A Circle of Men

by Simon Goland, October 7, 2014

hero's journeyThere are two circles. One of about 20 men, who came to participate in this weekend. We call them “initiates.” The other circle is of about 40, of staff, leaders and co-leaders, and men of service (who spend the whole weekend in the kitchen, preparing food and nourishing everybody the whole time). These have participated in this weekend in the past, recent or long ago, having been initiates themselves, and are now coming to assist, support, lead, and be in service for the new ones. The staff came from what feels like everywhere to this weekend; it includes Vancouver, Vancouver Island, interior British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and UK. All on a volunteering basis and their own expense, except for the few leaders who do receive a stipend. That already is no small miracle. Yet, it is only a tiny element of the weekend.

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we are not really living. Growth demands a temporary surrender of security. It may mean a giving up of familiar but limiting patterns, safe but unrewarding work, values no longer believed in, relationships that have lost their meaning. As Dostoevsky put it, ‘Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.’ The real fear should be of the opposite course.” – Gail Sheehy

This is the weekend of the Mankind Project, and it is the initiation weekend. A Hero’s Journey, using Joseph Campbell’s words. Once upon a time, boys would go through an initiation process when stepping into adulthood, under the guidance of elders and with many male role models around. These days, the initiation processes are all but gone, perhaps with the exception of army and street gangs. When such rites of passage have disappeared, it left many men adrift and lost, never sure when and if they’ve become men. Specifically the initiation processes and ceremonies that focus on the correct masculine, the alignment of the head and the heart. So it is the initiation into the “correct masculine” (some call it divine, or sacred) – one that shows up authentically and with integrity in life, energized with passion and purpose, with an open and vulnerable heart. The unique thing here is that while, individually, such journeys of the “hero kind” could take a person a lifetime or more, here they are compressed into a weekend. Magic and solid intent are at play.

Why do these men – leaders and staff – come to assist and support and lead such weekends, which are increasingly happening all over the world?

One of the leaders gave an answer that still resonates with me. He said that he believes we are on the tipping point of that critical mass of men, and when Sunday comes and he looks in the shining eyes of each of the men who just completed the weekend experience, he wonders and hopes that he will see the one who will tip the scales.

I still remember my weekend last year, when I was the initiate. The weekend was over and I was finally back home, sharing my experience with my beloved. While we don’t really share the specifics (there is something to be said about keeping the mystery alive), I was trying to share some of my insights and experiences and they weren’t quite coming out. It can be challenging to articulate in words the deeper transformational moments. Eventually, Alison got tired of my vagueness, and asked me as to what was the biggest takeaway for me. I just stood up and embodied a moment from the weekend, when something deep and profound opened up for me, akin to a moment of completing the hero’s journey and stepping into the light from the darkness of a lifelong tunnel. “Ahh, there you are,” she said softly with tears in her eyes, “I have been waiting.”

“Measure your greatness by the length of your reach, but also by the gentleness of your touch. For now, the world needs hands that love, not hands that conquer. Let your hands be among them.” – Kent Nerburn

Some of the initiates were young, a few had grandchildren, and others were somewhere in-between. There were diverse accents and cultural backgrounds. Yet, by the end of the weekend, they all stood an inch taller, eyes brighter, softer, and gentler, and hearts wide open. A beautiful, magical, and deeply humbling experience of what can be created over a weekend. My heart too is open and vibrating today. For me, for my fellow brothers who co-created this experience, the men who were initiated, and for all those who are still to come.