Monday, June 3, 2013

Men's Groups and Men's Work

Most of those closest to me know that I have been involved in men's groups and men's work for the past several years. While my involvement in these groups has been extremely helpful and rewarding to me, I have had a difficult time explaining to those not involved in men's work exactly what it is. While in this post, I will touch on what men's work is, I will spend more time sharing about my experience with it and what I get out of it, as I believe that will tell much more about it than simply describing it.

About nine or ten years ago, during the time in which I was attending a support group for SSA men that were committed to living LDS standards, I first started hearing about a couple of different experiential weekends for men. The first was called Journey into Manhood and was specifically for SSA men that wanted to find growth, change and healing as an alternative to living homosexual lifestyles or being in homosexual relationships. The second was called the New Warrior Training Adventure and was for any man that wished to attend, and focused on emotional authenticity, personal responsibility, living lives of purpose and mission, and having a supportive community.

I had a number of men in my life that invited me to go to Journey into Manhood (JiM), though I declined for several years, mostly due to the cost. I also remember questioning how much one weekend could accomplish. Finally, after several years, and hearing from literally dozens of friends that had overwhelmingly positive experiences attending JiM, in 2007, I finally decided to go. And it was a wonderful experience for me, giving me the opportunity to truly feel and express my emotions, let go of a lot of the shame I'd been carrying and make a lot of positive connections and develop new friendships, some of which have lasted through today.

After going through JiM, I attended a follow-up therapy group that built on the principles and experiences of the JiM experience. I attended for a few months before I started attending an Integration Group (I Group), which is a follow-up group for the New Warrior Training Adventure (NWTA). With some encouragement from some of the staff and participants of my JiM weekend, as well as the men in my I Group, I signed up for an NWTA in Colorado, and attended it with a couple of friends from the Utah JiM community.

This was also a powerful experience for me, also filled with personal awareness, connection and friendship. And since that time I have regularly attended men's groups, be it an I Group or a MANS Group (a follow-up group for JiM) or sometimes both. Since going through these weekends, I have gone on to staff a JiM weekend, as well as several NWTAs. I've found that I get just as much out of staffing the weekends as I did going through them as a participant.

I also very recently went through JiM for a second time. After all of my life experiences over the last two or three years, it felt like a good time to re-connect with what I learned the first time I went through it. And I found that though going through JiM a second time was a very different experience than the first time, it was just as powerful an experience as the first time I went through.

It was, in fact, an I Group that helped give me the vision that inspired me to start this blog. One of the I Groups that I attended over the years had men that were SSA, men that were gay, men that were straight, men that were LDS, and men of no religious background in it. And we were all able to accept each other as we were without trying to change each other. As I saw this within that group, I began to see the possibility of this happening on a larger scale.

Being in an I Group also gave me needed support during the period of time I was questioning my choices around my religion and my sexuality. It gave me a place I could go and be authentic about what I was going through, while still receiving love, acceptance and support.

I have attended and continue to attend men's groups and do men's work because I see that it helps me better myself. The men I have met in men's groups and by doing men's work have become some of my closest friends and brothers. They support me as they are able to show me my blind spots, both good and bad, and helping me to keep them where I can see them. When I don't see them, I miss out on seeing many of the positive qualities about myself, and the negative qualities that I don't see start controlling my behavior. It's a place I can go and be authentic and open about all of me, both good and bad, and still be loved, accepted and supported, which goes a long way in moving past the shame that has held me down for many years. And I also get close connection, friendship and brotherhood with other men, which is something I've needed, but has been lacking earlier in my life.

In more intellectual terms, much of what I experience in men's work can be described as a mix of the use of Jungian archetypes, psycho-drama, cathartic release, and unconditional positive regard. And I believe that describing what I get out of it speaks a lot more about men's work than describing exactly what we do in the groups and on experiential weekends.

And that, in a nutshell is my experience with men's groups and men's work. As always, comments and questions are welcome.


  1. I've been in a variety of men's groups, with the same mix of orientation and faith that you describe (except, only once was an LDS man present--a visiting friend of mine).

    The community of ManKind Project (MKP) is far-reaching, with an infrastructure of small groups that meet on (usually) a weekly basis.

    The community of JiM has, in the past 5 years, increased in a much more organic way. Local and regional reunions such as camping or rafting trips have gotten many SSA men who (in my experience) tend to be risk-averse, into broader worlds. I attended my first camping trip, booked my first airline trip (without an experienced partner/chaperone) in this manner. Men I met on that trip are near and dear to my heart, and though we hail from Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, and elsewhere, we've met again. I feel connected to a larger, wider group of men.

    Those who want to grow, and want to stay connected beyond the initial weekend, can apply to staff a weekend. Many times guys from "graduating class" weekends reunite in this way, and become peers. Now they may add a layer of new initiates, perhaps, to their circle of friends. (I learned that I cannot have "everyone as my best friend," and that on such weekends I may find one or a handful of guys who seem to just click, and we become tight.

    This interconnectedness is one of the biggest payoffs for SSA men who crave masculine and shame-free relationship. On a practical level, if I ever travel to just about any major city, I can doubtless find someone I know or someone I am introduced to, for a place to stay over (without intention or fear of acting out). A variant on this is, I might take yet another step in relationship with that man and staff a weekend in his home town. This is like going into battle, and is how bands of brothers form. By staffing continuously (which I've not desired or attained to), men find the leader within!

    The world has gotten so much smaller since I've recognized for myself that I'm a man among *initiated* men. Or have I gotten a bit bigger?

    It should be said, Adam and I are an example of yet another thread in the tapestry of connectedness. We know each other exclusively through FaceBook (initially through a Coon friend who attended JiM with me) and private groups. We've never spoken, but on occasion write super brief little comments (NOT) to each other. I'm in Adam's fan club and he's one of those guys who I would go out of my way to staff a weekend or attend a reunion with.

  2. I have really wanted to JIM as a participant once again. I think you gave me the encouragement that it is possible. Thanks!

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