We have the West Australian men’s gathering (WAMG) coming up in November this year and I thought a quick story about my experiences at the 2019 Sydney National Men’s Gathering might warm more men to the idea of attending. Then I’m going to issue you with a challenge. ‘Not another challenge’ you say, ‘I’ve already got enough challenges in my life’ ! This challenge is different. It’s kind of fun, it’s kind of cool, it’s already happening all over the World and it has the potential to change your life for the better.
There are many ways men can come together. We roar and groan watching our beloved sports teams striving to win. We lock in a sad and dark embrace in war. Beside others, we harness our intellect and creativity in our work to drive the engine of the economy and support our families and community. Some of us are big on the concept of ‘team’, some of us are big on self- reliance and the ‘solo climb’.
A Men’s Gathering is not really like any of these things, though it is a lot about mateship and connection. Today, in the western world, it’s a unique dynamic. Watching on from the outside you would see men talking, eating, laughing, crying, hugging, dancing….nothing too exceptional. However, two things make the experience very different from most of what happens in every day life. They are, intention and sacred space. In this case, the intention is holding firm to a strong desire to improve oneself and help men around you to do the same. A sacred space is created in which to carry out this work by the gathering team and by the men who attend. It makes all the difference.
The chosen theme at the Sydney National Men’s Gathering this year was ‘Un-Becoming’. To me, a man at the end of a 45 year career, staring tentatively into elderhood and retirement, it felt like a perfect fit. Who was that man and what is he becoming ? I’ve always believed human beings are fundamentally transitional. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly but always ‘un-becoming’ , then ‘becoming’ something else. The discomfort of this change provides the friction to act but it’s easy to get stuck. Think of men who cannot leave their careers and find a new, meaningful path into eldership. Think of the 13-18 year old, crossing over from boyhood to manhood. My personal interest is the transition of Emerging Adulthood – young men 18-28, many of whom loose momentum through this period. And of course there are the most mysterious transitions of all , birth and death. There is both great beauty and varying degrees of struggle in all of these transitions but to be whole we must make them or risk becoming lost or out of step with where we are meant to be, to be happy.
It is at these (and similar pivotal transitions) that Gathering with other men and boys, in this particular way, becomes of vital importance. Family is also vital at these times but for the moment I want to explore the idea of men supporting men. It is about being truly heard and completely understood and accepted – as you are right now but also as that which you are ‘Becoming’. What usually follows from the ‘heat’ and energetic exchange which occurs at a Gathering, is a process of initiation and a clear invitation into the next stage of growth. In simple terms, we receive permission to move forward. Indigenous peoples have known this for thousands of years, though, sadly, we have lost much of that knowledge. There is a small but growing movement back toward rites of passage, both within Indigenous culture and also Western culture. I invite you to be part of that energy.
Even after 30 years of intentional men’s work, for me there is still a resistance to take part in a Gathering of men such as this. I’m fairly sure it’s the apprehension that during the work I am about to undertake I will have to journey into vulnerability. Someone may see who I really am. Will see into me. Intimacy. Into-me-see. Not in a way that I am seen in the day to day, but deeply, down to where my pain, my fear and perhaps where my true nature hides away. In the seldom explored depths of who I truly am, I may discover something about myself that I have never seen. Terrifying !
In June 2019, this Perth bloke arrived in the Blue Mountains for a gathering of 58 men aged from 21 to 76 years. I felt ‘tight’, hesitant, too wound up. I wanted to feel open and relaxed but I wasn’t there yet. I put on my mask of blokey confidence and launched in. The Blue Mountains have been a gathering place for Aboriginal men for many thousands of years. If you touch the Land it’s a powerful pulse. Through my armour I could feel it. The connection to Heart grew stronger as day by day my concerns and protection fell away.
Every man’s story will be unique but there is always much that is shared. I was not the only man who loved his child, I was not the only man who had been hurt, I was not the only man who struggled with intimacy and the deep need for connection. At the Gathering nobody cared about my appearance, my nationality or how much money I had. Some men arrived with their armour already down ! This amazed me. How do men live every day with so little protection ? Others were still peeking from behind their masks. Some men glowed and flowed. Spirit. Others radiated pain and fear. Even so I could feel them trying to reach out across that darkness. Courage. Our work to grow toward happiness and wholeness, toward being better men , toward Heart was also happening back in our daily lives but here, held safely, we made a commitment to stoke the fire of growth and change, to rattle the cage, to break our patterns. I know it sounds a bit daunting but it was also exciting as we freed up some of the energy released in the process of self discovery.
I know from past experience with challenging inner work that I am my own biggest hurdle so I focused quickly on getting out of my own way and tried to stay in touch with what feelings I could access. Love and blessings to our amazing facilitators and to the men and women who, through their holding, generosity, example and hard work, created the sacred space we gathered in. The processes that take place at men’s gatherings come in all shapes and sizes. Some are easy. Like chatting with another man over a cup of tea. However, much of the time the dynamic we are invited to enter is challenging. Sharing significant past trauma and loss or being invited to respectfully place hands on another man in a way you may never have done before can require a level of courage and trust that can feel ‘beyond’ who you think you are. One is revealing oneself to others from a level of vulnerability that may not have been visited before. This work stretched me past who I was when I arrived. Sometimes we worked within the full group, at other times we spoke together in small (affinity) groups or with one other man and at other times we drew away into our own space. Being on our own was a personal choice as was deciding whether we were able contribute, or not. After two days of inner work I felt like was going to pop so I walked alone for a while in the bush around the retreat. I spoke to Country. I returned calm, nurtured, refreshed.
So many contrasting experiences were packed into that few days. Not everything resonated with me but everything ‘added’ to me. Sometimes I took a while to get it. It was such a gift to hang out with the young men’s joyous energy. I found a great sense of release whilst dancing and singing with wild abandon. The soft sadness and surprising humour whilst sharing thoughts with older men considering the mystery of their final journey. The more I let go, the closer I came to Heart and consequently the closer I felt to others.
On the way home to Perth I felt as if I had been initiated into a deeper level of manhood. By accepting the challenge of self discovery I felt I had become a better man. More available to myself and others. It is the powerful inner work men so desperately seek today. Much of the time we men can’t even put our finger on what it is we are starving for and frustratingly there is no magic recipe ! We are drawing on collective wisdom but also intuiting the process as we go. Support the small group of hard working men who are out there now, generating some momentum to help men grow. If the value of the work is clear to you, this may be a path you wish to follow yourself.
It’s clear that for some years now there have been several transformative waves which swept through women in the World. There has been a shift in energy. Today the same is happening in the World of men but it is only just beginning (and slowly). I believe this is the first wave in the shift of energy in the World of men – so here is the challenge.
The first wave.
I invite you to see beyond the patterns you may find yourself submerged in. Slow down a little, make some space to switch off the phone, breath deep and take the time to reflect on your life. There are other men beginning to do the same. As we continue to nurture family, Community and planet, consider the call to nurture yourself. Bring everything you are and join in the Gathering together of men who are willing to step into the exploration of Self and the birth of a healthier masculinity into the World. Become part of this growing first wave of men purposefully raising male consciousness. I have a vision of men and women standing as equals in a long overdue collaboration. A true collaboration, that leads us to the realisation that there is no distance between us, only connection, only Love. You now have your invitation, what you do with it is up to you.
Gary Wyndham Scott – August 2019