Starting in June of 2019, I made an agreement with myself that I would seek out and do some sort of expansive, spiritual, retreat-type thing once per year every year. The first time I did something of this nature was actually in August of 2018, during which I traveled to New York to attend Charles Eisenstein’s “Space Between Stories” gathering. In 2019, I did a two-week meditation retreat at Green Gulch Farm that changed my life.
This year, the retreat-type event I selected for myself was the Man Kind Project (MKP), and specifically what is known as the “New Warrior Training Adventure” (NWTA). The NWTA is a three-day retreat during which men explore their inner child, run healing and imaginative processes and rituals with other men, and cultivate a sense of mission or purpose. It is a bit steep in its price and has generated some controversy, but NWTA segments are available all throughout the world. As a whole, the MKP has been around since 1984 and carries a mission of “creating a safer world by growing ‘better’ men.”
The reasons I chose the MKP (and NWTA) for myself this year were that I was finishing my Masters program in Curriculum and Instruction, and I sensed that my identity was shifting from student to teacher. As a result, I wanted to work on issues of authority in myself, issues that traditionally in our culture have been associated with masculinity. Moreover, at the time I was engaged to be married and planning to be a father, and I wanted to examine and strengthen those masculine roles as well.
Due to Coronavirus, my NWTA did not happen as planned. In fact, it did not happen at all; my NWTA was scheduled for the exact time in March that the United States began to lock down, so the event was first made conditional on certain nation-wide infection markers, then canceled.
As a replacement, MKP offered me and other men who had been scheduled to attend NWTAs at this time a free, online three-week course that went over many of the same components, of course without the depth, physical environment, or equivalent amount of time. (The organization also refunded us in full for the missed NWTA, which was greatly appreciated.) After attending and completing the supplementary three-week course, I have continued attending a once-weekly, online “alumni” group, and recently I have been invited to take stabs at leading this group myself, shifting into a leadership role within the organization. The NWTA that I have thus far been unable to attend is typically used to certify men to play other, higher roles within MKP, and if and when I am able to complete this requirement, I am also told that I will be recommended for greater leadership and teaching positions.
In my experience, the MKP is a powerful space through which men can engage in healing together. Originally, I was skeptical of the organization for the very fact that it is exclusive to “men,” a category that is already close to dissolving with the emergence of queer theory and the visibility of trans and non-binary individuals over the last half a century. Additionally, I was skeptical for the reason that masculinity itself is not a popular trope at this point in time, bleeding in ever less distinguishably with its own “toxic” variant; I worried that I would encounter an environment of broishness, yelling and grunting, and tribalistic caricatures.
Instead, the MKP uses protocols that I think all people would benefit from, regardless of their gender or sexual identity. For instance, people in the MKP are invited to share in the first-person about their lives, and we are asked to refrain from offering advice unless other people have asked for it. For me, these two guidelines create an environment of safety and respect, one in which each of us takes responsibility for our own work and healing. Additionally, there is an emphasis on safety and autonomy, and all men are permitted to stop a process at any time, and to attend and leave the group of their own volition. Finally, people are asked to refrain from selling or advertising anything within the group, so MKP is in no way a cult. It is a voluntary space for people to share and process their own journeys in a manner and at a pace that feels right for them, and it carries with it a set of protocols that I think would benefit all people, in all situations and relationships.
At the same time, for me there is something uniquely powerful about doing this work with men. Sitting by as a witness with other men while a focal man works through an emotional healing process, raising our hands in his direction in order to indicate our support, I can feel a sort of gentle emotionality and magnificence that feels like a form of spell-casting. It feels to me like we as a group are remembering our innate capacity to heal one another, something we do merely by acquainting ourselves with spirit. In order to make this acquaintance, we need simply to get quiet in certain ways, cease attempting to fix one another, and listen with our whole hearts and beings. Spirit does the rest; humans are but a vehicle for healing.
Moreover, it feels to me that when we as men are engaged in these acts, we are remembering the ways in which we are actually not that different from women, and to extend this line of thinking further, not that different from animals, not that different from plants, not that different from inanimate earth. Through the power of wordless connection and benevolent intention, we remember our status as something that transcends any label or identity, as a form of energy, a form of light. In the surge of this memory, we become more magnanimous and more godly than any individual being could be.
The reason this is powerful work for men to do is that so many of our experiences of masculinity—indeed, so many of our definitions thereof—are anything but magnanimous and godly. Instead, the trope of masculinity with which we have grown up in this culture involves force, individualism, indifference to others’ (and one’s own) emotions, and an inability to show weakness for any reason. As a result, most if not all of us have a wealth of negative experiences with men, experiences that give us difficulty in owning our own authority in healthy ways, in speaking up for ourselves when it seems to place us in competition with others, in being giving to others without being patronizing. These kinds of questions and wounds can be healed when a group of men comes together with the intention to own their truest selves, vanishing binaries such as male versus female, straight versus gay, etc. It is a strange sort of paradox, but it seems that by deeply bowing into our nature as men we become something more.
While I carry a lasting reverence and appreciation for the MKP, I also want to acknowledge some caveats for the organization:
- The NWTA is the aspect of the MKP that historically has generated the most flack, and I have not yet attended a NWTA. Therefore, I may not know what I am talking about in this regard! The NWTA is where some of the most male-centric and ritualistic behaviors come up, and therefore it has been accused of cultural appropriation, undue bravado, etc. There have been mental health issues that hosts of the NWTA did not know how to address, and there have been men who felt that their softer, more sensitive sides were not welcome at the event.
- On this note, the MKP is not a substitute for therapy, and yet many men seem to use it that way. Perhaps because of the status and history of men in our culture at large, many men show up to my weekly online group seemingly without ever having talked about their feelings before, with anyone, and yet expecting the group to somehow prove a site of healing for them. As with any healing technology, attendees of the MKP get out what they put in, and this means consistency, long-term work, and a realization that what we do when out of the weekly call or session is just as important as what happens within. The MKP is a vehicle for healing, but I believe that it functions best when in balance with other, ongoing behaviors and practices.
Throughout this essay, I have included resources and articles for getting to know more about or more involved in the MKP, and you are welcome to reach out to me if you have further questions. All in all, I believe the MKP is doing some of the most powerful and important work in our world at this time; it is healing an identity category that traditionally has had the fewest outlets for troubled feelings, one which as a result has greatly messed up our world. Through healing and steering masculinity in a more positive direction, the MKP intends to create citizens of the world who are empowered, purposeful, and kind.