The following is an excerpt from a chapter called Men Going Deeper With Men in the book I am currently writing – The Art of Conscious Communication for Thoughtful Men.
“The arrivals hall of the Islamabad International Airport was packed with a sea of bearded men in plain coloured shalwar kameez. I was one of them. Aussie man blended in. It was 1998 and I had been in Pakistan for about a week awaiting the arrival of my brother, whom I hadn’t seen for over two years. It was hot and humid. The air was heavy. A cacophony of sub-continent sounds and smells made its way inside the hall.
For a few days I had been making preparations for his arrival. I was camped in a city park that had been designated for travellers and refugees. I found a stack of extra cardboard boxes to use as a ‘mattress’, I had bought a mosquito net and some twine to string it to trees, and I had splashed out and bought some Afghani opium for us as a treat. I was stocked up on tea, veggies and rice, and enough spices. I wanted to make our reunion special.
When my brother emerged through the sliding doors from immigration and out into the Arrivals Hall, he scanned across the sea of olive-skinned, bearded men and missed me on the first pass. It was only on his second and more intent search that he caught a glint of the silver piercings buried in my beard through my lower lip (remnants of my London punk days). Then he recognised me.
Smiles cracked our faces open wide as we bee-lined to each other and hugged tightly. There were no words; not yet. We grabbed his pack in smiling silence and walked arm in arm to a taxi. The whole taxi ride was just one big smiling, silent, happy, brotherly re-connect. It wasn’t until I walked him through the campsite to our mozzie-net-abode and the opium began to do its thing, that we started talking. And then we didn’t stop.
It wasn’t just two years to catch up on, it was two of the biggest years for each of us. I was 27 and he was 23. He had become a father since we’d seen each other, and I had become re-born through heartbreak, ego death and re-identification. We had both been travelling to very foreign lands. But the conversation lasted through the night and the whole of the next day not because we were just swapping the ‘what happened’ notes, but because we were diving into the ‘how was that for you?’ underneath each experience. ‘How did that make you feel?’, ‘What did that mean for you?’, ‘Was that a struggle?’, ‘How are you healing?’. We shared our philosophical ideas and our resilience strategies. We pondered the biggest questions and gave thanks for the smallest graces. We talked and listened and listened and talked. I will remember that reunion forever.
As I look back now, it’s clear that my relationship with both of my brothers, and the quality of our conversations and connections, formed the foundation of my ability to communicate deeply and authentically with other men. I most probably took it for granted when I was younger and became friends with males like me. So, in my younger version of reality, that’s just how men were; able to talk deeply and share their emotions. It wasn’t until I started to explore more widely, and meet a broader cross section of males that I began to realise perhaps it’s not the norm.
Through my work I have met many men who never talk with their mates in a space of vulnerability. It’s all bravado and brave face. Until they get enough beers in them and a switch flicks. Then its’ all a slobbery, messy “I laarrvv youuuuu!!!!… Nahhhh, I reeeaaaallly faarkin luv youuuu maaate!!”, with the next morning leaving not even a vague, dusty trace of having ‘opened up’.
When I talk with this more mainstream demographic, and let them know about things like Men’s Circle, initially they are like, “You do what?”.
“We sit around a fire once a month. No booze. No smoking. We pick a meaningful theme to talk about and then take turns to go around the circle and share what it is for us. It’s not a counselling session. It’s not a complaining session. It’s just a safe and confidential space to share your deepest experience of something and feel heard and not judged.”
The concept and practise are completely foreign to a lot of men, but interestingly enough, quite often peak interest and curiosity. “If I came along, would I have to speak if I didn’t want to?”.
I think men quietly crave authentic connection and validation with and from each other. The camaraderie of a sporting team or an interest club is palpable. Sadly because of our outdated and irrelevant culture, the conversations stay at a surface level and are not encouraged any deeper. “Don’t worry, mate. You deserve better. You’ll be right. Just pick yourself up and get on with it. Carn mate. Let’s just go have a kick of the footy then a couple a beers at the local. Don’t fuckin worry about it!” (all said with the best intention of wanting to help a mate feel better!)
Imagine if it was more normal for the friend to say, “Geez that must really hurt, mate. You loved her so much and now she’s left you. How are you feeling?”, “I’m here mate, better to let it out than bottle it all up. You can talk about anything with me, I’ve got ya. I understand if you don’t feel like going out tonight. Do you want some company at your place?”
It comes back to the chapter on being an island. Men don’t just become islands from their partners, they become islands from their mates too. It’s this false notion that ‘I must be the only one who goes through this. Every other bloke seems on top of their game. Every other bloke has got it together.’ Then the shame sets in. I’m a freak. There’s something wrong with me. No one else would understand. Island.
I was genuinely surprised, when I finally had the courage to speak up about my anxieties, the number of men who would say to me, “Brother, you too? I’ve had my own version of that going on and I haven’t told anyone!”. In a workshop many years ago, I shared my story and subsequent healing process. Several men approached me afterwards to say thank you and ask for advice. One of them I coached for three months and helped him on his road to liberate himself from his suffering. Who knows, maybe if I hadn’t spoken up, he might still be stuck.
How to Create Change
It starts with you. If you think there are times when you hold back from venturing a bit deeper into a conversation with a mate, have the courage to go there. Chances are he will respond positively, and the conversation will multiply in value for both of you.
If you are a man who speaks openly, authentically and vulnerably already, who are the men around you that you could encourage and help come to this in themselves?
I believe that for those of us who are in some way connected to any basic sense of what’s OK and what’s not, in terms of the way we treat ourselves and other people, on some level know when we are caught up in a peer group or indoctrinated behaviour that’s dysfunctional. Deep down we know when we are behaving in a way that’s not OK. But the denial and defence, the justification and confirmation bias processes are so successful at keeping us from our Truth.
Conscious conversations can set us free and help us lift our game. Start them. Talk about human stuff. Talk about your struggles. Talk about your joys. Ask your friends about what it’s really like for them and seek to understand. Men are responsible for almost all of the violence globally; domestic, societal and political. It’s time we took responsibility for our Collective and encourage our fellow men to evolve. The power of conscious conversations is an essential part of paving this way forward.”