ON THE COMMON
SUPPORT GROUP GUIDELINES
Suggested guidelines for a
Men's Ritual and Support Group
1. Make operations definite
so the group will be safe/trustworthy:
It's important for
the entire group to agree on costs, when, where, how frequently, and for
how long, our group will meet, in a way every man understands clearly.
2. Make membership clear
so the ongoing work together will be safe:
a) What kind of commitment
am I making to attend, and asking each other man to make? Is the meeting
to be my highest priority for the agreed upon time?
b) How will a member let the other men know when important business forces
him to be absent from a meeting?
c) After a brief time of openness when it first forms, we strongly recommend
a group's membership be "closed".
d) If at any time during the group's life new members need to be admitted,
it is most effectively done for a period with a clear beginning and end,
and after enough discussion allows all the members to agree and know how
they really feel about it.
3. Be wary of rules and structures
-- best to form "agreements".
a) Every group will
want some. (And some men are uncomfortable without a lot.) But a Men's
Group is not another "family of origin" with its own set of
overt and covert obligations which I must conform to and once again "give
myself away to".
b) Being a member of the group never automatically "obliges"
me to do things I haven't examined for myself.
c) I am responsible for what I clearly agree to do after examining
my own feelings.
1. Participating in the group:
There is a definite art to doing this. For me to benefit from my experience
in the group:
A) I must always be
aware that everything I say, do, or think really expresses some form
of what I'm feeling here inside myself. (This is true even though
I may not know it and may firmly believe that "it's happening out
there", that "he really is saying or doing" what I think
he is, or that "someone else is making me feel" the way I do.)
B) Thus: without exception, every statement or action I make in the group
is something I ponder in order, first, to see that it is my feeling, and
second, to name what the feeling really is. From this it follows:
a) I can make room
for silence and slowness -- so I can discern what I really feel about
my own statements or about yours.
b) All my statements during a meeting should be "I statements":
I feel. I believe. I think. When you say that, I feel... When you do
that, I feel ... When that happens, I feel... When we do this exercise,
I feel ... (I must keep the focus on myself, speak about myself, reveal
myself, because that is all I can really know and speak of [if even
that], and that is what I'm here to learn about.)
c) Every statement or action I make means "I need to talk",
"I need to act". Every question means "I need to know".
So, a very basic issue for every man in the group is: how do I go about
expressing and taking care of my needs? How do I relate my needs to
yours? How do I really feel about your needs? (Personal Boundaries)
d) I should offer only sensory based feed-back about what another man
says or does: I heard your voice quiver. I saw your eyes blink. I felt
your hand shake. I saw you lower your head.
e) I can NOT interpret or judge another man's statements or experiences.
I can NOT analyze what he really means, or why he really does
what he does. I can NOT decide what his feelings really are.
I can NOT "help" or fix him, no matter how many pointed
questions I feel entitled to ask, or how much "good advice"
I believe capable of offering. (And quickly ask anyone who tries to
do any of these things what his own feelings about doing it really are).
f) In other words, I should avoid "you statements", because
in fact it's not possible to really know what's going on inside
another person: What you're saying is... I feel what you're saying is
... What you should do is... I think that what you should do is ...
You are ... I believe that you're... I sense that you're... I see that
you're ... (These are all either direct or sneaky forms of "you
statements". And, no matter what I believe, they are always
really about myself!)
g) To state the secret of profitable participation in a nut shell: What
it all comes down to is that I'm in the group to listen and to
witness -- to myself, as I speak or act -- and to you, as you do.
I witness only by speaking of my own feelings in relation to what you
say or do. I am not here to meddle.
2. The Group's On-going Work.
a) Being in a group
does take real work.
b) The only absolute foundation for my group's success is each man's determination
to show up, combined with what might best be called his humility. (Humility
in this sense implies a combination of courageous honesty, vulnerability,
willingness to accept all feelings that come up as my own, and a sense
that there is always something for me to learn. of course, this in itself
c) If the men in the group come from. such a place, then absolutely anything
can be the subject of a meeting -- including an inquiry into why we can't
come up with any topics or exercises!
d) Lately some groups have come up with apparently unresolvable disagreements
over whether to work ritually and mythologically, or psychologically.
This is an absolutely false dichotomy because:
e) Work with rituals and mythic stories invites me to use them to study
my feelings -- so that I learn to walk more richly in the story of my
life despite the "bad" stories from my past.
f) Psychological work invites me to understand my feelings to the point
where they bring me fully into contact with myself, with you, and with
g) The two goals are totally compatible. It only takes a little generous
"humility" for men favoring one approach to find The Common
Ground with the men favoring the other. And that might be great work for
3. Basic Purposes.
From time to time, it's important to review my purposes or goals for being
in the group in order to make conscious my expectations about what the
a) Some of us join
for a clear purpose. Some of us aren't clear why we're in our group.
b) In fact, no matter how he pictures its work, every man in the group
wants something different from it: to explore feelings, to be with men,
to develop friendship, or love, or support, to deal with problem areas
in life, with father, mother, girlfriend, wife, children, divorce, death,
to be with men who are the same as I am, or whatever. In sum, conscious
or not, each of us has an agenda, an image of what the group must
be or do for him.
c) So, at first, all groups start out cautiously, politely, tenderly.
It usually feels great.
d) Sooner or later, the differences emerge. The group may head into a
direction a member didn't "expect", or be filled with men who
are "different" -- and the fighting or struggling starts. At
this crucial point, many men leave, figuring the group isn't happening
("this isn't what I was looking for", "this isn't working
for me"). Other men try to take refuge in organization, rules ("let's
settle this with a vote") -- some structure outside themselves to
shield themselves from what they are feeling.
e) But, this is precisely the moment when we begin to form a true group.
It's vital to see that the group really forms -- we truly come into intimate
contact with each other -- only as I work through my demands, my expectations,
my judgments, both about myself and about you. And, as you do the same.
f) That is: we truly come together only as I learn to be myself in your
presence, and allow you to be yourself in mine -- only as you learn to
be yourself, and allow me to be myself in your presence.
g) Therefore: as the group works on, every part of me, and of you, is
welcomed into it. No need to abandon any real part of me at the door,
or to "fix" you or myself once in. All my dark (anger, jealousy,
despair) and my light (hope, joy, love) feelings, my heroism and
my brokenness, are OK -- as long as I remember that they are mine, and
that I must keep the focus on myself in order to understand them. (I have
something to learn.)
h) So, every single thing that happens in the group (including violations
of all these guidelines!) is an opportunity for me to understand what
my feelings are, and to learn better how I can be together with you.
i) Ritual or mythological work, psychological talk, bodily exercises,
personal problems, arguments, disputes, power struggles, meals together,
expeditions to places, excess or lack of material, or anything else you
can think of: WE CAN'T GO WRONG. EVERYTHING IS MATERIAL FOR WHAT WE
HAVE TO LEARN.
ALL I HAVE TO
DO IS STAY WITH THE GROUP, THEN
LISTEN, LOOK, AND BECOME AWARE.