October 28, 2012

Fire Circles - Opening the Hearts of Men and Boys

This article is offered by Allan Rudner, a brother in mission, working in Sydney, Australia. It's his personal story about his powerful connection to fire and how he is using it to create new connections between diverse communities of men and boys.

Since boyhood, I have been called to fire. I grew up in South Africa, living half a block from bushland, where I spent many happy hours on my own or with boyhood friends. From time to time, a wildfire would break out and the flames could be seen leaping high into the sky. I remember getting as close to the fire as I could and feeling my heart pounding inside me. I could actually feel the raw wildness and energy of the fire coursing through my veins. In those moments, I was in complete awe and knew I had found my passion!

Now, after working with boys and men in the wilderness for the last twenty years, that passion for fire is back in full force, and its call is powerful. Over the years, my Rites-of-Passage work has always included some relationship to fire. It has always accompanied rituals and ceremonies, signifying the transitions from boyhood to manhood and manhood to Elder. But currently, I’m called to fire circles!

Today, I’m using the timeless and primal notion of The Fire Circle to connect diverse groups of older men with younger men/boys. In these circles, older men take their place as leaders and mentors within the community, and younger men/boys have access to a network of positive male role models. My approach has been carefully crafted to ensure a sense of safety and caring for everyone. Using ritual and ceremony around the sacred fire, men and boys are introduced to respectful and confidential processes for sharing personal stories. The goal is for everyone to have an opportunity to be listened to and to be heard.

After a couple of hours together in a typical fire circle, the group formally closes the space and then retires to an area where food is shared. The impact of the time around the fire is always obvious as the group mingles, talks, laughs and, informally, connects with one another.

From the feedback I've gotten, it is clear The Fire Circle experience is very much appreciated and valued. Here are a just a couple of the (common) comments I get from participants:
"I thought your fire circle was beautifully established and run. It was just the right blend of gentle firm guidance and freedom/space for personal responsibility. I feel that evening living in my body right now. I encountered myself in a new way and with magical universal input. The timing was spot on. It augmented my ability to try to be differently with my son, my brother and father." - RK
"I believe you got the recipe right last evening, around the warmth of the fire and in the spirituality of the Tepee. Twenty-two men, of such varying age and divergent backgrounds, would normally have passed each other by along the path of life with barely a spoken word, perhaps, at best, a nod. By creating a space of safety and oneness of purpose, the differences between all these men were relegated to a position of minor significance. The common desire for personal growth, the sharing and purpose, shone forth in openness and truth. I am enriched for the experience. Thanks." - Ralph
I believe The Fire Circle process is creating a valuable community resource by building more connections between diverse men and strong inter-generational relationships. The Fire Circle creates new roles for older men in our communities, and the youth benefit by being witnessed and accepted as they are by Elder men. In short, it's exciting for me to watch this process building stronger and more cohesive communities.

At the personal level, The Fire Circle is how I find my way to my spiritual home. No sooner do I seat myself around the fire than I feel a flood of peace and alignment, which so often eludes me in the “outside world.” When I see the opened heart of a lad or a man, I feel the energy flowing inside me. When guys "get it," and the tears flow, and their woundedness is shared, my heart melts, and I know I am doing something important. Helping to open men's hearts and seeing them come awake gives me the juice I need to keep going. I believe when a man has an open heart, the world is a better place.

Currently The Fire Circles take place at different venues in and around Sydney, Australia, with a growing interest in hosting them in other areas. If you want to connect with Allan to learn more about his fire circle process, check out his LifeCrating website, or visit The Fire Circle Facebook page. You can also email Allan Rudner directly.

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October 5, 2012

Guys - Check Your Balls!

Among other places, this poster appeared in the women's toilet in a Hobart (Tasmania) pub. Is this going too far?

Click to Enlarge Poster
We seem to live in a very pink world these days, where so much (important) attention is given to women's breast cancer awareness. Yet it seems odd to me that a poster using the word "balls" and suggesting men (and their partners) should be checking them, might be seen as more than a little provocative. Given the data on testicular and other cancers for men, maybe not!

One in 268 men will be diagnosed with cancer of the testes during their lifetime. While we often think of this as an older man's disease, while rare, it's the most common cancer in males between 15 and 45. It peaks in males in their mid-twenties. Other cancers causing death in guys include lung, prostate, bowel, and melanoma. As the poster states, men are 33% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than women, and 30% more men will die of the disease than women! Given these numbers, it seems to me we should have more loud and bold approaches to men's balls and this aspect of men's health directed at both teem males and men.

Blue September (http://www.blueseptember.org/) is a global awareness and fundraising initiative for all men’s cancers. Blue was chosen as a men's color as pink is the preferred color for women's breast cancer awareness. Since starting in New Zealand, the Blue September movement has migrated to Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. The Blue September blokes in Australia, who created the poster, are supporting Australian Prostate Cancer Research and The Australian Cancer Research Foundation. They say each year, more than 22,000* Australian men die of cancer. For the record, the number for annual male deaths in the US is 33,000.

GO NUTS! Just one of many campaigns across the globe included a Blue September event in the US, prior to the Oakland Raiders/Pittsburgh Steelers game, September 23, 2012 (see link below). It turns out research says walnuts can improve prostate heath. In order to raise awareness about testicular and other cancers for men, prior to the game, fans were given a package of California walnuts, blue wrist bands, and health information. The jumbo screens also showed a pre-game video on the topic. What a great way to bring this topic to a male audience.

Are you willing to help get the word out to young men and adult males? It would be a sad thing to lose a guy at any age to testicular cancer just because we can't comfortably talk about gonads, nads, nuts, testicles, rocks, bollocks, sack nuggets, groin, the acorns, cracker jacks, stones, kerbangers, marbles, the yam bag, your junk, tenders, cullions, the dangly bits, pelotas, nutsack, doo-dahs, bollocks, huevos, kiwis, clappers, family jewels, cojones, the package, knackers, cods, love spuds, and yes, balls.

Here are some links to great videos and information on Blue September, testicular cancer, and Testicular Self-Exam (TSE) for men and young males:

  • A clip of Ireland's Munster Rugby Team getting painted blue for the cause.

  • A really great website, checkemlads.com run by regular guy cancer survivors. They tell moving personal stories, a very informative video clip, and some TSE instruction from straight talking men.

  • A great teen health website, kidshealth.org, with some very straight forward instructions on how to do Testicular Self-Exam (TSE).

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October 1, 2012

Upside Stories about Men and Boys

I was feeling a little down. There has been endless news reporting about the recent killings in our community by yet another angry, lost man with a gun. Then, almost simultaneously, two very inspirational articles came across my desk. The positive messages in these stories about good men helping young males really got through, touched my heart, and gave me my optimism back. I'm sharing these articles with the hope they have the same positive impact on you.

The first story describes some of the important and exciting work with high school boys being done by the good men of Boys to Men Mentoring Network  (BTM). In an article on the San Diego News online, BTM co-founder Craig McClain describes what is at the heart of what they do in their school programs for young guys . . . speaking the truth:
We start off our meetings by telling (the boys) the truth about ourselves. Some of us went to prison. Some of us did drugs. There isn’t one thing these boys are thinking about that one of us hasn’t done.

Then we ask them, who wants to go next, and they’ll talk about gangs or drugs or hating their stepfathers. And we’ll say, ‘Is this what you want to do?’ And they’ll say no. We’ll ask about the consequences, and we’ll say, ‘Is this what you want?’ And they’ll say no. Then we’ll say, ‘Well, what do you want to do about it?’ We give them control over their lives.
The article goes on to show us what happens inside these school-based guys' groups as the men create a safe space for the boys to learn to trust, open up, and then decompress about the really hard parts of their lives.

You can read the whole article at the San Diego News online.

Boys to Men Mentoring Network centers have sprung up in more than 35 cities in seven countries around the world. Their San Diego area school programs, which started four years ago with one group (and 3 boys who were required to attend), now has between 80 and 90 volunteer male mentors working with almost 400 kids in 10 sites in the San Diego area. Check out the Boys to Men Mentoring Network website for more information.

The second story is from the Camden, New Jersey, CurrierPostOnline.com. It describes a luncheon put on by the Camden County Mentoring Institute, a coalition of mentoring providers, faith-based groups, and government institutions, all coming together to recruit and support volunteer mentors. The article describes some of what three successful men, raised without fathers, said at the luncheon to an audience of almost 200 Camden clergy, community leaders, law enforcement officials, and local residents, all of whom were there to support Camden’s youth.

I love the statement from the Camden Police Chief, Scott Thomson. His father died when he was 9, and in describing his own life he said, "But for the grace of God — and three fat cops who couldn’t catch me — I wouldn’t be here today!” As a career Camden cop, he recently became a mentor to a 9-year-old boy who was blinded by stray gunfire in the city. In his remarks, he described an all too common attitude among young guys in Camden. He remembered a conversation with a young man he had arrested for selling drugs.
“What are you going to do when you’re 21?” Thomson asked.

“I ain’t gonna live that long,” the youth replied.
You can read the whole article at the CurrierPostOnline.com.

Instead of the bad news about lost men and boys, I like hearing the counter-point, upside stories about the power of a man in a boy's life, or how a few men can do so much good in the lives of a bunch of young dudes in a school setting. It gives me hope for the future.

If you know of a similar Man-Making story, please send it along.

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