From the Fort Collins Coloradoan
Program restores healthy masculinity
By Will Walters
In my last column (April 24), I said we needed to strive more to just be human, own our mistakes and be who we are.
Little did I know that the next day I would have such a remarkable opportunity to confront my own advice.
That day I embarked on a two-day journey into self-examination with 25 other men that would in some ways change my life.
Dubbed "New Warrior Training Adventure" and conducted in the mountains near Buena Vista by the ManKind Project of Colorado, the weekend involved a process of discovery and initiation, shedding and bonding.
The 26 participants ranged in age from 20s to 60s and came from all walks of life.
Protestants, Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, atheists -- I think about the only thing we all had in common was a desire for self-improvement.
For me, that meant many things, but more than anything it meant finding greater self-awareness and integrity with myself.
Over the course of growing up, I somehow managed to separate my conscious mind from many of my emotions without ever realizing it.
By stuffing the unacceptable parts of myself (for instance, feeling and being able to effectively express anger toward loved ones who I was afraid might in turn withhold love and acceptance from me) into the subconscious realm, I was able to avoid conscious anxiety and pain.
But all that hiding from my shadows managed to do was send all that anxiety and pain into my subconscious instead.
It was still there, just inaccessible to me, and felt nonetheless by those around me. In the process, I cut myself off from all that I am -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- and in so doing avoided taking responsibility for myself.
It's a tragedy that so many men in our culture seem to fall into that trap.
The trap takes many forms and guises. For me, like many men, hiding from traumas and injuries became hiding behind them -- a passive but poisonous escape from being accountable for myself.
Over the years, these things had been catching up with me in my relationships, in my work and ultimately in my own sense of well-being.
So a little over a year ago, as parts of my life were becoming more and more disintegrated, I began a process of growth and self-discovery with the help of a seasoned counselor.
Ultimately, he encouraged me to attend the New Warrior Training, the "hero's journey" of classical literature and myth adapted to our modern culture.
About two weeks before the training, I ran into a man at a social gathering who had attended the training, so I asked him to tell me about it.
He looked me in the eye and said only one thing: "It will change your life."
Then he turned to my date and said, "it will change yours, too."
For someone with a Ph.D. in calm skepticism, I have to admit, that didn't sit very well.
So I showed up at the training with my diploma in one hand and my "bull" meter on red alert in the other.
Details aside, suffice to say my skepticism was met by a process whose central tenet is to foster integrity and accountability among men.
I came away more in touch with my heart, the wild man in me, my desire to live in integrity with who I am and what I'm doing with my life.
If you are, or know, a man with a shadow or two and the courage to step into them, check out the Mankind Project.
It might just change your life.
For more information, see Colorado MKP.
Originally published Thursday, May 8, 2003