Re-writing the story of Masculinity

Every week a sacred space for men is created in Ubud, Bali. A space that allows men to share with other men how they feel and what is present for them. Why? Because many men experience that they have nowhere to turn or ask for help, when life is hurting.

Re-writing the story of Masculinity - By Dean Powell

It's Friday afternoon in Ubud, Bali and men from all nationalities, races, religions and ages are starting to show up. About twenty men have arrived so far and they seem to just keep coming, creating a familiar buzz of excitement as well as a sense of nervousness.

Two of the ‘regulars’ are helping me smudge all the men with sage to clear their energy and body before they enter the circle. For three years there has been a consistent group of four to eight men showing up every week, but for some reason the circle has exploded the last months. 

As we are done smudging this Friday in March I count no less than 35 men. To me this does not only show how much this work is needed, but also means that we recently had to move the circle to a bigger space.

Setting a safe space

As we are all sitting in the grass, gathered in a large circle around a fire pit, I start setting the space, synching the group with three deep breaths and one long loud sigh out. Releasing what is no longer needed.

I then lead these courageous and often vulnerable men through a short meditation, allowing them to become aware of the space, their bodies and tune into their hearts and what they feel in the present moment. I also acknowledge each and everyone of them for showing up, not only for themselves, but in this space to share, support and just ‘be’ with other men and also for this worldwide movement.

I then call in the energies of the North, South, East and the West, the energies of Pacha Mamma below, Father Sky above as well as the energies of Within and Without. I also call in the energies of Mama Bali and the custodians of this wonderful land on which we now sit, and kindly ask all them all to watch over this space with the highest good and intention.

Whether it’s deemed ‘spiritual’ or not, we all like to feel protected, especially in situations where we make ourselves vulnerable, which is why I use this ancient native American tradition of calling in the different directions to hold the space safe.

As part of the Lakota culture, when people pray or do anything sacred, they see the world as having Four Directions. From these Four Directions — West, North, East, South — come the four winds. The special meanings of each of the Four Directions are accompanied by specific colors; Red, White, Yellow and Black and the shape of the cross symbolizes all directions. Like many Native American beliefs and traditions, specific details regarding colors associated with directions, varies.


Group guidelines

As in any other group we have a set of guidelines that needs to be honored. We share them each time we meet, passing them around the circle so that each man reads one aloud.

Confidentiality is obviously the most important guideline along with providing a non-judgmental atmosphere so everyone feels safe and can share openly and honestly, without feeling judged or fearing any repercussions.

Using ‘I’ statements to make sure we do not generalize or detach from our sharing is also on the list. So is not giving advice to each other. Cause who are we to tell anyone else what to do? How could we possibly know anyone’s experience better than they do themselves?

Feedback is always welcome though, but only in the form of how a sharing might resonate with us. When providing feedback in this form of uncanny revealing it tends to leave us with the feeling that we are not alone, which is exactly what this circle is about. 

Last but not least, we all touch the earth and say a loud 'Aho', which means we are all in the same boat and agree to the guidelines.

"Aho" is Lakhota term that has been brought into many other North American languages as a result of hearing the word at ‘pow-wows’ in the 20th century. " Aho" means 'Yes, I agree'. It is used in prayers in somewhat the same way 'Amen' is used. 'Amen' also means 'I agree'.


Doing the work

Since the circle started growing earlier this year I began dividing the group into two circles, when it is time for the sharing to start – the 'real' work and the reason why we meet up. With 25-35 men showing up each week and only two hours scheduled, more men are given the opportunity to share what is going on for them the smaller the group is.

This Friday in March is no exemption and so my Canadian friend, Robin, who is also experienced within men’s work takes on the role as facilitator in one of the circles, while I lead the second.

Gathered again, now in a smaller circle we take a round of introducing ourselves. First name only, an important aspect when it comes to protect our own and each others privacy. We also share where we are from, how we are feeling in the present moment and whether there is anything in particular we would like to bring to circle this week.

It can be absolutely anything at all. Relationship woes, sexual impotence, financial stress and confusion with the feminine in this day and age, These are just a few topics that comes up regularly, just like shame, depression or feelings of being lost, isolated or alone.


Strong men have feelings too

As a way to help myself facilitate, but also as an encouragement to the men who really feel the need to speak, we mark our inquiry on a scale from one to ten, with one being low and ten being in high need to share. In this way I make sure we start with the most prevalent and pressing shares first.

This Friday only one man presented with a ten in my group, and so he goes first. Let’s call him Steve. 

Steve is an Australian man in his mid to late forties, who shares some deep and personal stuff he is struggling with. He very openly and vulnerably tells us that he is challenged in his relationship and that he feels he has completely lost himself and his sense of identity.

He also shares that he is feeling like he is failing everyone he knows and that he has been having suicidal thoughts and doesn’t know where to turn or what to do.

With tears rolling down his cheeks he shares something that has been running through my own mind many times in my life: 'Maybe the world would be better off without me'. 


Courage personified

As I look around the circle I see many men have a hand on their heart - our secret code of letting the speaker know we can relate to what he is sharing and we support him. Even though most of the men had never met Steve before this day, a couple of men are tearing up as he continues to openly sob.

He continues to share that he is in Bali for a brief vacation and saw the Men’s Circle advertised and thought what is there to lose? 'I’d heard about Women’s Groups before but never Men’s Groups', he stated, making it clear this was his first time to attend a Men’s Circle in his life. Respect to Steve for having the courage to go first!

As always after a share I ask Steve there is anything in particular he would like or need from the group. It can be anything from a group hug, a brief massage or non-invasive touch to just feedback from the group.

To his credit Steve asked for a group hug, and so I asked the rest of the group if they felt comfortable with this. The answer was a resounding and emphatic YES!

We all got up and as I hugged Steve the other 15 men formed a big standing cuddle puddle around us. Being embraced and held by so much masculine energy, Steve allowed himself to let go of even more of his sadness. He openly sobbed in my arms surrounded by all these beautiful men.


Feedback as a mirror

Once seated again I opened the space for feedback or what might had been resonating with Steve’s share. I could not count the amount of hands immediately going up.

One of the more 'regular' men went first, wiping his eyes as he spoke, commending Steve for his courage to go first and share so openly. He told us how Steve's sharing reminded him of his first Men’s Circle, also here in Ubud, not that long ago, as he had been going through similar challenges with his girlfriend at the time and felt like he had no one to talk to. Also he had cried the first time he shared but had not had the courage to ask for a group hug, even though he secretly would have loved it.

Man after man spoke about their respect for Steve. Not only for going first, but also for openly sharing and crying in front of so many men for the first time in his life. They each honored his huge courage, vulnerability and openness and for asking for that group hug – for asking for support.

As always we closed the circle with a group Aum. It was almost impossible not to be moved.

I do not think you will ever hear anything quiet as deep, resonant and beautiful as a group of men Om'ing together.


Allowing your story be heard

Steve's story was the first of many tearing shares that night, and to be honest I am no longer surprised.

I have been running Men’s Circles for a number of years in this specific format, where no process work or inferring with the matter is allowed, but instead we just give and hold space for what is present.

Something magic happens when we allow space for what is. When we are allowed to just share and be heard without needing to be fixed, especially by men, who are natural born fixers.

I often hear men experienced within the field of Men’s work (they have been to different circles and explored this type of work), saying they were very skeptical of this way and form, when they arrived, but left totally sold on the format.


Unhealthy masculine role models

I run these Men’s Circles on voluntary basis because I know how important it is

for myself to have healthy masculine energy around me. I spent most of my upbringing and life surrounded by female energy, because my first and most important male role model was unhealthy; to say the least.

I don’t blame my dad or his dad or anyone, actually, but unhealthy masculine role model’s is a problem deeply embedded in society, stigmas and social norms.

Many men explain their perception of other men like 'they either want to hurt me, steal my money or my girl', as one man in the Men's Circle explained it.  And it is my experience that a lot of men resonate with this, which I find to be a sad perception to have of our own sex.

But the importance of this issue goes way deeper than this.

Years ago, when I myself was in a suicide prevention program, I remember reading the suicide statistics in Australia,. The deaths to suicide the previous year were a staggering 4000+. That’s over 4000 unnecessary deaths in my humble opinion.

I feel even sadder to say that 80 percent of those suicidal deaths were male. Not sadder in the sense that I think males are any more important than females, but sad to think that if those males, those fathers, grandfathers, brothers and sons had been able to talk about what was going on for them, maybe they would still be here. Just maybe.


Checking in with taboo

Talking about suicide is not easy, but not talking about it is even more scary. I often find that people are afraid to ask about suicide, it is such a taboo subject. We pretend that if we don’t talk about it then it will go away or it will never have existed.

This sadly leaves people in the dark, isolated and alone. And then, when the tragedy happens that someone commits suicide, the loved ones around them rightfully declares that they had no idea what was going on for them.

It is my experience as a therapist and counselor that many of us have suicidal thoughts at some point in our lives. It is totally normal and natural. The thing is, like a lot of things, the more we hide it and pretend it only happens to the neighbor, not to us, the more isolated and alone we will feel.

As I see it, it is really important to get people to talk about it and open up. We can all do that.

Why I do what I do

It is my goal and my passion as a man, a father and facilitator to change the unhealthy perceptions of masculinity and address taboos like suicide, impotence, financial and relationship struggles.

To show men how beautiful, sensitive, vulnerable and loving other men can be, while still being connected to that strong, courageous and authentic warrior that resides within every single one of us. When we can embody this archetype we not only change the lives of men, but the lives of all those around us.

As the weekly circle came to an end that Friday afternoon in March, I made sure to talk privately with Steve before he left, to make sure he was not still having suicidal thoughts.  He said he was, which made me dive deeper and ask whether he had an actual plan on how he would do it, or, if he had tried anything before.

He told me that he only had fleeting thoughts with no real action plan or desire to ‘not be here'. He also told with me that his first ever Men’s Group experience had left him hopeful and overwhelmed, in the best possible way. He told me he would definitely be back next week.


About the author:

Dean Powell is a Bali based Transformational coach, Spiritual guide, and a pioneer on the cutting edge of addiction and human relationships.

His primary mission in this life is to create open and loving space for all feelings to be shared, not just the pleasant, so that people can wake up to their true essence and live abundantly and without limitation.

Dean’s life is a testament to self-empowerment and dedication to helping people from all walks of life to find inspiration from within.


Dean Powell