Workshop Review: Men Beyond 50 – for Maturing Men

by Alan Heeks, Max MacKay, James and Robert Osborn.

Nov 11-13 2011 Salisbury, England.

Reviewed by Ger Murphy

The weather and the season was just right, warm bright, though wan sunshine in an autumnal atmosphere of falling leaves and mulch underfoot. This weekend workshop brought together 20 men over the age of 50 to explore if there were specific issues, support or directions which this age and gender group might valuably consider. The weekend offered a variety of structures facilitated by Alan Heeks, author entrepreneur and facilitator Max MacKay James GP and Men’s group facilitator, and Robert Osborn elder, teacher and Tantra workshop leader. The purpose seemed to be one of giving men the opportunity to reflect on their lives as they come to the so-called “third age “ and to question what may help men make this time a productive and vibrant one for them.

While there are many jokes and stereotypes about ageing men … grumpy old men… dirty old men….golf club men, there is often little direct exploration of the ageing experience and the changes which it brings. Changes were spoken of and witnessed here; changes in bodily functioning, changes in social roles, changes in relationships and changes in self-concept.

These changes were identified and the effects listened to in ways that many men had not done so previously. This witnessing of course, often surfaced strong feelings of anger, fear, grief, and this was held respectfully and in a healing way by facilitators and group. Focusing on what was falling away and what was arising allowed the lens to also turn on what new possibilities were emerging in this new time, and we recognized that the new cannot arise without the old being shed, as we walked through the woodland in showers of falling autumnal leaves.

The focus was powerfully held on what men needed to move forward into the age, along with grieving the many small and not so small deaths which were involved. New skills and self management approaches were felt to be necessary and men got the opportunity to consider how they might be resourced for the moving ahead. We hear often now about pre-retirement courses, and this was not one. I do not think retirement was once mentioned, but the idea of preparation for the time ahead especially in terms of the development of fellowship among  “elders”, ‘was weaved through our time. In fact the question of eldership and how we might view it was potent. Many years ago when Men’s groups emerged in these islands in the wake of Robert Bly’s Iron John many groups heard the cry “where are the elders?” and felt the grief of many men orphaned by the death, departure or unavailability of fathers and guides.

Perhaps this is a time of the development of conscious elder hood, with its place in society, even in the face of our fanaticism for obsolescence and the cult of the young. We considered, and each man had the opportunity to develop their own relationship to elder hood and how this might be facilitated. I could feel how challenging it may be to embrace this elder hood as it involves consciously accepting loss and potential at the same time.

The words of David Whyte`s poem Self Portrait come to mind:

I want to know if you can live day by day with the consequence of love And the bitter unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

Overall the weekend was a fine experience to reflect on ageing and the arrival of a new life-stage in the company of peers, fine facilitation and the blessings of campfires and nature.

For more information see www.menbeyond50.com