I’ve only staffed the NWTA (from the ManKind Project, or MKP) twice - the last time in the Comb, way out west in the undulating hills of northern England where fuzzy cows stand guard on the one winding access route. Some 40 individual men all came down that narrow path to join as one, 40 souls to build a pot for another 40 men looking to be cooked, heated, shaken and moved into a new story about themselves.
For me, acknowledging our shadows as a staff group on the Friday is what rocked me into gear. The revved up energy of men regurgitating shadows, the dark bilious stuff that we hide by instinct and need to cough up to become clear, authentic, honest and humble. Man o’ man, we were shouting it there in the tinny space of the massive hangar, crying it out, getting all fierce and clear and determined to play it straight and to play it safe.
Yes, play it. The German author Friedrich Schiller said: “Man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays”.
If we can’t squeeze laughter into our deep despair, then we’re lost. If we can’t twinkle as we cry, we’re not spanning our full being. It ain’t sacred if it ain’t playful.
So in the shadows, there was pure laughter too. Men smiling, shaking their heads in disbelief, ready to be surprised, awakened, changed. Alive to the moment, tingling, focused, loving.
Seeing each other’s shadows, we relax into commonality, and surrender to the crazy, absurd juxtapositions of being fully alive, beyond deadening judgments or fixed positions.
We held the men arriving one after another through that dark door, laden with bags full of comforting belongings; we held them with the care and love of an older brother; we held them as best we could for three days.
And by Sunday we had reason to celebrate - we had served other men seeking grace and generative love on the magic carpet of their lives. As we took leave with our eyes to the beat of a drummer, we no longer mirrored their fears, but connected with our hearts, as brothers.
On the plane back to Sweden, I felt the world had become a little bit safer and a little bit more loving.
Soon I’d be home to play with my boys.