My First Time

The first time my hippie yoga teacher of a friend phoned me and told me about the Arka Brotherhood men’s group, I was skeptical. This was the same person who used to forward me chain-mail that promised if I forwarded the e-mail to four other people I would find the love of my life in the next week or/and my dick would magically grow bigger. “I already have a therapist, and she’s trained in Jungian psychoanalysis,” I replied and didn’t think much about it until a month later when the same friend implored me to check out the free intro night.

So I went and met Phil Teertha Mistlberger, a transpersonal therapist who founded the group and had one of the deepest voices I had ever heard in real life – so deep it sounded almost cartoonish. I wondered how long he had to force himself to talk in baritone to consolidate such a voice, how much venison he would have had consumed, and how many men he would have had to punch out to develop such a masculine voice. Needless to say, I didn’t trust him in the first meeting. But there I was in his apartment sitting on a couch that looked older than I was, my yoga friend to one side, and about four or five other men. The room was musty. It had wooden floors, ancient looking carpets, and walls blocked by fully packed book shelves to demonstrate how much knowledge had been accumulated there.

When Phil recalls the story, he says that my eyes hardly left the floor the entire meeting. He says it was clear I was listening and thinking while he explained his vision and purpose for the men’s group. At that time, I was very uncomfortable looking at people in the eyes and listening at the same time. I asked Phil about his qualifications in the most discreet way I could, asking him what kind of therapy he does; does he know psychotherapy? I was very much a fan of psychotherapy, especially Jungian psychotherapy, and had been delving into it with another therapist before I joined the group – it was my personal Sadhana – personal growth and reflection practice – and it wasn’t cheap either.

After the meeting, my yoga friend, his other friend and I went out for a bite at a Vietnamese noodle shop. We talked a bit about the group, but mostly about our lives. The yoga teacher’s other friend had his reservations because he was a practicing Christian, meaning he goes to church regularly and participates in all those good ol’ wholesome Frisbee tournaments and picnics. I had my reservations because I didn’t need another monthly expense, and I was committed to my original therapist already. I told my yoga friend this. And yet, in the back of my mind I knew I had felt extremely uncomfortable in that situation – and it had occurred to me from my spiritual practice and research – uncomfortable situations can often be great learning opportunities.

In the following weeks, I was reading an article about narcissistic personality disorder. I believed I met a lot of the criteria. In the article it said that narcissists can only really overcome their “false-selves” and learn through practicing being their “true-selves” with other people. And this is what really made me decide to join the group. I knew it would be difficult, because I enjoyed being a loner, and there was a part of me that was afraid to change. I was comfortable being lonely, and I was extremely uncomfortable in social situations. Still, I didn’t want to feel like a hostage at gatherings of more than three people for the rest my life. It was a way for me to get out of my self-absorption, which I knew had always been extremely taxing on my romantic relationships as well as my friendships. So, like most people who join the group, I initially did it for selfish reasons. It just so happened that my selfish reason was to get over my selfishness.

It just so happened that my selfish reason was to get over my selfishness.

It’s been more than a year now since I’ve joined the group. People tell me I’ve come a long way, and I suppose they’re right. For the first few months I was so uncomfortable being in the group that I couldn’t sit still. And now, well, I’m less fidgety and definitely more comfortable. It’s transferred over to my professional life too. In comparison to the psychic hotbox and bullshit filters of the group, well, Monday morning meetings at work are a breeze.

The group became one of the best reflective tools in my life, highlighting areas of hyperbole or understatement in my own mind. I would say something in the group and later be haunted by my own words – perhaps I had been too boastful, exaggerated, or temperamental. One of the biggest struggles in the group for my ego was to recognize that other people were brilliant and at times superior in some areas – and yet, be OK with that. Another difficult lesson was to accept that I also had valuable insight to share with others. I would go home from meetings haunted by things I had not expressed. So I learned to say what I needed to say.

Phil once said that people with extremely inflated egos cannot stay in the group. Not that anyone has ever been kicked out; it usually just becomes too uncomfortable for these people and they tend to drop out. Conversely, people with very low self-esteems cannot survive the group. And I would put myself in both those categories, both of having a superiority complex and an inferiority complex – which admittedly, I still struggle with at times. It’s a bit like being a recovering alcoholic, except in this case, I’m more of a recovering egoholic.

The group is like going to the gym for my mind. It keeps me mentally and spiritually healthy, strong and balanced. In committing to three hours every week with the same group of guys all trying to better themselves, I have grown very fond of the members in the group. They’re some of my best friends and they definitely help me care for people other than myself. I’m extremely grateful for all the lessons I’ve learned through interacting with these extraordinary people. Every so often, I tell my yoga friend how grateful I am to him for introducing me to the group. I really thought he was bat-shit crazy the first time he described this men’s group idea. Then again, maybe I’ve joined the crazy and drank too much of the Kool-aid. Well I have to admit, it tastes pretty fucking amazing.

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