Anyone up to date on this blog will know that I belong to a regular men’s group. We usually meet up once every other week in north London, but since the lockdown started we’ve been meeting up on Zoom on a varying schedule. The group is actually one of three run by the same therapist, Jerry Hyde, and once a year all three groups gather for what is lovingly called “Manstock”.
This year was to be my first chance to attend a Manstock, so I was delighted when it was decided to go ahead with it in spite of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the associated need for social distancing and general health & safety precautions. One of the group members, who lives on a farm in East Sussex and has hosted the event every summer, kindly agreed that we could all pitch our separate tents in an adjacent field and gather for meals and sessions around the firepit as usual.
The weather last weekend was very changeable and required that we erect a mini marquee constructed from tarpaulins and poles from the giant teepee that had previously housed the gatherings (but has since succumbed, like many of us, to the wear and tear of old age). Engineering project complete and fire lit, we 20 men gathered to tell our stories, bare our souls, shed some tears, and share lots of laughter.
The loosely applied theme this year was to be the lockdown and how we had all navigated these strange few months of isolation and uncertainty. This year’s event was even jokingly renamed to Lockstock!
A newly crafted talking stick was passed from one man to the next, ensuring that everyone had a chance to speak and to share. As it evolved, various themes and topics emerged organically, ranging from the communal to the deeply personal and painful. There is something about the setting, the trust and safety engendered by the ceremonial nature of the gathering, that quickly brings emotion to the surface and allows healing to begin.
The gathering over three days was at times intense, provocative, and challenging but always honest, inclusive and supportive. While the last few months have been a generally healthy time for me and I didn’t feel a strong need to do any personal “work” myself, it was an experience I will never forget – the friendship, brotherhood and love that was shared will stay with me in years to come.