By Mark Bradman
While men attend the Men Being Real weekend workshop for a variety of reasons as individual as each man, at the heart of many/most of these is the desire to break male isolation to find a more meaningful connection with others and themselves.
Often men can’t put into words or don’t even realise what it actually is that they need. They focus instead on anything that may relieve their immediate problems – dealing with and preventing relationship break-ups; a lack of meaning to their lives; wanting to better handle their anger, stress, depression and a whole myriad of other things that may be troubling them outwardly.
It’s rarer to hear from men who are actually in touch with their deeper selves enough to name their more basic needs such as yearning for more lasting and fruitful relationships; feeling shutdown and having trouble expressing themselves; feeling lost, stuck in grief, wanting to heal old wounds; wanting to change but afraid of what this might demand of them.
The main obstacle we find to reaching our heart’s desire is society’s expectations of us as men – what we’ve ingested from the world about what it means to be a man. In my case, that was that I had to always be tough, show no fear, strive to be top dog, and above all else never cry or do anything that might be perceived as ‘girly’.
With this type of training, we start growing a suit of armour (like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), a façade of manhood, under which we hide and protect our ‘Authentic Selves’ in order to be accepted by ‘The World’. And then one day this armour becomes so pronounced we forget that it’s even there, or what’s buried underneath it.
When I first trained in ‘Men’s Work’, we all had to say how we felt:
– “Good,” I instantly parroted as I’d been trained to do. (Sorry but ‘good’ isn’t a feeling. Try again.)
– “Bad?” I answered, starting to worry I might not seem to ‘know it all’. (Sorry, but ’bad’ isn’t a feeling either…)
When I first went to ‘Couples Counselling’, my partner said that what she wanted most from me was more intimacy. I had no idea what she meant. I asked the counsellor to explain it to me, give me an example, in the hope that I could give her what she wanted if I only knew what it ‘looked’ like.
The Men Being Real weekend workshop does just that – it helps men ’see’ what ‘feelings’ look like, not just in others but in ourselves as well. It creates a safe environment – accepting, non-judgmental, not-for-fixing – a space for us men to start looking beneath our ‘armour’ to the things we’ve tried so valiantly to ignore but which inevitably seep out negatively to destroy our love, our meaning to life, and everything that’s dear to us.
This workshop is a uniquely ‘male’ course consisting of processes and activities that take us inwardly to better understand the events that shaped us into being the men we are today – without any preaching or note taking.
Through this understanding, we’re better able to re-shape ourselves into being the men we’d like to be from inside out – instead of doing it to meet other people’s expectations of us, or through willpower alone.
When 2 or 3 dozen men undertake this inner journey together it loosens energy and opens men up to speaking about things that have been left unsaid since our training as males first began. This can happen in a number of ways:
Someone else’s story is so close to home that we relive our own scars through theirs.
The processes of the weekend connect us to some deep feelings, and our suppressed emotions flow out.
Other men’s courage to speak up helps us to muster our own courage to do the same.
For some men, the workshop is all they need to set their lives back on the course they want to follow instead of the one they’ve allowed to happen to them.
For others, it opens up a whole new dimension to their lives to explore through more counselling, other courses, meditation, yoga, etc. (It’s been my experience that deep healing can only commence once we reach the ‘bedrock’ of our feelings.)
Other men yet, start creating new connections in their lives, in the presence of whom they can be more authentic themselves rather than selling their souls for an unrealistic and unfulfilling image of masculinity fostered onto us by pressures unseen.
If you’re a man reading this, perhaps, this is the right time for you to give yourself some space to be ‘real’, authentic, with yourself and others in a safe environment?
If you’re a woman reading this, perhaps you can pass this article onto a man you might know who could benefit from such an opportunity?
Mark Bradman is a member of the Essentially Men Education Trust Network and previously worked for the Trust as the Programme and Marketing Coordinator