RESCUED: David Smith says meetings he has been attending for nine years help ensure men who participate don't feel isolated.
RESCUED: David Smith says meetings he has been attending for nine years help ensure men who participate don't feel isolated. bowie15

Opening up has changed our lives

IN 2008, along with nine other men, I attended our first meeting of Common Ground, a special workshop put together by Men's Health and Wellbeing.

Founded 20 years ago, it has recently been renamed Men's Wellbeing. We met in a small community hall from 7-9.30pm each Tuesday night for eight weeks.

We had three facilitators who guided us along the various courses they had arranged. The whole workshop was basically designed to have men open up, to talk about their lives. To share their feelings in a totally open environment.

Ours was one of the first held on the Sunshine Coast and was such a success that there have been many more since. This started a whole new facet in my life and has been a direct life-altering catalyst ever since.  

Firstly, a basic set of rules were agreed upon to allow each of us to be received openly.

Confidentiality: What is said in the circle remains in the circle.

Respect: For yourself and each other.

Honouring: Acknowledging all aspects of ourselves and knowing that all aspects are welcome.

Responsibility: For yourself and your actions.

Listening: Being present for each man.

No interrupting: Advice is not given unless it is requested.

Punctuality: Respecting the times agreed upon - 6.45pm for a 7pm start.

Acceptance: Of each man for who he is and where he is.

All feelings okay: Everything is welcome.

Integrity and honesty: With yourself and with other men.

No substances: Men having partaken in non-prescription drugs or alcohol will not be welcome that week.

Commitment: To yourself and to the group to be here each week.

Sense of fun: A willingness to share your humour.

All of us were unknown to each other and it was for me very confronting to be put under the spotlight, so to speak.

But that was more a feeling of insecurity. Each meeting began with what they called "check-in", whereby each man would discuss what happened to them in the previous week.

The facilitators guided us by firstly telling their own stories which were quite frank and open. That encouraged each of us to be more exposed in relating our own situation.

After doing the night's course we then had a "checkout" which allowed each of us to say what we thought of the course and anything else that popped up.

We explored topics such as:

Real men: What it is to be a so-called real man in society today.

Mentors: What effect they have in building character.

Emotions: What role they have in expressive thought.

Relationships: How do we increase our awareness of what's going on?

Masculinity: Is it really important?

Risk: How adverse we are to risk and its consequences.

"Fixing it" with your father: You cannot get on with your life successfully until you have understood him, forgiven him, and come in some way to respect him.

Finding sacredness in your sexuality: Sex will either be a sleazy and obsessive part of your life or a sacred and powerful source of wellbeing.

Meeting your wife on equal terms: In a modern marriage soft men get left and bullies drive self-respecting women away.

Engaging actively with your kids: You can't be a parent from behind a newspaper and you can't leave it all to your wife because a woman doesn't have all the ingredients needed.

Learning to have real male friends: You will have to get emotional support from other men and find out how to complete your own initiation into manhood.

Finding your heart in your work: You will need to find work you can believe in, so that the time and energy of your working life is spent in a direction where your heart lies.

Freeing your wild spirit: You will need to find a spiritual basis for your inner life that is specifically masculine and based in nature, which connects you to the earth you live on.

At one stage we had to present our parents to the group. One week for fathers, the next for mothers.

Each man would take centre stage with a photo and talk about what their parent did and more importantly meant to them.

That certainly opened up a can of worms for half of us, including myself. Very confronting when you can finally tell the truth about your childhood or otherwise.

And every week we were left with some homework to ponder over. It was such an enlightening course that most of us wanted to keep the meetings up.

So almost every fortnight since, we have had a meeting right up to the present day.

I wrote an account of each meeting which was emailed to each member so no one would miss out on what was done. This was intended to keep everyone informed and as a base to what we had covered.

Each fortnight we would turn up at someone's house (place) and after a brief greeting we'd start with a check-in then follow with a subject agreed upon two weeks beforehand, then finish with a checkout.

It should be mentioned that a "token" ornament (talking stick) was used and held by each person in turn. This signified that he had the floor and couldn't be interrupted.

When a man said "ho" that signified that he had said his piece. He'd then place the talking stick back on the table for another man to pick up.

In the last few years Morgan had a special one made, a modern artefact made in the tradition of the Cherokee Indians. A fine piece of natural wood decorated with feathers on top, fur in the middle and snake skin on the bottom.

It also has painted images of a scorpion, chameleon and a shell. It is still used to this very day. When I have the meetings at my place I do prefer to use a "killer boomerang" given to me by the Warlpiri's of Lajamanu.

Our numbers have varied over the years. Half the original members are still here. At one time we had new men join in but they too have left.

So now we have whittled down to five members and we are laxer with our rules. Subjects aren't used anymore as one usually appears during check-in. If it doesn't we always have something new to discuss as we each work/live in quite diverse areas.

But ultimately the respect is still there and this allows us to be totally open.

David Zachary Smith is the author of Secret Men's Business, a collection of observations and anecdotes from meetings of the Men's Wellbeing group.

He describes it as a profound, life-changing guide to help men deal with their mid-life crisis by refocusing their minds and taking back control of their destinies.

For details go to www.davidzacharysmith.com or www.facebook.com/davidzacharysmith.



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