The ManKind Project, Gold Standard of a Modern Men’s Community?

Picture over my desk to pay tribute to these men from the amazing documentary “The Work”, about heavy men’s work conducted in a US maximum security prison. A bunch of tough motherfuckers expressing joy after having bravely faced some of their deepest fears and inner darkness thanks to the support of their brothers. So healing. So meaningful.

When I discovered that I was a “Nice Guy”, I felt the need to establish deeper relationships and get more validated by men than by women. I cut out several of my relationships with female friends and invested more of my energy in getting socially involved with male friends. I kind of knew it was not enough though, but it was the only option I had at that time.

After several years, a bit by coincidence, I stumbled online upon men’s communities involved in men’s work. These guys consciously chose to spend time and gather amongst men, brainstorm about what it means to be a man, better themselves, and experience true brotherhood at a deeper level than what one can experience in a social context. Almost instantly I felt the call to get involved in these communities. It seemed to make so much sense at that stage of my journey.

One of these communities was The ManKind Project (MKP).

MKP has been initiated more than 35 years ago in the US as a nonprofit, and became an international organization with many branches all over the world (mainly in western countries though). The entry point to experience MKP is through their initiation weekend called the “New Warrior Training Adventure” (NWTA). That sounded a bit cheesy from my perspective. And even if it triggered my interest, its content seemed a bit cryptic. It is only once one of my male acquaintances I trusted recommended it to me that I finally decided to dive in. 

It has been almost 2 years ago now, and I wanted to compile here some of my thoughts and findings about MKP so far, so you can find out if it resonates with you as well.

My experiences with it can be broken down in 3 different settings:

  • The initiation weekend (NWTA),
  • The MKP community,
  • My staffing experiences in NWTAs so far.

The initiation weekend

I didn’t really know what to expect from this weekend when I signed up. And neither do you. So, don’t count on me to tell you juicy stories here.

Firstly, I am not allowed to speak about it. Nothing spooky about that, it‘s just that what happens in the container created by the MKP staff men and the participants over the weekend has to stay within its boundaries. I need and want to honor this agreement I made in front of all these men. And it’s a training that has to be experienced first-hand with a virgin mindset about what’s gonna happen there.

So, let’s elaborate on some qualities I found most interesting and valuable about my own weekend experience:

  • This one might seem obvious but still worth mentioning. There is not a single woman around during the weekend. Indeed, men behave in a complete different way in a mixed, and thus, sexualized environment. I am no exception myself. It might be very subtle, it might be subconscious, but it is significant. Men around women might want to stand out, to adapt their behaviors for some seduction game. Even get cocky and competitive, willing to show off with all-too-pushy alpha drivers. This kind of energy has simply to be completely ruled out from a men’s container, otherwise they will miss the opportunity to explore their selves at a deeper level, with honesty, humility, integrity, and vulnerability.

  • For these reasons, my weekend was a deep introspective and collective experience into brotherhood. It gave me the opportunity to see myself, and all of my brothers with fewer filters. By removing filters, I got closer to the self, and to the one of collective masculine. And that’s how I connected emotionally at a deeper level amongst men. To get a sense of what brotherhood encompasses, I like to picture a squad going to war together. No bullshit. No drama. Transparent and clear communication. Deep connections. No man left behind.

  • The deep feeling of brotherhood I felt there was also created by the staff men. These men are all around for supporting the initiates and facilitating processes. There are many of them. And as MKP is non-profit, the fact that so many men are committed to their own growth and to be at service to other men without financial compensation or without anything to market is very, very powerful.

  • As a proper initiation, or rite of passage, the training can be challenging. Mentally, physically, emotionally, perhaps even spiritually for some men. It is a requirement to step out from our comfort zone, and see the potential for growth hiding within. The weekend is setup as a deep immersive experience, and altered states of consciousness are somehow triggered in participants, by simple and natural means, but still effective. This is needed to foster switching-off overactive men’s analytical minds in order to process inputs from a deeper emotional, body-centered, state. And for them to start tapping into their subconscious, to get glimpses of where their gold and shadows reside. Because of all these elements, the weekend might be undergone as a so-called peak experience in participants.
  • However, peak experiences might not be that transformative on the long run. In most cases, I believe they are just a time-limited opening showing what’s beyond your comfort zone. And it might take less time than we think for our brain to come back to some habitual and dysfunctional patterns when we’re back in our daily life and chronic struggles. And thus the work has to be continued. After the initiation, special care is given to following up with the initiates to make sure that everybody is landing back safely. And most importantly, these newly initiated men also have many opportunities within MKP to explore further with themselves and men’s groups.

  • No teaching, no guru, no dogma. Just support, guidance and processes. Your truth is to be found from within, don’t expect it to be coming from outwards, and don’t believe those who claim they have it all sorted out for you. Only YOU know. Take responsibility for your own growth, for facing your fears, take risks, and find out some answers for yourself.

  • An important part of the work is based on an exploration of common masculine archetypes, with the idea of getting glimpses of the wholeness of our being, as a man, with our sense of integrity, accountability and purpose; as a human being, with our emotional expression, our healing, as well as being part of something much bigger and beyond ourselves. Willing to reach for wholeness implies acknowledging our shadows, these dark sides of our psyches, and potentially the ones from the collective unconscious, that we hide, repress, or deny in ourselves. It is also daring oneself to tap into our wild side, the part that has been so strongly repressed by culture.

  • Finally, male elders, with their life experience, their wisdom, their perspective, and their deep respect for the gift of our human existence, are also represented. A presence that is cruelly missing nowadays in our western societies.

So, this weekend has many ingredients of a peak, transformational, experience. And very interestingly, wherever in the world you would do your initiation weekend, its content and structure is basically the same everywhere, so you can relate to the process you went through with all the other men who initiated in MKP as well. A kind of a joint experience and set of values you can relate to within a whole community.

Finally, what deeply touched me from my initiation was to witness a group of so many men dedicated to their own growth, and dedicated to support other men on their journey. Seeing so many men taking full responsibility for their growth and healing is powerful. Seeing so many staff men being at service for other men deeply moved me.

A tremendous amount of self and brotherly love, at service of exploration and expansion of human and masculine consciousness.

This is something.

However, as far as I love peak experiences and rituals, as already explained above, I don’t believe in their transformative impact on my life in the long run. I know that after I experienced them, I still need to continue working on the insights they brought up to my consciousness and towards their deeper integration in my daily life.

And for me, the real gold of MKP does not actually reside in its initiation weekend, but in the many opportunities for deeper work and growth the community can continue to provide me with, while also taking more personal responsibility to support other men on their journeys.

After the weekend, men’s groups and community

MKP encourages men to continue their work in several directions, the first one being via men’s groups. Such a group meets on a regular basis, and has nothing to do with a social circle. The goal is to set a container in which men can be authentic to themselves, speak out their truth, show their strength and vulnerability, their gold and shadows, without bullshit or judgements. They commit to share and actively listen to their brothers in a structured way. It is a container of accountable men willing to better themselves, their lives and relationships in harmony with their core selves and their missions. Men on their way towards self-realization via self-inquiry and support from their brothers. A container in which men can continue acknowledging and working on their shadows, via shadow-work

I am part of a men’s group that has been created after my initiation weekend. We’ve been meeting every other week for almost 2 years now. Some men left, new joined. All have been fully committed to show up at every meeting. Because that’s part of the work. The commitment to show up for yourself, whatever you feel and whatever is happening in your life. The commitment to show up for your brothers, be fully present for them, actively listening to their stories, providing support and constructive feedback when you can. Connections and trust between each other has been deepening with time. It is also a blessing to witness ourselves growing and expanding. Slowly, but steadily. By checking in with ourselves and our brothers, we start to see more clearly. Filters from our old non-constructive social conditioning become weaker. Past trauma issues become clearer in our consciousness. And from these new found places within us, it is also a blessing to witness ourselves starting to impact physical reality thanks to our more conscious and meaningful actions.

Yes, we are changing the world.

That’s how it all starts.

Something I believe is quite peculiar in MKP is the emphasis put on shadow-work. Indeed, our shadows, these parts of ourselves that are always crawling around in our subconscious, throughout our lives, and ready to jump like a dark beast when an opportunity presents itself. We never get rid of our shadows. Their constant and dynamic presence in our psyches is an integral part of our selves, of who we are. Even conscious men can get unexpectedly triggered sometimes by their shadows. But the level of consciousness in men within MKP, at individual, and collective level, with the tools and processes used on a regular basis to check in and out of our shadow behaviours prevent men and the community to slip towards unbalanced ego-driven motives.

Finally, MKP is an international community with many branches all over the world, offering many opportunities to connect with men from many different countries, and providing advanced leadership trainings from within its network.

One of these opportunities is via staffing initiation weekends.

Staffing initiation weekends

The initiation consists of an intense set of processes and rituals requiring many staff men and logistics throughout the weekend. It requires a lot of preparation work before and after its completion. It is handled by a “staff men container” specially created for this occasion. It is a highly structured container, somehow hierarchic, in which each staff man has very specific roles he’s responsible for. The whole container is then co-built by many intertwined sets of roles, skills and responsibilities with a very clear mission: the initiation of new men according to processes and rituals that have been refined by the organization for 35 years.

The “staff men container” is not a co-creation since clear instructions and guidelines must be followed on how to implement the “initiation container” for the new men to be initiated. This is important. Indeed, in order to foster a peak experience for the initiates, chaos in the initiation container must be allowed and fostered. The initiates’ subconscious has to be shaken up to let them have glimpses of what resides beyond their normal waking consciousness, beyond their comfort zone, beyond the social conditioning of their upbringing and culture.

And in order to contain such chaotic energy to deeply express itself and start showing its gifts beyond our rational minds, strict discipline is required for defining and maintaining strong boundaries to contain the experience. It took a lot of work by dedicated men throughout these years to refine them.

Besides, and very importantly, a strong level of awareness is needed almost at all times by the staff men during the weekend, in order to make sure that the protocols are implemented properly. Being fully present is also a requirement to provide support to the initiates and the other staff men, since everybody is likely to find such pressure challenging. In order to be always fully aware of what’s happening regarding our roles and responsibilities. The clock is always ticking and everybody has to stay super alert because we all have important jobs to do. Jobs in the background. Jobs in the foreground. Jobs in between. Everybody plays a crucial role for this huge machinery of the staff container to implement its magic.

We are on a fucking mission.

Collectively.

And far beyond ourselves.

Staffing an NWTA is an intense experience for sure. It can be challenging physically, psychologically. It can be draining.

It is also so meaningful.

There’s quite a big diversity of roles at each weekend, some requiring more leadership skills than others, and assigned according to your level of experience and knowledge with the MKP’s processes. There’s something brilliant about the way staff men containers are created for each initiation weekend: it is never the same men responsible for given roles. Of course, this can be explained by the fact that MKP is a non-profit, so the way staff men are assigned has to be done somehow organically according to men’s availability. But I believe it’s also about a degree of flexibility and challenge that was part of the blueprint of the initiation weekends.

First, when you dive deeper into men’s work and men’s communities, you very soon realize that men are very different from one another. There is such diversity in men actually, for instance regarding their masculine and feminine traits, or balance of their main archetypes. And when you are on a journey of self-discovery and self-realization, it is important to explore and push the boundaries of these multi-faceted parts of our psyches. And all these roles that staff men can take from one weekend to another actually offer great opportunities for self-exploration since they need different archetypal energies to be implemented properly. Within the MKP staff men container, the opportunities to learn new skills and challenge yourself can be pushed pretty far.

Second, I believe that before reaching a certain level of consciousness, there is always a risk when men statically occupy for too long the same position and role within a structured organization. Their egos might get unbalanced after a while, starting to believe that they are irreplaceable for instance, or the best facilitators. This introduces shadows within the organization that can be transmitted to its members. Of course, within MKP, there are a lot of watchdogs to prevent such shadowy imbalances since it is a very shadow-aware organization, as we already talked about. But the fact that men cannot be identified by a static role within the staff men container for too long is also a great practice since men are always put in positions implying that they have to become again humble learners if they want to perform well. There are exceptions with some key roles of course, e.g., regarding the weekend’s core leaders team. These roles require specific and advanced leadership skills to be implemented properly at the top of the staff men container. But interestingly again, from one weekend to another, this team is never the same either, at least in “my” MKP branch. Indeed, leaders from different countries have been leading the container, and all of them come with their own cultural backgrounds and knowledge about MKP, and sometimes with slightly divergent opinions on how things should be running.

Witnessing and navigating within the staff men container is also a blessing for me since I get to observe and interact with so many men who are a great source of inspiration and mentorship. Feeling the strong commitment to their own journeys. Witnessing where they are now standing as men, and how their actions are consciously driven.

For instance, I was impressed to watch one of the leaders at my last staffing throughout the weekend. At every instant this man seemed to think, feel and act from a place of strong awareness and balance between all his archetypes. It requires deep consciousness, strong present moment context awareness, and a lot of experience to end up there. These archetypal energies might sometimes conflict with one another within ourselves. A leader in such an environment has to perform under heavy external pressure. And it comes from all over the place. From adjustments that must be continuously made and negotiated here and there to properly implement the weekend protocols. From all the other staff men and their potential shadows popping up on the way. From time constraints too, because we all operate to a very tightly structured schedule.

And in that context, witnessing a man with tremendous amount of inner resources and skills who was constantly adjusting his behavior and the priorities of the collective was inspiring. Indeed, it requires taking immediate and bold action when things go wrong, or to consciously withdraw himself from the front line when space must be held, e.g., for letting other men take the lead, sharing their opinions and struggles, or when deciding that time has to be collectively invested to go through shadow-work triggered by a man who needs it.

Oh My.

Watching such conscious leadership in action is something.

And many staff men manifest such qualities throughout the weekend.

Finally, I also had an experience being at service in the kitchen. The kitchen during the weekend has its own container of men as well, focused on meals logistics. Working in the kitchen for such a big group of men is exhausting since you are pretty much under heavy pressure to perform for almost 4 full days in a row. The men’s team involved has to be super solid and united, since trust in your team members is crucial here. Strong leadership is required as well. A man unexpectedly reaching breaking point and who cannot deliver as initially planned can have big consequences to the kitchen’s work, always running on tight deadlines to deliver. It’s been an intense and very rewarding experience to be part of such a united team of kitchen warriors.

The non-profit and no-teacher aspects

I want to insist again on these two important aspects here.

Indeed, men’s work (and also in a more general context of “personal development”) is usually packaged and delivered by one-man business structures proposing trainings / products / services that can be sold to a client only once.

Just for the record, I have nothing against people making men’s work their business. As long as value is provided from a “teacher” to his clients, then monetizing such a relationship makes a lot of sense for both parties for sure. I am in other men’s communities in which I know a lot of awesome men selling great trainings. I sometimes use their services myself when I feel the need to.

However, there are a couple of shadow behaviours that might pop up here and there in small dark corners of teachers making a living out of men’s work:

  • Because of the business model, the teacher is always under pressure to reach more potential clients to insure a steady source of income. Because of that, it might happen that these teachers start to lose a bit of their integrity by overselling the benefits of their products. It is not uncommon that I witness such situations. It can be very subtle. Still, it might be dysfunctional.
  • Another issue from my perspective, and especially in the context of trainings. At a subtle level, a man giving money to a teacher might transpose a bit of his own responsibility for growth to the teacher. In exchange of money, the client might release himself from being fully in charge of his own growth, and expect too much to be delivered by his teacher. Sometimes we tend to put ourselves in situations in which we want to be rescued by adopting a victim role instead of taking full responsibility for ourselves. 

Finally, the shadow pattern that might emerge from the fact that a training is carried out by a single-and-always-the-same teacher:

  • There is a risk that his teachings and trainings get a bit over-bearing at some point. Indeed, he might become too influenced by his own biases, or become too confident about his own leadership and facilitator skills if he doesn’t actively and consciously put himself in the innocent mode of a learner sometimes, letting go of control by being led and taught by other people. Or he does not now and then make sure that his work is being externally evaluated. Indeed, our shadows are never far away from creating imbalances in our lives if we don’t actively check-in regularly within ourselves.
  • In more shadowy and extremes cases, there is also a risk for both parties to unconsciously co-create unhealthy co-dependency patterns. It can happen when the teacher (or call him guru, or mentor) takes advantages in a dysfunctional way of his control and power over his students, while the latter puts him on a pedestal, believing that they finally found the man who has all the answers to their own issues, ceasing to perceive him as simply human, i.e., with all his flaws and shadows besides his gold.

So, the way MKP has been initially designed and is being implemented makes sure that these shadow elements are nonexistent, or at least under control:

  • The fact that it is a non-profit: Staff men are not showing up for money, but only to deepen their journeys into their own selves, and for being at service for their brothers. And I can tell you, this is not only on paper, but it is something that you can deeply feel in the field of initiation weekends. It is very strange and very powerful.
  • The fact that staff men containers need a lot of men to be involved with a big variety of roles assigned to them: There is always around you a large and diverse number of experienced, conscious men, embodying tough love qualities, and experienced with tools to facilitate shadow-work at individual and collective level. All these men and tools act as watchdogs within the whole organization and its evolution. We can rely on each other and trust the process when we need to dive deeper within ourselves, to acknowledge and embrace our shadows, cut out our bullshit, bring back order from chaos, connect back to love, and move on with our mission with full accountability and integrity.

Gold standard of modern men’s community then?

There are some aspects of MKP which I don’t totally resonate with. However, I don’t feel the need to talk about them since I consider them minor compared to the gold the organization has been bringing me up till now. Not to mention the many potential opportunities to continue growing further, and supporting men on the way thanks to all the tools and trainings available.

I also believe that in our modern era, individuals cannot be totally defined by any single community. The nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes in which our ancestors have been spending most of their evolution served us so well as modern humans, and so much so that our biology relies almost entirely on social dynamics and behaviours from these communal times. As social beings, we need communities to get a strong sense of belonging and sharing in order to thrive. However, spending our lifetime in small nomadic tribes was also constraining and limited the expansion of human consciousness.

Modern civilisations brought connectedness and exchange of knowledge at a much larger scale. Especially in the west, they also brought individualism, which I believe has been a great thing since as individuals, we became much more free to think, and live our lives with fewer social constraints and rules, sometimes with the risk of elevating individual interests above those of the collective though.

It might be time to synergistically make the most of these two perspectives. Our individuality and freedom to be fully ourselves without compromise, expressed within the collective, and in the service of communities, beyond ourselves. In this era of our hyper-connected world, we can now easily belong to several communities of like-minded people, embracing different parts of ourselves, and without feeling the need to be identified and constrained by any of them.

This is freedom.

But as always, with great freedom comes great responsibility.

It requires such a community to be responsible for welcoming us as we fully are. By embracing what we have in common obviously, but most importantly, by embracing our diversity without judgement as well. It is not trivial to implement such a requirement, since the community has to operate from a higher-level of consciousness to acknowledge and embrace our differences constructively. Moreover, such a community needs to be founded on the knowledge that sustaining such a level of consciousness as the community evolves over time takes conscious work and action; indeed, so the flow of life in our physical realm, at each and every instant, with the impermanence of all things, does not cause imbalance. Therefore, the balance between light and darkness, between order and chaos, needs always to be consciously adjusted. Collectively, and individually.

MKP is one of these modern, conscious, communities.

Supporting men’s healing.

Growth.

Integration.

And self-realization.

By becoming fully who we are. By acknowledging and integrating the whole of what makes us men, and human, we contribute to the deepening and the expansion of our consciousness. For ourselves. For our brothers and sisters. For the gift of existence of what is.

MKP is “changing the world, one man at a time”.

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