The Surprising Power of Men’s Circles

Men’s circles are quite in fashion.  Groups of ordinary guys are coming together to talk about something other than sex and football and discovering that there’s a lot to say. In an authentic, trustful environment, men are learning to talk about issues that they’ve never been able to share before.

I have to admit that I was reluctant to run a men’s circle on my Morocco retreats. I only did it the first time because the dance teacher was set on having a woman’s circle and so I agreed to get the guys together in the dunes, too. The whole thing seemed to me a bit New Agey and a bit binary. Were we supposed to divide ourselves into Moon and Sun tribes and meditate on yin-yang symbols?

I knew talking circles could be great tools for opening people up and we regularly held one on the retreat, usually on an evening half-way through the week, where we would pass the candle around the group and only the person holding the candle could talk. It allowed even the quiet, shy voices to be heard and people took courage from one another to share their hopes and fears.

But I didn’t see what difference it would make to bring all the guys together. It seemed to me that men are on average less socially skilled than women with a lower emotional intelligence. How then would they be able to share their feelings when all lumped together?

I was blown away.

Ok, not at every circle and certainly not every speaker, but it turned out that when the women weren’t there the guys felt emboldened to open up and talk about things they’d never shared before. Whether it was worries about making money, sexuality, health or happiness, we heard stories and confessions, complaints and gratitude, tears and laughter washing over the whole circle. We heard of abusive parents disastrous relationships,  despair and depression, journeys of therapy and healing. And one story unlocked another as memories resurfaced and the pain from the past began to melt.

I don’t know if the guys felt it easier to share because there weren’t any women listening or because of a strong fraternal feeling. It doesn’t matter. Whatever works.

The only trouble was that it was time for lunch and the women were still talking…