A way of working in men's groups
 By Peter Bernhardt, MFT

 Being a member of a men's group is a formative
 experience. It's a chance to grow new parts of
 yourself and share this process with other men
 who have also made a commitment to explore
 themselves. The synergy of men's voices builds
 over time to take on the major themes of their
 lives: The want to be accepted and the fear of not
 belonging; the challenge of developing an honest,
 authentic voice; the work to get out of one's head
 and live more fully alive in the body and in the
 present moment; taking up one's own authority in
 relationships, in work, and in the creative or
 generative process; opening to the polarities of
 intimacy and individuation. The want to access the
 wisdom in oneself and in others.

 In my groups I offer a structure, a form, that is like
 a martial art: taking up the form provided gives the
 group a platform to begin to explore themselves in
 a solid, secure, rigorous and compassionate way:

 • Getting Centered
 Centering is one of the most powerful forms of
 practice we can bring into our lives. Centering
 connects us to our life energy, our core self, a
 place we are often cut off from. Becoming
 centered is a powerful path toward self-knowledge
 and the ability to show up for oneself.

 • Getting Present
 Talking about being present and actually learning
 how to do it are two different things. Once you
 have the map, you can begin to learn to get
 present and stay there for longer and longer
 periods. Without being in the present, we have no
 access to the edge of the unknown, that place of all
 authentic learning and experience. Without the
 edge of the unknown being available to us our lives
 are greatly constricted.

 • Listening to Others for Resonance
 Most conversations lack resonance. We usually
 are just waiting for the other to stop so we can
 bring our bit. By training to listen for resonance in
 what others are saying, we can then join them
 where they are. When we do that, something very
 powerful happens: we create a loop, a field of
 emotion or energy, where change begins to
 happen through the amplification and development
 our mutually shared experience.

 • Supporting Differences in Self and Other
 Of course we are not just similar, we also hold
 differences, and these differences are also crucial
 voices in the life of a group. Many men know the
 experience of being scapegoated for their
 differences, and in group our differences are
 explored and supported. Men are not left alone
 feeling alienated or wrong or shamed- enough of

 • Learning about the life of a group as an
 organism or system with phases of

 All important relationships in our lives go through
 phases of development, and these are not always
 easy! In this group you will learn ways of seeing
 how the group has a life of it's own ruled by system
 dynamics bigger than any one member. This
 lesson is extremely valuable for see other contextsour
 primary relationships, our work relationship,
 and even our relationship with ourselves.

 Emerging Themes in Men's Groups

 Taking up membership in a group
 The process of taking up membership in a group is
 a great opportunity for learning. Being a member
 means learning how to bring yourself in, to
 influence the group so that what matters to you can
 get worked in the group. This is a challenging
 task. Most of us worry about not being accepted or
 fear being attacked if we are ourselves. The group
 structure is there to prevent these kinds of painful
 experiences that many people have had in groups.
 Learning to become more authentic and to
 overcome worry, passivity, and compliance is
 challenging, but is made easier in that you wont be
 working alone- the way to tackle these things is to
 find the resonance for our human struggle with the
 other members of the group. By learning how we
 take up membership in a group, group members
 will learn how they take up membership in other
 systems in their lives: primary relationships,
 parenting, work, and so on.

 Taking up inner authority

 Learning about taking up membership leads to a
 primary theme in our lives, the theme of taking up
 our own inner authority. What I call the "Authority
 Issue" is the extended life challenge to come from
 our own inner knowing and to bring it functionally
 into the relationship in our lives.

 This means over time, exploring the things that get
 in the way of taking up our authority:

 • Worry, rumination and speculation, telling
 ourselves scary stories;
 • Self-attack, self-judgment, prohibitions
 • Difficulty managing frustration
 • Going One-Down or One-Up in relation to
 external authority figures
 • Getting stuck in defiance or compliance
 As we work these issues in the group, men come
 to see the universal struggle they are in in relation
 to authority and by working together, get energized
 to take risks and work old patterns.

 A note on anger and safety in groups

 Anger presents us humans with a serious
 challenge. Anger is the source of much suffering
 when acted upon, and yet is also the source of our
 life energy and sometimes of essential truth. A
 task for any man and any men's group is to find a
 good relationship to anger. The key is to create an
 environment where anger can be both contained
 and explored and made OK, without it being acted
 on in a way that hurts others. It is also part of the
 work to make finer and finer discriminations: how is
 frustration different from irritation, how is outrage
 different from anger? Also, anger can be a way of
 avoiding fear or grief, or it can reflect issues of
 power and control. Anger that is blocked can
 become a source of depression and despair. Most
 men have a pretty terrible and frightening history
 with the anger, and it is often what makes many
 men not want to be in groups: they may have a
 history of physical or verbal abuse from parents,
 siblings, peer groups, teachers, bosses and so on.
 They fear being attacked, judged, teased, shamed,
 or put down. Know that I as group leader interrupt
 any expression of anger I see that is unuseful for
 the group or potentially hurtful. But I do so with
 compassion knowing that we have all been there,
 and I help the group to see the dynamics that tend
 to trigger these potentially painful interactions. A
 major function of a group leader and of the
 structures I use to lead a group is to make the
 group a safe place where we feel free to explore. If
 we are afraid, we can't explore!

 This is not an encounter group! Many people
 have the old image of the encounter group when
 they think of a group, where people "confront" each
 other with the "truth". This is not how I lead
 groups! Our safety net in part is that we build our
 group by looking for resonance, for what is similar
 in each other rather than focusing on the
 differences. This vectors the group communication.
 toward a more positive climate.

 Closeness and Autonomy: Managing intimacy
 in relationships

 Men long for more connection and closeness. They
 want more community, more satisfying intimacy
 and sex. Many men feel isolated, alone, unmet.
 But partly through disappointing experiences in the
 past, men don't often trust that they will be met with
 care, attunement or respect. And intimacy triggers
 an equally important longing, which is to feel
 autonomous, strong and independent.

 The work in a men's group is to explore the
 relationship between the longing for connection
 and building a reliable trust, as well as making
 space for the impulse toward autonomy. Along the
 way we observe some of the pitfalls and stuck
 places that many men experience: Mistrust,
 despair, hopelessness. Anger at intrusion or
 feeling suffocated, trapped or feeling stuffed with
 anther's projections or needs. Again, what makes
 this hard work manageable is that you are not
 alone with these themes, that the group will build a
 ship together to work these challenging areas of
 the human experience.

 Tapping Emergent Wisdom in the Group

 I have found that men long for authentic wisdom
 and understanding. By learning to join others
 through resonance, you will create a dynamic
 system with emergent properties: you will discover
 emergent feelings and inner wisdom in yourself
 and other group members that will surprise you
 and inform your lives. You will unleash the positive
 power of groups to create change. You will also
 notice the pull in groups to be dysfunctional and
 through exploring that pull, strengthen your
 capacity to impact the groups and relationship in
 your life in a positive direction.

 About my journey

 Even as a boy, I was struck by the power of
 groups, for both good and ill. Witnessing first hand
 the efforts in the 60's and beyond to create
 community has been a formative experience for
 me. I became passionate about to how to build
 functional community- lively and sustainable. It's
 not easy, I've discovered, as have many others.
 But there is hope. For me, the discovery of the
 work of Yvonne Agazarian, who's work mapping
 the life of groups spans 50 years, has being the
 most exciting and encouraging. 10 years of
 training later, the hope remains, and I believe that
 the structures provided in her work offers great
 hope for our group and cultural life. Yvonne's work
 is all about learning to look at groups as living
 human systems, that in all their complexity have
 understandable dynamics and phases.