I have just returned from a men's training weekend. Okay, I think it's true to say that these weekends have come in for a lot of misinformed rumors and a good bit of nervous mockery in recent years -- particularly amongst those who might have reason to fear them the most. I'll tell you upfront that this one, the New Warrior Training Adventure, when I first experienced it in 1992, was a life-saver for me.
I had by then developed, over the years, a huge amount of self-protective armor which served only to cut me off from those I loved the most, not to mention the rest of the world. I was pretty much unreachable, at least at the level of basic human feeling. Like many men, I had learned that it was not safe to trust anything much in the way of emotions, let alone expose myself to the risk of actually sharing them with anyone else. When I first heard about the NWTA, though, I was in a barrel of emotional trouble in my life with no way of knowing how to extricate myself from it. Its title was enough to provoke my own intellectual ridicule and resistance. "Warriors"? What an obnoxious concept. "Adventure"? Please, we're adults, aren't we?
And yet the day after I first heard about it, I signed up and sent my money in. I don't know why. Call it an instinct that somehow superseded every other instinct in my body. I was not merely skeptical, I was petrified. But I showed up. I showed up, as one friend later described it, shrink-wrapped. And I emerged, if not a totally new man, at least a man who was open to looking at his life with emotional honesty and integrity.
Since then, I have served on staff for more than twenty weekends. I am privileged to be thought of as a senior staffer at this point, and to provide some significant part of the eldership our organization honors. I take enormous pleasure and pride in the response I get from men whom I myself honor enormously, and respect.
That said, I have been on a kind of sabbatical from the weekends for the past couple of years and more. To be back, after this long hiatus, and in a position of real responsibility, was a challenge only intensified by a particularly challenging weekend leadership team.
And as is usually the case, the greater the challenge, the greater the reward. The location, in the mountains up behind Santa Barbara, was a gift of nature, beautiful and serene. (On Sunday morning, as I was leading a particularly... well, spiritual event, a half dozen red-headed woodpeckers were playing happily among the pine trees up ahead of me.) The staff men, thirty or more of them, were magnificent, fiercely present, challenging, compassionate. And the men who were there to experience the weekend for the first time came willing to put in the hard work -- emotional, intellectual, physical -- that we asked of them. On their way back home, they were eager to say that they got as much, if not more than they had bargained for. I myself see the weekend as a meticulously planned and passionately enacted piece of participatory theater, in which a man is invited -- as in all good theater -- to travel down into the murky depths of his soul, and to emerge with whatever gold he finds there.
Too many of us men, in today's troubled world, have failed to grow out of being little boys. We boss and strut and bully and control to hide our insecurities, we addict ourselves to booze or women or work to hide our fears of being seen for who we are. Too often we refuse to see ourselves and too often we deny accountability for our actions. Too often we carry around huge shadows without recognizing how our shadows can control us and damage those around us. We can, mindlessly, cause endless anguish for ourselves, the women we love, our families. I think of our (thankfully!) past president and see the dire, worldwide damage caused by one ungrown little boy.
And yet we are good people, we men, I promise you. We are inspired by mission, a sense of purpose, and a vision. We are powerful, each in our own way. We are capable of great deeds, of noble generosity, of amazing acts of selflessness. We can be smart, and subtle in our thought. Underneath the armor all too many of us were encouraged to put on as boys, we are also capable of experiencing and sharing love. It's these qualities I see when I serve on staff at a New Warrior Training Adventure, and these qualities we invite other men to find in themselves. It's a truly inspirational experience.
As a concluding note, the NWTA is now offered in many locations in the US and Canada, as well as in Europe, South Africa and Australia. The umbrella organization, The Mankind Project, is international in scope, and more than 40,000 strong. Its mission is no less than to change the world, one man at a time. We need more good, well directed masculine energy in this world. I happen to believe that this is one way to inspire and release it.