Schedule of Open Men’s Circles

1st and 3rd Wednesday of every month
6:30 – 9:00 PM
262 Union Street, West Springfield MA
(Park across street from Crepe’s Tea House (261 Union Street), & between Charlie’s Diner and A to Z Movers. –Identify A to Z moving building (3 stories) by AtoZ Moving Trucks & Sign. Entrance is on the ground floor, front (NE) corner of the building.)

Contact me directly for more information: boysenhodgson@mkp.org.

I also encourage you to join our www.meetup.com/openmen group to stay up to date with our meetings. See the widget on the right side.

Open Men has now been running for a decade. This is a PROVEN model for self-improvement in any area of your life.

We don’t try to make friendships … we make powerful bonds between men.  We build brotherhood. A ‘regular guy’ can step into this space and be feel empowered to tell the unvarnished truth about his life. We’re not here to put on a show for each other. We’re not here to set ourselves up in opposition to a perceived ‘other’ in the world. We’re not here to offer salvation. We’re here to cut through the bullshit that we’ve been taught are the fundamentals of being a man. We’re here to step through the fear of showing up authentically, warts and all, in our lives and loves. We’re here to find and explore our self-made purpose.

  • If you are a change agent, a man working with others for the good of society – the skills you can learn here are essential to your efforts to create sustainable solutions in the world.
  • If you struggle with commitment, with discipline, with emotional honesty, with feelings of powerlessness or inadequacy, with anger, frustration, depression – this is a kind of bonding that will help you break old patterns and find YOUR PLACE in a community.
  • If you are outwardly successful and looking to become more integrated with other parts of  your life – this is a place to come and explore, refine and express the other parts of yourself that may be hiding out in the shadows.
  • If you have never felt safe or at ease in a group of men – this is a place to figure out why and to change that. Your success depends on your efforts.

Without moving beyond ‘connection by cause’ and into ‘bonded commitment’, efforts to create and sustain community will fail … over and over and over.

Movements fail not because of the lack of good ideas or even good organization, but because of the lack of mature bonding – the kind of connection that allows groups to overcome personal and psychological blocks and resolve interpersonal conflicts in a way that is energizing rather than draining to their efforts.

This is what we’ve been doing for over 30 years in the ManKind Project. This is what we strive for in Open Men.

Is it easy? Hell no. Becoming a mature man isn’t easy. That’s why most men act like immature boys when faced with tough issues – emotional issues.
Is it worth it? Hell yeah. Making this commitment to yourself can change everything in your world.

Our Taboos are Killing us

I read a great blog post today from the Sexademic – http://sexademic.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/screw-critical-thought-blame-women-feminism-or-men/

Here is the Response I wrote:

THANKS! The times they are a changin’ indeed.

Masculinity (and Femininity) need a reset. I get very tired of listening to men a) blame women rather than take responsibility for their happiness, unhappiness, satisfaction, political station, job, etc. b) say and do things which reinforce damaging, violent and emotionally immature stereotypes about men.

I also get very tired of women who either a) blame men rather than take responsibility for getting what they want or creating the relationships they want or b) let men off the hook for being immature and emotionally stunted with statements like ‘boys will be boys’ or c) say and do things that reinforce damaging, psychically violent and emotionally immature stereotypes about women.

It’s a dance that’s been playing for a few tens of thousands of years. You’d think with these huge masses of grey matter, the lizard brain would be a bit more in check.

AND I also feel very strongly that the fundamental mistake is one of denial. We have collectively created a culture of taboos (political correctness could be an example) in which there are whole areas of personality, actions, thoughts and feelings which have been put into a deep dark hole. AND surprise, surprise, these archetypal demons locked in ‘unbreakable’ chains manage to find a way to escape and show up in all kinds of damaging ways in the culture. Gonzo porn, domestic violence, sexualized children, violent misogyny, misandry and homophobia, hypersexuality, women whose first and primary concern is sexual acceptability, men whose first and primary concern is denial of ALL that could be considered feminine. Men are no longer consciously taught to be mature, because there are few men who understand what that maturity looks like, or how to teach it. The same is true of women. And the lot of us are mostly taught by media, which as you pointed out is mostly made, produced and marketed by men. (the same immature men who were never taught otherwise)

Want to break the denial? Create conscious places for men and women to safely explore the taboos, let the demons out of the cages in a safe and conscious way (this does NOT mean enacting them on one another!) and learn what they have to teach us. We’re already letting them out … we’re just making the wildly irresponsible choice to not analyze, process and explore these taboos consciously. When we come to a level of self-awareness about what we hide in our taboo closets, the taboos lose their psychic magnetism – freeing us ALL up to create masculinity and femininity that will support us toward wholeness rather than diminishing us toward gendered mud-flinging.

The good news is that there are more and more men and women waking up, doing their work cleaning out the closets and creating conscious and more emotionally responsible cultures and relationships. They are isolated pockets most of the time, but growing.

And if the predictors work … it will only take about 1% of the population waking up to change the whole game. I think that the huge amount of yelling, fear and panic about this topic might indicate that we’re close to breaking through. I hope so.

For men – I recommend the ManKind Project as a way to start doing the work of taking responsibility for our lives. Cut the shit man. Time to take responsibility for yourself.

Emotional Activism as a construct for societal transformation

I am re-posting an older article that still resonates with me.

In June of 2007, I was in Northampton, MA at a public screening of Byron Hurt’s HIP HOP Beyond Beats and Rhymes. If you haven’t seen this movie – I recomend it highly. Hurt has done a fantastic job of really opening the connections between rap, hyper-masculinity, violence, misogyny, sexism, homophobia and corrupt capitalism. The film is powerfully edited, smart, compelling. There were about 160 people in attendance at this Sunday night screening. Some very well recognized heavy-weights in the pro-feminist, anti-violence men’s movement were in attendance.  On the way home with the LadyK I tried to verbalize the deep sadness and frustration that I feel about the disconnection between what I do in my work with the ManKind Project and the work that is being done by powerful scholars “intellectual Heavyweights” (as Hurt said) on the front lines of the anti-violence men’s movement.

Continue reading “Emotional Activism as a construct for societal transformation”

How I got involved in New Warrior stuff – the truth about the ManKind Project

A question from an old friend who I haven’t connected with in years.

So how’d you get involved with the New Warror stuff?

I’m curious about the program. I may check it out but as I explained to J***, while the underlying concepts certainly resonate for me, I’m very peculiar about (and easily distracted by) the language and vessel chosen to convey ideas. Sometimes the idea is meaningful, but the way it’s expressed raises my hackles, sounds off alarms, and I just can’t trust the messenger. And the message itself gets diluted in the process. Sometimes, regardless of the messenger, it takes me years to fully absorb a useful message and translate it into meaningful change.

This really got me thinking. Here’s what I came up with.

I did the NWTA in April 2004, a year after I left a very complicated and painful relationship that I was in for 7 1/2 years. I had known about it for years because my brothers and my Dad had done it.  I was on a good path. I was feeling positive about my life, I had been with the beautiful lady who is now my wife for about 6 months, we were doing really well, I was taking risks again, expanding my world, creating friendships. AND I was ready to look at the deeper stuff – to go beyond therapy, which had really helped me, into active participation in something bigger. I was aware of a part of myself that I was still holding back in my life. Some doorway that hadn’t been opened.

The paragraph about the concepts, ideas and the messenger – I get it. And there is some serious jargon to digest. I have become very conscious about this language, so I hope I don’t bludgeon you with it.

Maybe you’re over-thinking? This kind of intellectual analysis kept me locked in a box for 8 years. For me, it’s an avoidance technique. I can think myself out of doing anything – especially if it calls to me – because that means that I sense something I WANT, but I am afraid to reach out for it, afraid to screw it up. When I dismiss the message because of the way it was delivered, I cut myself off from the opportunity to actually come up with my own insights. I expect perfection. There is none.

The EXPERIENCE is what it’s about. The New Warrior Training Adventure is an initiation into a different way of relating to being a man. It’s about trusting yourself enough to let go of the rope and trusting other men to catch you and not hurt you. It’s about learning what you are capable of – the beautiful good and the horrible bad. It may raise your hackles because it runs so contrary to the Lupis Goitalonis (lone wolf) mentality that most men carry. What? you want me to trust you? F*ck that. You want me to stop thinking for a minute and FEEL? F*ck you. You want me to tell you what I am really about? F*ck off. Last time I did that I got the shit kicked out of me.

I over-analyzed the “intellectual framework” of the work as it was understood by a couple of men with their own understandings, beliefs and biases. (they didn’t have the book shelf that I had, or the degree that I have … blah blah).

I didn’t believe it could possibly be all that the men in my life claimed it was. I said no for 7 years. I argued that I was ‘on my own path’, and that I was learning ‘in other ways’. I read, I went to 12 step meetings, I did therapy with a feminist therapist, I led anti-violence workshops for college students, I sat in some men’s groups sponsored by the local men’s center (and though well intentioned, they never even broke the surface for me). I read all kinds of negative press about the ManKind Project and the ‘mytho-poetic men’s movement’. I argued that it was anti-feminist, that it was brain washing, that it was some kind of pyramid scheme, that it was like a cult. My brother J* just kept asking me to trust him, to trust that he would not do me harm. J* is a very smart man – and he is one of the most cynical people I know- and yet this changed his life.

I chose to do it despite my fears and arguments, because I saw the difference it made in my brothers’ lives and marriages – and the difference it made for their kids. They weren’t brainwashed; they still had their own peculiar (and sometimes ineffective) ways of being, but they were kinder and more open with their wives and children, they were more accountable for their actions, they talked about their feelings, they treated each other with a clear, clean respect. They reacted less and responded more. They started standing up for themselves when they needed to. They made better choices. Most of them no longer participate in MKP men’s groups, but the effects that their time in circles had on them are clear in all their lives. Their kids are growing up with self-confidence that comes from being seen and valued for who they are, from being listened to, from having their emotions accepted and affirmed. My brothers had all this goodness inside, MKP helped them do was open the door to it.

What Happened at my Weekend

It was the most powerful experience I had ever had to that point in my life. Parts of it were cheesy. Sometimes I was PISSED that they were ‘treating us’ that way. Parts I didn’t understand until much later. Sometimes I didn’t like the words that were being used. Feeling the power and care of 65 men who are not playing games, not bullshitting each other is life-altering. I have been sitting in MKP circles of men for 5 years now. And I keep getting more tools, keep deepening my ability to connect to people (everyone), I’ve stepped into leadership, handled the hard stuff, gotten accountable for what’s happening in my life. K* and I have honesty and connection that I haven’t ever experienced. There are some incredible, powerful, brilliant, passionate men out there doing their parts to make the world a better, safer, place for everyone. Many of them have different ideas and ‘frames’ for what this work is. Some I resonate with, others I don’t.

I emerged from the weekend saying … if only I had taken this risk then … I could have avoided hurting my ex-partner as I did, I could have avoided hurting myself for a lot of years. All the perfectly logical reasons I had for not going were actually based in fear of being seen for who I believed I was – broken, doomed to be alone, too afraid to live, a ‘bad’ man, somehow not worthy of being loved and appreciated.

So I understand the idea that the ‘vessel’ is important as a carrier of the message. And I would assert that the ‘vessel’ here is more important than the concepts that you are resonating with. Concepts are easy. You can get the concepts in a book, god knows I do. But you will never begin to approach the experience. There is no other vessel that compares to it.

The red flags are good, they will keep you self-aware, having a strong ego is good for this process. But can you take the next step and trust that you are strong enough to take care of yourself AND allow yourself to fully participate in the experience? The men who lead these weekends are experienced, sharp and dedicated to creating safety. Not to say that there aren’t f*ck-ups, there are, but there is always someone right there to step in. And most of all – there is safety. Emotional and Physical safety to do whatever it takes.

When you come out of it – there are men ready to help you process the other stuff that will inevitably bubble up. But it will be up to you whether you choose to reach out and keep working with it. My opinion is that being in a circle of men is the most responsible choice I can make if I am truly dedicated to making the world a safer place, because that is where I learn how to do it. Thinking that I want to help create a better world means little if I’m too afraid or disempowered to act or if I can’t even handle my own resentments against my neighbors, my wife, my boss. Activism is great! Speaking out is great! Movements implode when in-fighting destroys them. And the in-fighting is not about the concepts, it’s about the failure to process the underlying judgments, motivations, wounds and psychology of the individuals. One person with a poisonous lack of self-awareness can destroy an organization (or a nation!). And only a group of highly self-aware people with finely developed skills will be able to short circuit that destruction. MKP, for me, is about developing those skills.

Lots of men go on to do all sorts of other stuff. I know I have. There are lots of paths. But I have never spoken with a man who does not see how unique and powerful this experience was or how it contributed to making his own path more clear and vibrant – even if he hated the weekend. It gives many men the will and passion to go for their deepest dreams. It gives every man a sense of purpose (of his own creation) that he can go out and live in the world.

There is misogyny in MKP, and homophobia and ignorance and racism and arrogance and self-limiting tribal thinking and unconsciousness, but FAR LESS than I experience in most areas of my life. When that stuff shows up, there are men in MKP willing to stand up and confront it. We are actively confronting those harmful attitudes and beliefs in ourselves and each other, because we trust each other. We have the most self-aware ways of handling conflict that I have ever seen.

Some men who walk away from MKP are simply too attached to their rigid beliefs about difference to make any changes or stand as equals with men who challenge them. We are not a homogenous group. It’s not like being in a circle of just academics, or social activists or blue color workers, conservatives or liberals. Unquestioned beliefs, on both sides, will be questioned. In my opinion, we men can no longer afford to create segregated communities of ‘like-minded’ people. We have to do more than isolate ourselves in this time of global problems.

At a core level for me – it’s about escaping the nihilist belief that I’m alone. Because as a man among men – these men – I’m never alone. These men that I have shared this with – these are the men who will bury me – knowing everything about me and loving me deeply. They will comfort my children and my wife. There will be nothing left unsaid, because there was no fear to prevent me from saying it.

It’s an emotional bungie jump. Scary. Safe.

Seeking a Singular Awareness

Another way to look at WHY I participate in a men’s group and why I did the New Warrior Training Adventure was to gain more Self Awareness.  Self awareness is the state of being where you I can be watching my thoughts, feelings and actions without being lost in them. I am aware that I am feeling Sadness, or Anger, or Fear and yet there is a distance between me and the emotion that I am feeling – such that I don’t have to REACT to the emotions in a way that is harmful to me or to those around me.

To learn more about attending Open Men or about the ManKind Project or the New Warrior Training Adventure, email me or call 413 303 9193.

What is Men’s Work?

I have had several men ask me – what this is all about … what do you do?

We sit in a circle on chairs. We talk to each other about ourselves. We listen intently. We do not shame or criticize. We do not spend time giving advice. We use processes to ‘dig in’ to those parts of ourselves that we find confusing, upsetting and STUCK. We resolve conflicts, both internal and external, by taking responsibility for ourselves.

A men’s group is a place to figure out what you want in your life, take steps to making it happen and continually look at what is getting in the way of you being fully alive and empowered.

Do you want better relationships?
Do you want to learn how to better handle situations that stump you over and over?
Do you want to break out of a rut that you have been living in for years?
Do you want to sit with men actively working to make the world a better place?

Here’s an even harder question … do you instinctively NOT trust men (or women or yourself)?  You learned this somewhere. Not only is it bad for your physical health, but it is probably preventing you from living fully. Continue reading “What is Men’s Work?”

What in the world is biological essentialism?

Biological Essentialism refers to a way of thinking that says, in essence, “biology is destiny”. In the past this kind of view has been used to create different classes of human beings, like saying that Native Americans are ‘savages’, black people are somehow ‘less’ than human or women are not ‘capable’ of being scientists. These more blatant examples have given way in our era to much more subtle ways of perpetuating power based gender differences. “Boys being Boys” is one very routine example. The idea that men are somehow entitled to behaving immaturely because of biological differences is a way that men hold on to dated understandings of the roles of men and women. And I am not an exception here – I still try to get away with some ‘typical male’ behaviors when I don’t want to accept responsibility for my actions and motivations. And don’t get me wrong – I think that these distinctions are reinforced by the WHOLE culture, not just by men. Continue reading “What in the world is biological essentialism?”

The Heart of E.Q. – why Emotions Matter

My belief these days is that we need all kinds of people working to bring sane solutions to the problems we face in the world. And one of the things that I see as missing from the dialog about current events is an acknowledgment of the well documented reality that our bodies, and the sensations and feelings that arise in our bodies, have a huge impact on the thoughts and motivations and actions that we all take. Our bodies process information faster than we can formulate thoughts. We are, in large portion, often unknown to ourselves. Our motivations, the foundation for what we believe and how we act on those beliefs, is not being looked at in our intellectualized discourse.

So bringing awareness to the body, to the emotional and chemical information stream that is often overwhelmed in today’s world, can help all of us bring some added information to any decision, reaction or response. I see this as valuable. Continue reading “The Heart of E.Q. – why Emotions Matter”

Getting real with men …

is not easy. Men are programmed heavily in our culture to keep things within pretty well-defined limits. Business relationships are set in very clear terms. Safe topics of conversation are somewhat limited; sports, the wife, the kids, the weather, home repair, and work. That doesn’t cover a whole lot of ground. In more established relationships it may become safe to actually share what is not going so well along with what is going well. But for most male relationships – it is best, and safest, to stick to the surface.

Until a few years ago – I was scared to death to move any deeper than that.

Now – that is what I am looking for in my relationships, because I truly believe it is needed in our society in order to make the changes that need to be made. Acquaintances are fine when you have similar goals and strategies, but many of the problems we are facing in our cities, towns and states require that people with  different world-views  and different strategies need to be able to work side by side to get the job done. I look around and see a lack in ability to manage the really important side of human relationship, personal psychology.

Debates and discussions will often deadlock; that is the nature of debate. So how do we move through that? I believe the answer lies in our own internal conflicts. We need to be able to handle the “triggers” that set us off in our minds before we will be able to effectively create NEW and out of the box strategies for problem solving between people and cultures. I see the struggle to achieve racial and gender equality in the US as an extension of the struggle to find INTERNAL peace with the issues that these topics bring up – and these issues cannot be addressed in an open debate. They have to be addressed in trusting, open and SAFE relationships.

Only when he knows he is safe will a man risk showing you his soul. I think this is certainly true of women as well – but I believe that our culture provides more support for women to work through emotionally charged subjects. Men are expected to “tough it out”.

So WHY NOW? Because 40% of the children in Springfield live below the poverty line.  Because  women and men of all backgrounds need to [FINALLY] stand together to solve the economic, political and ecological problems of our age – and we will not be able to do so effectively until we look into our own souls. Because we live in a society that is too complicated for one individual to understand – and it takes a deep level of trust to allow others to “know” what we do not – and to FOLLOW them to new ways of being. Because the scandals and corruption of government and corporations have their roots in the personal conflicts of individuals. Look at male youth violence, Virginia Tech. Look at the Senators from Iowa or Florida. Look at the Catholic church scandals. Look at the wars over there and the wars over here. Read the paper, watch the news.

We need good men. We need good women. And make no mistake, I do not mean PURE. I do not mean men and women who have “fixed” themselves. I mean men and women who are prepared to look you in the eye and take responsibility for their failures, their shadows and their triggers. A trustworthy person is not someone who “has it all together”, but a person who is willing to be honest about who they are and make good choices for themselves and those around them, even perfect strangers.

An academic understanding of our problems is not enough.

It’s time to go further and LIVE the complexity that we are. Through THAT door, there is compassion enough to do what needs to be done.

– Boysen

Thank you for being open.

openmenlogo_small.pngWe’re proud to announce again the new Open Men’s group that is running in West Springfield, MA on Thursday evenings from 6:45 to 8:45pm at 380 Union Street (right next to Charlie’s Diner) at A to Z Movers. (look for the big trucks) Entrance is on the ground floor.

OPEN MEN is a place for men to connect with one another – to be heard and recognized, to challenge and support themselves and each other. The group will run for 2 hours. This will be a structured environment, with simple ground-rules and easy to understand processes. All men are welcome. Open Men is NOT a therapy group. We strongly support men to seek professional help for addictions, violent behavior, and any serious emotional issues.

The Mission of OPEN MEN: We create safe families, communities and institutions by taking collective responsibility for our actions as men in the world.

OPEN MEN creates community. In community we support each other, as neighbors. We don’t have to agree, but we need to know how to resolve conflict and work together. We recognize that we need each other to thrive, and that taking responsibility for our own feelings and actions will help create safe places to learn and grow. The lessons we learn will make us more personally successful – AND – will support social justice and societal healing.

Come – join us.
OPEN MEN is facilitated by members of the ManKind Project of New England.
We welcome your input and skills in building our group. Contact us to offer suggestions and support.

All the best.
Boysen Hodgson, Robert Zeller
and all the men who will support this new endeavor.