These are a few of the words used by the dictionary to describe an adventure. And what an Adventure it was!
But first, to begin, as they say, at the beginning. Both of my younger brothers had done the MKP Adventure weekend, and both had enthused about its amazing benefits. They urged me on. For several years, in fact! But I knew when it was my time to have a go: when I understood that some aspects of my life would not progress without attention to my past. (The Adventure is also known as The ManKind Project New Warrior Training Adventure.)
And sure, while I knew that the Adventure might stir things up, I desperately wanted to be free of my burdens, free to acknowledge that I have great strengths, that I am useful, that I have a positive male identity. So there I was, making my way to The Comb in Northumberland in June 2013, accompanied by 3 other men who I’d never even met before.
While I know from my work as a Samaritans’ listener that the abuse meted out to me was mild by comparison to that experienced by others, in my experience any form of abuse crushes the human spirit.
I was first beaten with a stick at the age of 4 by my father, and then by a headmaster at the age of 8 for the “crime” of getting less than 6 out of 10 in a spelling test. And I was bullied and beaten at a South African boarding school, leaving me with a sense of total isolation and profound distrust and wariness towards other boys and men alike. These negative experiences, repeated over and over, from such an early age, left deep scars, and the wounds were buried deep inside me.
As the ManKind Project’s weekend Adventure unfolded, I came to see how each and every one of us goes through something that causes suffering. And this was an enormous relief to me – to discover that I was not alone. And I also came to see that men who I had always thought of as being better and more capable than me were wounded in deep ways too, that in fact we had much in common, that they also had their own wounds holding them back.
Video on the work of the ManKind Project UK & Ireland
Supported by the ManKind Project staff men (there is a remarkable ratio of one staff man to one initiate), all our pain was invited and embraced. And what a gem to discover that men can support and love each other with deep respect and brotherliness. What a gem to find a space where I could express my pain and vulnerabilities without judgement or shame, and to discover that denying and suppressing them is a huge burden, a source of even more pain.
For example, during one of the exercises on the weekend, I found myself surrounded by a circle of men. I stood within the circle opposite one man. This scene was reminiscent of the times at my school in South Africa, when I was often pushed into the circle formed by the entire school mob, and forced to fight with “adversaries” with whom I had no issue.
Without any fight in my veins, it was usually a quick affair. A couple of well-placed punches to my face, the utter dejection of being mocked and deserted by the whole school, as I lay bewildered on the ground wondering what I had done.
Except this time, rather than standing opposite some snarling youth trying to win “friends”, I stood opposite a staff man. Rather than experiencing frothing hatred from the man before me, I was faced with a benign smile and those magnificent words, those generous and concerned words, “all your emotions are welcome here”. They were music to my ears. They were so beautiful coming from an unknown man. I basked in their warmth.
So why, 35 years later, would re-exposing myself to the pain of so much buried emotion be such a positive experience? What could I possibly have gained?
I came to see that pain and suffering are part of everyone’s life. This made me a much more forgiving person. As a teacher (in a boarding school, ironically!), I understand much better now than I ever did, that people only ever behave with unpleasantness towards others because of internal conflict.
The ManKind Project Adventure also convinced me that our default setting as men is to be loving to each other. Love is such a confusing word for the modern man because the idea of a man showing love to another man is something that can still sit uncomfortably in our society. But surely love is a deep concern for the welfare of another?
I moved from distrust and apprehension to reassurance and understanding in my relationships with men. What an enormous relief, a heart-warming shift. And the Adventure has helped me to recognise and acknowledge all that I have to offer myself and others. I understand more about the emotional needs of boys and men, I understand how we express both positive and negative masculine energies, and I understand so much more about my experiences.
In fact, I felt an urge to step into my inherent strength and brilliance. I remember Marianne Williamson’s words here: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure”.
After the Adventure, I wanted more of what MKP has to offer. I discovered a local iGroup* that meets once a fortnight just down the road from me in Hampshire. And now I have truly remarkable, deep friendships, with a profound level of trust and honest communication between us….
*Editor’s note: an iGroup is an ongoing men’s group for men who have been on the ManKind Project Adventure weekend. Photo of men’s group copyright istockphotos.com