How I got involved in New Warrior stuff – the truth about the ManKind Project

A question from an old friend who I haven’t connected with in years.

So how’d you get involved with the New Warror stuff?

I’m curious about the program. I may check it out but as I explained to J***, while the underlying concepts certainly resonate for me, I’m very peculiar about (and easily distracted by) the language and vessel chosen to convey ideas. Sometimes the idea is meaningful, but the way it’s expressed raises my hackles, sounds off alarms, and I just can’t trust the messenger. And the message itself gets diluted in the process. Sometimes, regardless of the messenger, it takes me years to fully absorb a useful message and translate it into meaningful change.

This really got me thinking. Here’s what I came up with.

I did the NWTA in April 2004, a year after I left a very complicated and painful relationship that I was in for 7 1/2 years. I had known about it for years because my brothers and my Dad had done it.  I was on a good path. I was feeling positive about my life, I had been with the beautiful lady who is now my wife for about 6 months, we were doing really well, I was taking risks again, expanding my world, creating friendships. AND I was ready to look at the deeper stuff – to go beyond therapy, which had really helped me, into active participation in something bigger. I was aware of a part of myself that I was still holding back in my life. Some doorway that hadn’t been opened.

The paragraph about the concepts, ideas and the messenger – I get it. And there is some serious jargon to digest. I have become very conscious about this language, so I hope I don’t bludgeon you with it.

Maybe you’re over-thinking? This kind of intellectual analysis kept me locked in a box for 8 years. For me, it’s an avoidance technique. I can think myself out of doing anything – especially if it calls to me – because that means that I sense something I WANT, but I am afraid to reach out for it, afraid to screw it up. When I dismiss the message because of the way it was delivered, I cut myself off from the opportunity to actually come up with my own insights. I expect perfection. There is none.

The EXPERIENCE is what it’s about. The New Warrior Training Adventure is an initiation into a different way of relating to being a man. It’s about trusting yourself enough to let go of the rope and trusting other men to catch you and not hurt you. It’s about learning what you are capable of – the beautiful good and the horrible bad. It may raise your hackles because it runs so contrary to the Lupis Goitalonis (lone wolf) mentality that most men carry. What? you want me to trust you? F*ck that. You want me to stop thinking for a minute and FEEL? F*ck you. You want me to tell you what I am really about? F*ck off. Last time I did that I got the shit kicked out of me.

I over-analyzed the “intellectual framework” of the work as it was understood by a couple of men with their own understandings, beliefs and biases. (they didn’t have the book shelf that I had, or the degree that I have … blah blah).

I didn’t believe it could possibly be all that the men in my life claimed it was. I said no for 7 years. I argued that I was ‘on my own path’, and that I was learning ‘in other ways’. I read, I went to 12 step meetings, I did therapy with a feminist therapist, I led anti-violence workshops for college students, I sat in some men’s groups sponsored by the local men’s center (and though well intentioned, they never even broke the surface for me). I read all kinds of negative press about the ManKind Project and the ‘mytho-poetic men’s movement’. I argued that it was anti-feminist, that it was brain washing, that it was some kind of pyramid scheme, that it was like a cult. My brother J* just kept asking me to trust him, to trust that he would not do me harm. J* is a very smart man – and he is one of the most cynical people I know- and yet this changed his life.

I chose to do it despite my fears and arguments, because I saw the difference it made in my brothers’ lives and marriages – and the difference it made for their kids. They weren’t brainwashed; they still had their own peculiar (and sometimes ineffective) ways of being, but they were kinder and more open with their wives and children, they were more accountable for their actions, they talked about their feelings, they treated each other with a clear, clean respect. They reacted less and responded more. They started standing up for themselves when they needed to. They made better choices. Most of them no longer participate in MKP men’s groups, but the effects that their time in circles had on them are clear in all their lives. Their kids are growing up with self-confidence that comes from being seen and valued for who they are, from being listened to, from having their emotions accepted and affirmed. My brothers had all this goodness inside, MKP helped them do was open the door to it.

What Happened at my Weekend

It was the most powerful experience I had ever had to that point in my life. Parts of it were cheesy. Sometimes I was PISSED that they were ‘treating us’ that way. Parts I didn’t understand until much later. Sometimes I didn’t like the words that were being used. Feeling the power and care of 65 men who are not playing games, not bullshitting each other is life-altering. I have been sitting in MKP circles of men for 5 years now. And I keep getting more tools, keep deepening my ability to connect to people (everyone), I’ve stepped into leadership, handled the hard stuff, gotten accountable for what’s happening in my life. K* and I have honesty and connection that I haven’t ever experienced. There are some incredible, powerful, brilliant, passionate men out there doing their parts to make the world a better, safer, place for everyone. Many of them have different ideas and ‘frames’ for what this work is. Some I resonate with, others I don’t.

I emerged from the weekend saying … if only I had taken this risk then … I could have avoided hurting my ex-partner as I did, I could have avoided hurting myself for a lot of years. All the perfectly logical reasons I had for not going were actually based in fear of being seen for who I believed I was – broken, doomed to be alone, too afraid to live, a ‘bad’ man, somehow not worthy of being loved and appreciated.

So I understand the idea that the ‘vessel’ is important as a carrier of the message. And I would assert that the ‘vessel’ here is more important than the concepts that you are resonating with. Concepts are easy. You can get the concepts in a book, god knows I do. But you will never begin to approach the experience. There is no other vessel that compares to it.

The red flags are good, they will keep you self-aware, having a strong ego is good for this process. But can you take the next step and trust that you are strong enough to take care of yourself AND allow yourself to fully participate in the experience? The men who lead these weekends are experienced, sharp and dedicated to creating safety. Not to say that there aren’t f*ck-ups, there are, but there is always someone right there to step in. And most of all – there is safety. Emotional and Physical safety to do whatever it takes.

When you come out of it – there are men ready to help you process the other stuff that will inevitably bubble up. But it will be up to you whether you choose to reach out and keep working with it. My opinion is that being in a circle of men is the most responsible choice I can make if I am truly dedicated to making the world a safer place, because that is where I learn how to do it. Thinking that I want to help create a better world means little if I’m too afraid or disempowered to act or if I can’t even handle my own resentments against my neighbors, my wife, my boss. Activism is great! Speaking out is great! Movements implode when in-fighting destroys them. And the in-fighting is not about the concepts, it’s about the failure to process the underlying judgments, motivations, wounds and psychology of the individuals. One person with a poisonous lack of self-awareness can destroy an organization (or a nation!). And only a group of highly self-aware people with finely developed skills will be able to short circuit that destruction. MKP, for me, is about developing those skills.

Lots of men go on to do all sorts of other stuff. I know I have. There are lots of paths. But I have never spoken with a man who does not see how unique and powerful this experience was or how it contributed to making his own path more clear and vibrant – even if he hated the weekend. It gives many men the will and passion to go for their deepest dreams. It gives every man a sense of purpose (of his own creation) that he can go out and live in the world.

There is misogyny in MKP, and homophobia and ignorance and racism and arrogance and self-limiting tribal thinking and unconsciousness, but FAR LESS than I experience in most areas of my life. When that stuff shows up, there are men in MKP willing to stand up and confront it. We are actively confronting those harmful attitudes and beliefs in ourselves and each other, because we trust each other. We have the most self-aware ways of handling conflict that I have ever seen.

Some men who walk away from MKP are simply too attached to their rigid beliefs about difference to make any changes or stand as equals with men who challenge them. We are not a homogenous group. It’s not like being in a circle of just academics, or social activists or blue color workers, conservatives or liberals. Unquestioned beliefs, on both sides, will be questioned. In my opinion, we men can no longer afford to create segregated communities of ‘like-minded’ people. We have to do more than isolate ourselves in this time of global problems.

At a core level for me – it’s about escaping the nihilist belief that I’m alone. Because as a man among men – these men – I’m never alone. These men that I have shared this with – these are the men who will bury me – knowing everything about me and loving me deeply. They will comfort my children and my wife. There will be nothing left unsaid, because there was no fear to prevent me from saying it.

It’s an emotional bungie jump. Scary. Safe.

What is Men’s Work?

I have had several men ask me – what this is all about … what do you do?

We sit in a circle on chairs. We talk to each other about ourselves. We listen intently. We do not shame or criticize. We do not spend time giving advice. We use processes to ‘dig in’ to those parts of ourselves that we find confusing, upsetting and STUCK. We resolve conflicts, both internal and external, by taking responsibility for ourselves.

A men’s group is a place to figure out what you want in your life, take steps to making it happen and continually look at what is getting in the way of you being fully alive and empowered.

Do you want better relationships?
Do you want to learn how to better handle situations that stump you over and over?
Do you want to break out of a rut that you have been living in for years?
Do you want to sit with men actively working to make the world a better place?

Here’s an even harder question … do you instinctively NOT trust men (or women or yourself)?  You learned this somewhere. Not only is it bad for your physical health, but it is probably preventing you from living fully. Continue reading “What is Men’s Work?”