Why separate men’s and women’s circles?
Workshop leaders and workshop participants often observe that people feel more comfortable to share about intimate aspects of their lives when only those of their own sex are present. It can be very strengthening and validating to receive reflections, or even just heart-centred listening, from others who have shared many of the same embodied life experiences we’ve had, simply through growing up as a boy or a girl or living as a man or a woman.
As women or men, those of us that are orientated towards the opposite sex often alter our behavior subtly to be attractive to them. By being witnessed and appreciated in a safe space where this agenda is not present, we are empowered to step more into the fullness of who we are.
Transforming the discomfort
That’s not to say that same-sex spaces are comfortable for everyone. Many a man has told me that he is terrified to go to men’s groups, finding it much easier to be friends with women. One friend confided that he fears entering some kind of intimidating macho environment where his way of being a man will not be accepted, where he’ll have to talk about football or make sexist jokes.
Women attending my women’s circles have often confessed that they were nervous about coming because of a negative history with sisters, mothers or school friends that left them mistrustful and fearful of other women. Once, I was present when a woman of 65 was stepping into a women’s circle for the very first time in her life, with much trepidation and a belief that these circles were unnecessary. By the end, she was in tears, deeply moved and connected with women in a totally new way.
When we take time to be together in circle with other men or women, we can then come back to those of the opposite sex with more of a sense of who we are, no longer needing to give away our power. Supriti, a Team Leader who has lived at Osho Leela for nearly 2 years and has done several groups with Ranjana and Tarisha at Osho Leela, names both the joys and the shadows when she says, “There’s something very special, subtle and invisible that happens when women come together. I feel it in my body: how safe I am around women, as well as the pain and competitiveness that comes up being so close to other women. I have seen myself becoming more and more comfortable with being close friends with other women, and feeling my trust deepen to the point where I no longer feel such intense pressure to compete for masculine affection. I feel nourished by the love of my sisters and more at home in myself as a result.”
Connection beyond the everyday
At Osho Leela, we are fortunate to have weekly men’s and women’s sharing circles for the community. Each individual has an opportunity to share about what’s going on for him or her in full confidentiality and without interruption, witnessed and held by others of the same gender. Sometimes other activities take place in addition to verbal sharing, such as singing, drumming and bodywork. Supriti started the women’s sharing nearly 18 months ago and, more recently, she and I alternate holding the space. We have a round of sharing followed by ‘words of positivity’ so that participants get a chance to feel seen, celebrated and affirmed. Dyanesh and Mahadeva run the men’s weekly sharings with a similar structure.
The benefits to the community are numerous. Individuals who rarely get a chance to connect on an everyday level – especially those who are in different ‘tribes’ or peer groups, e.g. Raise Awareness Program participants, Team Leaders and Core Members – are brought together in a smaller, more intimate group. With this, the bonds, respect and compassion for each other grows. When couples are in a dispute, having a separate space to take their feelings can be enormously valuable and also serve as an opportunity for helpful feedback. In everyday life, the nourishment within these circles spills over into our dynamic and ever-changing community.
Positive Masculinity and Femininity
At the upcoming 4th weekend of our annual Leela Life Training, we have two parallel workshops – ‘Man Up’ for men and ‘Woman Alive’ for women. Like much of the current men’s work – Mankind Project among them – ‘Man Up’ looks at how to connect men with their own sense of strength and purpose. There’s an acknowledgment that many men involved in personal development circles have developed their ‘feminine’, more sensitive side, to a high degree. However, they have not received the support they need to get in touch with a positive sense of masculinity: one that is respectful of both self and other and does not compromise integrity to gain approval.
In ‘Woman Alive’, women will embrace their passion, wildness, joy, stillness and creativity – and indeed every aspect of themselves – without comparison to men. The emphasis is on transcending old patterns of competition, making way for collaboration and support to live our dreams and speak our truth.
Other women’s groups that are sowing seeds of empowerment and harmony include the work of Jewels Wingfield, who I highly recommend. Our own Devaraj runs the paradigm-shifting Project Man in Brighton. Other women’s work facilitators recommended by Supriti include Jackie Singer.
We acknowledge that gender has become a much more complex area in recent years, that an increasing amount of people now identify outside of traditional gender roles, and that we all possess archetypal ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ qualities within us, with neither men nor women having a monopoly on these attributes. However, the value of men’s and women’s work remains crucial. Most of us have grown up in a world where the fact of being male or female determined our experience, with life-long effects on shaping our sense of identity.
Whatever our sexual orientation or gender identification, we need to examine and heal the wounds that come with being a person in a man’s body or a woman’s body and all the history behind that, and to come together and create community so we can relate better to ourselves and each other.
Written by Khalsa Nichols. Khalsa is a nature-loving writer, singer and group facilitator living and working at Osho Leela. www.morganknichols.com.