Aug 21, 2005

New 'warriors' bare their souls

Jim Greenhill
The Durango Herald, Colorado
August 21, 2005

Bill Stanley did not like what he saw in the mirror, but the Durango salesman couldn't tear himself away.

"I got to a point where I screwed up my life so profoundly that I couldn't get away from my own reflection," he told nine other men at a chiropractic office Thursday.

"Men have lost the ability to communicate," Stanley said, holding an aspen talking stick decorated with black, red, white and yellow ribbons representing the four primary directions.

"We've lost our ability to connect with each other spiritually and emotionally and to be authentic and real with each other and with ourselves," he said.

Stanley completed a weekend called the New Warrior Training Adventure, and on Thursday he was among a half-dozen initiates describing his experience to area men who responded to recent advertisements in local publications.

For $600, the nonprofit ManKind Project, based in New York City, offers the training weekend with a motto "changing the world one man at a time." Men who cannot afford the fee are welcome anyway, members say.

The project's Web site explains that:

Every man has a warrior side. Many repress this, substituting a distorted "shadow form."

But new warriors confront the shadow, releasing a healthier energy.

"Our intention is twofold," according to the Web site. "To enable men to live lives of integrity, accountability and connection to feeling. To be of service to the community at large."

Its statement of purpose proclaims: "We are an order of men called to reclaim the sacred masculine for our time through initiation, training and action in the world."

Specifics are hidden in secret ceremonies during the initiation weekend and in the variety of succor that different men seem to find.

Thursday evening's group included a carpenter, educator, chiropractor, counselor, three salesmen, an unemployed political science major, the owner of an excavation company and a man who requested anonymity. Ages ranged from early 20s to, perhaps, late 50s.

The group talked about lost initiation rites for youths and the lapsed tradition of elders who guide youths to manhood. About how sometimes it seems modern men relate only over business, spectator sports, beer and women.

"Prior to initiation, my relationship with men was nonexistent," said Arthur Riegel, a counselor. "Men were competition."

Riegel called other men mere measuring sticks. Who had the "better" girlfriend, car, motorcycle or sports team?

"My relationship with women wasn't very good, either," he confessed. "It was dishonest. It was manipulative. It left me very much alone … feeling disconnected, feeling separated."

Riegel completed his New Warrior Training Adventure weekend in 1992, heading into it with 200 others, fearful and cursing the man who'd invited him.

Afterwards, "there were men in my life who were closer to me than blood brothers had ever been," he said.

Based on interviews and the group's literature, the Mankind ManKind Project appears to be part men's movement, part service organization, part group therapy, part spiritual healing and part fraternity.

For Mike Clark, a Durango excavation business owner, it was an accelerator of growth.

"I had been so separated from my feelings," he said. "I had an emotion, I didn't even know what the hell it was."

The weekend and subsequent meetings in small groups changed that, he said.

"I am really, really thrilled. I feel better than I ever have."