A weekend training fills the void for boys and men seeking rite of passage into manhood.
“Welcome, see this man.”
“Welcome, follow that man.”
The moment I entered the campground, which was to be my home for the weekend; I was struck by the abundant use of the word ‘man’ as I was passed from man to man through a process removing me from the outside world and preparing me to enter a sacred space.
There was no mistaking it—I was here for men’s business and that simple fact filled me with a source of pride, strength and excitement. I was on a men’s rite of passage and initiation weekend with 20 other ‘initiates’ and 30 staff members, all of whom had been initiated on the same weekend at a prior date.
Men have always sought the nourishment that comes from the company and camaraderie of other men. For thousands of years men have come together for specific and intentional gatherings and in my mind there is no doubt that these gatherings are a source of power and strength for all men that attend. It was a profound moment for me when I attended my first men’s circle two years ago and recognized that I have the resources and the capacity to support other men in their lives.
Today the overt intention might have changed, but I think that desire for the masculine to connect is as strong as ever. These days it takes the form of competitive sports, martial arts, working out together, playing golf, skateboarding, surfing, video games or getting stoned or drunk together. Whatever the reason, across the globe men seek out men.
It was with this desire to connect with my shared source of masculinity that motivated me to sign up for the New Warrior Training Adventure. The New Warrior program was designed by the not-for-profit organization The Mankind Project to give men something that’s gone missing in today’s western culture—an educational rite of passage into manhood. This weekend initiates men into a set of experiences that address the responsibilities and privileges of manhood—and celebrates healthy masculinity. The core objective is to wake men up out of any fugue they may be living in and to help make the world a safer place for men, women and children.
Having engaged my own growth and spiritual practice for years, I am always on the lookout for new ways to extend myself; regardless I often hold myself away from group activities, approaching with caution and skepticism. This was in full effect in the first evening and night as I observed with a sense of amusement still holding myself apart… until the second day when I realized that this very tendency was holding me back in life and here was a space to support moving through it!
In the last few years I had been experiencing a yearning for some sense of initiation, for an introduction to manhood that my parents, educational system and society in general had failed at providing. I was doubting that this could happen in the course of a single weekend, and desperately wishing it could… at least a little bit. Now, as I sit here writing this over a week later, there are no doubts—my being, my sense of self, is experiencing a strength, presence and composure I have never felt before. I feel solid, a man aware that I am fundamentally simultaneously complete and a never-ending work in progress.
As we were introduced to the weekend, we were invited to give our reasons for coming along, and every man undertaking the training had their reasons. From difficulties in intimate relationships, feelings of not being there fully for one’s children, problems with addiction or gambling, a difficult decision needing to be made or simply wanting to engage life more fully (me). All these reasons and more came out and throughout the weekend, and it was apparent that all of us were struggling in some way in which we desired to grow and gain new perspectives.
From this space of owning vulnerability, as for us men, it is often easier to pretend we have everything sorted out. We then underwent process after process in which these reasons were twisted and turned, fleshed out and eventually the deeper drives and motivations surfaced, the patterns that played out again and again in our lives.
The training introduced us to powerful masculine archetypal allies to assist us from within. We were led to the source of our own inner strength and our abilities to resolve and move forward, knowing that we were struggling together to show, to give and to receive more love in this world. For many of us men to look around and recognize that under the bravado, even under the toughest man, there was a struggle that we all shared—to look around and see and share this truth, is truly empowering.
We are not alone in this, and I know now that even in my darkest nights and loneliest moments, this is a source of strength I can always draw upon.
Male initiation ceremonies have a long history. It seems that these ceremonies are most often engaged at the time when a youth is to become a man—at the end of his teen years—and it is a welcoming into brotherhood, wisdom and a clear role in the functioning of society.
In our culture, such conscious initiation practices have been forgotten or neglected. Desperate for that sense of self, an identity in his society, men often turn to unconscious initiation and rites of passage. What was once sacred may become violent or simply distorted.
Modern initiation takes place in gangs or hazing at school. Our modern rites of passage may be the first time we have sex, get drunk, take drugs or get a tattoo. I don’t believe that any of these fulfill that deep need to be accepted among our male peers and elders.
On the MKP weekend, a man provided context on initiation that resonated with me. He said, “In traditional initiation ceremonies, the men are taken and scarred or wounded as a reminder of the suffering life would bring. Here we don’t do that as we find the men who come to us are already scarred and wounded by life itself. What we are about is providing a context for each man to heal and to honor his work to become the man he wants to be.”
And it’s true. I could look around and nod, sharing that common thread of being scarred by a life I was thrust into with very little education in what my role was to be in it.
We walk around pretending that we know what is happening, that our relationships are fine, that our work is meaningful, that we can pay the bills and take care of our families, that we know how to raise our children. Yet when we drop the masks and posturing, many of us feel scared and confused by life.
We are adults without ever being explicitly told what that means; we piece it together from television and movies, from observing the other confused souls around us, from following or rebelling against the upbringing our parents provided for us. And then from fear of being ostracized we all pretend that we know what is going on. It is a coward’s bluff, a mass agreement to uphold an illusion that hurts, limits and disconnect us from our world and our purpose.
We are all in this boat together and if, as men and as a human species, we are to continue in this world, it is time to connect with our brothers and our awakened, conscious masculinity to bring our power forward in our relationships, with our families, in our vocation, in our lives and for our children.
No more pretending, no more masks of separation keeping us in quiet anguish. It’s time strip ourselves bare, become naked with our brothers and engage this life to our fullest. Men supporting and supported by men.
Photo: Santoshy flickr