In a previous blog post I mentioned trying numerous avenues to address my foreboding psychological issues. What I’m about to share now is explicit details of my interaction with The Mankind Project, which I have yet to share with a single soul due to their insistence of confidentiality. Now that I’ve seen the details I was called on to keep secret at http://www.mombu.com/medicine/heart/t-mankind-project-new-warrior-training-weekend-1-down-heart-job-fat-2429345.html, I feel free to express my own experience which many may find interesting, and which is quite a relief to reveal.
I first learned about The Mankind Project through a podcast that features interviews on topics pertinent to men, and mostly on issues of personal development and spirituality. One episode featured a leader from The Mankind Project speaking about the organization and its flagship event, The New Warrior Training Adventure. I was literally brought to tears as I heard him relate to an experience of becoming alive in his masculinity and being accepted into a brotherhood of men. It sounded like a tribal experience, which is most likely why I reacted so emotionally, as I’ve visited Papua New Guinea and experienced tribal life firsthand. He did not go into detail about the experience, only to the point of dispelling certain myths. I immediately got into contact with him and local contacts within the organisation, and eventually signed up for the NWTA weekend. I heard that it was going to be an intense experience, but I was not prepared for what was to come.
I was given the option to carpool with another attendee, so was picked up by this complete stranger. We were both rather nervous and chatted right up to the venue. Unfortunately, we were running a little late. We were met by a stern fellow who gruffly remarked, “You’re late, take a piss over there if you need to a get going.” We were shocked and wondered aloud if this was a taste of what was to come.
Attendees were then marched around like criminals, with possessions searched and removed. I stressed my need to have my insulin available as I am a diabetic, and they relented. I was then hoarded into a room and made to sit for what seemed like an hour in silence, while an angry man watched each attendee. We were then hoarded into another hall, where a spectacle was made over a mistake one of the leaders had made in regards to an attendee’s registration.
Looking around, you could see the Native American influence, ranging from the drumming, animal names being used for one another, and various activities – if you have seen any portrayal of American Indian culture in the movies, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I didn’t find any of these activities inspiring at all, but I was assured that the best was yet to come.
None of us had eaten dinner yet, and we were looking forward to some seriously good food, especially since we had paid $950 for the weekend and were asked to bring along a meal to share with the group. When we eventually found what was on offer, each attendee expressed disgust, though maybe not as much as I – for this was where the deprivation began. A large pot of bland porridge and platters of fruit were all we had access to. I was newly diagnose with Type 1 diabetes at the time, having only a limited understanding of my condition, but knowing that this would not be sufficient to ensure my wellbeing. I expressed my disgust with fellow attendees and moved on.
After moving through more activities we played a game in the cool night air that must have stretched well past midnight, we wouldn’t know as all time devices were confiscated. Then we hit the very uncomfortable cabins which provided no shelter from the cold night air, and where sleep was minimal for most. I stressed my requirement for my insulin, which the begrudgingly made available.
In the morning we were forcefully awoken and told we must take a cold shower while other attendees timed us for 60 seconds. I steadfastly refused, with most other attendees going along with it. I was tired, hungry, and bitter. The scent of a lovely cooked breakfast wafted down to the cabins, while we were marched again for the pitiful porridge and fruit.
The tone of the leaders became softer in the morning, as we were led through a variety of other activities, such as discovering your purpose and meditation. I found concentration to be at a minimum which I suspect was due to blood sugar abnormality. My ill feeling got worse and worse until finally I cracked later in the morning, calling to the leaders and letting them know that I was unhappy and wanted to leave. They tried to accommodate me but what was on offer only really escalated the problem – peanut butter on white bread. You see, I’ve adapted to the necessity of catering specifically for my needs for such a long time that I couldn’t cope with being completely dependent on others, so I just did not know what to do. Once I explicitly decided to leave, they made arrangements for me to be taken back home. This was no simple activity as the campsite was around 45 minutes away from town.
Unlike the author of the post I referred to earlier, I have no intention here of disparaging the Mankind Project organization. All the leaders I met had the best of intentions, and the testimonials I’ve read and heard seem to suggest that the organization has made a tremendous impact on the lives of many men. My greatest concern is that in large group seminars and retreats a one-size-fits-all mentality pervades, overlooking the intricacies of individual experience. There is also the import of indigenous cultural practices that don’t quite translate well into a western setting, looking more like the games we played as children. My experience was a failure because I had specific genetic and biological issues that could not be adequately addressed by the leadership of the event.
Given all this, I can’t recommend the event or the organization. I now believe the underlying philosophy, as can be extracted from their website, is misguided. While I acknowledge the distinctiveness of gender roles and the widening isolation for men in our culture, their philosophy is another example of black-and-white thinking, placing too much emphasis on how men should be, rather than allowing the free and distinct expression of individual action.