March 28, 2019
By Paul Gemme
I was touched by the responses I received following the last newsletter on Vulnerability and I was deeply touched by one response in particular. The man had disclosed his difficulty having friends and the one friend he was closest too he found it difficult being totally truthful with. He recognized this shadow piece of himself and vowed to do better but the energy I felt from him was shame. I felt myself being drawn to him for his courage and willingness to share a piece of shadow and trusting me enough to disclose it. This is how we own it and heal it.
Several days prior to his reaching out I had been musing about what’s important to me when building trusted friendships. These traits may not be the same for you but they are important for me, not only for what I value in men but the way I want to develop myself.
In some ways I’m very old school. My dad always tried to instill in me that my word is my bond. Unfortunately, I didn’t always live up to that before I got sober; addicts are usually way out of integrity. I’d like to believe I live up to it today.
In the late 1990’s, my wife Maureen and I bought forty acres of land with a cabin in the Berkshires with just a hand shake and no money down, no interest, and no banks involved. We saw a piece of land with an old hand written For Sale sign nailed to a tree. We ventured into the woods and it wasn’t long before we fell in love with the property and the potential it held. After contacting the owner he agreed to meet us there and together we walked the property.
At the time Maureen and I didn’t have the finances to purchase the land but we felt such a connection to it we knew it was ours already. We also felt a connection to the owner because of his openness and honest disclosures. He told us he had bought the property with his fiancé and the original plan was to build and live there together. What was heartbreaking was she left him and it was painful to hold on to the piece because every time he paid taxes it just reminded him of his loss. We shared with him that we had no money but presented him with a plan to pay for the property. In the short afternoon we spent together we managed to forge a bond of trust by being honest with each other. We agreed to pay off the land in five years if he agreed to no interest and no down payment. (We honored his trust by paying it off in four.) We shook hands on the deal and when his attorney learned of the agreement he was livid and tried to convince the owner to get a down payment plus interest. His response to the attorney: “It’s a done deal, we shook on it. Just write it up.”
This is what I call integrity. For me there are other forms of integrity as equally important for building trust, especially when doing men’s work.
For example, I find connection with men who are willing to share their vulnerability, especially in a group setting. If I’m with a man who is witnessing other men being vulnerable but is unwilling to go there himself, then that smacks of voyeurism and shadow magician for me, and I have difficulty completely trusting that man. Shadow Magicians gather info to gain power for themselves without disclosing their own vulnerability, and disclosure is where true, mature power lies.
I also can feel safe when a man honors confidentiality. If they don’t, that’s more shadow Magician. When my wife asks, “How was your men’s group?” My answer is always “fine,” or “challenging,” nothing more, unless it’s about what I’m in process with. I never share about the men in the group.
It’s important for me to have men in my life who see my goodness and love me in spite of my shadow, and are willing to confront my blind spots in a loving supportive way. It’s OK if a man gets angry with me if that’s what comes up, but I need men who are committed to staying in relationship, working through it, and not disappearing. In turn, I need men in my life that can hear me, and can validate my feelings, even if they don’t agree with me if I confront them.
I’ve seen too many men cop a resentment and experience too much fear of conflict to confront a man in a healthy way. It’s easier for them to disappear rather than step into the fear and work towards resolution and create a trusting relationship. Sometimes you just need a third party to help you navigate the conflict, so you don’t betray yourself by going into avoidance.
It’s also easier for me to trust men who don’t talk shit about other men. It’s OK to have a reaction about a man’s behavior, but separate the behavior from the person. It’s important to understand that we’re all trying to find our way home and we’re going to make mistakes and we may be at different stages of our growth. We are all inherently good at our core. Men who talk shit about other men leave me wondering what piece of their shadow they’re projecting and I’m left feeling curious about what his understanding of men’s work is, and of his commitment to healing with men.
I need men in my life who do what they say they’re going to do, who honor their commitments and more importantly have enough self-worth to honor their “no.” Many of us had our ‘NO’ squashed as kids and it’s important to reclaim our choice.
Some questions to reflect on:
What qualities do you seek that allows you to feel a man is trustworthy?
Do you hold yourself accountable to live up to those qualities?
Do you initiate or engage in gossip, without being direct with the person being spoken about?
How do you react when you are held accountable?
When in conflict with a man, do you use fight or flight, rather than working to be complete?
How strong is your word?
How vulnerable are you vs how much do you withhold or deny?
In the spirit of brotherhood.
Paul Gemme ( firstname.lastname@example.org) and the COMEGA OC
While baking bread this morning I was struck by the process being oddly familiar to my journey into men’s work. Mixing all the dry ingredients reminded me of all the years I spent as a dry man. Intellect, thinking, and living in my head were the guiding forces that directed my life, and that left me feeling isolated and disconnected on a heart level. It was not until deep discontentment, addiction, and loss, forced me kicking and screaming to find another way. It took a “Dark Night of the Soul” experience to find a different way to live.
As I added the water and yeast combination and blended it with the dry ingredients it formed a rich moist batter, all I needed to complete my creation was to put it to the fire. Men’s growth is similar to baking bread, without the moisture and fire in our belly we’re just dry ingredients.
After letting the bread rise, I placed the loaf in the oven, then sat back to reflect on all my gratitude for the men in my life who put me to the fire and who I call upon to witness my darkness and incompleteness, men who nurture me and share wisdom and strength with their authenticity, moisture and humanness.
The “Dryness” men experience is a common theme among men who have not allowed themselves to be nurtured or held literally or figuratively in the energy of what Robert Bly would call, the “Male Mother.” Dryness is about living your life in your head and being disconnected from your body; the inability to access your feelings and living life numb. The moisture can only be achieved through deep emotional work. It’s not in the realm of the intellect, you can’t achieve it by reading about it or studying it. You drop into it through experiential work with other men. This is the realm of the Magician energy, and the Lover. The Warrior is about action; the Magician is the discernment brought to the Warrior and King.
Recently I had an experience where I developed some physical pain and shortness of breath. The pain became so severe I went to my doctor to run some tests. While sharing it in my men’s groups, a man with a highly developed Magician said to me, “Sounds like you’re resisting some fear in your life.”
As I sat and internally processed his statement I felt my own Magician energy acknowledging the truth of his wisdom. My sister, who I dearly love, is dying of terminal cancer. She requested that I build her casket because she values and trusts me, knowing I’ll honor her request for a green burial. Although I’ve been processing her pending death with the men in my life, I was also able to discern that I was indeed still withholding a deep level of fear and resisting truly dropping into the dark well of emotional grief. Only after doing a significant piece of grief work was I able to release the pain in my body and regain my breathing.
Magician energy is about intuition and feelings as well as the knowing that comes from experience. That knowing is often gained through mentorship and initiation from elders who have worked the path before us.
The Magician also has a shadow side, and if we’re not careful the shadow can disrupt our lives and the lives of those around us. It happens through manipulation or by playing dumb.
You hear me talk about the importance of men connecting with other men doing similar work, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t stress the importance of accessing the guidance of elders or mentors. These are the men who have come before us in this work. It’s these men who provide the boundaries and initiation that keep us on the path to manifesting right relationships with other men. I have known men new to this work join other novice men in forming men’s circles or groups. Without the wisdom or guidance of experienced mentors or elders, these groups often fall apart when the men are confronted with conflict. Elders have the experience of navigating these waters and can guide you through the process of men’s work. It’s noble to seek out elders, they’re usually just a phone call away.
It’s the boy energy that doesn’t reach out, and too many times these men disappear from the Hero’s Quest without completion or closure. The mature energy knows if you desire longevity on your path in seeking the Grail, you don’t do this alone. Without guidance, support, and Magicians in your life you’ll lack the clarity, resolve, and wisdom necessary to complete the parts of yourself that still need healing.
We’ll talk more about the Magician and the energy of the other Archetypes at our Spring COMEGA gathering.
And don’t forget about the Pre-Gathering Workshop starting Thursday April 25.
See the details at www.comega.org
THE TIME TO REGISTER IS NOW! It would help tremendously if men would pre-register. It helps us with planning with Camp Hazen, forming team eights, and gathering team 8 leaders.
Remember: Hold the vision of 115 men for the Spring Gathering.
I also have a request. If any of you men have pictures from past gatherings and you would like to share them. Please send them to me at email@example.com . We would like more pictures for our website.
Thank you men,
Paul Gemme and the OC
Wishing my COMEGA brothers a Happy New Year.
For me, doing men’s work means living my life with as much intention and consciousness as possible, learning from my past, while committing to confront uncomfortable truths about myself.
This is the time of year I set aside to reflect on what worked for me and what didn’t during the past year.
I usually I like to pose questions to myself as a way of stimulating the process. I write these questions down as part of a ritual for the work I’m about to delve into. I ask each question to myself individually and enter into my meditation, sometimes with a candle burning, to fully explore the implications of the question. Over the next week or two I continue to let the question unfold within me. When I’m comfortable that I’ve received what I needed it’s time to present it to my mentor or brothers for feedback, support, and inquiries.
This year I have three questions to myself that feel important. The first is:
“What have I accomplished this past year that I’m proud of and may have had to push an edge to get too?”
I start with this question for a couple of reasons. If I have accomplishments, it helps me feel that I’m not remaining stagnant and that I may be making a difference in the world. This also helps me to feel good about myself and my life choices while challenging me to question the value of my accomplishments and who they serve.
Question two is:
“What mistakes did I make this past year, how did they affect me and others, and what can I learn from them?”
It takes a shitload of wisdom not to make mistakes, but it takes a lot of mistakes to gain wisdom. I have to embrace my mistakes with compassion, when my inner “victimizer” voice wants to “kill” or shame me.
There’s nothing more destructive to my well-being than letting the “Victimizer” take control. This is where the compassion has to come in.
Mistakes are just lessons to be learned on my journey to gaining wisdom and self-empowerment; so avoiding exploration of them is not an option. Learning from my mistakes is the most powerful tool I have, so it’s never a question of, “if I make a mistake but when I make a mistake”, and how will I embrace it?
Question three is:
“What hurts, shame, or small stories do I still carry that I need to let go of?”
This, for me, is probably the most significant of the three questions. If I don’t deal with this then I’m destined to continually relive my past unconsciously. This is a question that drops me deep within my shadow and forces me to re-experience places I want to avoid. It takes courage, commitment and support to live into the wounds and there’s the hidden danger of disassociation if I’m not fully committed to entering the process and breathing through it.
For those of you who are in twelve steps groups there is a statement in the literature that reads, “If I am experiencing any difficulty, what so ever, in my life, the problem is within me!”
This statement takes away any excuse I may have to play victim and places the responsibility back on me. I may have come by my wounds honestly, but it’s my responsibility to heal them so I don’t bleed on those who had nothing to do with my wounds.
As we enter into this New Year I encourage my brothers to take a well-deserved opportunity to spend time with yourself. I find a daily morning practice of meditation, yoga, and spiritual readings helps me to live with intention.
For those of you with a sustainable morning practice, keep on keeping on! For those of you without a practice I would suggest that even 15 minutes of some form of daily practice that is meaningful to you, would help you to live with more intention.
In the Spirit of Brotherhood,
Paul Gemme and the COMEGA OC
Reminder!! Let’s hold the vision for 115 men at the COMEGA Spring gathering and 50 men for the Pre-gathering workshop. You can add the vision to your daily morning practice. ☺
Winter is upon us. (Not a Game of Thrones reference)
I know for myself, it’s a time for self-reflection and inventory taking. I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions because, for me, they always lacked staying power. I find life style changes to be a more permanent form of lasting change and COMEGA has been a catalyst for me with lasting change.
This is also the time of year when I find myself in “Bear energy”; if I’m not living consciously, my tendency will be to hibernate and not do a whole lot, so I have to be on my guard to make sure I’m not isolating and I’m still in connection with my supports. I find the best way to do that is to make sure I have meaningful connections and commitments with activities that support my personal growth; i.e. men’s groups (2), monthly race dialog group, my daily yoga practice (both home and at the studio), my 12 step fellowship meetings, the work I do with the COMEGA OC, and all the family and grandchildren commitments.
So my questions to you is, “How are you taking care of yourself until our next gathering”?
“Are you in connection with COMEGA brothers”? If yes, “Who initiates the contact”?
“And what else can you do, proactively, to keep the spirit of COMEGA alive within you”?
This is also the time corporations and organizations are reviewing their past year of accomplishments, setting policy changes, setting new goals, and questioning what worked and what didn’t, and COMEGA is no different. The OC is constantly looking at areas where we, as men, can grow personally, and grow the organization at the same time. It often means supportively confronting each other so we don’t get trapped in “Bear Energy” and fall into hibernation. Trying to do COMEGA work around the holidays can be challenging so it requires a lot of Warrior and King Energy as well as support from our brothers.
After the holidays, the OC will be asking for support from our community brothers. We’ll send out requests for assistance with specific tasks we could use help with. It will be an opportunity to take ownership for our gathering while providing some breathing space for the OC, as we continue to plan for our upcoming, three day weekend in the spring. Any support you can give with these tasks will be graciously appreciated.
And if you’re finding yourself isolating and feeling a lack of connection over the next several weeks, one very important thing you can do to support yourself right now, is to pre-register for the spring gathering, and connect with two new men. Talk to them about how much the gathering has meant to you and encourage them to register and attend. Not only will it support the organization, but it will help to keep the spirit of COMEGA alive in you throughout the winter.
And if you’re interested, below are some of the accomplishments the OC has implemented. We will continue working to make COMEGA a cutting edge men’s gathering.
Paul Gemme and the COMEGA OC
If you would like to respond to the newsletters, go to the COMEGA website and click the contact link. www.comega.org
COMEGA Achievements – From December 2015
The following is a list of achievements, changes, and upgrades that we have made since December of 2015. It is not likely a complete list, nor fully detailed. However, it is hoped that it will highlight what men’s dedication through passion, vision, and diligence through service has accomplished.
1) Re-write the culture norms and have copy available for distribution at every COMEGA gathering.
2) Create a new website, addressing the need to upgrade from the existing one from an archaic platform.
3) Change the fee structure from a sliding scale to a financial aid structure with inclusion of a bursary sub-committee and oversite by a chairman who is an OC member.
a. Create a guiding procedural document.
4) Create a Circle of 8, (Team 8) sub-committee & offer training for men for paired leadership at gatherings
a. Solicit men for leadership role.
b. Brief and debrief leaders at gatherings.
c. Implement 2 facilitators for each team of eight.
5) Address problems with data base. (Ongoing).
a. Inclusion of data such as first COMEGA attendance and number of gatherings attended.
6) Institute process of personal check-ins O.C. meetings.
7) Support consciousness about cis gendered gatherings & support acceptance of change to accept trans- men at gatherings.
8) Invite leadership from other men’s gatherings OC’s to our gathering inclusive of fee waiver to support cross cultural sharing and inclusion.
9) Create special “sessions” at weekends to address various important happenings:
a) Honoring of co-founder Norbert Gauthier’s passing.
b) The burying of Norbert’s ashes and AA medallion.
c) The celebration of our 50th gathering.
d) The honoring and eulogizing of Mark Hillyer, (Baldy) as he approached his passing.
10) Soliciting of solid workshop offerings from men in the community prior to the weekends.
11) Move the endings on Sunday from 11:30 back to 3:00 p.m.
12) Increase the food quality.
13) Support of a liaison with the Ritual Committee.
14) Ritualize honoring of men leaving the OC and new men coming onto the OC at gatherings.
15) Create and execute standard vetting questions for potential new OC members.
a. Create a vetting team and process of vetting men.
b. Use similar vetting process with men for bursary committee.
16) Create written guidelines for weekend MC’s.
17) Start the write - up of various job descriptions and procedures. (Ongoing).
a. Creation of an electronic location to store these. (Ongoing).
18) Start visioning of a New England wide men’s gathering.
19) Solicit MC’s for the talent show prior to the weekend gathering.
20) Create a welcome committee and post men at locations to welcome men as they arrive.
21) Create a new ritual opening reading based in the archetypes.
22) Begin to invite in eldership by offering mentoring of key roles such as: Team 8 leadership, MC roles, and with OC members, including the invitation of men to choose a mentor at the weekend.
23) Start a community wide dialogue that takes place on Sunday afternoons.
24) Move the spring gathering to a more advantageous time, from March to April.
25) Start to address issues of race & racism thru a weekend theme & gathering follow up topic workshops.
An offer to connect
Since our gathering in September I have reached out with two emails to the men in my circle of eight team. After the first email I received responses from all but two men.
A couple of weeks later I reached out with a second email and received responses from only four men. One man in the group failed to respond to both emails so I reached out to him personally. I was sad to learn he had been struggling with depression since leaving the gathering and had fallen into seclusion and isolation.
I write this, hopefully impress upon you, the importance of maintaining connection between gatherings with our brothers within the Comega community; and to understand the fundamental reason the founders of Comega created the gathering in the first place. “To break down the barriers of isolation men experience and to provide an opportunity for a deep, heartfelt connection to other men”; something that’s lacking in our modern day culture.
Between gatherings is the time to really access the archetypes and put them to practical use.
A healthy King energy is going to recognize to need to keep our brethren and community vibrant between gathering so we can make a difference in the world.
If your Magician, sometimes located in your gut, intuits that a brother may not be doing well, use your Lover energy to realize the significance all our brothers have to ourselves personally and to our community as a whole; and finally call on your Warrior to make that phone call to connect.
I’m amazed by the men who show up at the gathering, maybe for the first time, and leave feeling inspired and connected to other men in a way they have not experienced before. Some men come back, but sadly many men don’t, and we lose men if they’re not in connection between gatherings.
At the last gathering two men returned after an absence of ten years or more; recognizing the hunger they felt from the void of authentic male connection.
OK, I’m going to switch gears here and provide some transparency.
As the OC continues to work, taking our organization to the cutting edge of men’s work, being responsive to member suggestions, and continuing to provide options for men with limited resources, ( we have a separate limited fund to protect that), we also have to be extremely creative to remain financially viable.
We have a long standing relationship with Camp Hazen and we have developed a symbiotic relationship that works well for both of us. Over the years Hazen has kept the price we pay per man steady and fixed while charging other organizations more. That has been slowly changing in the last couple of years and Hazen has begun to slowly increase our financial responsibility at each gathering. We are also one of the few organizations that requires the use of the entire camp for our gathering, it just wouldn’t do to share space with another organization.
As an organization who requires the entire camp for our gathering Hazen requires us to be financially responsible for 100 men. If only 80 show up, we’re still financially responsible for the other 20; this means we have the potential to lose money at every gathering.
What seems the most viable solution, and it will take the whole community working together, is to raise our attendance numbers to 100 men or more, which means pre-registration can be a lifeline for the gathering and it helps us to prepare with Camp Hazen so they can meet our needs. (Meals, housing, etc.)
It means all of us together reaching out to members throughout the year, staying connected. (This 1st time newsletter is a way we are holding the OC accountable to do the same).
It means bringing another man with you to gathering and talking up Comega in other communities you’re involved in. (church, 12 step meetings, yoga, etc.)
It means honestly self-reflecting and questioning how well I access my archetypes in my daily life and not just two times a year and what part am I playing to sustain our organization.
So let’s work together this year and hold the vision of 115 men for the spring gathering with 50 men attending the pre-gathering workshop.
We also appreciate the men who offered their services towards our sustainability during the last community meeting. We have your names and your offerings and we will be in contact soon.
In the Spirit of Brotherhood
Paul Gemme and the Comega OC