7.18.2005

Confessions of a New Warrior

Here's a terrific article about a british man's journey to, and through, the NWTA. I enjoyed his deep sharing of his experience. I hope you do as well. Yeah, it's a long read, but is changing your life worth 15 minutes?

I'm out.
Old-faithful Wolf

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

From The Wave, a UK Magazine

By Daniel Quinn (a pseudonym)

My mother and sister are suspicious. They think I’ve joined a cult. Their evidence is that I used to be a cynic with a healthy disdain for the New Age. Now I wear a talisman round my neck, beat a drum and spend long weekends at secret locations in the country where I have to pay for the privilege of sleeping on the floor with strangers.

Then there’s my personality. By turns moody and morose, I used to think nothing of interrupting people mid sentence. Now I hug men fondly and listen attentively even when I know the other person is talking claptrap.

They’re right of course: I have changed, but I believe it’s for the better.

It all began last year when I was invited by a friend to attend a meeting at my son’s primary school. The meeting was to be held in the evening – when the children were in bed – and was exclusively for men. He handed me a flyer:

“Are you living the life you dreamed of when you were a boy, where everything and anything was possible? Or have you compromised your dreams, your ideals, and your vision for what your life might look like some day? If so, you have lots of company, for most of us today are in just this situation. We have lost our vision and we have lost our mission, our deeper reason for being alive.”

On the reverse was a globe with a hopeful orange and yellow logo. It read: “The ManKind Project: Changing the world one man at a time.”

The emphasis on men set my journalistic antennae twitching. In the early 1990s I had interviewed some of the early pioneers of the men’s movement in the UK – men who liked to quote Robert Bly and get wild in the woods – and as I read the accompanying blurb it sounded suspiciously familiar. The Mankind Project was holding a ‘New Warrior Training Weekend’ at a secret location in the British countryside in June. The weekend was billed as an ‘intense adventure’ aimed at reconnecting men to their ‘healthy warrior energy’. By getting me to confront my ‘shadow’ self, MKP promised to put me in touch with my ‘inner masculine’ and return me to the state of grace I’d enjoyed as a boy so that I would be free to live my life ‘with integrity and without apology’.

When I read the small print, my cynicism deepened. Although I would be able to meet other men who had completed the training at my son’s school, they wouldn’t be able to discuss what had transpired on the weekend in any detail. Oh, and if I decided to sign up I’d have to come up with £500 and agree to bring enough food to feed myself and three other men!

I was incredulous. “Let me get this straight,” I asked my friend. “You want me to pay £500 but won’t tell me anything about the weekend, not even where we’ll be staying?”

“That’s right,” replied Matthew.

“How do I know it’s not a cult?”

Matthew shook his head and smiled a secret smile. “I guess you don’t but if you’re not satisfied afterwards we’ll gladly give you your money back.”

“All of it?”

“Yes – as long as you agree to stay through Saturday – all of it.”

Well, I’ve never been able to resist a challenge and when I attended the taster evening my curiosity deepened. I was expecting a group of men in open-toed sandals reeking of woodsmoke and patchouli oil. Instead, I was struck by how normal they looked, how like the men I saw commuting to offices every day on the buses and tube. The only omission was there were no black or Asian men.

As they began to speak about their lives and what they had got out of the weekend, my sense of identification deepened. They’d done their fair share of one-night stands, booze and hard drugs. They’d hitched a ride with Mammon on the juggernaut of conspicuous consumption but had come up empty each time. One man, dressed casually in Levis and a Zara zip-top said that before he’d gone on the weekend he didn’t consider that he had “any particular problems”.

“I thought my life was sorted,” he said.

That was when I made my decision – what would turn out to be the first step in an ongoing journey. After all, who was I to presume I was different?

It wasn’t the first time I’d taken a risk with my life. A few years before I’d embarked on a series of expeditions to South America. Accompanied by a team of Indian porters, I’d negotiated precipices, cataracts and sheer mud walls without any means of contacting my wife or family should anything go wrong. What dangers could a mere 48 hours in the English countryside hold?

The first hint that I might be entering unknown territory came with MKP’s welcome pack, containing a lengthy medical questionnaire and an insurance waiver. Was I in good health? Had I ever suffered from any form of mental illness? Did I understand the ‘risks’ that were involved in the training? According to the accompanying blurb, the weekend would challenge me to the limit of my physical and emotional capabilities: “It means putting oneself on the line… becoming vulnerable. It means confronting the fear within that wants to keep us small and safe.” The pack also contained a map with directions to the training centre and a confidentiality agreement. If I signed up for the weekend I would have to undertake not to reveal what went on in the training or specific processes.

As the date of the weekend neared my anxiety levels shot up. My wife shared my alarm, but for different reasons. Why, she wanted to know, were only men allowed to attend? Did the ManKind Project have a problem with women and, if so, where would my search for the inner masculine leave her?

A few days before I was due to depart I received a phone call from a man at MKP. Identifying himself as my ‘mentor’ he asked whether I had all the information I needed. I said I did.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

I wanted to reply “ready for what?” Instead, I shrugged inwardly and told him I was. I still had no idea what I was letting myself in for.

MKP is the brainchild of three men: Ron Hering, an American university professor (now deceased), Rich Tosi, a General Motors engineer and ex-Marine from Milwaukee, and Bill Kauth, a self-styled ‘feminist’ therapist from Wisconsin. The original impetus came from Kauth. Envious of the empowering and supportive networks he saw being created by women in feminist workshops in the early 1980s, Kauth started looking for ways to create something similar for men. Recruiting Tosi, whom he’d met at a couples’ seminar, they flew to California and enrolled on a weekend run by Justin Sterling, an early guru of men’s empowerment who modelled his training on Werner Erhard and ‘Est.’ Although there were many aspects of the weekend that Tosi and Kauth considered ‘unsafe’, Sterling’s central insight – that men needed a separate ‘container’ away from women in which to explore their emotions and grow – struck a chord. On their return to the mid-West, Kauth recruited Hering, whom he knew through Gestalt therapy, and together the concept of the ‘New Warrior Training Weekend’ was born.

The first happening, held in Milwaukee in January 1985, attracted 17 men. Today MKP boasts 30,000 members worldwide and the British chapter, which is about to celebrate its tenth anniversary, counts nearly 1,000 men on its rolls. One of its recent high-profile signings is the former Arsenal double winner and England right back, Lee Dixon.

“In 22 years as a professional footballer I reached some incredible emotional highs,” Dixon wrote in a recent MKP newsletter. “I thought I had experienced it all. I was wrong. Apart from the birth of my two children, the New Warrior Training Adventure was the most powerful, fantastic, inspiring experience of my life. I would urge every man to enrol. It will amaze you.”

Like many New Age groups, MKP’s literature highlighted the emptiness of Western consumer culture, the increase in stress-related illnesses and the spiralling divorce rate. It pointed to the breakdown of family values and the fact that one in three children was growing up fatherless. According to MKP, these social ills coupled with the pressure to pay the mortgage were so overwhelming that it was little surprise that many men chose to deny their emotions and retreat into their heads. But such a survival strategy came at a cost. “We think that it’s all happening to someone else, somewhere else… In the meantime, somewhere deep within us – in our hearts and souls and bodies – we have become comfortably numb.”

I had little quarrel with this analysis. Despite the ‘gazzafication’ of popular culture, a recent survey of male attitudes found that nearly a quarter of men claim to have never cried, and that 87 per cent of men versus 68 per cent of women have difficulty talking about their feelings with friends of the same sex. These figures should not come as a surprise. For most men – and I include myself in this statement – our careers are a shield. We embrace work and the pressures that come with it precisely because it gives us an excuse not to address the tougher emotional questions, concerning the ways in which our lives and relationships may, or may not be working for us. I recognised this pattern in my own life and I also recognised it in the lives of many of my friends – men who had succumbed to addiction or whose marriages had splintered when the pressures of work had become overwhelming. But where I took issue with MKP was over its emphasis on fathering and male empowerment. In his now classic primer on masculinity, Robert Bly takes the story of Iron John – the mythological ‘hairy man’ drawn from the Grimm brothers’ fables – and turns him into an archetype, a representation of the ‘wild man’ within all of us. The problem today, Bly argues, is that men have been neutered. They have lost touch with that ancient warrior energy, with the ritual processes and tribal initiation ceremonies that used to mark a boy’s passage to manhood. Consequently, we have no means of connecting with the inner wildness we need in order to, as Bly puts it, ‘steal the key from under our mother’s pillow’.

Bly argues that all men are wounded in some way, typically by their fathers. It is only by acknowledging this wound and confronting our ‘shadow selves’ – the mark, if you like, that that hurt has left on our personality and behaviour – that we can grow psychologically and become men in a fuller and more rounded sense. Of necessity this process cannot be undertaken within the family but has to be initiated from outside, by male mentors. That is why when boys reached puberty in tribal societies the elders came for them and took them far from the village to teach them how to be warriors. This is the ancient wisdom that has been lost from our society, the process that MKP on its training weekend seeks to revive.

My problem was I didn’t feel I’d been wounded by either my father or my mother. I’d had a pretty idyllic childhood. Of course it wasn’t perfect – whose is? – but my suspicion was that at some point someone on the weekend would start digging and that they wouldn’t be satisfied until they found a fault. I also had deep reservations about a group whose starting point was that men had to separate themselves from female society in order to become better fathers, sons and lovers. Wasn’t there a danger that the opposite might happen, and that by tapping into my warrior energy I might become more tyrannical and intolerant of women than perhaps I had been before?

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Like Lee Dixon, what I saw at MKP blew me away. Unfortunately, the confidentiality agreement I signed forbids me from describing specific details or other men’s experiences. However, there is nothing to stop me talking about my own journey. As the deadline for the weekend approached, I told myself I was doing it because it was a challenge and I’d be a coward not to go through with it. But behind that story lay other, subconscious narratives. Like many British men, I enjoy football and the camaraderie of the pub. I’m lucky t0 have close male friends, many of whom stretch back to childhood. But I have always felt there was something missing in these friendships. We talk about sport, work and sometimes my children and marriage, but rarely about emotions. If they hurt me, I keep that disappointment hidden. And if I think they are spinning me a yarn, I don’t challenge them to be authentic.

The older I have become the wearier I’ve grown of these games. I crave depth, not shallowness – the sort of emotional honesty that I see my wife enjoying in her circle of women friends. But to initiate such a process in normal male society is a fraught undertaking. Men are wary, watchful. They mask their true feelings behind smart remarks. If I remove my own mask I become vulnerable and risk ridicule. And if I challenge my friends to remove theirs I take the risk of giving offence and being rejected.

At the taster evening I’d seen men being frank and honest with each other, and a group of strangers about the way they had failed their girlfriends, their children and ultimately themselves as men. I’d wanted to enter that circle and be a part of it. I wanted some of what they’d got.

There was also another reason why I signed up. Although I’d enjoyed a warm relationship with my father, part of me resented him for not showing me the leadership I craved when I faced life-determining decisions. These feelings had lain buried until I raised my own family and found myself slipping into patterns of behaviour I identified with him. Like my father I had become a historian and spent long hours in the library uncertain of whether the wider world would value my efforts. Wracked with anxiety and self-doubt, I had become irritable and bad-tempered and was having trouble sleeping. On my worst days, I was unforgivably cruel. My behaviour was shameful and I wanted to break free of it.

To get men to face their shadows MKP employs a variety of techniques – poetry, visualisation, male-bonding games, group work and what can only be described as emotional aerobics. But MKP also employs a powerful Gestalt technique that challenges men to cross an emotional and psychological line that perhaps they have been resisting all their lives. It is this challenge that lies at the heart of the weekend. The object is to restore the connection between men’s rational and emotional brains, to reprogramme us so that we can begin to feel again. It is hard work, both physically and emotionally, and explains why MKP prefers to characterise its approach as ‘training’ rather than ‘therapy’.

In the course of the weekend I found myself experiencing emotions with a surprising rawness and freshness. Firstly I was angry and resentful – at my friend for persuading me to sign up and at myself for being stupid enough to agree. Then came resignation that now I was there I might as well go through with it, followed by relief and, eventually, enjoyment.

It was a relief to be part of a circle of men whom I could talk openly and frankly to, and who would support, rather than judge me. But the greatest relief came in owning up to some fundamental truths about myself. Although I loved my father I also had to acknowledge that a part of me was wounded. Emotions such as anger, shame, pity, deep care and love were all jumbled up inside and I could slip from one to another in a flash. MKP helped me separate out those feelings and figure out the ‘shadows’ which lay behind them.

MKP’s training is not for everyone and there were grumbles. The complaints ranged from dissatisfaction with the accommodation, to unease about the organisation, to disappointment with some of the processes. Some were justified. Having said that, out of the 42 men who signed up for the training only one left early and no one demanded their money back. Everyone I spoke to considered it money well spent. For some it was the most cathartic experience of their lives. For days afterwards tastes, sounds, people – everything was more vibrant, more vivid. I was no longer a spectator but an active participant in life and it felt good. In the middle of some mundane activity like washing the dishes I would have a startling revelation about a childhood event and a whole series of blocks would fall into place. It felt as if someone had switched on a Windows defragmentation programme in my head. I was reordering myself from the inside, restoring the connections between thoughts and feelings buried deep in my past. In this blissed-out state I made a whole series of resolutions – about how I would be a better father to my children, a better husband to my wife, and a better son to my father. I realised that I’d neglected my relationship with my father for too long. He was 77. I needed to involve him more in my and my children’s lives, so I invited him to come and play tennis with us. He did so and enjoyed himself somuch that he told me he wanted to buy my son and daughter tennis lessons and make this a regular event. Two weeks later my mother called from the emergency room to say my father had been taken to intensive care.

I rushed to the hospital to find my father – eyes clenched tight against the daggers in his chest – already dying and in great pain. I held his hand and told him how much I loved him. Then I surprised myself by reminding him of a conversation we’d had when I was eight, about the same age my own son is now. My father had told me then that if he achieved anything in life he wished to be a better father to me than his own father had been to him. I did not know what he meant by that then and I am not sure I know now. All I know was that his sentiment was beautiful and heartfelt.

For years I’d locked that conversation away but I hadn’t forgotten it, and in the days that followed the MKP weekend it had come bubbling back to the surface. That conversation was one of the things I’d resolved to speak to my father about in the years I thought lay ahead of us. I kept vigil at my father’s bedside all night and the next day as he slipped in and out of consciousness, a morphine drip easing his slow descent. When at 7pm the following evening he stopped breathing, I couldn’t let go. I stroked his brow and held him in my arms. I wept bitterly, mourning for myself as much as for him. I may have found the courage to tell him how much I loved him and to speak to him frankly from the heart without the training but I don’t think I would have been as in touch with my emotions nor given myself the same permission to grieve, and to love.

Now, as I go about the world, I see what happens when men don’t give themselves this permission, ensuring their emotions sneak up from behind and ambush them. I see it in the devastation visited on Iraq – a consequence of Bush’s puerile need to lash out and, perhaps, prove himself a better man than his father. And I see it in the damage to the BBC’s reputation – damage directly traceable to men like Alastair Campbell and Greg Dyke and their ‘wounded’ egos.

So where am I now and where are my fellow warriors? The only honest answer is that we are in many different places reflecting the shadows that pursue us. Some men never knew their fathers because they left home when they were infants; other men knew their fathers only too well and had to endure years of sexual abuse; others grew up with alcoholic fathers, or mothers who entrusted them to the care of nanny and boarding school when all they wanted was love and affection. But whatever the ‘wound’ and our response to it we are all on the same path. MKP, like the Freemasons and other male fraternities that have thrived at other times, creates a space in which man’s imperfections can be explored honestly and safely, where men can vent their feelings before they cause real damage to themselves and to others.

3 comments:

  1. Anonymous7/21/2005

    Thanks for posting the article. I was a new man at that weekend too. So the article had deep resonance for me.
    Loving Lion

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous7/21/2005

    Brilliant! I am an initiated ex-pat Brit who lives in the US. I will forward this as a link to half a dozen of my old countrymen. Thank you for providing such a resource in English, it will I'm sure help explain to my English friends what they regard as some west coast cult I have joined.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous8/29/2008

    This is one of the best pieces on MKP I have ever read. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete