A Man in the Presence of Men

I’m heading down a darkening, wintry M3, returning home from an intense weekend in a Wiltshire forest. I’m sleepless, tender, and inspired by the healing power of a group of men. During the past few weekends I’ve attended various events and workshops with men: in Brighton, in London and here, near Salisbury. I want to write about how it feels being in the presence of men.

Men Together

There’s nothing more grounding for me than being in the company of my own sex: no distractions, straight talking, the sense of humour, men together getting things done. I feel at home, as if I’ve come home, and even though I’m meeting many of these men for the first time, everyone here understands me in a way no woman ever can.

Do I allow this to happen enough in my life?

I look deeply into his eyes, beyond the mysteries of his childhood, and held within a deep, beautiful vulnerability, lies the heart of this man. I feel his tenderness, longing and pain. I see myself reflected as his father, his brother, his son, and sense his spirit, lightly, flickering, slowly meeting mine. I am beyond my body now, in the places where God moves, and something holy here dances between us.

When I strip away the societal conditioning of how I am expected to be as a man – me against the world, just surviving, defined by my work and in a world where I’m taught that repressing my feelings is the only way to get on – and then step into a held space with other men, it’s as if the whole world tilts. I find I can speak what’s on my heart without fear of judgement, I feel I am not alone and that other men are similar to me – they too have been hounded by addictions: pornography, computer games, sex, alcohol and drugs, they too are wounded by the world, they too know what it’s like to be truly alone.

Shared Suffering

As I grew up I was conditioned into thinking that being ‘emotional’ was weak and that it was something best avoided or overridden rather than experienced. Vulnerability was what women ‘did’ and so for me to really feel was something to be ashamed of and therefore something that I learned to hold back. It’s okay for a girl to cry at school, in fact she’s not a girl unless she can do this, but it’s absolutely not okay for a boy. So, like many of us, I spent years and years storing up my pain.

A circle of 30 men define a woodland space. ‘Any man who has lost a loved one or partner – step forward. Men, you share a special bond.’ Damp leaves carpet the wet earth. As men step forward I feel time expand and the space around me ripe with the fruit of our shared past, our history; the circles of men that have stood for thousands of years.

As the circle shifts, I feel one man’s pain, then another. As if we are one body we stand; and as the inner circle of men sharing their grief shifts, I feel the presence of an ancestry only rarely recalled. I feel an overbearing sense of grief; and as the men’s tears moisten their cheeks and fall, we are lifted up into a unity and togetherness that I yearn for all men to share.

I’m crying again. A deep, deep sense of grief. I cry. I cry for us all, for those men before me, and those to come; for everything I’ve ever lost: my childhood, my friends, the women I’ve met and will never meet, for love undiscovered; for her, for you, for life, for God.

For me, they are the tears of deep healing, the years of stored male grief; all of our shared tears. And they are the same tears that invite me to fully live the next beautiful, sunlit morning.

After I cried I felt relieved… and happy and grateful, and maybe not fully healed, but helped in a huge way by expressing my feelings… (Thomas G Fiffer – Boys Do Cry, and Men Do, Too)

Taking It To The Men

No woman wants to be her man’s mother. It’s the last thing she desires or needs. It’s a complete turn off. It’s just a big NO.

So why is it I so often fall back into doing it?

How many times have I taken my needs to my women? Just how many? I don’t know about you but it makes me squirm. Let’s just say too many.

I’ll only set her free by taking it to the men.

I feel the circle around me, the men’s faces, their presence. I move them both around the space, the two women in my life. And as I stand apart from them both, fully seen in my need, I know that I am a man, my father’s son. I leave them both to their paths and step back into the circle, more determined and resolved – to keep on taking it to the men.


Is there anything more powerful than being validated by another man – where a man actually comes to you, meets you fully in the eyes and gives you positive affirmation? I don’t mean being told I’m a clever guy who’s funny, but have you ever heard a man speak fully of his experience of you? Until my early 40s the nearest I’d got to this was a few drunk ‘I love yous’ in a pub, or some throw away comments that never landed and fit only for the wind. I was too scared to make myself vulnerable. It’s my conditioning. Maybe I still wanted to be one up; I loved him, but I wouldn’t trust him with my heart.

As men, we need each other’s validation. The validation we maybe didn’t get from our fathers. The validation that, over the years, has been replaced by individualism, narcissism and competition. My father gave me strong positive affirmation many times, but if he were unable to meet me in this way, it’s possible that I’d never get this validation anywhere else.

As the men’s words sink in I feel my heartbeat, the visceral pumping blood of history, the man inside me preparing to rule, a benevolent king ready to serve. I feel an inner strength within me, shining, and I feel something of the boy in me die. My spirit quickens, I sense God’s gentle power and feel ready to stand in the world.


13 thoughts on “A Man in the Presence of Men”

  1. Surya – lovely to hear you. God yes, I’d love more women to hear this and comment. I feel we’re all in this together. Part of my journey in knowing my place in the world as a man and fully exploring what that is, means I hope to bring a fuller, readier man into relationship with woman. Being able to work with emotions, rather than store them up for special occasions (!) 🙂 helps me to be with women who I sometimes find are more experienced at working with their feelings than I am. Not always the case of course, but I feel i am becoming more relational and equipped to be in relationship when I take all these on. Before this though, I need to understand what they all are as a lot of them had been stored up for a long time! So I’d LOVE to hear what do you think/feel about this 🙂


  2. Wow. Beautiful. Nothing crystalline to say at present… It’s just wonderful that this is happening for men as well as women – this getting to the heart of things, exploring gender deeper, casting off societal gender dictates, truly meeting and exploring who and what we are, and how to play the instruments of the human body-mind-soul in the best ways we can. Congrats!


    1. Yes, the instruments of the human body… lovely… but I don’t think this getting to the heart of things is happening for that many men yet, so there’s work to be done.. Thanks so much for the post HR – and for being such an inspiring and creative playmate – you’re a real inspiration!


  3. Hi Duncan
    I was truly impressed with your writing. An honour actually to be able to read your thoughts. So true that in a man’s world, he is not permitted to cry or show emotion. It just does him such an injustice so not to do. He needs the release of those cleansing tears.

    i also scrolled down to your other entries on the blog, just fascinating, and i will look more at a later time when i am able more easily. Lee


  4. Duncan – as someone who experienced some of the circles and moments you’ve described, on the wet weekend in Wiltshire, I’m blown away by your writing, and reminded of a level and depth to the weekend that I’ve still not ‘felt’ fully. Thankyou for reminding me and recalling some beautiful beautiful moments (especially our last circle in forest where we shared grief and loss in a deeply grounded way – “I feel time expand and the space around me ripe with the fruit of our shared past, our history; the circles of men that have stood for thousands of years” – man, that’s such a great way to describe it, it takes me straight there, and reminds me of it’s truth….)

    I will read again certainly. Much love.


    1. Yeah, so touched by you Peter and I’ve loved the openness with which you are unafraid to voice your feelings. It’s impacting and beautiful to hear. I know this lovely gift is going carry you forward to an unopened door somewhere. Much love to you man..


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