He and I

On a leap of faith, a guy joined a men’s group with an unusual name: The Arka Brotherhood. I’ve followed his journey closely, and I want to share it with you. (I’ll call him by pronouns “he” and “him,” and you’ll see why later.)

At the time he joined, the Brotherhood lacked a website. The group’s 14-point code hadn’t been published. He knew little about the Brotherhood, but he joined a weekend retreat. About 25 men shared intimate details of their lives with one another, all with the promise of confidentiality. It was bonding and cathartic.

Experienced with such sharing from his years in high school with a personal-growth group, he dove right in. Upon returning from the retreat, he joined the Brotherhood right away, attending weekly 3-hour meetings in the basement of a reflexology center in Vancouver.

He started out so reactive. Just about the time that he joined, he felt insulted by a guy on his water polo team. He unfriended the guy on Facebook and quit the team. He didn’t realize how reactive he was until another man in the Brotherhood pointed it out.

He tended to approach people with a big smile – a smile that declared: “I’m not a threat,” as one brother told him – so he easily got pushed around and would cave in to demands. In his business, people would ask for a refund (even though the policy said “No refunds.”). He would cater to customers’ whims. Do you want this? Do you want that? Sure. Cancel at the last minute? No problem. He rarely asserted his own needs, always putting others first. Through the Brotherhood, he learned to stand up for himself.

He learned to obliterate the “stories” in his head. At a sweat lodge with the group, the leader of the lodge spiritually welcomed the women to join the lodge. His mother “came in,” telling him that she wanted the family to be together and wouldn’t want him to miss his brother’s upcoming wedding. He had already RSVP’d “No,” believing a story in his head that his brother didn’t care whether he attended or not.

At a subsequent retreat, through various exercises, he shared that, as a gay man, he felt like an “outsider” among straight men. But he recognized feeling like an outsider was a false story he created. Just sharing that realization helped him break through. No straight man in the group cares whether he is gay, or bisexual, or straight. It doesn’t matter, and intellectually he knows that. By sharing the falsehood, and working on debunking his own myth by observing the reality, the myth disintegrated.

At a subsequent retreat, through various exercises, he shared that, as a gay man, he felt like an “outsider” among straight men. But he recognized feeling like an outsider was a false story he created.

At a subsequent squad meeting, he shared the feeling of being an outsider, and the fact that he had hidden that feeling. A man in his squad  asked him how he was inauthentic in other parts of his life. In other words, where else do you wear a mask? “With my brother,” he responded. Through a subsequent conversation, this Brotherhood member helped him topple his false beliefs about his brother. He decided to call his brother to attend the wedding. The call came just in time; his brother was finalizing the numbers with the restaurant the next day. “I love you,” his brother said at the end of the call. “I love you, too,” he said.

He has changed tremendously in just a few years.

Our 30-year-old selves look back at our 20-year-old selves and laugh at how that younger self thought he knew everything, just as the 40-year-old self looks back at the 30-year old self. And just as my 54-year-old self looks back at the 51-year-old me who joined the Brotherhood just two and a half years ago. I still recognize that man, but I’m not him in many ways. I’m a different person – a less reactive person, a more assertive man, a self-confident being, a stronger leader…

A better man.

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