Undercover at the ManKind Project

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I’m not one for reposting articles about masculinity, largely because it’s rare to find one worth reposting. However, a recent article in the Daily Mail (!) by Tom Mitchelson is an exception, My (very) weird weekend with the naked woodland warriors who travel to remote England to ‘reclaim their masculinity’. Mitchelson goes undercover at the Mankind Project, on one of their Warrior Training Weekends, the like of which I’ve critiqued in the past. Now you could be forgiven for not taking an article seriously by a young author photographed like this:

However, some of the highlights from the article include the following quotes:

  • It’s all rather bizarre, as they begin a strange game where I am asked to walk up to a man who stares at me, with black camouflage paint on his face. The process is repeated again, and again.
  • They seem to have a paranoid fear of anything getting out. This, I suppose, should have set even more alarm bells ringing.
  • I seem to have wondered into a Marx Brothers film, but without the laughs.
  • He tells us how to be a man. It’s hard to take from a man wearing face paint, carrying a feathered stick.
  • We are asked to describe how we fail to stand up to women. ‘They’re always getting at you to put the seat down on the loo,’ one of the staff men explains by way of example.
  • Some of the staff are very skilled at reading visual signs of hidden emotion. At times, three inquisitors demand the answers to questions that eventually leave a man weeping and apparently broken.
  • If these staff men have any professional training, I am unaware of it.
  • They talk of regressing me. I don’t know if these amateur psychiatrists could achieve that or not, but they opt for getting me to wrench the guilt from my stomach by wrestling a rope up through my legs being held by four men.
  • The cult-like intensity with which some of my fellow warriors converted to the brotherhood astonished me.
  • This was an organisation that aimed to tell me how to be a man. Yet not once during that weird and frightening weekend did I ever hear it acknowledged that we men share a world. With women.

Mitchelson’s tragicomic tone in this article is an insightful reflection of this type of men’s movement.

92 thoughts on “Undercover at the ManKind Project

  1. you know joseph…tom mitchelson’s article made me giggle…for sure…but really left me feeling a wee bit saddened that this kind of mens movement what i call the “mythopoetic-military”…still persists.

    maybe it is in the final death throws of a patriarchal stronghold ?..and will naturally disintegrate or vaporise? ironically it’s (patriarchy) apparently still not seen as more castrating (disempowering?) to men than it is oppressive of women.

    i recently had a personal conflict about a group i co-facilitated with a “mankind man” a staff-holder me thinks. he seemed affronted when i questioned his “facilitating” style (the “carpet” scenario). in my humble (demanding?) female opinion he certainly had not banished his fear of engulfment or rage against this feminine… sigh.

    yes, he is out here, running “therapy groups” with his “mankind” stand-over tactics….interestingly (or at least?) he directs this style, more to male group members and not so much the women…?

    thanks for the wee debrief…i am uncovering quite a bit of dysfunction in my own community…around expressing rage and anger and specifically passive-aggressive tactics within a lot of relationship conflicts.

    1. “maybe it is in the final death throws of a patriarchal stronghold ?..and will naturally disintegrate or vaporise?”

      I don’t know: this week I’m feeling particularly tired with the ease at which nonsense is accepted and sense resisted. Indeed, the more nonsensical something is, the more it is accepted. Either the world is delusional, or I am: I can only take comfort in the idea that a madman does not question his own sanity.

      It is clear, though, that the people do not want a critique: they want a manifesto. It shall put my mind to it.

      1. “I’m feeling particularly tired with the ease at which nonsense is accepted and sense resisted. ”

        Joseph, I’m particularly angry, troubled and very saddened. I showed this article to several friends of mine, and all of them expressed shock/horror and fear for the men involved. All of the except one who felt that this was ‘harmless fun’. When I pointed out just four of the dangers of this, my friend trotted out the ‘boys will be boys’ argument and started to cite evolutionary reasoning behind this. That’s when I got angry. really angry and, sadly, haven’t spoken to that friend since.

        I assuage my anger, and probably to deal with some latent guilt at past complictiy in the ‘patricarchal dividend’ I went and ordered myself a tshirt with the word ‘feminist’ emblazoned across the chest. I dunno. Sometimes our work seems hopelessly negated by populist shyte.

        1. Try not to get too bogged down in the latent guilt: it’s necessary to own the complicity, but not to be owned by it.

          I think my task for 2010 is to present sound thinking in the form of populist shyte.

  2. I must say I’m surprised you found this worth reposting! A faux-naïf bit of sensationalism: entertaining, and certainly MKP should be analysed and criticised (and the points he makes have been made better, elsewhere), but I can’t help but doubt that a shock-journo on a right wing rag is capable of delivering any value on this topic.

    Of course, anything queer-related is usually treated with absolute contempt by the Daily Mail also. Even your posted highlight, that a man wearing facepaint and carrying a feathered stick is not capable of saying what it means to be man, seems totally hetero-normative and anti-queer (what’s wrong with facepaint and feathers?!)

    Having said all that, another article on male spirituality in the Daily Mail is a little more worthwhile: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1244818/My-husband-turned-tree-hugger–killed-marriage.html written from a wife’s perspective. The group the husband joined isn’t named, but it seems likely to be MKP. Some of the comments are revealing too.

    1. My point with the face paint was asking about the value of an article clearly playing in the photos for laughs, not a comment about his masculinity.

      Certainly, there’s nothing new in the article, but I think it is all the more potent for being in the Daily Mail (I’d love to get into their readers). The presence of the second article you mention is interesting: two articles so far this year on the same subject. I found the “treehugger” slur the most annoying things about it.

  3. yes it is annoying! Treehugger is firmly within the lexicon of the Daily Hell… along with black lesbian disabled saxophone players.
    Yes, see if you can get a column 🙂

  4. What I’m noticing about MKP is that in their materials (don’t ask how they got into my home! Yikes) they talk about the anachronistic gender ideology of the past but seek to combat said ideology with more! It’s really very silly. Also, they claim that it’s not religious but continually reference “the sacred masculine” and where might it come from? Arise from? I’m also annoyed when they claim that it comes out of feminism. It comes out of a pretty old form of feminism. I mean, most feminists today are fairly well versed about gender and the limitations of the category “woman” and the dangers of the sorts of essentialisms and universalism that MKP advocates. They should say, our club arises out of a fairly old form of feminism that has been deeply revised from within. Anachronisms indeed.

    1. Good points.

      Yes, a particular spin on feminism is often employed by various men’s movement types. Carol Gilligan’s work gets a particularly hard time in this regard. I think third wave feminism is also ripe for appropriation from the same quarters, but they don’t seem sufficiently well read to have noticed!

  5. >whew<, what a relief! I've been looking literally for 6 weeks for some kind of rational, mature discussion of MKP. Everything out there is either all-pro (and all-male) or extremely and violently anti-MKP, to the exclusion of any discussion at all.

    Married to a man participating, and very much struggling with his participation but still trying to have a respectful conversation with him, it's SUCH a relief to find this place.

    So shocked I don't even know where to start my comments…

    1. Hello: thanks for your comments. You say “everything out there is either all-pro (and all-male) or extremely and violently anti-MKP, to the exclusion of any discussion at all”: yes, unfortunately this seems to be true for pretty much anything to do with men and masculinity. Sensible discussion is a rare thing. I think this is why MKP remains popular: if you’re a man searching for answers, it’s often the best of a bad bunch. I have yet to identify a “movement” that gets it right by my standards, which of course only leaves building one: not easy!

      1. Not easy indeed Joseph,

        But criticising them is. The luxury of being a critic is you only have to compare your scant knowledge of things against some untested utopian ideal in your head – you never have to grapple with the realities of human beings. Your standards are mere imaginings, ones that you’ve never had the courage to test or try to create.

        I’ve wandered my way through the men’s movement for over 20 years, and found much to applaud and much that appalled me. What I’ve always found though is a sincere desire to grow, to love, to learn and to engage in life. They certainly don’t always get it right, but at least they try, which is more than I can say for you. What contribution are you making to the world with this narcissistic self congratulating blog? how is anyone happier or healthier by listening to you shooting down those who actually do something with your aspersions and inferences.

        You really are a lazy man’s hero. You create nothing yet you feel qualified to judge those who do. DO it better, then you have the right to criticise. Of course, that would leave you open to criticism wouldn’t it – that would leave you at risk of not getting it right, or being misquoted and misinterpreted. Tell me Joseph, are you a man with the courage to put his money where his mouth is?

        1. Hello Adam

          Looking at the email address you provided to the blog’s comment form, I see you are someone who works with “shadow work”. I always find it rather ironic that people who do shadow work cast such a very long shadow themselves, and then chuckle that this is exactly the type of empty snipe that people who do shadow work make!

          I’m sorry I disappoint you so much. But I don’t agree that I “create nothing”. I create discussion via my own work and a venue for the development of my subject with the establishment of Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality.

          I am as qualified as the next person to offer judgement on whatever I see in the world, so I do. Should we all remain silent unless some authority states we are “qualified”? I think not. I certainly don’t doubt your qualifications to critique me, even if the content is rather shallow.

          I attempt to “DO it better” all the time. I don’t live in a bubble, you know. This blog is just one venue; I’ve even been known to leave the house and go to work, and interact with my family during the bits in between. Does this “qualify” me to criticize? What would, by your lofty standards, I wonder? Why do you object to criticism so much? It seems to me the first step towards building better alternatives, which I think we can all agree on, even if the path to this end remains open to debate.

  6. sigh…after reading the above linked article (to daily mail).
    not because of the womans story so much…(she did seem a tad repressed and cynical about husbands attempts at “reclaiming” himself)…but because mkp is still going strong and so popular. yes very cultish but more disturbingly not showing signs of maturing nor exposing its own “shadow”. and yet me thinks..these cults only thrive when there is still a great gaping hole in people’s sense of connectedness and a meaningful life. instead of bagging these movements or the men trying to get connected…maybe focus on our own struggling maturity or mind-numbing consumerism, cynicism and separation…. from ourselves..? balanced discussion is good i agree, and also think this blog is a godsend…but today i just wanna trust that all is right in the world…and show others the lurv inside. acceptance and luuuurv…yeah man….woman.

  7. I had participated in MKP and rarely find insightful criticism. There is much to criticize about the organization, such as is the psychological processes safe and authentic. My answer is that it is often not safe men can be harmed from a sharp psychological regression and a manipulated one. I also think men feel an enormous amount of pressure to conform to the group or create a spontaneous “cure”. The author was shocked by how quickly men conformed. Well this is one of the great vulnerabilties of people today. Jung wrote a great deal about individuation. And dispite MKP referencing Jung and many other psychologists the true concept of individuation escapes this organization. Because they provide a cookie cutter pop psychological template and apply it to everyone. They disregard what in psychology is called “negative transferance” – this is when a person surrenders there core self to a therapist, teacher, guru etc. And that other person uses and exploits that transferance. Consequently many MKP men are exploited or surrender their better judgement to “the group” and then they end up exploiting others in the belief they are profoundly helping them. The idea of a group of men coming together to develop emotionally or recover from past traumas has some legitimacy, even the odd practices like blindfolds, rituals and drumming don’t bother me. What bothers me is MKP has a dogma that often prevents men from growing and maturing. The dogma dismises the differences in others and frames all experiences with a fairly outdated theoretical frames that is a bastardization of their origins (Jung, Freud, Bion, Pearls etc.) I strongly feel that each one of these psychoanalysts would strongly criticize MKP. Jung wrote extensively about mass conciousness and inflated grandiocity and warned people about these issues – unfortunately the literacy level in thus organization is rather low and they are doomed to repeat the same errors over and over and over again.

    1. Thanks for these thoughtful comments Matt.

      “unfortunately the literacy level in this organization is rather low and they are doomed to repeat the same errors over and over and over again”: this statement holds true for nearly all strands of men’s movement, more’s the pity.

    2. Thank you. Best and most helpful comment I have read on this organization yet. And thanks to Joseph for providing the material and opportunity for discussion.

  8. Thank you, I am reading more of your blogs and like a lot of what you write. I don’t however believe that archetypal thinking is a fruitless endevour. I tend to think of archetypes more in Deleuzian manner now because most Jungian inspired writers overly essentialize archetypes (ie. Robert Moore) while I feel that exploring this ideas is more helpful when it opens out rather than closes down. An archetype can be a useful shorthand to pin point individual and cultural behavior patterns. But what I found in MKP especially and much post-Jungian theory is the need to create a static concrete “universal” idea that is unchanging. But Jung himself had written extensively on how archetypes morph and change. Much closer to Deleuze’s rhysome concept (which Jung uses as well and Deleuze likely borrowed). MKP is in my opinion relatively benign, right now, but can easily morph into a dangerous form of facism. And this is what truly concerns me about this practice and way of thinking.

    1. Interesting. I can see the value of thinking archetypally outside of the essentialized view: that which opens out rather than closes down. However, I wonder if in practice the word is so bound in the popular imagination with the essentialized view that it might be easier to use a different terminology? Saves all that effort of having to unpack decades of mis-reading Jung? Just thinking out loud.

      I’ve been thinking this recently in general with the men’s rights vs feminism debate that’s been stuck in a rut for years: instead of trying to “convince” MRAs of the lessons of feminism (and also acknowledging some of its shortcomings), perhaps it’s easier to re-language the lessons of feminism (and queer theory): not easy, but it has the potential to move things forward in a way which has so far been elusive.

  9. Perhaps, however I am reminded of Focault and how refused to identify as a post-structuralist, and continued to define his work as “an extension of structuralism”. The point being that Jung or Louis Von Franz even though I read their writings perhaps more openly than many can benefit from a post-structural analysis, not to “refute” their claims as many post-structural writers do but to “uncover their limits” (Foucault). The problem with the “use” is it is fairly common for people to talk about “transcendence” or “universality” with out knowing the Kantian underpinning that these are things “beyond thought”, which already lends itself to becoming a problematic abstraction.

    Both feminism and Queer theory (and I am not so versed in them) seem to have attempted more recently to create theories that open out. “woman – is a process of becoming” – Kristeva or the idea of “Queer” as being a broad inclusive term that includes gender and sexual orientations that transgress the normative.

    That said the Men’s movement with few exceptions is very critical of deconstruction and post-modernism, including Bly.

    But there are some exceptions Alan B. Chinen and Lewis Hyde have great books about the “trickster” archetype. A concept Robert Moore does not understand at all. A trickster being an archetype that transgresses normative boundaries.

    The problem to some extent lies in the very historical function of initition is to have young men conform to a social group. This function is largely ignored by the mythopoetic writers. So the mythpoetic men’s movement in my opinion is more about conformity than actual individuation -which as Jung stated “is a continual act of becoming”.

  10. You can sum it up perhaps by using an old Greek saying, “panton metron anthropos” “man is the measure of everything”. Perhaps the resistance in the men’s movement is it Unconciously produces theories that wish to be the Measure rather than the transgression. So in all of MKP’s “good intentions” of wanting to produce a very diverse Men’s organization it immediately defeats that mission by sticking to dogmas that can never be inclusive, that refuse to acknowledge their cultural, class, and gender bias. In this case, MKP, different cultures, religions, sexual orientations etc. Do not fit so well in their “universal” mold. So Christian men often reject it, Blacks often reject it, and the poor often reject it because they are surrounded by a lot of priveleged middle class men, telling them best way to live theirs lives – by their measure.

  11. I just read your excerpt, and must say that this is a book I have been looking for. Meaning when I entered into MKP I was hopeful of the organisation because it seem to accept both gay and straight men (me identifying as bisexual and in a heterosexual relationship) as well as embracing Jung’s ideas (or so I thought) It was suggested that I read David Dieda but I found the book so offensive and unhelpful. But many men felt it was their guide (many ended up having failed marriages). What appealed to me about the warriors was it’s attempt to create what I interpreted after a lot of emotional release was “the numenous” but then I also found that MKP wanted to codify that as well – and give me it’s meaning. Which of course as an artist and a playwright I found invasive, especially in an emotionally vulnerable state. Perhaps the biggest issue I have is that this codifying of the spiritual experience is for me the ultimate sin commited on the individuation process. Because instead of men becoming grounded by a deeply personal spiritual or soulful experience and sharing it and entering into a discourse about it, they are constantly told what that experience is and should be. For me personally a deeply rooted numenous experience is what makes individuality possible because through it one no longer relies on the authority of another man or woman but can draw from that experience in their own personal way. I am not sure but perhaps this is what you mean about “queering” spirituality. But there was/is way to much homophobia in MKP for men to embrace that idea. I look forward to reading your book. Thank you, Matthew.

    1. Yes, I think a lot of men are genuinely looking for something and end up in those places simply because there is nothing better on offer. From my research to date, there is no useful strand of men’s movement along the lines that you’re talking about; there is no community. That said, I’m convinced there are plenty of men (and women) out there who would love to see such a community; the only answer is to build one!

  12. Yes I agree. I have talked to my therapist (who is now more a friend/mentor now rather than therapist) extensively about this. Although I think there is great value in men learning and growing from other men, I question much of the literature. One point a fact is the men’s movement continually asserts that male initiation was in every primitive and ancient culture. Joseph Campbell points out two cultures that this is not the case, where young men and women are initiated together to learn about surviving in the harsh environment (Patagonia) and child rearing. Yes these are exceptions, but if then gender initiation is not so “universal” we should ask if it is the essential thing for “western” culture. Instead maybe we should ask what will help people gain a personally grounding spiritual experience, how can it be facilitated? I gave found several areas though. In my own circle of artist friends we create and share divorced from the stupidity of the “art world” which more interested in fame and money than in spirituality, many friends of mine have found it in 12 step and support groups (but I found this problematic as well though admirable often) but also in the tradition of psychotherapy. One can critique the short comings of Jung or Freud, rollo May or Carl Rogers but one thing about the psychanalytic tradition is that it is about (In all cases listed) making the unconcious conciousness, and the sublimation of our depth experiencesWhich for me is an important grounding that many New age movements have forgotten about. I work creating plays with children and adults on serious themes, creating an atmosphere of respect for all involved as I facilitate the process. The modern idea of the artist, pastor, and psychologist is caught in “authority” could the post-modern idea of artist be a “facilitator”. Last I think men perhaps do need their own group at times, perhaps not so much of some essentislized universality but simply because we share similar struggles and issues, but can we cut the crap out of it?

    1. “but can we cut the crap out of it?” Ha, the crux of the matter! People love the security of crap; crap sells (as the subject of Žižek popped up here recently, let’s maintain the centrality of the scatological, if not the eschatological…). Unfortunately, it is a far more subversive and difficult suggestion than it sounds: there appears to be a direct correlation between genuinely cutting the crap and losing readers (in the other direction, one can secure plenty of readers with rampant nonsense: I’ve had my experience of this, too). There are those who believe they can strategically align themselves with crap in order to more widely communicate their core non-crap message: but never underestimate the ability of crap to co-opt even the most extraordinary of individuals.

  13. Hello again, I have been reading much of your site and journal and excerpts of your book. I think all provide a much needed deconstruction of the men’s movement as very little quality critique is out there. People are either totally for or totally against it. I however don’t understand how you experience or practice your own spirtuality. Could you please provide me with some insight to this? Thanks, Matthew

    1. I’d love to be able to provide a simple answer for this, but I don’t have one. I still have a “spiritual worldview,” but as each year passes, I become more unsure as to what this actually means. It doesn’t help that all my work revolves around people who misuse the spiritual in various and nefarious projects (gender, capitalism etc).

      Here in Australia, I’ve seen Aborigines clear a space of debris with a leafy branch before dancing and telling stories on it. I think that’s what my spiritual journey is about for the time being: clearing our thinking space of debris before dancing and telling stories on it.

  14. Less well-versed in Jung, Foucault, Bly, etc., but after the last few months VERY well-versed in MKP, a few observations:

    @Matt, I would futher argue (to your point that, “The problem to some extent lies in the very historical function of initiation is to have young men conform to a social group.”), the problem is not just the conformity, but the YOUNG. MKP ignores the fact that most of their initiates are actually much older (sometimes mid-life, with all that entails) and are married and have children. To pretend these relationships don’t exist is, IMO, a recipe for trouble. Yet MKP barely nods at them.

    @Joseph, MKP should be very well aware of the lessons of feminism and its shortcomings, as that’s exactly where one of the three founders came from. Astonishing to watch them (him–Bill Kauth) apparently forget that entirely. (See the history of MKP, obviously written by a supporter so biased: http://mankindproject.org/mankind-project-history)

    Finally, a personal observation based on pouncing on whatever other MKP-partners I could get my hands on: often the people who shrug and say, “I’m just soooo happy since he’s been going.” (eye roll) have relationships struggling mightily with communication. So the guy heads off, has his weekend, comes home and immediately cries, talks, whatever. So partners who’ve been struggling with communication with these men are just happy. For those of us who already have good, open communication, it closes that down. Personally I’m shocked that MKP hasn’t wised up to this and provided a forum for MKP partners to connect and support one another, but just another example of their self-absorption. However I suppose I’m glad they haven’t as I believe it would make them more successful, and a recent internal email invited daughters in the Windsor/Detroit MKPs to participate in a weekend with their fathers. Mothers excluded, of course. Seems as long as you don’t menstruate, everyone is welcome.

    1. Good observations. I continue to believe that the main reason groups like MKP and Promise Keepers flourish is because there is no obvious alternative when men want to explore what it means to be a self-aware person within the context of whatever passes for manhood: good intentions get funneled off into dubious ends. All the deconstruction and critiquing is fine, and provides good talking for those already in the know, but the best way forward is probably to construct the better alternative (easier said than done). I’m reasonably sure this alternative is not a “men’s movement,” but a “people’s movement” or a “thinking movement” that provides the space to navigate the problematic nature of normative masculinity (and femininity), resulting in a situation in which everyone is a winner by simply being allowed to fully participate.

  15. It makes me cringe to see MKP and Promise Keepers used in a sentence together as if they are synonymous. I have read a lot of criticism of MKP and can’t help but wonder if this is coming from a place of ignorance, bias, or bad experience.

    It is important to be critical of any organization that promises to deliver what MKP offers and as someone who has participated in MKP in the past, there is much I am critical of. These criticisms are not, however, the same that I have read here. I can only speak of my experience (unlike many who have posted with none at all), but mine was a positive experience that did not come off as cultist, nor did it encourage an essentialist view of masculinity, encourage a hegemonic masculinity, or insist on a single minded generalization of men. Quite the contrary. I found it to be a progressive, pro-feminist organization that was concerned with addressing the “wounds” men have a result of cultural hegemony. In other words, patriarical hegemony hurts men and women. Our cultural concept of masculinity is a paradox that is impossible to attain. The outcome with the greatest negative consequence is the notion that men are islands or self reliance and stoicism. Maintaining such a facade is killing us (literally and figuratively). MKP addresses this fallacy and encourages connection, finding one’s voice, and becoming men of integrity. It isn’t about the weekend or even the ritual. It is about what happens after the weekend.

    There is a lot to the “men’s movement” that is highly suspect, anti-feminist, and backward thinking, but I do not judge MKP to be among these and see it as a bright spot in the advancement of egalitarian gender roles

    1. Thanks Sean. Well, it’s nice to see that someone finds MKP useful, even if that does not appear to be the experience of many. We need to be careful not to project too far in either direction, of course.

      As an aside, it is not necessary to have experience on the ground of MKP in order to offer a critique: MKP presents itself to the world via its literature, and an analysis of this alone is legitimate, albeit partial (which is the case for most analyses).

      1. You’re kidding aren’t you.

        You imply that a food critic can give an account of something he’s never tasted, by reading the menu? You rally mean that you are doing all of this without having gone and had the experience.

        Brother, you’re not just a lazy man’s hero, you’re a coward. How easy it must be for you up there in your head throwing around other peoples theories as if they had something to do with reality. Really, Joseph – put your money where your mouth is. Stop threatening to do it better and have a go. Right now you’re starting to look like a bit of a joke to me.

        1. If you want to deny the value of analysing the texts used by an organisation to present itself to the world, that’s your business. But in doing so like this you either reveal yourself as knowing little about academic study, or someone who simply calls people names on a blog (and a “narcissistic self congratulating” blog at that). Next, you’ll be telling me to step up and be a “real man” or “grow some balls”! Adam, I can tell from the energy you’re exhibiting here that you have more to offer than that. I’m sure the people on this thread who have expressed concerns about MKP would be interested to hear about your positive experiences with the men’s movement; I certainly would.

    2. Hi Sean, I am not one to say MKP is “all bad” but I remain critical of MKP on both philosophical and practical grounds. MKP over-universalizes in an ignorant way which often erases individual differences and perspectives dispite their intention to be inclusive. Their approach to what could be called “narcissitic injury” (ie. emotional wounds) often ignores certain dangers of negative counter-transference (facilitators projecting onto the facilitated), their work is rushed demanding immediate healing ignoring what Freud called sublimation and Jung called “the transcendent function” which is really about creating an individuated internal structure that can cope and contain with strong emotional affect, they have refused to participate in a greater critical discussion and tend to deny that any harm has been done to even some men and make any critical discussion of their work mute. They have some cult-like tendencies toward ideological totalism in that the groups will adopt cliches and platitudes when dealing with very complex psychological issues. They ignore the nature of individuation that it requires more independent work than group work. They ignore the possibility that certain men who are retraumatized by their approach have and may have trouble integrating back into their day to day life and family. They provide little support for men who do regress in negative ways. They ignore the possibility that some men may have severe psychological disabilities and the work they prescribe may not be good for them. They give cookie cutter answers in the form of psychdrama. They have pressured men to participate in psychodrama. They have rejected some men who refused to participate cutting them off from their desire for community. They more often than not exclude other perspectives that don’t fit or contradict their world view, while assuming that their world view is “Universal”. And last on a psychological level I strongly believe that this is not depth psychology, it is really men creating a new persona that confesses it’s “sins” or “shadows” rather than deeper integration. Yes there were positive things in MKP but I now feel very strongly that we can move beyond this model. But part of the reason MKP changes so slowly is it has quickly turned into a religion of sorts. Where certain things like their weekend can not be questioned because it is “sacred” and certain dogmas can not be challenged because they challenge too much. My own perspective is obviously from a depth psychological model but I would never assume that all men and women should adopt my bias and world view but MKP does.

      1. Thanks for this thoughtful reply, Matthew: lots of good points there.

        Interestingly, one of the better sympathetic accounts of the mythopoetic men’s movement (of which MKP is a part) by Michael Schwalbe describes it as having a “religious attitude”. From my spiritually-investigative perspective, this has resulted in the worst of all worlds: on the one hand the religious attitude results in the kind of “sacred” attitudes and dogmas you correctly refer to, and on the other their mistaking of shallow psychological practices for “spirituality” (and the framing of more genuine articulations of spirituality as rather feminine), paradoxically closes off any useful religious/spiritual dimension within the movement.

    3. P.S. I like running around in the nude, love the wilderness, talking about my problems, value grieving, beating on drums just as much as MKP men. It is the the paradoxical dogmas and conformity that I have a problem with.

        1. Reading over this thread of comments i get the sense that this issue is an old “Western European” problem. That is the problem with the Enlightenment vs. Romanticism or I would even dare to say the problems that arose with the didactic Protestantism vs. Experiential Catholicism. I have the desire like others for the spiritual and soulful and also the desire to be critical and rational. MKP directed itself towards the Romantic but with out the critical knowledge of the darker side of Romanticism grandiocity, even megalomania.

          1. Run with it: maybe there’s an article to be had in there that would find a sympathetic hearing at Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality.

            FWIW, in Numen, Old Men I show how there is a surprisingly large Catholic heritage to the mythopoetic men’s movement.

            1. Thanks, I will consider writing that this winter. The influence of Romanticism is obvious but complex but also contradictory Rousseau’s noble savage, the grandiose individual and yet the idealisation of the Volk, the value of feeling over thinking. Robert Bly criticized the Enlightenment as “the endarkenment” but oddly does not criticize Romanticism and it’s darkside such as Napoleon, fetishizing the “primitive” (another form of Racism), Hitler, and mass movements. Once again Romanticism is not “all bad” and I tend to be often Romantic but it is important to know the darkside especially in this context of a mass movement that does not value critical thought.

  16. @Matthew – some very good points to consider and many of which I agree. My concern with many of your comments is the absoluteness with which it is stated.

    “They have some cult-like tendencies toward ideological totalism in that the groups will adopt cliches and platitudes when dealing with very complex psychological issues. They ignore the nature of individuation that it requires more independent work than group work. They ignore the possibility that certain men who are retraumatized by their approach have and may have trouble integrating back into their day to day life and family……They more often than not exclude other perspectives that don’t fit or contradict their world view, while assuming that their world view is “Universal”. And last on a psychological level I strongly believe that this is not depth psychology, it is really men creating a new persona that confesses it’s “sins” or “shadows” rather than deeper integration. Yes there were positive things in MKP but I now feel very strongly that we can move beyond this model. But part of the reason MKP changes so slowly is it has quickly turned into a religion of sorts. Where certain things like their weekend can not be questioned because it is “sacred” and certain dogmas can not be challenged because they challenge too much. …etc.”

    This was not my experience at all nor what I have gathered from other MKP men. Don’t get me wrong. I am not an MKP apologist, but the certainty from which you speak does not jib with my understanding or experience.

    There are certainly foundations from which MKP operates. I was involved in some of the facilitation and training myself. The question of psychological injury as a result of the processes was always an area of concern and attention. A lot of care was taken to avoid creating more problems than causing.

    Most importantly, however, is that the MKP organization and intention is not to be a quick fix over a weekend. The weekend is simply the primer. The real work happens in the groups that occur after the weekend. They are not therapy sessions.

    They don’t pretend to be a psychological nor a religious organization. The religious fervor you allude to is, in my experience, a false judgment based. I personally have a strong aversion to religious institutions and dogma. The ritual and sacred elements of the MKP project are less about religion and more about creating a safe place from which to be open. The archetypes and ritual that are used in MKP are less about creating a sacred place and more about proving a language from which to express that which men have found mostly impossible to express. It is about creating a framework from which to operate.

    There is a lot to be critical of in MKP. They are not exempt from the political infighting and bouts of ego based decision making. But most of what I have gathered from your criticism seems based more on speculation and defensiveness. I know there are many in the psychology field that are critical of it. That is fair. There is a lot of heavy stuff that men bring to these groups. MKP recognizes the risks associated with swimming in these psychological waters. But it obviously fills a need for men that can not be dismissed.

    I do not doubt that there are bad experiences, examples of poor facilitation, and the like. But my experience did not fit the picture you painted above.

    Like it or not, MKP and groups like it fulfill needs that men have today. Patriarchy and hegemony are hurting men. Men have learned to deal with crisis in silence and that response no longer works. It is, in fact, killing us. We can debate the finer points of the social constructs and philosophical or psychological theory ad-nausea. But real action is needed and organizations like MKP are trying to fill that need. Criticism based on theoretical or conceptual disagreements is fine, but should be viewed based on the limits of academic perspective rather than first hand experience.

    1. Regarding the “limits of academic perspective”: this moves towards the distinction I always make with this material between intention and effect. I believe that most MKP (and men’s movement folks in general, whether Christian or secular) have good intentions. As you rightly say, there is a need for men to explore certain issues, and MKP provides a venue for this (whether or not this is problematic). The issue is whether the good intentions have good effects, and this is certainly open for debate. My view is that non-academic (and sympathetic—often participant observation—academic writing) privileges intentions over effects. Orthodox academic writing privileges effects over intentions (sometimes even silencing the voices of the men in question). My aim is to establish a middle ground (this usually means I’m too technical for men on the ground and too journalistic for academics!).

  17. Hi Sean, I may write a more personal account at somepoint.

    ” But most of what I have gathered from your criticism seems based more on speculation and defensiveness”

    for your information I participated in MKP for over 4 years and rarely missed a weekly meeting. I was in one igroup for a very long time and several others for shorter periods.

    There was abuse. And many in MKP acknowledge the problem. But the institution as a whole in my opinion does not. Recently a friend of mine, a liscenced therapist, attended an info meeting and was told “men are not retraumatized” this is just BS, many men have been and I was.

    Perhaps I will write a more detailed account, some of the accounts are really horrific. These things did not occur because men in MKP were malicious but because they were IGNORANT. I also know many others personally who experienced the same.

    I write here in an academic way because I feel it furthers the discourse. MKP when I was there was not as open to this discourse when I was there 8 years ago. Some of the problems still persist. And the main problem in my opinion is that depth psychology is used by men without knowing what they are doing and recklessly.

    I am glad I participated in MKP but my retraumatization was actually severe. If I were not as thoughtful about this I would dismiss it like many on the web have, as a cult. But I don’t believe that, I believe MKP needs to be open and to listen to articulate criticism and ask themselves “IS IT WORKING” and what are the effects positive and negative.

    I had a recent discussion with a therapist friend who is interested in possibly starting another men’s group, and to do so by learning from some of the failures of MKP.

  18. To empasize my main issue with MKP is men are allowed and encouraged to use depth psychological tools like GUTS after a 12 hour training. And then felt it was their “right” to use them. This is arrogant, reckless and the recipe for abuse. Not everyone is qualified to do so. And once again I do not believe this is some nefarious cult, but it has had many ill effects without good oversight.

  19. And as far as religious fervor, I never put it in those terms. BUT I do believe the “religious attitude” has created an atmosphere where bad effects were not questioned. For example when I was there this meant if you showed a negative emotional affect or had a negative opinion it meant YOU needed to do more “work”. This attitude killed a lot of critical discourse in MKP. As one MKP leader said to me when I challenged the “universal” model saying it has the potential of erasing both personal and cultural differences he responded, “We don’t need your deconstruction.” But the point was being made out of serious concern. Really my experience of criticizing MKP from within was that of being thwarted for the attempt. This does not make it a place for open and critical discourse even when the concerns are very serious. I have sent letters and emails and talked to a lot of leaders in MKP some acknowledged the problems others did not. But the atmosphere of the community itself was as if I was a heretic. In my last igroup when I simply set boundaries for myself and said I will not do GUTS work anymore I was told “You are not a warrior, and you really do not belong here.” They also told me “We are going to make you do the work, and we are going to do it out of love.”

    Yes there were better igroups than this bunch of idiots I am refering to. For the record I participated in a group where we aggreed that any work was strictly voluntary and pressuring and bullying was not permitted. If I did not move maybe I would still be involved. But over half of the igroups I participated in had serious problems, including ones lead by leaders in MKP. Eventually I concluded if over half of the groups have problems that I consider to be abusive attitudes then maybe thus is an institutional problem.

  20. Matthew, your observation that, “…if you showed a negative emotional affect or had a negative opinion it meant YOU needed to do more “work”. This attitude killed a lot of critical discourse in MKP.” is 100% on the dot exactly what I experienced. Even as a person trying to be supportive of a partner involved in MKP, any and all questioning of MKPs practices were absolutely, completely and entirely dodged. Even suggestions for specific ways MKP could improve were met with a stony-cold, “This is an opportunity for you to look at yourself and do some work.”

    This across-the-board unwillingness on MKPs part to do any kind of self-examination and improvement is so astonishingly ironic it would have me rolling on the floor laughing if it didn’t have such serious implications for the people involved.

    1. Because of this attitude things change slowly there. But change does occur. In one instance where a leader was accussed of being financially exploitive it took many many complaints over years for enough men to stand up to have the person in question to be held accountable. And true to the “religious attitude” and built up frustration it then became an all out witch burning, where the leader was considered at first benevolent and then generalized as “vampiric”. When in my opinion is he was a therapist trying to make a buck and possibly help people but did not consider the ethical implications. This sort of black and white thinking comes from an irrational “religiocity”, MKP holds a very high ideological stance, today their slogan is “To help men grow, because the world needs grown up men.”

      The reason I write refering to philosophy is that many philosophers addressed the issues MKP attempts to “solve” in this case it is a “teleological” – the desire for a predetermined and specific outcome (maturity). But what is the meaning of maturity? And are we suppose to take some one elses word for the definition? And without a real discussion on what is maturity how can the work they prescribe accomplish a desired destination?

      In MKP when you ask questions like this or make intellectual statements the response is “YOUR IN YOUR HEAD” because the dogma is you should be in your feelings. Some cognitive distinctions are in order especially on the personal level.

      As far as a philosophical take on it Immanuel Kant and later Michel Foucault ask the same question in Kant’s essay “What is Enlightenment?” Their response one two hundred years old the other 30 years old is similar:

      If one hands over one’s own authority to an “authority” we are certainly not in a state of Enlightenment (maturity). I believe MKP’s intention is to help men become their own authority, unfortunately and ironically if you question the authority of certain practices too much it is dismissed, until something bad happens then you get the unsavory position of having “foresight”.

      The Scinto death may have been preventable with “foresight”. I criticized that some men were being retraumatized long before that and said that this retraumtization could result in a suicide or even homicide. I made this judgement after a man in my igroup threatened suicide and no one there knew what to do or how to intervene. “Foresight” is a burden when no one seems to listen.

      1. “I criticized that some men were being retraumatized long before that and said that this retraumtization could result in a suicide or even homicide. I made this judgement after a man in my igroup threatened suicide and no one there knew what to do or how to intervene. ”

        The suicide mention is a troubling one. Concerned about the extent of the secrecy thing, when my husband initially joined, I asked if confidentiality extended to men who were harming others or seemed like they might harm themselves or others in the future. His I-Group agreed that a member could report someone who had already done some harm (e.g. beating their wife), but not if it seemed like they might. Specifically they gave an example of a man who’d said he was feeling suicidal in group, and one member took it upon himself to put suicide prevention in place (telling his family and the authorities, etc). They felt that member had made a terrible mistake, because the suicidal man was upset his privacy was compromised and left the group. I found it horrifying that they put staying in I-Group ahead of NOT COMMITTING SUICIDE. The idea was that there had to be a quorum of some number of members that agreed something should be done, but no one could act on their own. (Furthering your point about handing over one’s own authority.)

        Of course, all I-Groups are different…

  21. I notice I find accounts of people who have left something behind more compelling than those speaking from within something. When this is eventually not the case, I think I will have arrived home.

  22. To further respond to your comment Sean and to Joseph’s. I really do wish I could participate in MKP, the organization did satisfy certain things such as community, a desire to experience numinosity, a place to bring issues and to grow. And I am sure that in my area there is probably an igroup that has either over come the issues I mentioned or wisely prohibited it. However at this point, it has become an ethical delimna and a decision: If I believe certain practices and trends in MKP have and continue to harm some men and if I believe MKP has inadequate oversight to prevent abuse and also refuses formal accountability on an institutional level then my involvement and support would be an act of collaboration and denial. Hense I left. I would never assume that any group like this or psychotherapy will be perfect, as far as action I know many men who are depressed and stuck I refer them to therapy and group therapy and certain support groups, but I no longer refer them to MKP. I think MKP would do themselves a big favor by actually posting on their site the negative things that occurred there, that would be at least a sign of coming out of denial, and being truly accountable – yes I know how PR works – you don’t advertise your failings. But for me shadow work is admitting to your human failings and in a rather deep, serious, and accountable way. Perhaps MKP should not be worried about bad Public Relations which is an institutional equivalent of Persona rather than depth. I believe if MKP is seen as having failed a lot of egos and identities are on the line, but so what. Isn’t the point of shadow work: “to look at what one denies and represses, all that is not ego-self-identification.” This is why I am writing these posts.

  23. thanks..i had time to read through cosmic connie blog..and left her a “comment”…basically saying i appreciate her efforts and blog..but…her self-labeled “snarkiness” showed through. best to leave men’s issues to you men. you doing a fine job of keeping the bastards honest.

    1. Hi saraphine, in grad school I talked to my adviser about my experience in the men’s movement and very openly said that she had similar experiences in the women’s movement in the 70’s. Namy at that time feminisms demand for a unified dogma and some tyranical leaders. She said since that time feminism opened up more in America. Perhaps what we are seeing is a lack of maturation in the men’s movement. Perhaps they have not learned from their mistakes like the woman’s movement has. It may be a worthy comparative study. One big difference between the men’s movement and the women’s movement for sure is feminism is in the curriculum of most liberal art universities while the men’s movement has shyed away from real critical discourse. I feel critical discourse may very well point out the absurdities and hopefully something else can emerge from the ashes.

  24. I’m not sure there are any “men’s issues” that don’t affect everyone else, and vice-versa. Certainly my husband’s issues affect me.

    Matthew’s point is a great one, and all the more profound considering that one of the MKP founders (Bill Kauth) came out of the feminist movement in the 80’s. You’d think he would have learned something…

  25. yes matthew…i agree…lack of maturation…i mentioned that earlier in this blog. in my gender studies daze (1990’s)…i was struck by the book “women respond to the men’s movement” (sorry forgotten author)…admittedly a wee bit reactionary but mainly saying the same thing…”all good intentions but maturation required here”…and as i have said before…it may be best to leave men to it (mens business) but we (women as mothers) have to cut the fucking apron strings too. it’s not just about expecting the “initiated men” to come and guide them through their separation pain ? LET GO mum..let them mature !…i know how hard i found this…sigh what a crazy world…is there “power in the actions of one”?

    1. I think that was the book edited by Kay Leigh Hagan. There was a good quote from Starhawk in it:

      “We dream of a world full of men who could be passionate lovers, grounded in their own bodies, capable of profound loves and deep sorrows, strong allies of women, sensitive nurturers, fearless defenders of people’s liberation, unbound by stifling conventions yet respectful of their own and others’ boundaries, serious without being humourless, stable without being dull, disciplined without being rigid, sweet without being spineless, proud without being insufferably egotistical, fierce without being violent, wild without being, well, assholes.” (pp. 27-8)

      I wouldn’t mind seeing a few women like that too…

  26. The Starhawk quote is what I believe MKP earnestly attempts. I am fortunate to have been able to find both male and female mentors to help accomplish some of that list. However many in the men’s movement have segregated themselves from women and believe that they can only learn it from men. For example I was a football player as a young man and had many male coaches but I really did not learn how to ground myself in my own body until I took a contemporary dance/movement class from a very wild 68 year old woman. Likewise I think I learned to be a sensitive nurturer from a male therapist. Even relationship issues I have learned a great deal from mature women and mature men who could help me see when a female partner was very selfish. On this last issue I think MKP provided very little insight because of their gender essentialism really blinds them. They believe all male female problems come from son-mother son-lover transference. In the relationship issue I alude to my partner acted more like my father than my mother. The point being the psyche is far more flexible than MKP or then men’s movement want to admit and real growth does not hang on a rigid formula of what gender is or should be.

    1. Good points. There are useful things to be learned from everyone: man, woman, young and old. My relatively recent realization is that even deeply flawed and even unpleasant people can reveal interesting aspects of the self.

  27. Come to think of it, in regards to the relationship issue above, in couples therapy my girlfriend’s transference issue was more about her mother than her father and had to do with our conflicting personality styles me being more introverted her more extroverted etc. In MKP it was “all about your mother” if you had a heterosexual relationship issue.

    1. Well, given that my mother reads this blog and has even recently taken to posting the occasional comment, I can only say that mothers are the source of nothing but wisdom and get a hard rap in therapeutic contexts everywhere 😉

  28. sigh..yep…it’s called good old fashioned misogyny. bloody mkp..entrenched in essentialist mythopoetics, misses the point…wild hairy men…devouring mothers, etc…are SYMBOLS…for the psyche to integrate…not to be taken LITERALLY. mmm….sounds like same problem with bible translatin…aaaagh…i give up…today.:-)

    1. Yes that is the real irony. I once had a discussion with a man who was involved in Christian Ex-gay therapy. Their mission was as stated “to eliminate their homosexuality”. He then went on to quote Bly and said, “I need to find the woman with golden hair not the man with the golden beard.” Bly tried to make it very clear that this was a metaphor, but I found it striking how much the men’s movement participants literalizes metaphor. I don’t think Jung or Jungianism is perfect theory but your point is stressed over and over in his theory. I think that this was one of the biggest shocks when I participated in MKP, that men were often taking metaphor literally. Which really goes to show that Jungian theory because of it’s use of cultural metaphor has limited functionality when applied for this very reason. And at the same time MKP denounces deconstructive strategies And critique (including Bly and Moore) as flat, horizontal and shallow. But as I mentioned their is also a certain degree of illiteracy and anti-intellectualism in MKP which discourages men from even investigating their own source material. So stupidity and lack of insight prevail and is called “enlightened.”

      1. Yes, I think the anti-intellectualism is a strategy simply not to have to deal with all the stuff that inevitably needs dealing with in these matters, allowing members to retreat into an easily-navigable space. The irony when all this is picked up in the integral movement (at least the Wilberian variety) is that members go on to convince themselves that they are exceptionally clever (even, with Wilber, rightly critiquing the mythopoetic worldview), but nevertheless perform the exact same retreat.

  29. I might add that there is also an irony in Bly’s dismissal of deconstructionisn. For it was Derrida who put fourth that texts “deconstruct themselves” and are open to all sorts of interpretation and misinterpretation no matter how intent one is to concretize meaning.

  30. SOL…sigh i love this blog…especially when my morale is low.(long story)…but to read intelligent, insightful perspectives on all things gendered….or fear-driven (?) obsession to “concretise” meaning. as if there is only one meaning to be derived from “self-deconstructing” texts….indeed ! 🙂 give me multiplicity please…with the occasional simplicity to smooth the way…(smooth..not as in concrete !)

  31. An indicator of the obvious concern (or popularity, depending on how you look at it) about this topic: around A THIRD of ALL search terms used to arrive at this blog in the past year have been variations on MKP.

    1. Surely this can’t be the last word!! Haha over a year since it started!

      I have most enjoyed this blog, and I have also attended the MKP weekend in AUST over a year ago. But no followup i-groups.

      Two thoughts permeated my mind following the weekend:
      1. Why isn’t every teenage male/female given the opportunity to go through some sort of initiation ceremony into adulthood?

      2. How can rank amateurs possibly have gotten so far, using techniques they have minimal training on, and expecting every man to be able to digest a profound change of reasoning no matter what part of the journey to self awareness one is on??

      Before I went to the MKP weekend I had received several months of counseling in Gestalt therapy from a qualified practitioner, and also 15 years previously in my teens had counseling using mainly cognitive behavioral therapy. I had also been to something called “Family Constellations” based on work by Bert Hellinger, which is very much like the MKP “carpet” scenario (I think its called the pit).

      If I had not been an opened minded person already on the path to awareness before I attended, I shudder to think what may have happened to me, I believe something like re-traumatised would be an apt description.

      As an intelligent individual who had a couple of years of counseling I could see what was “trying” to be achieved, but I felt down right scared for some of the other participants who looked like a possum caught in the headlights trying to deal with issues they may have never faced properly in the past.

      One guy was a recovering heroin addict and on the second day he basically gave up and wanted out and voiced his concerns on the whole process and was basically IGNORED, I was horrified, here was a man trying to reach out and say it was doing more harm then good for him and none of the facilitators knew what to do!!

      Suffice to say I took some real positives out of the experience, like acting with integrity and taking accountability for ones actions, but there’s no way I would recommend it to my friends!! The intentions are great and noble, but I can totally agree with most of the criticisms and can now see how the unfortunate fellow in the US took his own life.

      The Aust version of the MKP weekend didn’t seem as bad as all the criticism I have read, which was very alarmist headline grabbing journalistic point of view (and not the excellent open discussion on this forum). If I had read anything other than the glossy brochure I would NOT have attended, but such is the secrecy of the whole movement the guy who told me to go wouldn’t reveal anything, and unfortunately the marketing worked well, but the reality was far from the glossy brochure!!

      As mentioned by someone above when is the “people’s” movement going to take shape?? Where men and women can learn what it is to be a citizen of the global community and respect all race’s, religions, sexualities etc.

      I had great difficulty transitioning into adulthood, all of a sudden the law said at 18 I was an adult!? But F*ck me I knew nothing about the big bad world out there! and there was no-one to tell me what I should do to be an adult, no wonder its a crazy world we live in!! Some sort of initiation ceremony would have been wonderful, only if facilitated by professionals though…

      It has taken me until the age of 35 to really feel like I am an adult responsible for my own reality, and to feel somewhat mature, its a shame it has taken counseling and loads of self reflection, and attainment of wisdom to get here. My concern is with the Y gen’s and subsequent generations being hooked on internet social networking. I feel sorry for the generations to follow, the depth of character gained from face to face communication is largely being lost. What kind of world will I live in when I’m a cranky old man!

      If this is the last world on this blog (hopefully not) then peace to all and namaste…

      1. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Brad. A couple of points on your numbered thoughts:

        1. I believe initiation is problematic for various reasons. First, when people talk in these terms in the supposedly developed world they tend to allude to the practices of Indigenous cultures; however, even if such practices work there, they may not work for us, as we have a completely different culture. Such initiations would need to be genuinely context-specific, and I don’t see a lot on offer in this regard. Second, my feeling is that while initiation is supposed to bestow identity and authority upon a young person, what it actually does is make the initiate adhere to identity and authority: in other words, I see initiation ultimately as a conformist practice where the young are pulled into line with the community’s values (and we want to get away from ours!). Third, initiation always seems to involve some personal trial which feeds into epic masculine nonsense: why not have something that’s just, well, nicer?
        2. I think the fact that MKP has gotten so far speaks to the incredible need in people to find answers. However, there are so few places/people asking the right questions that anyone asking anything remotely in the ball park gains momentum. So, good intentions, but bad effects.

        Absolutely, the People’s Movement is the way forward. You know there may be enough people in Australia commenting on this post alone to hold a quorum!

  32. as the great comedian and ex-monk, allan clements, once said “don’t namaste me !” but apart from your ending paragragh..what a great perspective on MKP phenomenon, mens initiation and maturing masculinity ! and don’t be ashamed it’s taken counselling (gestalt especially) to get there…psychotherapist’s (good ones) are todays shamans. so bravo to to more people (especially men) seeking counsel and support to navigate the travails of growing up in our socially networked vacuum.
    i remember an Aboriginal senior woman telling me, we are not considered “adult” till 30…until them we’re allowed to make mistakes…to learn. i reckon 18 year old “adults” came about from the alcohol industry wanting to seduce customers as soon as poss!

    1. yes..joseph…”nicer” initiation rituals..and not pilfered from indig cultures…but we CAN learn from them and then create “genuine context specific”.. and simple process… for our sooooophisticated culture. really, simple is great..it’s about attention and awareness and respect toward a “transition” that happens regularly within all humans (usually unconsciously..hence the probs) but as they traverse maturation crises..and bring into consciousness this can be very useful for integrating internal experience and to mature !

      i worked with women’s “initiation” formats bout 10 years ago and our “shaman/witch” is a white woman who traveled the world to be trained in sacred ceremony, work with adults and teenagers, research and write..and bring back her passion to impact society in a healthy way.
      true.. women don’t have the same “epic masculine” constructs to hang on to…but this is our (men and women’s) work now..break up the old (harmful) constructs…and out of chaos comes….um…probably many bad attempts at new ones…but with blogs like this we WILL “hold a quorum”.

  33. I guess I will chime in again. I agree with Joseph comment that much initiation work is conformist and I think that is a problem in MKP. But I do remain hopeful that a type of education of the soul, spirit, emotions and community is possible. I largely work with adults and children in theater and art with disabilities and we cover a lot of themes in this regard. But the first rule in our work is mutual respect. MKP uses a hazing type model of aggression, shouting, manipulation in the name of love. And the results are Men are initiated into then hazing, shouting, and manipulating other men in the name of love. The message might be “love” but the methodology is really using the word “love” as a cover for violence.

  34. I will add that I have known many Yoruban Nigerans who have participated in traditional initiation mask dances. When they put on the mask they “play out” that particular god. In MKP they conjure up violent or grandiose or unconcious energies and their egos end up identifying with these energies. I think that MKP in this respect is the antithesis of the positive aspects of traditional initiation which seeks to find an aesthetic cultural outlet for intense psychic energies.

  35. There is no one size fits all. I think we have to start somewhere and then the work builds. I bet their is a group that is standing on the shoulders of of previous generations, ready to share the next generation of social experiment. That is all we (humans) are doing, experimenting to see what works and how we can support more and more people, expand into love and help create more happiness, in my world anyway.
    I participate in MKP and I take what works for me and support what works for others. Everything is at will, if that is your choice then choose it. For the entire experience to be judged like it is a one size fits all program, that is simply not effective.
    I did not learn much of anything new at the NWTA, I have been on a spiritual journey consistently since 2004, in one program or another.
    The real work has been in my i-group, there I have sat in circle weekly, since mid 2008, with untrained men and I have received great value, growth, love and friendship in my life in a big way, as a result.
    I have read many, many, valid points both uplifting and not so much on this blog. That is what makes this blog great, everyone has any equal say and will find supporters and non-supporters, regardless you have spoken.
    MKP is a volunteer community based organization, I if it is not your flavor then create one that is. There is more people looking for this kind of community support than ever in our world and I would really love to see it.

    1. Thanks Landhawk. As always, it’s good to hear a broad spectrum of MKP experiences, the sum of which approximate the truth of the matter (if there is such a thing).

      Building the critical mass for an alternative is easier said than done, but I’m confidant something useful will occur sooner rather than later.

    2. Landhawk I did have many great experiences in one of my igroups that lasted longer than the others but we agreed at one point to set ground rules that were rather different from MKP as whole. Namely no bullying or coercing and everyone defines their own work. That said I still remain critical of MKP, now as an outsider because there remains certain “claims of truth” such as a universally structured psyche, or the idea that men’s initiation is universal, or that certain behaviors are manly or womanly. When you simply let men speak and not attempt to impose a structure or value system one is exposed to beautiful new worlds of subjective experiences. I am in the process of creating a men’s group based on this notion. It may boil down to too many assumptions and impositions and not enough listening. But it is difficult sometimes to create a group of listening when the agenda of even one man is to dominate over everyone else.

      1. Matthew, I wish that MKP was perfect and that men do not have an agenda and some do. That is why we are doing this work, men have not been given the assets to make better decisions by our current human society, in my opinion.
        I am excited you are starting a men’s group. You are standing on the shoulders of men that came before you. Frankly, if the men’s movement does not continue to expand then, well we are stuck, (my opinion). I think we are building a fantastic foundation for the next level of men’s work to appear and as I see that is already happening.

  36. go matthew ! and if it’s a listening group you after…i wish to share my experience of facilitating “listening circles” based on native american “talking stick”…stay with me…i know it’s been used and abused…but…the principles are bloody powerful and heart connecting. i used to have reference material from a native american council…will look for it again..but the three main principles when “setting” the circle are: BE BRIEF/SPEAK FROM THE HEART (not to waffle on or go off into protracted stories), LISTEN FROM THE HEART (and not thinking about your opinions, reactions or what you wanna say), and NEVER CROSS THE CHILDRENS FIRE (do not interrupt or give advice) when someone is speaking. just LISTEN..until they pass on the “talking stick” to the next person in group. seems to work and make the playing field more level 🙂

    1. Thanks I will take this under consideration. I don’t mind appropriating anything that works. And I hope that some level of diversity is possible but not necessary. Although of the three men I spoke to 2 are Jewish (one a grief psychologist), one Sufi-Muslim, and I am coming from Protestant Christian background (though I am not actively practicing Christianity.) I don’t believe we need to abandon the past to find something that works for the present. I am not as critical of MKP’s use of native american themes per se but that it’s use seems somewhat disconected from it’s original context, meanings, and usage. But for example I spoke to the grief psychologist who informed two days ago that he had worked with Maildome Soma (from Africa) and has used some of his ideas with clients. No group experience will be perfect but finding a basic form that preserves the individual integrity of each participant needs to be the central ethos, no matter where they are in their lives.

  37. Hi. I just got back from my NWTA weekend, and I was pretty impressed. I was challenged physically, spiritually, and emotionally, and I *like* that. I had a lot of fun, too. I feel like I walked away with a bit more confidence and a more positive approach to life. I was amazed at the way many of the attendees grappled with some truly painful issues, and came out better men. I’ve never seen so much courage in my life.

    I’m a therapist, and I can appreciate some of the critiques on this blog, namely that there *may* not be support for men who were re-traumatized by the event. I say “may” because the staff does encourage ongoing contact with the organization to continue the process of integrating the experience into our “normal” lives – I suspect that ongoing issues may be addressed in these groups. I also say “may” because many of the staff are very attuned to the men that go through the weekend, and I would hope (but do not know) that they are capable of referring men to therapy. Some of the staff are therapists, and I believe they would be particularly capable of ensuring the participants safety.

    Before I say anything else, I’d like to add a spoiler alert. If the reader is planning on attending this weekend, and reads further, some of the element of surprise will be lost, and the potentially valuable psychological impact of the experience may be lost. But for those that have come this far, there might not be much else to spoil.

    I’d like to address some of the comments you highlighted from Mitchelson’s article. What is important to understand is that much of the work done on the weekend is a ritualized form of the Hero’s Journey. Joe Campbell describes the journey, briefly, as separation from the known world, moving through the darkness and overcoming trials, discovering something magical within yourself, and returning to the world, ready to serve with that gift. In order to go on this journey, you have disrupt the “everyday self”. Our ego structures often defend against our old wounds (psychological traumas of whatever nature and intensity). In order to loosen the ego enough to work with these subconscious beliefs and feelings, one must let go of one’s internal defenses against these beliefs and feelings. Hence the stripping away of identity. Note that (at least in my experience of MKP) this is done *safely*. It’s emotionally intense because it has to be, and nobody’s life was ever put on the line.

    The reason that the mythopoetic elemetns are used is because that’s how we can speak to the unconscious mind – through imagery and story. If I just told you that you have the capacity to overcome the obstacles in your self and in your life, you might fall asleep. But if you sit down and watch Star Wars, you might be inspired in some way that your conscious, rational mind can’t.

    – “It’s all rather bizarre, as they begin a strange game where I am asked to walk up to a man who stares at me, with black camouflage paint on his face. The process is repeated again, and again.”

    Nietzsche said that “If you stare into the Abyss long enough the Abyss stares back at you.” By presenting this face, the participant gets a chance to look into their shadow.

    – “They seem to have a paranoid fear of anything getting out. This, I suppose, should have set even more alarm bells ringing.”

    I believe this is largely because they don’t want to spoil the surprise. My friend who suggested I go didn’t tell me much about what to expect, and I’m thankful.

    – “We are asked to describe how we fail to stand up to women. ‘They’re always getting at you to put the seat down on the loo,’ one of the staff men explains by way of example.”

    I thought that was a pretty lame example, myself.

    – “Some of the staff are very skilled at reading visual signs of hidden emotion. At times, three inquisitors demand the answers to questions that eventually leave a man weeping and apparently broken.”

    I didn’t see that exact scenario play out, but I did see some prodding. Again, I believe that this is necessary to shake up some men’s normal, comfortable ego structures. When done with compassion, attunement, and in a safe container, this actually moves the work forward. I didn’t hear any men complain about this type of behavior – every guy I went through this with seemed, in the end, to be grateful for having broken down (which is different from being “broken”). Imagine that you are lying to yourself about something, like “It’s totally cool that I’m drinking 5 gallons of vodka per day”. Now imagine someone keeps reflecting back to you all of the negative effects that this behavior is having on your life. You’ll get defensive, you won’t want to listen, but eventually you might agree and change your ways. That’s pretty much what these guys signed up for, to have their shadow reflected back at them. It’s painful, but in the end, they walk away, heads held high, with greater conviction to make healthy choices,

    – “If these staff men have any professional training, I am unaware of it.”

    This seems to be a big criticism, and I don’t claim to have the answer. For the record, some of them do have professional training. But no one is claiming that this is therapy, or that the participants will be under the care of any professional counselors or psychologists. The point that I’d like to make is that we entrust our psyches to many individuals who are not licensed psychologists. Any time you watch a TV commercial, or listen to a preacher tell you are a sinner, or read a story, linguistic-symbolic energies are influencing your psyche. We choose (most of the time) whether or not we want to be influenced by these energies, often without any disclosure provided (WARNING: watching this commercial may make you feel like you are inadequate and encourage you to buy our product to fill the hole in your soul).

    – “They talk of regressing me. I don’t know if these amateur psychiatrists could achieve that or not, but they opt for getting me to wrench the guilt from my stomach by wrestling a rope up through my legs being held by four men.”

    I wonder how that felt for him. Similar symbolic acts seemed to be pretty potent for some men that I saw. I believe it is based in psychodrama. Look it up.

    I hope that some of my explanations remove the perception of strangeness of the practices that are being described by MKP participants. Men are going to make their own choice about whether to have this experience or not. You are entitled to your own opinion about it even if you haven’t experienced it directly. I hope that men who are considering attending understand that.

    Ultimately, everybody makes their own way through life, deciding who to trust and who not to trust, based on whatever information is given. For some men, the NWTA is going to change their lives for the better. Others will scoff at it and waste their money. I hope that the negative press doesn’t scare away those who can really benefit from it. And I hope that those who are re-traumatized by the experience are encouraged to seek out additional help after they emerge, and do so.

    1. Hi loosenut

      I, at least, don’t really have anything new to add here. Your reading of the experience is a generous one, and that’s fine. I have no doubt the intentions behind such things are largely good, it’s just that there are always implications that stretch beyond intentionality.

      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on these matters, which have clearly been carefully considered.

  38. great..the conversation is still going.
    this IS the quorum joseph?

    very busy with my new life and career…but appreciate the connection to this conversation.

    1. Maybe, yes: or at least part of it. While I do not expect the whole Occupy thing to last, I think its legacy will be a better understanding of diverse groups coming together to form a quorum on issues of collective significance.

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