Putting the Heart Back Into Business

Just under two years ago, I had a life transforming moment.

I was sitting in the South Bank in London, with friend and fellow warrior Nicolas when he asked me whether I was ready to write a book about the alternative approaches I had developed to running my business, Thornton’s Budgens, a supermarket in North London.

And indeed, I was – the title rolled off my tongue: “How To Put The Heart Back Into Business”.

As it happened I was just heading off to India on a sabbatical. I spent the first week in Goa, in the monsoon, the only guest in my hotel, with chronic diarrhea – the universe was telling me I needed to be alone and reflect. And in that alone time, I became clear that this was my life purpose.

From that emerged my mission – “I create a heartful world by encouraging people to open their hearts, starting with my own.”

Over the eight years of Thornton’s Budgens, we have created what we call “The Community Supermarket That Really Cares”. Which means we put people and our planet first, trusting profit will follow – with people being anyone who works in our company and those in our community.

In that role we have done seemingly crazy things, like setting up a farm on the roof of one of our stores, as well as more sensible things like reducing our energy consumption by more than 50% and showing the global supermarket industry that putting doors on their chiller cabinets does not in fact cost you sales while substantially reducing your carbon footprint.

With our people, I realised that what we needed to do was to create a “safe container” at work. So that, just like in an iGroup, everyone would feel safe to share, without fear of judgment or rebuke. What I also saw was that the key to a thriving company is truth; and that to speak your truth, you need to feel safe.

A recent Radio 4 programme on Secrets, looked at the opposite of truth, offering evidence that holding secrets is psychologically damaging and can impact on your ability to work. Conversely, sharing something with someone creates a shared bond.

This is of course not surprising news to you Warriors, but it is to the business world. Can you imagine if you were as free to be you at work as you are at your iGroup?

To help create this safe environment we developed the Heart Programme that encourages team members to open their hearts, by creating a safe environment for them to fully show up.

It is based on the work of environmental activist Joanna Macy and involves four steps – gratitude, feeling the pain, seeing with new eyes and action. We start with a meditation and sharing that would not look out of place in an MKP Circle.

Through the heart programme’s sharing circles and the use of a talking stick, which ensures everyone gets to speak without interruption, people feel valued, get to contribute their ideas and have an input into the direction of the company.

And it works – since we implemented this we have got straight 100% scores in our “mystery shopper” scores (we used to get very inconsistent scores) and our sales have increased by 6%.

We are in the process of setting up a Council that will become the policy making body for the company, which will see 5 or 6 team members sit along side the three existing board members.

Inspired by Darshita Gillies, we intend to have at least one Millennial on it. These are people born between 1990 and 2000, who have a very different outlook on work and what they want from it – a “civic-minded generation with a strong sense of community both local and global”.

We are even considering having representatives from other stakeholder groups – customers, the community and someone representing the environment.

And we are in the process of redefining roles so that everyone does only what they love to do.

I am so excited by the prospect that soon I will only be responsible for our vision and purpose, innovation and the conscience of the company! It is what I love to do and it gives me space for another chapter: the development of Heart in Business Limited.

I formed this with 6 others all from MKP, Celebration Of Being, Nobleman, or Embercombe connections – including Nicolas of course! We started last year with a mission: “Heart in Business Limited will enable companies to put people and our planet first, trusting that profit will follow.”

In this way, I can get closer to my life purpose by sharing my experiences with others.

So why, I hear some of you ask, does this matter? Well, if you look at the latest Gallup Poll on workplace satisfaction, it shows that globally 87% of people are emotionally disconnected from their work.

And since we spend half of our non-sleeping time at work, this may explain the amount of turmoil there is in the world right now.

As businesses employ such a large percentage of the workforce globally, we can do something about this. In fact, I would argue that it is our duty to do something about it.

The good news is that most studies examining the profitability of companies who look beyond maximising shareholder value and consider their wider stakeholder base, have shown that doing this delivers better financial results.

So what is the dream of Heart in Business Limited?

“The dream of Heart in Business Limited is that companies put people and our planet first, trusting profit will follow. The dream is of companies where we have a purpose, companies where we make a broader contribution to society and see the world beyond the next set of quarterly profits. Companies where we consider all our stakeholders – our employees, our community, our planet and of course, our shareholders.

Companies where we care about the impact on people, whether those people work in our company, are customers, or live in the community in which we operate.

Companies where everyone is doing the job they want to do rather the one they are good at, where there is passion, authenticity and love; where we are all making a difference, where we are all heard and understood, where we all hear and understand our colleagues.

Companies where there is heartfelt leadership, where we co-create plans and where wealth flows. Companies where people can be themselves, without fear of judgement or punishment.

Companies that care about our planet, who consider future generations; companies that take into account what we are leaving behind for our children and grandchildren.

This is our dream of how companies will thrive in the future, indeed some companies already are.

In fact at Heart in Business Limited, we believe it is the only way forward.”

I am encouraged not to be alone on this journey, sharing the vision with other great movements such as Conscious Capitalism, the Blueprint for Better Business, B.Corporations and The B-Team.

I believe that now is the time for change – and that more and more businesses are ready for that change.

So I end with a request, knowing of course that the answer might not be yes! I need to get this message to business leaders – so if you are involved in organising business speaking events, or know contacts who are, or if you lead a business which you would like to be more heartful, then please get in touch!

To find out more, look up heartinbusiness.org or contact andrew3@heartinbusiness.org.

Andrew Thornton

The Ride Of My Life

Two days after leaving Dartmoor, where I’d done The ManKind Project’s PIT training, I found myself on my surfboard, waiting for the next set of waves to swell.

Maybe 20 feet away, swiftly with complete grace, two dolphins sprang from the water right before my eyes. For that brief moment we occupied the same space. In the same way, my PIT journey was like those jumping dolphins between the spaces of ride-able waves in my life.

As a young man, just 20, I came to MKP enthusiastic and absolutely “in”. Yearning to explore in depth some unsavoury experiences of my childhood, I threw myself at the PIT only a month after my Warrior training.

What I found waiting for me was a relaxed yet firm environment with the structure, expression and support I needed to touch places within, places that up until now I had only feared.

At the PIT, I was privileged to bear witness to the journeys of nine other men. Their unreserved emotion and willingness to engage with themselves has enriched my view of men hugely. I felt ultimate trust in my brothers, and a deep sense of joy to be a part of their important work with MKP.

I feel as though I’m now part of, and in receipt of, a safety net that will always be below each of our bold swings in life. The net my brothers have woven for me is sprung so that when I fall, the net catapults me further than my momentum can conjure. Equally when I’m in mid-swing focused on the manoeuvre at hand, they can step back and admire my acrobatics!

But that’s enough imagery. I recognise the courage and level of maturity that it took for me to adventure into MKP at a comparatively young age. But doing so has enriched my life deeply.

Being side-by-side with men of greater experience, who have lived and learned some important lessons of life, I got a real burning sense that all young men should have the opportunity to do the same.

With that, I’d like you to think of any young men you may know, and the profoundly positive effect MKP could offer them, as it has me.

Perhaps mention it, and reassure them that being around older people is constructive, reassuring and fulfilling. There’s a sense that a great number of young men of my generation lack decent male role models who can teach them the ways of mature, integrated masculinity.

For me, MKP has certainly addressed that gap in my life, and shown me that role models are abundant, you just need to look with an open heart and mind to find them.

I feel as if I’ve confronted dark seeds within myself before they were left to fester throughout my adult life, which is deeply reassuring for the future.

I now have, thanks to the group’s help and my keenness to delve deep, a new space and awareness within that allows me to truly feel, express and release emotion.

Of course it’s easy to pretend that it’s all plain sailing. There are still obvious parts in myself that I feel it’s important to explore, to be able to stride wholeheartedly towards all life has to offer. But I rest easy now, knowing that the incredible space I was privileged to be a part of, will again be open, ready and waiting for me when the time is right.

I’m at a period in my life where I feel that my trajectory is in many ways defined by my present state of mind and body, meaning that I can recognise opportunity, and shape aspects of my life so they are harmonious with my deepest values.

Deciding to journey into MKP, completing The Adventure Weekend and the PIT, has been one of my greatest decisions and achievements yet. And now I’m excited at the prospect of what the future holds.

I’ve heard stories of surfers and dolphins riding the same waves together. I’ll let you imagine that, and my intended future journey with MKP.

Ben F

The ManKind Project and Diversity

Stepping Up To Diversity

I wrote in the last edition of Spearhead (Autumn 2013) about diversity and my journey into it. I talked how on my Adventure weekend, the ManKind Project had accepted me and my differences. The ManKind Project “walked the talk” for me. It was incredibly healing.

I know that many men come to the weekend feeling different or outside the mainstream. For me, The ManKind Project (MKP) does a good job at accepting and integrating all men, but as we say, “the journey continues”, and there is more to do.

There is an increasing awareness in the UK about being “politically correct”, sensitive to diversity and inclusive of minorities.

Last year the MKP UK & Ireland Council acknowledged that we live in an increasingly diverse country but our MKP community does not reflect this. We are pretty middle class, middle age and white. We could go on like this, but is this how we really want to be? The answer for us was “no”.

We are also aware that diversity gets a high profile in other MKP communities and the UK wants to be in step with this.

So in order to do something about this, the Council took the decision to facilitate regular diversity training so that all men who staff 10 or more weekends have completed a recognised diversity training. The aim is to get even better at accepting and integrating men who are further outside of the mainstream who come to Adventure weekends, NWTAs (or the New Warrior Training Adventure, as it used to be known…).

NCBI (the National Coalition Building Institute) was asked to provide the training. It has a solid track record in the provision of diversity training and has received national awards for its work. In addition to this, several MKP men have attended NCBI training and highly recommend it.

Video on Diversity by the National Coalition Building Institute in the USA

MKP UK & Ireland has put on its own diversity training in the past (September 2011) so the decision was taken to keep the momentum going.

In January this year NCBI delivered a Diversity Awareness Training day for MKP UK & Ireland (and others). More about this later.

But what’s in it for me – or you? Why should I – or you – sign up for the diversity training?

Personally I can feel pretty politically correct and holier than many – but if I’m honest, I too have difficulties accepting some differences. For me diversity work is ongoing work (like the rest of the work I do in MKP).

027  diversity in action- photo -iStock_000018175122SmallFor me diversity work is about stretching my capacity to understand and tolerate difference and in this regard it helps me in my day-to-day relationships. I want to learn more about sitting with the discomfort of difference and not shutting down when I experience it.

I am aware that my unconscious prejudices can trip me up. So diversity work is about helping me expose and deal with my shadows about these issues. As a respected MKP brother of mine says “we all have them”. I didn’t realise how much I needed to respect diversity until I was challenged on it.

Raising awareness about diversity and helping men sit with difference is one part of the strategy to increase the diversity within our MKP community. There is more work to do to increase the diversity of our community. This is just the start.

ncbilogoOn 25 January NCBI ran a Diversity Awareness Training Day for MKP UK. We had 18 participants comprising 7 women and 11 men with two presenters from NCBI: Royston (a black man) and Wendy (a white woman). Nine participants were booked through MKP. Royston brought another nine. Of the 18 participants there were three black men, four gay men, one lesbian, four people over 60, two under 25, two mixed race. This was truly a diverse mix and an experiential way to learn about diversity.

Some of the feedback received:

“Understanding others’ differences but also similarities.”

“Making interventions – how to question, hear more and let the hurt unravel.”

“Not giving an opinion/judgment and stepping back.”

“The importance of identifying my own first thoughts, hidden prejudices.”

“To spend time asking people to tell me their story.”

“To focus on the person and not the comment they are making.”

“To listen and not fix. Make more ‘mistakes’.”

“Ask ‘why do we say things like that?'”

“Silence is still consent.”

MKP UK & Ireland will be working with NCBI to deliver more training later in the year. We invite you to step up to diversity.


“Exciting, Risky, Unknown, Daring!”

These are a few of the words used by the dictionary to describe an adventure. And what an Adventure it was!

ManKind ProjectInternational logo UKBut 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”.

photo of men's groupAfter 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….

Charlie E.

*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

What Is Initiation?

To Be In or Not To Be In

So I’m an initiated man. It’s been ten days since the ManKind Project UK & Ireland’s Adventure weekend (once known as the New Warrior Training Adventure) and a week since the homecoming party.

For me, the weekend was an intense release of some extremely destructive energy I’d held since childhood.

Energy that had prevented me from becoming a man, holding me in a Peter Pan-like place, alternating between a toddler and a raging teenager.

And despite an incredible journey through life prior to the Adventure, a journey that encompassed extremes of near death, insight, intellectual enlightenment, profound love, and loss, my life always seemed like a lie, a long dark night of the soul.

I expect everyone is different; perhaps for some the Adventure is a beginning, for others a point on life’s journey, albeit I suspect a big one. For me it was an ending, a final end to something that had held me in its power for most of my life.

For all of my adult life I’d sensed a lack of access to my manhood – or at least what felt like my manhood: a way of acting in the world as a mature character.

No matter what I did I always felt like the showy teenager, the eager young dog keen to please, wanting acceptance that was never to be found.

Until the ManKind Project Adventure weekend. There I found it.

Videos about The ManKind Project UK & Ireland

And it was nothing like I’d have expected. But what is initiation anyway? An opening of a door into an unknown realm only I could step through, perhaps. But no one could show me; no one could take me there. It was my journey, and mine alone.

In one way, the process itself is simple: give a structure and a story to the deep forces of the psyche, and they can manifest and heal themselves in the ways only they know how.

Modern terms like the Unconscious, the Ego, the Id, don’t really cut it. For me, this was and is primordial. It’s beyond words and reason, primeval in a hardwired, timeless way.

This is how a boy is transformed into a man. It is alchemy at the purest and most real level. A spiritual transformation of the highest order.

To use a modern allegory: it was like I’d had a light sabre since I was young, a magic box transforming all my emotions and experiences, both bad and good, into a brilliant and powerful light. But the lens at the end of the device was blocked from an early age. And so a pressure built up, an infinite amount of pressure. Not knowing the source of this pressure caused confusion and stress….. until some kind men showed me the blockage, showed me that somehow a load of crap had gotten dumped over the lens, that there was a shadow blocking my light.

And when this shadow was recognised and cleared away, the light sabre came alive.

Now its light could be put to good use, warding off the shadow and manifesting the vision for this being (me) with the power of infinite light, infinite love.

Oh, sure, it’s gonna take a little practice to get the parry and thrust up to scratch. Maybe mastering it will take the rest of this lifetime. But at least the damn thing is working now and the interminable pressure is gone.

A New Warrior is born.

Video About the UK ManKind Project


I found the celebration to be an affirmation by my family and others who attended. And also by me, confirming my acceptance into the world as this new story unfolds, as this new warrior archetype develops.

Now I had a place in the world, an ancient place, a place held by my ancestors, going back to time immemorial. I can see how valuable this is to those men, both young and old, who just cannot find their place in this world, yet who keep banging on all the doors, never finding what they truly seek, instead finding misadventure, hurt and pain.

Yeah, I like this new story! I hope it continues to grow and spread and does not get lost again in the quagmire of humanity’s shadow. I think we can all see the consequences of that playing out around the world right now.

The Challenge

How symbolic that Nelson Mandela should pass the day after the celebration for Newly Initiated Men.

What his passing signified to me was almost an offer, a request, not just to me alone but to all men and women, the question being: “Can I step up and be like him? Can I rise above the pettiness of the world and lead a life from my true heart? Can I endure hardship and not felt hard done by? Can I rise in the face of inequity and injustice and do the right thing?”

Perhaps, by seeing the shadow in my own heart I can seek to remedy my ways, to eradicate evil and be a servant to love. While Nelson may be gone, the world sorely needs a billion or two like him, so I’m in! Anyone care to join me?

“Sid” – Initiated Dec 2013

MKP UK – In The Beginning

Sopley RAF camp, England, scene of first NWTA in the UKThe man on the other end of the phone was clearly in no mood for casual chit chat.

“Men are waiting,” he said, and I was left standing in a call box holding the phone with the dial tone buzzing in my ear.

At that moment I realised that perhaps I was not going to enjoy a cosy weekend regaling my new friends with tales of my vast experience in men’s work. (The old RAF Sopley base – site of the first UK NWTA, is pictured here, now derelict.)

So many people, since then, have asked me: “What was it like on that first weekend?” and the stock answer, which has become an MKP legend, is “It was f#ckin freezing!”

Yet my introduction to the community that December night in 1994 was more of a baptism of fire. Recalling my preparation for the first ever MKP training in the UK, I am amused at how naïve I was. For many men, taking the risk to agree to an intensive men’s weekend must have required real courage. The truth is, I hadn’t really paid much attention to what I might expect when I originally signed up.

So when Bill asked me if I was ready, I knew this was something I wanted to do, needed to do, yet even as I embarked on the first leg of the journey, the idea of a cosy chat around a fire and a bit of drumming was stuck somewhere in my mind.

So on that Friday afternoon at 3 pm, when I should have been leaving to beat the weekend traffic down the M4, I was working away in my office in West London. I was vaguely conscious of the time, but of course I had more important things to do.

By 4:30 pm I was heading out to the car park. By 5pm I was on the motorway. Progress was slow, which suited me. A good excuse for why I was late… and hey, what was the hurry anyway? Friday night would be the usual “getting to know you stuff”, possibly a bit daunting for anyone else who might not have sat in a circle of men before, but it wasn’t worth busting a gut to arrive on time.

And anyway, I wasn’t going to miss anything I hadn’t done before. Part of me thought how lucky these guys were that I was going to be there… hey, I’d been around the world, I’d had vast experience of men’s groups, I’d travelled to Austin in Texas, for some time, the unofficial capital of the men’s movement.

By 5:45, still a good hour from the centre, a low-level discomfort over my progress began to gnaw at me as a nagging worry. In those pre-mobile phone days that meant pulling in at a service station and finding a call box. More time wasted.

After my phone conversation, I was in a rather different space. That man didn’t sound very understanding, he hadn’t even allowed me to explain about my important work, and the traffic, and some other excuses I had concocted on the way. He just said “Men are waiting”. There might be some explaining to do.

As I drove into the facility, there was no warm welcome. Just some instruction about where to park. I pulled up and a group of men approached. I hailed them with a friendly “Here, at last!” and was about to embark on a well-rehearsed apology, but I never got that far. The rest is a bit of a blur, to be honest.

I don’t remember anything, really. Men grabbed my stuff and I was jogged through dark corridors, as harsh American accents echoed in the unfamiliar darkness. Until I found myself alone…. well not alone actually… as my eyes adjusted to the space, I realised I was in a room full of men…

The process that followed took me down to a terrifying place. The happy-go-lucky charm and profuse apologies that usually bailed me out of such familiar situations, just didn’t cut it here. I was confronted by questions, conflict, boundaries, hostility, self-examination, ruthless honesty, and eventually – of course – the real me. The man who didn’t feel good enough and protected himself with the idea that he was better than everyone else, was finally exposed for all to see… including me.

Which made the cold the least of my worries. Just surviving the exposure to my reality became my only focus. The weekend progressed and shame became the core of my work. I believe I could have spent several years sitting in circles chatting and “solving” other men’s “problems” with my infinite wisdom, and I would never have glimpsed that shadow, the one which had long walked with me, behind my shoulder.

To work with this stuff requires commitment and courage, but there was something more important for me: I needed help, and I needed to receive support. I needed to feel safe and I needed to trust. The roller-coaster ride delivered all of this.

The sense of being accepted as part of a team, and the emotional gifts I received from other men, allowed me to plunge deep into a pool of shame and guilt where I found anger and grief.

There are gifts I took from that weekend that have remained a part of me ever since.

But the single most important gift I took was a mission. A purpose and direction to guide my endeavours as the journey continued: “As a man amongst men, I help men and women live fulfilled lives by showing them their full potential”. Apart from a slight tweak when I returned to the community four years ago, it has never changed from that day onwards.

When I felt good and in sync with my world, it was when I was doing something to fulfil my mission. When I felt bad, lost, confuse or troubled, I began to find that it was because I was pursuing some goal or direction in conflict with my mission.

My mission became the way I described myself when I was in integrity. It became the lifebelt I grasped for when I felt overwhelmed.

That was me and that was my work. But the weekend in Sopley back then was much more. It was also f#cking freezing, and the food was…. well, not great. And I had no cigarettes or coffee. But the weekend was standing shoulder to shoulder with my brothers through all the discomfort and seeing they were strong enough to meet these “hardships” face on. I discovered that when I stood with them I was strong enough, too.

The weekend was the robust comradeship of Ben G, the connection that grew between me and the other Mickleton men. It was the gentle support of Billy L. and the dynamic leadership of Gary C. There were plenty of laughs too, a shared gallows humour, a ruthless connection, a bond that sometimes felt so strong it was like we had known each other for years, maybe even for lifetimes.

fire circleThere was dancing and ceremony. There was even a fire to sit round and chat. On Sunday there was a celebration and shared joy. And there was honouring, validation and generous praise from the staff men I’d met on Friday night as the weekend drew to a close. (Photo credit: copyright dreamstime.com)

That was Sopley for me in 1994: dynamic, exhausting, fulfilling – an exciting and dramatic journey of a lifetime condensed into 48 hours (or rather, 45½, in my case).

But of course it was not all about me. Looking back now, 20 years further down the line, I can appreciate the extraordinary level of faith demonstrated by my fellow initiates. Most were men who could only have had the briefest concept of what might be on offer. They had no websites, no search engines, no social media, no e-mails, no texting, no references other than word of mouth to encourage them to step into the circle.

And arching above us was the most extraordinary commitment of the men who staffed. With only a handful of initiated men in the UK, staff flew at their own expense from half way round the world – and further – to build the container. The voices I heard instructing us were in American accents from Chicago, from Texas, from California.

These men had done their work, and committed to give something back by creating a space for other men to taste what they had experienced… and then they had travelled across the Atlantic, to another country, a place some of them had never been before.

And although they may have had different motives, the one I experienced was a fundamental belief that it was right to give other communities, no matter how far away, how foreign or alien, the same opportunities to stand in a circle of initiated men, visible in their authenticity, working in integrity, making the world a better place for our sons and daughters.

And because it was the first weekend, it was not perfect. It was tough love with a capital T. There were things happening that would not be tolerated now. I was on the receiving end and later in the weekend was startled when a threatening whisper in my ear from the staff man responsible told me he was still waiting for an apology from me for my retaliation.

But fortunately at Sopley in 1994 we were all learning what was good and what was not acceptable. Staffing a UK Adventure weekend in the 21st century needs to be very different. And it is, but what we got was good enough for our times – and anyway, we knew no different. Looking back, I judge that it was new and scary not just for us, but for some of the staff too. What is more important, and speaks volumes about the work we do and how we go about it, is that these shortcomings were never ignored, accepted, excused or justified. They were identified, named and changed.

Maybe men now come to initiation from a different place. Most seem better informed, clearer in their intent, some even equipped with a vocabulary to describe their emotions.

Over the past five years I have watched new men travel the journey we took, and sometimes it appears swifter and smoother with a different, softer tone, but it is no less challenging or powerful for all that.

Perhaps the way we work also reflects that more men appear to be coming at a different time in their lives, coming to equip themselves for the challenges of partnerships and parenthood. Men come to prevent damage to others and themselves, rather than to repair it.

Of course, these are my personal, unscientific observations. Elderhood and a Celtic tendency to romanticise may mean they are not entirely accurate. But whether or not they are “true”, I hope that on every weekend still to come, new men find something of the space that was created at Sopley in that cold December 20 years ago: the space that I found. The space that welcomes and supports them, and loves and cherishes all of who they are.

If it does, I hope they will find in themselves a blessing for the pioneers who went before them and without whom there would have been no second training weekend in the UK.

Jim F

Video on elderhood

Power Without Vulnerability

Power Without Vulnerability

Take a ferry from Portsmouth across the Solent to the Isle of Wight and make your way to an old-fashioned seaside hotel on the cliff top. Painted white with balconies looking out to sea, this is the venue for a workshop called Nobleman.

It’s a beautiful location that requires you to make a journey over land and water to get there. I made that crossing in October 2013 after signing up to take part in the workshop and although my physical journey was complete when I found that place, my emotional and spiritual journey had only just begun.

Before I arrived at the four-day event, I had built up powerfully antagonistic feelings against it. My anger, ferocious and quick to rise, formed a wall in front of a terrified and grief stricken internal little boy. Whenever I met with ManKind Project men, it seemed that one or other would bring up the subject of Nobleman and I was beginning to get mightily fed up with it.

noblemanThey told me this was a workshop for men to explore the wounds imparted by the feminine. They told me that the Nobleman staff team was made up of women and that the women would run the processes. I inwardly resolved never to do it.

Fear was holding me back. Deep down I knew that but refused to admit it. One man in my iGroup, who recognised my internal battle, gently but insistently helped me to overcome the obstacles until one day, in October, I found myself on the ferry, heading to Nobleman. The experience would change my life in a powerful way that I had only experienced once before and that was on my Adventure (New Warrior Training Adventure) in September 2011.

I walked into the hotel with rage in my body. I was angry with these women I had never met. I didn’t trust them. I feared them. I felt I had to protect myself from them. I was determined that I would prove them to be a manifestation of all my darkest projections and judgements of women.

During the first process my anger muscled through and swept into the room, menacing and breathless, I told them what I felt, steeling myself as I spoke to deal with what I thought would come as a result of my speech, disapproval, rejection and abandonment.

Low angle view of happy men and women standing together in a circleInstead, I was met with tenderness, empathy and love. I was heard and acknowledged. My anger was welcomed by a group of divine feminine women who respected it, held it and saw past it, to something more gentle and vulnerable behind. (Photo copyright Deposit Photos)

This was my first surprise, as my brow frowned in puzzlement. These women were unrecognisable to me. They didn’t fit the model I had seen in my mother (and projected onto all other women in my life). This was something new. Perplexed and curious, I sat back and waited for the weekend to unfold.

Over four days my heart was skillfully and compassionately carved open. I was led into the deepest grief I had ever felt and, blinded by tears, guided out again by loving hands. A little boy inside me who had been hiding from women for 30 years was encouraged to put down his sword, take off his armour and show himself. It was a testament to the grace and skill of each of the women that my little boy felt safe enough to not only come out, but also dance and play, cartwheeling with pure joy. It was profound.

Many gifts were bestowed benevolently upon me during that experience. Perhaps the most valuable was that I realised that my power, so strong and glorious and fearsome, could easily become brutality when not aligned to my vulnerability, tenderness and love. The women of Nobleman reconnected me to these softer aspects of my character and taught me how to welcome and accept them. I realised that these attributes were not making me weaker, but stronger, and were enhancing and broadening the range and reach of my power.

The other powerful realization for me was around my female partner “T”. I realised, with a rush of joy that the tenderness, support, compassion and love that shone out of the staff women, was also present in her and that I could connect to it by being authentic and vulnerable and showing my true emotions. Then I saw the whole picture. A lightning flash of awareness lit up my world. Suddenly I understood that this divine feminine love was possibly present in all women. It was me who had strangled the flow of love.

And then feminine love began to flow into my life and show up all around me. I started to look at women, all women, with profound respect and gratitude. I was able to show my own vulnerability. What is true for me now is that I am a powerful and a strong man. I now understand the meaning of compassion and open-hearted love, perhaps, for the first time in my life. It is thanks to each of the staff women and the three staff men that I was able to move forward and reclaim the fullness of my heart. I am profoundly grateful for what they gave me.


Nobleman is staged in the UK and the USA by the organisation “Celebration of Being” – you can learn more about them in the video below.

A Video from You Tube which might test your boundaries and compassion.

Like Father Like Son

On a cliff top in Dorset one summer evening I sat with my wife watching the sea churn and toil. After a long silence she asked me if we would ever have children together. I looked at her, wanting to say yes, wanting it so much, but something dark and terrifying pushed forcefully into my heart. I said No.

That moment signalled the end of many things. My marriage disintegrated over three gruelling months. My relationship with alcohol began to worsen. I was compelled to leave my bed, my house and my hometown. My opinions and beliefs began to drop away into a meaningless void. My energy sapped and my light went out. My friends couldn’t understand, moved away quietly, unsure what to do. I descended inexorably into the gloom and lonely despair of a breakdown. I did not ask for help. Nobody helped me.

At the bottom of this emotional pit I gave in to the utter despair and started to drink to numb myself from these feelings. By some good fortune, I also called a counsellor and began weekly therapy. The drinking made things worse but I was lucky enough to find Alcoholics Anonymous and avert more misery. The counsellor helped me to understand why I had said “no” to my wife on that cliff top. He awakened me to my sadness and the reasons for it.

Some clarity entered my life and I managed to resume the day-to-day, but it was empty and I was still afraid. I was a boy. A timid little boy, aged 31.

I was terrified that I would become, had already become, my father, in his worst incarnation. Full of violent rage, anxiety and resentment.

I had seen first-hand how deeply I could wound those people closest to me with my anger. Just like dad. This made me feel ashamed and the vicious circle of negative emotions continued to loop around and around.

As a young boy I had been terrified and anxious, afraid of my father, scared to take my place in the world, feeling undeserving of love, unworthy. How could I bring a child into the world if this was what s/he would experience? This was unacceptable to me. People told me I would be a good father and could rectify the faults of my own parents. I did not believe this in any way. I was imprisoned by my own fear, anger and shame.

What did it mean to be a man? A good man. As a boy in a man’s body, I had no idea. My father did not teach me and I did not know where to start. How could I become the man I wanted to be? These questions led to a good friend mentioning the ManKind Project to me.

The ManKind Project

Within days I visited the ManKind Project website. A week later I was on my way to take part in the New Warrior Training Adventure weekend. (Also called The Adventure Weekend.)

That weekend signalled the beginning of many things. I rediscovered my power, which had been caged when I was very young. I hunted down my demons and took them on. I won victories against them.

I found my frightened little boy, hiding away to protect himself. I encouraged him out of the darkness and into my arms. I reassured him that everything would be OK. He began to smile and my tears flowed.

I allowed myself to fully feel fear, anger and shame. I thought I would die in this emotional volcano, but instead of death there was a birth, the beginnings of joy, something I had not felt for a very long time.

My light flickered back into life and began to burn fiercely. I forgave myself and began to step into the shoes of the man I really wanted to be, had always been, but had never allowed to step forward. I stood strong and courageous and announced to the world: “I will be a father. I will be a fantastic father!”

Three months after the ManKind Project NWTA weekend I met my new partner. A few months after that we became pregnant. Now my son is born. Thanks to the ManKind Project I know that he will receive all the love he needs from me and that I will be a wonderful father.

I will make mistakes, because I am a humble man, but I am also a powerful and loving man, and my son will benefit from the loving warmth of my open and authentic heart.

Like father, like son? Not this time.


New Warrior’s Courage

ManKind Project – The Warrior’s Courage

Facing fear and overcoming it has been and still can be one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done.

I worked on the railway for 4 years.
It was hard graft long hours in the middle of nowhere.
On my first shift I discovered you had to use the railway bank as a toilet. Being in the middle of nowhere with crows and rabbits for company.
I had just pulled my trousers down and was doing my bit for the roses.
When out of nowhere track ballast (the rocks under the tracks) starts landing round my ears.
I pulled my trousers up and was up the bank like a raging bull.
There was a big Irish fella named John Cahill (dead now god rest his soul) chucking these rocks, making himself look big in front of the gang.
And I was the new boy – much like school bullying.
I was up in front of his face raging – he wasn’t sure what to do.
We ended up best mates after that.

The fear I’m talking about is greater than that. That was a physical action that had an outcome.

The fear I’m talking about lives in my own head and is not even real.
Facing the fear “I’m not good enough” was my Hero’s journey.
My thanks go to The ManKind Project for helping me face it. My Adventure Weekend was empowering and emotionally freeing.


ManKind Project and Masculinity

Fifteen years ago a friend introduced me to The ManKind Project (MKP). He and I had experienced a number of bad-ass-men’s-initiation models in the USA, but when he found MKP, it was like discovering The Grail.

He begged me to go on the Weekend. I said “No”. In my mind it cost too much, and it was just the same old stuff repackaged with a little more whiff of Native American juju. For two years I said “no”…. But then, in his earnestness, he hit my most vulnerable button. He offered to pay for my New Warrior Training Adventure experience. I could not resist… That’s why I went to The ManKind Project!

When the ManKind Project Adventure weekend was over I was walking on air. He said to me, “Now we can talk.” I didn’t understand. “But we’ve always been able to talk,” I responded weakly. “No, you’ll see. Now we can talk with our hearts!” He was so right. It changed both of us to be fearless men – unafraid to touch and connect with our vulnerability. I began to see that I have immense power to be real and genuine. I was 50, and I was changing the way I was in the world, with my family, my work and my wishes.

On that MKP Adventure Weekend I accepted the call to go on my Hero’s Journey through my familiar wilderness of fear. I’d always felt fatally flawed and insecure – i.e. not good enough. These were the two marks that kept me scared and terrified in the world. And after the weekend I still felt flawed and insecure… only now I’d learned something that made it all OK. I’d learned that I could simply love myself, whether I was flawed, insecure or not-good-enough… I’d learned that I could just put a drop of love on my body and let that love permeate my whole Being to do its magic.

I also learned that loving myself is the key to everything. It was bigger than anything I had ever known. And 15 years later, I am still experiencing more love, more joy, more peace, more service and more abundance than I could have ever imagined.

My wife and I have moved from the USA to the south of France, and everyday I celebrate the life I love before it’s time to leave this lovely planet. I celebrate, too, the way MKP offers other men the chance to come face to face with whatever is holding them back from spiritual vibrancy and aliveness.

So thank you my friend, Rick, for putting up the cash and helping me go on the Adventure weekend. And the best thing? Simply this: I like it that when we talk, we speak with our hearts.

Ken P

Discover the truth about The ManKind Project and how the Adventure Weekend changes men's lives.