Yesterday I plucked up courage and went to men’s council. Upon arrival I was smudged with a smoking bundle of aromatic sage: a ritual cleansing of my aura, or maybe just a bit of theatrical fun, but either way, it served to impart a sense of occasion. I hadn’t just come for coffee and a chat, I had come to spend an hour sitting in council.
So, what was it like? Well, after the smudging came check-in. We sat in a circle and each, in turn, took a few moments to say how we were right then and what personal baggage we had come with. For my part I was able to share that my cycle ride to MensCraft had been unusually uneventful: no near misses with motor vehicles. Also that although I was a little fuzzy from staying up late on Saturday night I was feeling a certain nervous excitement about being there. Once we had each said our piece the rules of council were listed:
1. Speak from the heart, listen from the heart and be sparing with your words. (A bit like a Quaker meeting, then, where people wait until they feel moved to speak before opening their mouths. Say what needs to be said and no more.)
2. Speak to the centre and don’t engage in dialogue with another member of the council. (I may feel like responding to something but the idea is to sit with what has been said and, if it resonates with me in any way, share my own feelings with the group as a whole.
3. Everything is welcome at council. (Meaning any subject matter. Long, rambling monologues which are not ‘sparing with your words’ break the first rule.)
4. What’s said in council stays in council. (A confidentiality agreement. Don’t speak about what has been said during a council with anyone who wasn’t there. Mutual trust is vital if we are to share honestly and openly. This trust will be destroyed if our heart-felt statements are reduced to common gossip.)
Once the rules had been explained, we were told we would sit for an hour and that a warning would be given five minutes before the end. The bell was rung.
Now I haven’t mentioned the talking stick. This sits in the centre of the circle. If I wanted to speak I had to pick up the talking stick – this was a simple piece of wood carved in a vaguely humanoid shape, but they can be anything and talking sticks are often ornate and adorned with beads and feathers. The importance lies not in the object but in its function: Whoever is holding the stick may speak, but everyone else must remain silent. Once the person holding the stick has finished talking, he replaces the stick in the middle of the circle and someone else may pick it up and speak. However, it is considered bad etiquette to pick up the stick immediately and without fully receiving and digesting what has just been said. Unless, of course, the previous statement has affected you so deeply that you would burst if you didn’t say something straight away.
At the end of the hour I felt I knew my fellow attendees a little better. More importantly, perhaps, I knew myself a little better. Things had been said which resonated with me in ways I found surprising. Best of all I felt less alone in the world and more deeply connected with my fellow man.
I had intended to slip away straight after council but found myself staying behind and sharing a meal which was so much greater than the sum of its parts. When I did leave I did so feeling warmer and more positive than when I had arrived. It’s a feeling I would like to get used to and council is something I want to explore further, deeper. I will be back.
E. V. Mann
[Next council Sunday 20th January 10.30am at the Men’s Centre, 47-51 Pitt Street, Norwich]