back. They are bringing forward their life challenges. Crying together. Celebrating together. Being in community together. It’s awesome to see.
Whenever I start writing on something that feels really familiar, as this does, I look back at the archive of these posts to see if there’s already a topic I’ve forgotten about. When I did that a few minutes ago, I turned up this post from almost two years ago. Tears swelled in my eyes as I read this post, and recalled that moment. One of the things I’ve heard a lot since starting Men Connecting is that a lot of men don’t have the kinds of relationships that they long for. Yet they are finding it in this little rag-tag group that has found its way together.
From Tennessee to Arizona, from Montreal to San Diego, these men are caring for one another in ways that disrupts, I believe, the conditioning of a patriarchal society. They are connecting. It’s fucking awesome.
As I mentioned, I’ve sealed this group so it can go deeper. However, I think I’ll be starting up another soon. This isn’t about building a big movement. There are plenty of places doing that. It’s about creating the space for real quality connections. It’s about building some culture. We’re doing that together.
If you’re a man (or know one!) who might be interested in joining when the new group gets going, you can connect with me for more info here.
I was talking with a new friend yesterday about various things in life, work, well, life. She was sharing what she thought might be a professional opportunity. It was an opportunity where she would be able to have a real impact on people doing incredibly important work. And she’s uniquely positioned to make this impact given both who she is as well as experiences that she’s had. At the end of her telling me her (actually pretty heart-wrenching) story, she said, “but personal stories don’t really belong in these kinds of professional environments.”
[If I’d had my wits about me after she said that to me, I would have said something like, “Pardon me while I preach for a moment.” I wasn’t as clear then as I am now — a speech is coming.]
If I had a nickel for every time I’d heard someone express a similar sentiment. I believe that this is one of the most toxic beliefs that’s been forced into us. Many of us (most?) have introjected some version of this idea. We seem to have been sold on the idea that we can leave parts of who we are at the front door, as if there was a locker where we put our emotions, hopes, traumas, joy, and on and on. This is, of course, ridiculous. That doesn’t stop us from believing this. And acting accordingly.
You were born. You were born in a time and a place. You were born in a body with certain characteristics. Regardless of what those are, there are certain inalienable rights that come with that experience — being born. One of those rights — a primary one, I’d argue — is to experience all of your life.
No one knows what it will be, but your life will have a length to it. Is it predetermined? Is it a result of just choices you make? The jury is still out on that one. That said, it will have a length. It also has a width and a depth. What’s found in that width and depth? The fullness of what makes you a multidimensional being who has grown, hurt, loved, celebrated, grieved, and on, and on, and on. The time that you were left behind by your friends is there. The cry for attention in your family. The time that you felt the deep love of a grandparent. It’s all there.
To constrict any of this is to ask you to strangle a part of you. To kill a part of you.
Every meeting you go to. Every interview. Every social gathering, it all comes with you. It’s in the room like a vapor. It surrounds you, informing how you see and experience what’s happening. And everyone with you? They are surrounded as well. Indeed, everything that’s happening around you, in a way, is the result of a set of experiences encountering one another. There’s nothing else that could happen.
And it’s your birthright that you should get to feel and experience all of it. That is my stand on this. You have a right to every ounce of that. And no one has a right to tell you what you can and cannot bring forward. And no one has a right to tell you what to ‘leave at the door.’
Of course, it’s also your right to decide what to share, and when. This might be because of safety. It might be because you choose it’s not appropriate (or even better, relevant) for a given situation. But it’s no one elses’s right to tell you what is and isn’t appropriate — or relevant. Of course, they get to be with their reaction to what you bring forward. That’s theirs to own and be with, just as your reaction to them is yours.
So, what do I think of my friends story? I think if she thinks it will move the hearts of people in room (and, trust me, it would), than she should tell it.
And you should tell yours. You get your full span, just as I get mine. We deserve it.
This too shall pass
Won’t it? This moment will be as gone as the one that preceded it — just as fast! It’s an obvious and fairly ridiculous cliché. I was on a call recently where we asked some folks to give imaginary advice to an imaginary person, using COVID-times as a template for how one might overcome hardship. This was the response of several of the partiipants. “This too shall pass.”
I call bullshit.
Well, I didn’t in the session, but I will now. Notice how we never say that about the things in life we like? The concert is awesome! This too shall pass. This is the best meal I’ve ever had. This too shall pass. I had no idea my wedding day would be so amazing. (Say it with me…) This too shall pass.
No, of course not. We don’t say it because we want to enjoy what we are enjoying. So, why do we say it about things that we find difficult. Challengeing. Painful? Because we don’t want to feel that. But here’s the deal: we are going to have to feel it eventually. We are going to have to move through it if we are going to be rid of it. This too shall pass is a nice attempt at bypassing. It’s a great way to try to dodge the heaviness of the moment.
To those participants, I wish I’d said something like, “Yes, it will pass. But what is actually true for you right now? What weight are you feeling — even if you aren’t able to name it? What is it that you have had to give up in the midst of this traumatic event?” It’s not that I want people to be traumatized. It’s that I want people to experience the fullness of their lives. How can we do that if we are going to run toward the emotions that we prefer, and avoid, or worse, deny, those that we don’t?
Our lives are made up of many, many small moments. Moments that come and go. Moments that pass. Those moments carry with them differing degrees of feelings. What might life look like if we became more willing to experience them all as the move through us? What might life feel like if we were able to learn to surf those waves?
Regardless, there is one thing we all know is true.
(Say it with me)
It’s a bit silly to think of ourselves as being a fixed thing — a personality with a set of desires, preferences, and the like. Certainly, we are this; yet, we aren’t fixed, and we aren’t singular. It’s a quiet day for me. I have some space. I sat down to find a bit of rest, thinking about the various directions that my energy could go, and I noticed myself taking part in a habit that I’ve engaged in over the past few years — picking up my phone.
What drove this? This isn’t restful, after all. Indeed, I find it generally has the opposite impact on me. I generally feel drained after a period of phone use. Nevertheless, I found myself opening Netflix (seriously?) and popping open an episode of The Office. I sat there, in the seat of my executive function wondering: WTF? Looking around my internal world, I found this me that was like, ‘Yes! Let’s tune out and just get carried away in this little world.’ It took some doing, but the executive was able to talk this part of me back. I was able to step away from the phone, and, funny enough, to the computer where I could type these words. Ah, sweet, sweet technological irony.
I don’t know about you, but I see these patterns in my life a lot. I see the parts of myself sometimes competing for the limited resource of the hours in my days. I see the tensions within, and the paradox created by the numerous selves. I also see the strength that’s inherent within these paradoxes. The more choices, the more possibilites. What does each of these parts of myself have to teach me about myself? What might I experience through letting each of them have their place?
This was the key to movement from the phone (The Office) to the computer (the, well, the office): you’ll get to have your time. First I need to explore this. I need to write about it. The thing is, I need to commit to that — giving the part of me that just wants to space out opportunity to do that. But I’m not willing to just give him the key to the bus and say, ‘drive’! No, I’m not going to let that happen. There’s just too much that I hope to do in my life to let that happen.
This morning, I was co-facilitating a program called Finding Our Way Back Together. It’s a 90-minute session where people get to go into conversation around what’s up in their lives right now, especially as we face the re-opening of our world in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. I think of the title of this session as holding a couple of different meanings. One is that we are all finding our way back together in the sense that we are going out once again. Going to offices. Going to dinner parties and BBQ’s. Going to protests. And we are in need of finding our way back together as a society — we are deeply torn asunder. We need to find a way to get back together.
As I’m sitting here now, I see a third angle: a deeply personal one. How has our time alone in the pandemic, in self-isolation, created any separation within us? How do we find our way back together? To experience wholeness?
It’s not possible for us to not be whole, I believe. It is, however, possible to feel not whole. Come to think of it, they might be the same thing.
Acknowledging that we indeed contain multitudes may be one of the starting points to finding our way back together. Or, rather, feeling our way back together.
Beware the Bright Side
I’ve never read it, but I remember hearing an interview with Barbara Ehrenreich about her book Bright-Sided: When Happiness Doesn’t Help. I’m not sure I understood it at the time, but I’m feeling it now. I’m feeling the ways in which our culture’s tendency toward the positive keeps us from being able to transform. The ways which we use silver linings to avoid looking at the darkness that surrounds us.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
From: A Ritual to Read to Each Other, by William Stafford
We live in a culture that was designed to be broken. It was built on power and control, where there must always be someone at the bottom, so someone can live at the top. One of the primary myths of our culture is that any of us can be the one(s) at the top. Not so. Every once in a while, someone sneaks through, but mostly, no. We will be where we are. And we will like it. And as long as ‘things could be worse’, we will keep about our lives.
These times are calling for something different. Something new. Something that helps us break free of the brokenness of the world, and heals the pain suffered all around (and I do mean all around). Black Lives Matter is showing the way. Trans people are showing the way. Indigenous People are showing the way. Let’s follow.
There’s only one way, though. It’s into the dark. There is a bright side, but it’s not in spite of the darkness. It’s because of it.
Last minute X
I have really got to stop waiting til the end of the day to write.
It doesn’t do anyone any good.
Well. It doesn’t do me any good, any how.