I went to the Grove, where there are thick logs to sit on and drums to play. The man leading the group says this group is for Men, but I say my Y chromosome is as good as anyone’s, and he ceases to object. I am in my purple dress, pretty sandals, wig and make-up; I am not trying to fit in.
There are not enough drums, so I pick up a washing up bowl and try hitting it with the flat of my fingers. Not loud enough. I use a dry twig, which makes a more satisfying sound, and drum off beat, or attempt a slower beat so that my strokes sometimes are just after the others’ beats, sometimes just before. It is a way into the silence with others, just listening to the beats of all and making my own. Sometimes I am investigating different noises the bowl can make, sometimes thinking about my strokes, sometimes just in the group activity, mixing beats. The Grove is beautiful.
I cannot fit into roles defined by others. They imprison, squeeze, constrict, suffocate me. I have to carve my own role, breaking rules, being inconsistent, selfish- at best spontaneous and creative, at worst like a toddler screaming all the louder because he has just received what he was crying for a moment ago. I have to make a lot of mistakes to get one thing right.
The group leader, a big man with a strong baritone voice begins to speak, and I could almost lose what he was saying in the incantatory repetition of the word Men… Men… Men… Their group is based on the ideas of Richard Rohr, and leads Rites of Passage workshops.
We split into two groups, nine in each, and share. Our two questions are, why we are here, and what is our darkness. The rules are to speak from the heart, and listen from the heart- not to spend time while others are speaking planning what I will say, but to pay attention to the other Men in the circle; then to speak spontaneously. This gets easier as I age: I have practice, and I care less about how I appear and more about truth. I have space to observe others. Of course what they said is confidential. I want to honour my femininity as a male way of being, to flit between the Man and Woman in myself, and unite them, and to expand my expression, my understanding, and my options. I don’t say all this there, I say it now.
What is your darkness? My darkness is a tiger, pacing angrily in a too small cage. The image came to me then, spontaneously as I spoke it. In the right places, letting go of the inner censor can produce wisdom. My darkness, the parts of myself I cannot permit, are power and strength which I can use if only I can open that cage. The tiger seems frightening, and is untrained, but holding the cage shut takes effort I could use elsewhere.
I do not want to disrupt this Men’s group, but to contribute to it. I come not to mock but to affirm, to speak truth as best I can, to state positive, good, opportunity, reality rather than the Bad. Rohr preaches on Noah’s Ark- God invited everything in, clean and unclean, predator and prey, male and female, and locked it in together. I used to think it was about balancing all the opposites within me, but slowly I have learned that it is actually “holding” things in their seemingly unreconciled state that widens and deepens the soul. And if I am here, listening and speaking, I am a threat and a promise to the group, just as I am in the Red Tent, just as every group member is.