A journey through a men’s gathering

About 18 months ago in October 2010 I was given a precious piece of advice by an amazing woman Nicole Cody to get involved in a men’s group to help support my life path.

At the time I was two years down a path of changing my life and had made some pretty massive changes bringing my life into balance finally after about 12 years of severe imbalance where I had become consumed by my career working 80 hour weeks. But while my life was much more in balance, there were still some big issues that I needed to deal with.

Some months passed and I came to a juncture where it was clear it was time to explore what a Men’s Group might offer to help in supporting me to deal with these issues.

I googled Mens Groups and found Mens WellBeing, Inc (MWB). Coming up a few months out they had their Manshine 2011 Mens Gathering for 3 days at Ewan Maddock Dam in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. I went to an information night on their Common Ground Men’s Groups and got a great feel for the character of the men involved. So I booked for Manshine 2011.

I wasn’t sure what spending 3 days in a community of Men would look like, but the feeling I’d got for the wisdom carried by the men involved in the organisation gave me a deep faith that I would be in good hands.

The Friday of the gathering came and my plans for a quiet day went out the window with some deadline driven demands coming out of the blue and tying me up till 5:00pm , so as I drove up the Highway from my place on Brisbane’s north I felt flustered and pressured to add to the mystery of going in to a 3 day gathering which I didn’t know a lot about beyond rave reviews from the few men I’d met at the info night who were regulars. I wondered  will the men at such a big gathering be as accepting and warm as the men at the info night had been, and how much in common would I have with the men there?

I arrived at Ewan Maddock Dam on dark. I drove down the dirt road from Steve Irwin Way in to the camp site. After finding a spot to settle my car in for the weekend, I headed to the Registration Desk at the Camp Office Hut. I was greeted by a number of very welcoming men, who gave me a very manly timber name plate for me to write my name on. I was given my ‘conference bag’ with programme and site map and headed off to find a comfy cabin.

On settling into a large cabin with bunk beds and a bathroom, I met a few other men who had chosen beds in this cabin. Some of the men were new to these gatherings like me, and some were old hands, it seemed comfortable to be among them and chat and share. After a casual settling in at the cabin, it was time for dinner and to head up to the Main Hall to be fed and then participate in the Opening Ceremony.

Dinner was fantastic food prepared by a team of men in the kitchen who take joy in catering for the gatherings and nourishing this community of men. I met more men as we sat at the long rows of folding tables. There were men of all ages and interests. Some of them obviously knew each other well and greeted one another like long lost brothers. It wasn’t cliquey though and the returning men seemed to have an attitude of service in how they interacted with men they didn’t know including them in conversation and sharing a little of what was to come.

After dinner it was time for the Opening Ceremony. The Opening Ceremony carried great energy. The vision for the weekend was shared with the men with the theme for 2011 being “Head, Heart, and Hands’. I came to understand the enormous value in ceremony as we all participated in a very thoughtful process that moved us around the room and got us engaging with one another in ways that had us laughing and cheering, and building energy and community. Half of the people there were new like me, yet by the end of this ceremony the energy was buzzing in the room and I felt very at ease in this community of men. The last step in the Opening Ceremony was to form us into our support group for the weekend.

Our Support groups spread around the Camp Site and established our meeting places that would be ours for the four times we would meet through the three days. My support group Leader was a wise long time Member and had our group scurry to the Chai Tent and settle in to the cushions among the hay bales. The Chai Tent had been a creation he had envisioned for a gathering years before and it had become a traditional relaxed gathering place to stop by and relax in.

As I listened to our Support Group Leader introduce how the support group would work, and as we stepped into its processes, I quickly came to realise that this community carried immense wisdom among its experienced men and in the processes they use to create a safe container for men to share in. I chose to be the first man after the leader who introduced myself. I felt heard, supported, and respected by the other men in the group, and as we went around the circle it only got better. An hour flew by and we talked briefly about the activities for the next day, before having a late supper before retiring.

Saturday morning I woke early and decided to go to one of the very optional 6:00am wake up workshops. I love singing and chose to join Robert Ah Hoon’s  ‘Wake Up Singing Group’ by the fire. It was great fun and in June on a cool weekend it was really nice to be by the fire.After a really healthy and heart warming breakfast from the wonderful catering crew it was workshop time.

We did three workshops that day with breaks for morning and afternoon tea. The tea breaks were great for meeting new men and reconnecting with men from my support group, my cabin, or that I had met so far and the half hour passed quickly.

It was a deeply fulfilling day. It was really hard to pick among the five or six workshops running in each of the three workshop slots as about 2/3 of them appealed a great deal.

As I chose my workshops I remembered the words at the opening ceremony that had invited us to meet new aspects of ourselves, so one of the three sessions I made a choice that I wouldn’t normally have and was rewarded with a rich experience in a workshop that was my number one experience of the day which had been lead by a Man who was an inspiring example of a man living fully in his power. I walked out of his workshop feeling I had made a shift in his direction.

The other two workshops varied in style. One had us working in a group of three where I made friends with two wonderful men, and the other was a workshop where we all spoke as a large group in a circle. It felt comfortable and again the wisdom of the men in this community shone as I felt totally at home and able to decide what my participation looked like.

Late in the afternoon our support group met at the Chai Tent for a check-in for an hour to talk about our experiences of the day. Despite a big day I was still feeling very energised. Our group picked straight up where we had left off the night before and I sensed a bond with the other men that belied the fact we’d just met last night. I enjoyed sharing, and hearing about the experiences the other men had during the day and how they related to their lives and found the check-in very grounding.

We had an hour before dinner, so I headed back to the cabin to freshen up and rest for a bit.

After another sumptuous meal that was dinner it was time for Saturday evening’s circle where the whole gathering came together. As the ceremony unfolded I was once again struck by the wisdom in this community to hold space among 140 men and create such an authentic level of communication.

I was beginning to feel like this was a community that I was a part of.

After the ceremony, it was another supper catching up with good men again before hitting the sack and getting some well earned rest.

Sunday started the same as Saturday, shower, singing by the fire, and a hearty healthy breakfast. Again too there were three workshops around lunch and the two tea breaks and the choosing wasn’t getting any easier with rarely a workshop that didn’t appeal on some level.

Among the workshops I chose, each workshop was a unique experience, one quite physical yet powerful in a deep subconscious way, one very meditative, and another built around group discussion. I was impressed by the quality of the workshop facilitators and the depth of the work they were bringing in a volunteer capacity, noting too that they were paying to attend. As I completed my third workshop on Sunday my energy was high, I had built friendships with a few more men, and had insights on dealing with a number of the issues I had been dealing with in my life.

Sunday afternoon brought another check-in with my support group. I was glad of the cushions and hay bales to relax into after a second big day, but the process and energy among the men in our group was again very grounding and rejuvenating. Never the less I was glad of an hour after the group to catch a quick shut eye before the evening’s activities.

The meals continued to be of an amazing quality. After dinner was the Auction and Cabaret. The Auction was every bit as entertaining as the Cabaret. The Auctioneer and his offsider had a ‘Roy & HG’ kind of patter and had all of us in stitches for an hour. There was some good stuff on offer, but I managed to resist spending money I didn’t have and didn’t feel either alone in that or pressured.  The Cabaret showed some real talent in the community from hilarious comedians, to great singers, to the Morning Singing Group, and a few acts which would have gotten gonged off on red faces but which were pretty funny.

After the Cabaret and a late supper it was off to bed and I gave myself a sleep in Monday morning skipping the wake up workshops. After breakfast we had our last workshop which was one of the most powerful of the gathering on manifesting. The process used was absolutely unique, very powerful and managed to get a massive group of men interacting with high energy and creating an energy that was palpable while sharing great wisdom experientially.

Following the workshop was my final meeting with my support  group. We checked in with our goals and expectations coming in, and I had well and truly got the learning, the experiences, and the fresh energy I had hoped for. More than this I had learned a great deal from the wisdom this community applies in group processes which had great application in a business I was looking at starting working with teams in organisations.

Before lunch was ‘Bump Out’ where in about 40 minutes flat the whole community pulled the temporary resources down and packed up and cleaned up the site before lunch and the closing ceremony.

The Closing Ceremony was a wonderful celebration of all we had shared as a community and was a great preparation for heading back into the world to our loved ones with appropriate gratitude for the gift we had received in being able to attend.

This had been one of the best weekends of my life, I felt a strong urge to answer the call for members of the Organising Committee of Manshine 2012. I stepped up as soon as the invitation was extended, and I was joined by 10 wonderful men .

A year on, our event Manshine 2012 is two weeks away, those ten men are now amongst my closest friends and as well as organising an amazing gathering, our group has been a wonderful support to one another. To describe all of the incredible synchronicities that have occurred in my life as a result of joining this committee should probably be a separate blog post and would be longer than this one, and a surprising read.

For any man who had no idea what a men’s gathering is about, I hope this gives you a sense of it. I’ve since been to Manhood 2011 at Camp Bornhoffen, and the Heart & Hara Weekend Program and both have shown me that Manshine 2011 was no fluke. My only regret is not discovering these Men’s Gatherings 20 years ago when they started.

To check out Manshine 2012 follow this link:
http://www.menswellbeing.org/clubportal/ClubStatic.cfm?clubID=2384&pubmenuoptID=30249

Ura P Auckland
Member – Organising Committee Manshine 2012
Chair – Manshine 2012 Workshops SubCommittee

  1. Manshine 2012 Image by Rob Clark

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