Post Written by Markus
On a Monday afternoon last September, Lilly sent me a text: “Hey, I found this weekend men’s retreat that sounds interesting, would you consider going?” I was on a huge deadline push at work that day and I read the text quickly before replying “Sure, thank you.” Lilly had heard of a similar retreat a year or two back that I also attended and based on that experience, it was an easy decision for me. That prior retreat was on the shores of a lake nearby and it was a silent retreat. No talking, no phones – just being. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done and it was incredibly grounding, calming, and centering for me. Apparently, I was now the kind of guy who regularly goes on retreats like this – bring on the silence and a break, I thought.
What I didn’t know was that this weekend was a bit different than the first one. This one was called NWTA (“New Warrior Training Adventure” – I’ll be honest, I rolled my eyes at the name) a three-day “retreat” that seemed to be the main event put on by an organization called The ManKind Project (MKP). I was still trying to figure out what any of this actually was and I figured that if MKP or this warrior weekend was really such a big deal, then I would have already heard of it before now.
Full disclosure – Lilly hadn’t found this new retreat as something unique and interesting just because she cares about me (although she does and she would) – but because it was a long shot at trying to get things moving that were stuck, specifically in/with me. Things like emotion (me not expressing emotion, me not understanding Lilly when she expresses emotion, me having low empathy), listening skills (or lack thereof), reliability in general, and my lack of a well-defined purpose beyond “work hard and be good for my family.”
That same Monday afternoon, I got a (slightly) better picture of what I was getting into as I was texting Lilly: “OK, so what is this retreat exactly?”, “Where is this place?”, “What do people who’ve attended say about it?” On the MKP site they describe the weekend as “not a retreat” (thanks guys - wait, OK what is it then?) and they refer to it as “a real-time hero’s journey” (way to be dramatic about it, I thought).
The official MKP description of the weekend is: “You'll get more than you're willing to hope for: purpose, passion, vibrancy, joy, healing, connection to self, new energy, clarity, power, freedom, understanding, brotherhood, trust. Over 64,000 men have now taken this journey, and every man's experience has been unique.” That description also didn’t help me much – that’s just a list that sounds like it was pulled from a BuzzFeed clickbait post titled “13 Things The Modern Man Needs To Be a Hero (Number 8 May Surprise You!)”.
Boy, it seemed like these guys really weren’t doing much to pitch this to the average guy as something that might seem even remotely appealing – unless he was a guy who needed a Hail Mary attempt at keeping a marriage together, which was the case for me. With that context, it honestly didn’t matter what they called this non-retreat adult man sleepover weekend. Like so many other decisions in my life, this came about because it was finally too painful to not change.
As I was looking for any third-partyreviews of this experience/weekend, the trail pretty much ran cold. I could find almost nothing online about this organization or the weekend – which meant my imagination began to run wild. What little I did find seemed questionable at best and what I didn’t know at the time was that there were two things at play:
MKP is by definition a men’s group (explicitly welcoming to GBTQ) by each man’s own definition. Saying that to say – as a group, men are generally less effusive, and are already less likely to write reviews of their weekend non-retreat experiences. My opinion is that this is one reason why there are few reviews out there.
The weekend has been running for over three decades, is held in many countries, and generally still takes the same shape today as the early years. A fair amount of the efficacy of the weekend is based on the construct of following a hero’s journey where a large part of it is the unknown of the path before you. To this end, MKP asks attendees to talk in generalities about the weekend and leave the specifics for each man to experience on his own during the weekend. In my opinion it’s this request, coupled with #1 above, that leads to the shortage of actually useful third-party information about MKP online.
Where this really doesn’t work in MKP’s favor is that online, the vocal minority has the floor. The guys who are attending and having awesome, life-changing experiences are not writing about it – at least not where other interested guys can find the reviews. For me, that was crucial and I was basically taking a leap of faith with little time to decide whether to spend $750 (wait - seriously, $750? Seriously.) for the weekend. MKP does offer case-by-case options and they want to make sure that cost is never a barrier to attendance.
Lilly sent me that text on a Monday and the way the timing of this retreat fell, it was that upcoming weekend in a rural area outside Houston. If I would have paused at any point between that moment and the weekend (I didn’t) to make a list of the things I thought were not working in my life and that I might like to examine during the weekend, it would have included:
Lack of emotional attunement
Lack of traction/consistency in progress
Lack of connection with my inner child
Unawareness of shame (and the major role it was playing in directing my life)
Lack of a clearly-defined purpose – sure, I wanted to be a good husband, good dad, and have a good career – but I had never defined the actual goal and hadn’t considered what greater overarching purpose there might be
Fears that I had never faced that were redirecting my life by me avoiding them
Though I couldn’t put my finger on it, what I now recognize as a constant need for approval
Even though I didn’t put it into those words before the weekend, I had a strong sense that something was going on. I also believed that I was the only one feeling like this and that these problems were unique to me. That led me to avoid talking about them, which only made them worse.
LESSONS FROM THE WEEKEND
The best way to describe the weekend actually is MKP’s standard description from earlier in this post. Each man’s experience is different. It’s an opportunity to take a look at things in life that are working (and things that aren’t working) in a different context. Think Joseph Campbell and his paradigm of the myth of the hero’s journey – especially the quote “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
The other best way to describe the weekend is describe what I got from the experience, including lessons about these topics below. By “lesson”, I mean something that I absorbed to a level deeper than just a theoretical surface-level understanding.
What a man is, and what he is not (most of the images and archetypes celebrated by our culture are at best incomplete, and at worst, destructive to self and others)
Emotional attunement (even just the “base” emotions of happy, sad, angry, afraid, ashamed)
An understanding of agreements – the moments where I agree to do something and how I do (or do not) honor that agreement
Integrity (aligning my words and my actions) + accountability (doing what I say I’ll do)
My inner child’s deepest need (and out of that, my mission)
Understanding that I’m not on earth just to be a work-horse productivity machine
Actually hearing my real Voice for the first time (both figuratively and literally)
Connection with other men, besides just surface-level
Connection with the Earth, with Nature, and with Life
A deep sense of connection to the men who came before me in prior generations and those who will follow
The weekend was surreal in terms of cultivating a sense of reconnection to myself – and coming back home (literally and figuratively) was even more surreal. Everything at home felt very familiar yet also very different. Our house looked the same when I walked up to the door, but my connection to it felt much stronger. I can’t explain how overcome with love, gratitude, and adoration I was when my eyes saw Lilly, My Love, for the first time after I came home.
It was a deep sense of appreciation for an ocean of incredible qualities about her. For believing in me, for finding the weekend and encouraging me to attend, for her support in general – and a deep appreciation for her as a woman, especially for her intuition, for her emotion and her attunement, her love, her physical beauty – and her smile, her kind eyes, and her presence.
We talked some, but mostly we were quiet. I couldn’t stop looking into her gorgeous green eyes – holding her gaze, staring at her pretty face and taking in her beauty. Lilly had picked up dinner for me and I was ravenous from the drive home – but I could barely be bothered to eat it, I was so taken by her. I’ve always been smitten but this was different. Just being next to her was enough and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The intensity and intimacy of our connection that first day back and across the next few days felt like something from a classic love story.
The first week was back to “normal” life was so surreal. I wore out Porangui’s album Ayahuasca Remixed which has the most awesome primal, tribal energy and beats. One of my favorite quotes from the movie Fight Club kept resonating in my mind “After fighting, everything else in your life got the volume turned down.” It felt like everything in my life, especially the mundane work-life items, had become very muted in my daily life. The hard landscape was technically still the same but it seemed like everything had changed.
Before, it was a world where there were “so many” “important” things that I needed to stay aware of, pay attention to, and do something about. I had a death-grip attachment to viewing myself as Work & Productivity Man - and that attachment had long been trying to fill the voids in my life that I now call Identity and Purpose/Mission.
The thing I needed the most from the weekend (though I couldn’t have put it into words) was to have some kind of experience where I at least glimpsed a sense of trusting myself again. The experience of the weekend gave me a peek at that sense of trust and I could feel deeply that a very old need and wound was beginning to be met and healed. At the time I didn’t know quite how old and deep that wound was. I also didn’t know that the first week back was NOT actually the new normal, not yet at least – and not without a lot of hard work still ahead of me, and in so many unexpected areas of my life.
That first week passed and after that, the weekend was still semi-fresh on my mind – but definitely a little less fresh and a little less intense. It seemed like “reality” was setting back in and I began to wonder if my weekend experience had produced real, lasting change – or if it was just an isolated experience to itself with no ultimate tangible translation to me actually living my life.
One of the things that has not been lost on me is what purpose the weekend experience has served for me, besides the obvious shifts in emotion, Voice, and Connection. Those three weekend days together with the first days back at home were nothing short of an experience like looking directly into the Sun. It was white-hot, bright AF, and nurturing, and it let me directly experience first-hand the heights of what is tangibly possible for me in my life – and here’s the kicker – with what I already had inside myself that’s been there all along.
The toughest thing for me since the weekend was that realization that the initial “new normal” was not actually a new normal – at least not yet. I would compare it to the experience of coming back to “real life” from a proper vacation. On so many prior vacations, I’ve tapped into what I would describe as the core essence of my being – and that’s been via Connection to both myself and the world around me. I’ve gotten there essentially the same way every time – slowing down, breathing deeply, being present with myself, getting out in the Sun, and moving through nature. The Markus that came back from those trips was instinctively more focused on Energy, “Vibes”, and Fun than before the trips.
The main word I would use to describe MKP as an organization is Connection – with oneself, with other men (and with women), with emotion, with love, with nature, and spiritual connection (not religion - think along the lines of native American spirituality) with the ultimate goal of being a better man for those we love and the world around us. The other word I would use is Awakening – to the world, to others, and most importantly to oneself. I would describe this Awakening as the first step toward Recovery. By this I mean Recovery in the sense that Russell Brand defines the word: “recover[ing] the person you were born to be.”
Something I’ve noticed on many occasions since the weekend is increased attunement and intuition. One way this manifests is during times when I notice the opposite - a strong sense of mis-alignment in my life. That can be anything – the way I’m breathing (or not breathing), how strong (or weak) my Voice is on any given day, where my energy is focused, and especially my purpose/mission.
There are plenty of days that I wonder how I ever got to 36 years old before learning some of these (seemingly) very basic things that I learned about myself and about life at the weekend. I usually counter that with this quote from Steven Tyler, “I’ve got a lot of great excuses. Don’t we all? So what if I was 60 years late - I was busy getting ready.” Busy getting ready – that was me, and that was OK.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. I discovered something deep and important that weekend. I got glimpses at deep, powerful Truths that I’ve felt all along but hadn’t touched and couldn’t put my finger on. I heard my Voice for the first time.
What I got from the weekend actually was the “more than you’re willing to hope for,” just as advertised. There was the immediate impact and the lessons listed above – but it didn’t stop there. The weekend served as an initial catalyst and the amount and depth of things that have been healed since still blows my mind. I can 100% say that I don’t know where I would be today if I hadn’t attended that specific weekend last September. Either directly or indirectly, my weekend has somehow influenced all my growth since then.
Two Joseph Campbell quotes have also resonated very strongly with me since September. One is, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are” which I have taken to heart. For a long time in my life I wanted to (and did) conceal who I was, so this hits very deep for me.
The other is Campbell’s description of The Hero Path. This has been my understanding of life since the weekend:
We have not even to risk the adventure alone
for the heroes of all time have gone before us.
The labyrinth is thoroughly known
we have only to follow the thread of the hero path.
And where we had thought to find an abomination
we shall find a God.
And where we had thought to slay another
we shall slay ourselves.
Where we had thought to travel outward
we shall come to the center of our own existence.
And where we had thought to be alone
we shall be with all the world.
Before the weekend, I would have called this poem overly dramatic or trying too hard. After the weekend, each line resonates deeply. “Where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves.” I had thought that my problems in life were due to something outside myself - but when I took an honest look, the issue was actually me. When I started to change, magically so did my problems. “Where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.” What initially felt life-threatening was actually life-giving through the Connection that can only come from vulnerability and openness.
Check out the MKP FAQ page for more details about the weekend - I’d also love to answer any questions. Hit me up in the comments below or send us an email for more!