Before coming to Bali, I was a real stranger to the phenomenon of ‘men’s events.’ I had never heard of them, let alone joined any. Though during my first week at The Practice Bali I was already invited to join in in one of their bi-weekly Thursday night ‘Men’s Circles,’ it would take me more than half a year to admit that I had no clue whatsoever what a ‘men’s circle’ was about, nor drop in.
To be honest, I really thought there was no need for me to join in. As far as I could see, I had no ‘major problems’ to share or discuss, and if anything popped up I always talked it through with Alba. So, I thought I was 'in the clear.' Men’s circles and men's events were simply ‘not for me.’ Needless to say, joining in for the first time would prove my assumptions about the nature of these gatherings and their value absolutely wrong!
For those of you who, like me, are also in the dark, in (Wo)Men’s Circles, participants join in to experience a sense of community in a safe and nurturing space. The point of the event is to join in with known and unknown others and share (or merely listen to others as they share) whatever is going on in each other’s lives and minds. This includes sharing both good and the bad stuff, as well as grappling with articulating often complicated emotions and thoughts.
There is a sense of comfort and relief in having your story heard and acknowledged by others in a space that you know welcomes whatever it is that you’re experiencing without the need for either judgement or correction. This is sometimes not fully possible with those who know (or love) you most, as they often feel obliged to help or ‘fix you’ out of love, remorse, guilt, or pity. And in fact, one of the things I liked the most upon first joining one of these circles was that the attendees –all of them of different nationalities and walks of life– were not trying to fix each other’s problems, nor necessarily offer solutions. They offered their unconditional attention, words of comfort and support if needed, a few good laughs too, and overall a kind and safe environment for one to be in.
There is value, as well, in just joining to listen to other people’s experiences; because, for all our cultural and background differences, if there’s one thing I’ve realized in joining these events is that most of us go through life with pretty much the same type of fears and roadblocks in our heads. Community is a very real thing; and sometimes, everything a person really needs is an opportunity to share what’s on their mind without further conditions or expectations. Men’s circles offer just that.
Here in Bali, women’s and men’s events of all sorts are a common thing and there’s a general awareness not just about their happening, but about their overall value to people; and though one can find them in Europe too, their presence is less publicly acknowledged, as is their connection to issues of mental and spiritual health. Perhaps because of our proximity to Australia, mental and spiritual health awareness here in Bali is at the backdrop of many of these events. There is a reason why people feel the need to join a community mostly made up by strangers to share sometimes very personal experiences with them; and that is often the (perceived) inability for them to share in such a way with those closest to them.
To put things into perspective, data on mental health worldwide states that 4% of the world’s population suffers from some form of mental health issue. Mental health issues include things such as anxiety, depression, or substance abuse, which may also lead to people committing suicide. This 4% worldwide amounts to, for example, one in every five adult Australians, with rates of suicide also skyrocketing globally.
The reason I’m writing about this today is because I feel we could all profit from being more open to sharing with others the ups and downs of our lives, and find ways not just to connect to our surroundings, but also to the people in them. In this sense, these type of gatherings offer also a great opportunity to meet new people, learn quite a bit about yourself and others, and become less judgemental about people in general.
This is one of the reasons why The Practice Bali decided to host its first Men’s Spiritual Health Week next week. With a program meant to make Yoga and self-inquiry more appealing and accessible to men in the island (including daily free classes for them) and a bunch of side-events taking place throughout the week –free presentations, Kirtan, and a closing 3-day retreat for men in an amazing Canggu venue– the event hopes to contribute one more safe space not just for men but for community in general, where everyone’s realities be welcomed. So if you're in the island, come' on over. I'll see you there.