A stretch is a personal goal or a decision to take on a challenging task that has been neglected. A man announces it to the group and records it. They could be as simple as losing 10 pounds, getting the garage cleaned out, or more complex issues like reestablishing communication with family or addressing a toxic personal relationship. The goal should have a deadline attached to it. Stretches can become part of the closing round or be a separate round in itself. Some of the best stretches are tasks to be completed before the next meeting. For example, “I will talk to my boss about a raise this week.” If it is a longer term goal, how it is going to be accomplished needs to be mapped out. For example, using our simple weight lose example, he might set the goal with incremental weekly goal of one pound per week. Making these goals as behavior specific as possible will produce the highest level of results. For example, “I’m going to complement my wife at least once a day.” rather than, “I’m going to improve my relationship with my wife.”, or “I’m going to call my son before Friday and tell him that I’m sorry.” rather than “I’m going to work on reestablishing my relations with my family.” A man is more accountable when he is held to a behavior. The more personally significant and emotionally loaded the stretch is, the more important it will be to have the group’s support and for the group to hold the man accountable to his word. Some of your goals can also be tied to the “Work” you do in the group. Perhaps the outcome of a work session is the establishment of a stretch. After setting a stretch, it is best to write it down in a group notebook. Keep it with the talking stick and given to the leader. At the Closing Round or a separate round, the leader opens the notebook and reads last week’s stretches. Another way to handle the record keeping is to have a Keeper of the Stretches. The same man each week keeps the record. Either way, a stretch is a way of asking the group to hold you accountable and to share and celebrate your success. Keep this positive; no shaming, if the man fails. But give him a cheer when he makes it. For some groups, this has turned into a major ritual of the group with drum beating and whooping it up at every accomplishment.
Some groups drum at their meetings. Men like pounding on stuff and making big noises. I think it is in our genetic code; it simulates the rhythm of life. Some music theorists think it is a way of recalling our time in utero, the sounds of our mother’s heart beat intertwining with ours. In your group, never be afraid to let the boy inside you out to play. Some groups drum at the start of every meeting. As men arrive, they join it. When the time is right, the leader stops them and the meeting starts. It’s a great way to transition into another kind of space and time. Some groups close with drumming and some do it at both ends. Groups that have made drumming an intrinsic part of their gatherings often use their drums to add punctuation to their meetings. For example, if a man achieved his stretch, they do a short blast of drumming. If drumming is too loud for your meeting location but you like the idea, rattles achieve the same purpose at lower decibels.
Other groups do drumming only at some drumming specific meetings or not at all.
A group embrace where the men form a huddle is a very common closing. Moving this up a notch you can add making eye contact with each man during the hug. This is a way of recognizing each man on a person level and simultaneously as a member of your group.
Other groups do the hand-pile cheer. Everyone puts one hand in and then they give a cheer as their hands are raised. A variation is the fist-bump or your group can get very elaborate with a series of secrete movements symbolizing aspects of your group. Either decide on rituals or let them evolve naturally.
Many groups practically faith based groups open and close with prayers and accent may parts of their meetings with expressions of faith. For example, before a man works, he prays that he is given the strength to be honest and open and that the group will not betray his trust. A “Thanks be to God” punctuates a man achieving a stretch.
For groups with a less of a specific faith base, but with strong spiritual purpose, generic prayers are often decided on, or written by the group.
In some ecumenical groups, one man is asked each week to start the meeting with a prayer or reading from his faith.
Some groups use part of each meeting to work on discussions of a specific reading or even work through an entire book chapter by chapter. Men relate the readings to their personal life and are aware of the emotional impact that it may have.
For faith-based groups, working their way through the Koran, Bible, Vedas or other texts is a means to incorporate their faith as part of the group. If you choose to do so, this should vary from the traditional Bible study class in that it is important to discuss what the text means to each man, how its words are interpreted emotionally, and intuitively rather than an understanding of it only from a historical or theological perspective.
Men’s singing in harmony is a great sound. If you incorporate music as an opener, closer, or accent to the meeting, it is really important that every man feels comfortable singing or not singing. If you want singing to be a requirement of your group, you should have that in the posting for the group and during the interview make clear the level of skill that you expect.
Some groups include food and drink. At break time, the leader might serve cookies or pie. Some groups have wine, cheese or snacks after each meeting as a social time together, others coffee and doughnuts. If your group is coming from various locations after work to meet, dinner together before the meeting might be a good. Food and drink are a great way to bond a group.
If alcohol is part of your meeting, talk about it first. Intoxication during a meeting might feel like bonding but it really isn’t. Keep alcohol light at least until after the meeting. Sometimes groups also go out for a drink afterwards. That can be a good time and a way of seeing each other in a different environment.
One of the first eight meetings was devoted to play. Some groups reserve time at every meeting to do something silly that they would not do in their normal life. It might be starting with a silly song (either one the group wrote or one they know.) or some kind of game.
One way of incorporating a game is to use it as a transition to the meeting. For example, a game of Frisbee tag or Frisbee golf might began a half hour or more before the meeting. Men join in when they get there. The meeting starts when the game is over. This works well if men are coming from work and arrive at different times.