I have been initiated into manhood. I have been welcomed into a vast network of honest and caring men prepared to help me see and master my shadows. This is how it happened and what it means to me. My first contact with the Mankind Project after signing up for the New Warrior Training Adventure last year was several pages of legal talk. I was asked to sign a consent form which looked to me like it freed all staff of any responsibility. This seemed to me to contradict the value of accountability emphasised on the organization’s webpage. However, I managed to dismiss this as a result ofUKliability law being out of control. With only the sparse information on the webpage and a comforting five minute talk with the enrolment coordinator, I paid my money and ventured into the unknown.
Why did I to this? What spoke to me was not the suggestion on the main web page that I may be alienated or confused, having “some vital part missing”. After the fact, I can see how this did apply to me to some extent. What I went for, however, was the idea of finding a personal mission so as to live a more wholesome and purposeful life. I was facing some important career decisions and questioned the ultimate purpose of my career. I also wanted more male comradeship of the deep emotional talk variety.
The way to Northumberland national park was a long one. Deep in the wild, on a cold December evening, I encountered a group of very grave staff men. “Not accountable, not caring – so what are these guys about?” I found myself thinking. But there I was. Then there was a door, and I was asked to step in only if I was prepared to be challenged. I said my only worry was not to be challenged enough. I still had the worry that this was mostly for people seriously astray and that it would mostly involve things I had already tried in other places.
I was challenged enough. Not the way I expected. Not physically so much, or socially, though there was that too, but challenged to take a deep look at myself. But not just to look, not just to see my hurts, my patterns, my shadows, but to find the strength to accept them and so to overcome them. This all happened through the weekend-long process the exact nature of which is a well-guarded secret, and so it should be.
The way my own adventure developed was probably rather typical. I started out rather judgmental, finding faults with the process and thinking how it could be improved. When I was first challenged to speak of my life, feelings around social isolation came out, perhaps since I recently moved and my social life was rather poor around this time. This was surface stuff, though, and the process soon led me deeper into profound feelings of unworthiness. With the gracious help of the many warm and forthright staff men, and through the excellent techniques they had mastered, I found a new and richer understanding of these deep and potentially disastrous feelings and, more importantly, ways to let them go, or at least push them out of my core self-identity.
The Adventure is partly supposed to be an initiation into manhood. Though I had thought about the lack of such male rites of passage in our culture, I did not think I needed one for myself. I had felt rather at peace with being a man, having gone through the usual dissatisfaction with my actual father and various other father figures. I had come to terms with the fact that I had to be the man I had wanted them to be. I may even have thought of myself as a warrior of sorts. Also, I was sceptical of the strong gendering that comes with thinking of adult life as “Manhood”.
I still have some of that scepticism, but I recognize that I am a man, whether by biology or culture, and that I share many strengths and weaknesses with other men in particular. I now feel stronger and more grounded. I very much appreciate the symbolic aspects of this initiation into modern manhood. And being welcomed into the ranks of the fine staff men, as one of them, felt very good.
There was a lot of connection that weekend. With deep parts of myself. With other men and their deep parts, their problems and potentials. With nature. With my ancestors. With the world we live in quite generally.
I have attended an iGroup a few times after the training. The group is rather small and has its struggles: as we all struggle to keep our hearts open and our minds focused in this precarious modern society. These struggles are easier for me now that I am a New Warrior, a champion for good, a humble, accountable and caring man who accepts myself as I am, not conditional on performance.
Acceptance, I realized during the weekend, is my key to being able to create a world where people can play safe and free, by inviting them to play with me. This is the mission that I found. Every time I say it, it feels so simple, almost silly, but that is just what I personally need to inspire me to be the man, and the person, that I want to be.
In gratitude, KG