Category Archives: Mens Work

The Work (2017) Film

“Nearly 20 years ago, an unconventional program started inside Folsom Prison: Some of Californias most hardened convicts invite members of the public to join them (in the prison) in intensive group therapy sessions” 

Haunting music accompanies the start of this documentary.  Outside the gates of the prison we see the pensive uncertain public volunteers arriving to go inside the prison being told “you are being watched right now”.  Interspersed with prison yard images of inmates in light blue prison uniform and white vests:  razor wire fences and closing steel gates, set against the bright blue Californian sky and the  prison security towers, vulnerability has no place here.  Gang and racial divisions still exist, to be emotional is weakness, and long since forgotten father wounds abound. 

We follow the 4 day  personal journey of each member of the public and several of the black, white, Hispanic, native american, bearded, bandana wearing inmates.  Several small therapy groups go on at the same time within the grey breeze block walls of a large undecorated prison room.   Heavy on seamlessly blended leader facilitation (these are prisoners who may sometimes be unpredictable), as well as peer facilitation,  we follow one group as one by one each man succumbs to his emotions and shows his vulnerability.  We see men who are brave enough to get in touch with their feelings, their emotional wounds, sometimes easily, sometimes through gritted teeth.  Daring to descend inwards and down to their most painful least visited places whilst being facilitated and held by the circle of fellow men, this is  deeply moving and thought provoking throughout.

“Right where your wound, your hurt is…..right alongside that you can find your gold”.   This isn’t a trained white middle class educated listener, but an incarcerated murderer uttering these words.

This is intense,  demanding viewing…….as I watch I realise the wider world is waking up to the possibility that unprocessed feelings may be behind much of the acting out behaviour of men that can be so damaging to societies, to their relationships with others and to themselves.

Ok, a confession, this type of work is close to  my heart……..but 90 minutes later I feel like I’ve been on retreat myself, my outer world receding as I too am put firmly in my own moment of aliveness, in touch with my body,  my emotions, my own “Work”, and the richness, beauty and power of men helping each other to get in touch with their true selves.

Iron John:Men and Masculinity (1990) by Robert Bly

“At a gathering of men in a  huge hall in London in  the 1980’s (Robert Bly was there too).    A man climbed upon stage suddenly and shouted ‘I don’t know how to be a man!’ “.    A few years later this book arrived

Running through this book  is an ancient Brothers Grimm fable about a boy who goes into the forest.  (This tale was selected by Bly as one of only 6 out of 236 Grimm brothers stories that relates specifically to male dangers and triumphs)

The boy wants to do something dangerous. The king tells him about a lake in the forest where men keep disappearing.  The boy investigates and ends up having  to drain the lake, where at the bottom he finds a Wild Man.  The Wild Man has a Golden Ball that the boy has lost.   So begins a relationship between the boy and the Wild Man. 

Picture Source: Wikipedia

Later the Wild Man ends up locked in a cage.  The key to unlock the Wild Man and get back the boys Golden Ball is held under the boys mothers pillow….. the Wild Man tells the boy he needs to steal the key…..(Bly talks openly in the intro about the dilemma of having it under the mothers pillow)

Each of these events is pulled apart in great detail, discussed, and dissected, imagined and pondered  by Bly.  The symbolism of each stage of the tale is related to how men find themselves in modern Western society (ie generally not in touch with their true nature and true selves, perhaps looking for the answer in the wrong places).      It’s a series of gentle thoughtful duly considered wonderings, considered from many contexts and points of view. Bly is a poet and there is Jungian influence in this book. Its part poetry, part discussion, part mythology, part interspersed with modern examples to illustrate and keep it relevant

During my training the general interpretation  of “Wild” from fellow students was ‘out of control’.   Bly uses ‘Wild’ to mean connected to nature, free spirited, aware of his wound, hairy and not bound by convention, more like a Woodman or Shaman than a savage.      

This book is an acquired taste, not an easy read, despite being a bestseller and pretty well known amongst mens work literature.  It’s a book to dip into for a few pages, then ponder. Then come back to it some time later. Each time I’ve looked at it still feels like starting again each time.  Reading the same parts again can harvest a different fragment of the story.  It can be frustrating, and requires patience.   What is he trying to say?    How does he link it to what we actually need to do?   I’ve only made it to the end once, but then maybe that’s me (I’m not a good book finisher but a better starter)

Not one I’d suggest to give to clients in general unless you’ve formed your own view of it first, or they are particularly keen.  Bly is clear that this is about male initiation. And also that it does not exclude gay men.    It is however a remarkably ageless book that does not date like some books based on ideas/times/movements and you don’t have to be into poetry to get something out of it.

What is a Rite of Passage?

A Rite of Passage is a process or ceremony or weekend or experience (traditionaly an adolescent, but can be any age of male) is invited to go through / attempt / face / embrace.

The Experience is organised / held / facilitated by Older/Elder Men, each of whom will have previously completed the same process. (So they understand what the Adolescent is attempting)

The content of the Rites is not known by the young person beforehand but includes Physical, Emotional, Mental challenges, ceremonies, might be outdoors, might be educational, involve mythology, stories or tales or indeed anything.

The Challenges are such that the Participant male won’t know if they can necessary attempt and/or complete what is being asked of them. They will have to look within themselves to tune into hitherto untapped inner resources. There is some fear in the sense that the particpant won’t know if they can do it until they’ve tried it and managed it.

Fear can also be in facing inner emotional challenges, tuning into their vulnerability and, feelings and realising that not only is it survivable but can be very life enhancing

Rites of Passage: For Young Men

The next Younger Men’s Rites of Passage are  25-29 June 2020 near Hexham in Northumberland

Pondering questions………

Feedback:

“…the elders were so open and vulnerable, that I felt comfortable to do the same. 
It’s crazy to think of how us guys are never able to truly express ourselves and 
the power in having other men to be real and honest with.”

the best thing that I’ve ever done for myself, and I know that this was in no small part down to
the leap of faith that I made in going for it with very limited foreknowledge”

What is missing in Modern Mens Work?

Can the phenomenon of absent fathers ever be a blessing in the life of their sons, rather than the curse it is conventionally purported to be?’

What can it learn from Queer Theory, Transgender and Non Binary Stances?

Sons of our Fathers, an article from Therapy Today covering Trump, Zuckerberg, Mythology, and placing modern mens work in context by Manu Bazzano who is a therapist, supervisor and visiting lecturer at Roehampton University and the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London

Introductory Evening: A Band of Brothers

Circle Lite:

Thursday 31st October 7pm – 9.30pm Jubilee 77 Hall Sorrel Road, Oxford OX4 6SH

If you are a young men age 18- 25 don’t miss out if you are struggling, need to make a change in your life and you’re ready to make a commitment. – Or know someone who is – this is your chance: JUST SHOW UP to learn more.

If you are a men over the age of 28, whether interested in becoming a mentor, making referrals or supporting through funding – come and find out how you can get involved.

Book Review: The Tracker (by Tom Brown Jr)

Tom Sawyer meets Native American Wisdom

Deeply inspiring auto-biographical book, covering the real life adventures of the author whilst living on the edge of the Pine Barrens wilderness area of New Jersey.

82 year old Lipan Apache “Stalking Wolf”, (who had avoided reservation life, and got his name by stalking and touching a Wolf) had his lifetime prophecy/vision realised when he saw the 8 year old Tom playing by the river in 1958.

A ten year apprenticeship commenced, where Stalking Wolf imparted his 82 years worth of earth and spiritual based wisdom into eager participants Tom and his friend Rick.

Split into 21 easily readable chapters, this shortish book covers concepts like the inter-connectedness of, and value of concentric circles in the forest, how the mice can be great teachers, the mythical “Jersey Devil”, and learning how to change ones relationship to the cold.

Several gripping, page turning chapters include encounters with packs of wild dogs (Tom has to think about dog pack and lead dog psychology and use great ingenuity and physical prowess to get away after 72 hours stuck in a tree) , an encounter with an angry bear, an extermination, a revenge against inconsidered humans, and the life or death tracking of a mentally impaired adult who is lost in the Pine Barrens.

This book is for anyone who wants to reconnect to what we might have lost in our materalistic, scientific, evidence based world. It provides a window into how a continent used to live for tens of thousands of years until recently

I found this book was one that lived contentedly in my dreams. I bought several copies and wanted to give them away and enthusiatically wanted to tell the stories within it (without giving away the endings of course!).

I also felt sadness for what has been lost in terms of my understanding of nature and spirit and my natural environment.

However I think that a master novelist couldn’t match the impact of some of these chapters. I’ve never been much of a reader but perhaps i’ve just been reading the wrong books…….

(this is a copy of a review I wrote on Amazon)

Women/Partners view of: A Band of Brothers on their 10 year Anniversary

A Band of Brothers: (Charity) Video of 10 year Anniversary

Women/Partners speak about witnessing the impact of, and their support of the men who participate in the running of A Band of Brothers. A National Charity providing Rites of Passage, Mentoring, Sitting in Circle for men of all ages. It has now been running for 10 years.

Click Below for a video of their 10 year celebration when they met in the countryside recently. Video is made up of several testimonies from the women who support their partners participation in this charity. The men can’t do this without their partners support

A Band of Brothers 10 year Anniversary YouTube video

A Band of Brothers: (Charity) Video of 10 year Anniversary