This story was published in the Magazine “Psychologies” in France for a special issue on men. [http://www.psychologies.com/] Special thanks to Bill Shea of the New England ManKind Project community for generously donating translation services.
Click on the image below to view the original article in french.
View the summary for the original special edition on the Psychologies web site, here: CLICK HERE
Stéphane, Renaud, and Gilles are “New Warriors,” men who, in the course of a weekend, followed the rites of passage to explore the territories of their masculinity. Up close with these conquerors of the intimate.
When Renaud registered, he knew nothing about what awaited him. And with good reason: the brotherhood of the New Warriors, the European offshoot of the Mankind Project, turns out to have a gift for secrecy. It coopts its members and its initiation rituals are modeled after those which allowed boys to move to manhood in certain Amerindian tribes. These trainings respect the traditional structure in three phases: separation, transmission, and integration. In the primitive tribes, initiation went along with the need to form warriors capable of ensuring the survival of the clan.
Today it responds to other stakes, among which is the creation of bonds of brotherhood among men in an individualistic and standardized world.
“A few days before the Big Day,” recalls Renaud, 36, an accountant originally from Annecy, “I’d received a roadmap with some instructions concerning what to bring, meals to expect, clothing… Nothing more.” After several hours of travel through the forest and mountains, he arrives “in the middle of nowhere, in a place absolutely unknown on my GPS. I felt thrown off and I wondered if I were making a huge mistake. I didn’t know just yet, but the adventure had already begun.”
ACT I: losing his reference points
Like any traditional rite of passage, the process begins with a phase called “separation.” Before getting to the actual initiation space, the participants go through a type of airlock where they are asked to let go of all ties to their customary universe (papers, jewelry, watch, money, cell phone) in order to keep only what is strictly necessary. Accepting the loss of one’s point of reference and submitting to the framework imposed by the process constitutes for certain men the first challenge. “Letting go of my cigarettes, ok. My license, my debit card, again fine. But my phone, well, that was too much, ” continues Renaud.
“I tried to bargain, like I always do when I’m confronted with the law, story of giving myself the illusion that I’m still in charge of the situation. Nothing doing. I went into a terrible rage. I was ready to smash everything!” So much anger over a phone? “For certain men, finding themselves up against limits imposed by other males very determined to make them respect them is a test in itself. It is notably to pacify themselves that they come here…” replies Olivier, a regular at the New Warrior trainings. Without any reference point of time or space, the second phase of initiation, called “the hero’s quest,” can now begin. “It was like embarking on a great voyage without knowing the destination,” recalls Pascal, musician, age 49.
ACT II: The Hero’s Quest
The activities take place at a steady pace, sometimes inside, sometimes outside, from dawn until late at night, each time with a new challenge to accept. “Any process of transformation asks us to surpass ourselves,” says Christophe, 50, stringed-instrument maker, spokesman for the French-speaking center of the Mankind Project. “But nothing is forced and especially no violence is practiced, neither on the psychic level nor on the physical. It’s nothing like the paramilitary training like one would see in the American Marine Corps where, for example, they would exhort soldiers to kill the child and the woman in them. Here, we ask men to respect their own limits,” continues Christophe. As the process advances, the varnishes crack, the masks fall. The most beautiful moment was when I was finally able to let go of the control,” recalls Stéphane, 38 year old coach from Paris. “It was in an exercise where one is supposed to get in contact with the “wild man” inside. At the beginning, I smiled to myself to see others shout. And then, little by little, I let myself join the game. For the first time in my life, I truly got down into my body, in my gut, in my balls. I felt all the raw, primal, animal energy that was in me and that I was holding back by clenching my teeth. To be able to express my repressed strength without fear of ridicule was very liberating for me. Ever since, my relationships with women have not been the same.”
ACT III: to challenge oneself
If it takes place in a group, the voyage is above all personal and internal, the meeting of one’s shadow side and the light. The challenge is sometimes physical but it is especially of an emotional nature. “I was expecting them to ask me to splash around in the mud, to go across some cliffs. Nothing like that made me afraid,” recalls Renaud, tall, sturdy, and adept at high mountain sports. “But when I had to hold in silence the gaze of a man seated across from me, then that’s when I fell apart. I felt exposed: unbearable.”
If the process could be compared to psychotherapy, it’s a space of possible healing. The true valorous warrior whom we honor here is the one who knows how to confront his fear. During the first few hours, Gilles recalls that his [fear] was so strong that he was physically ill, to the point of thinking of leaving. “But for once, I held on,” he tells, “and at some point, during a sharing, when everyone was looking at me, something tipped. I, who never show my emotions, burst into tears. My stomachache disappeared right away. Having been able to disclose my wounds to other men brought me immense relief.” The initiation process does not end Sunday evening, when each man goes back to his daily life. Indeed he enters its final phase: “integration.” If certain individuals decide to stop there, thinking that they’ve had enough, others decide to extend the experience by working on themselves. Because there is no miracle, any process of transformation demands a long-term commitment.
ACT IV: living with one’s choices
“The temptation after a weekend like that is to want to turn everything upside down,” explains Christophe. “The men are advised to wait several weeks before making any radical decisions.” Julien remembers that in the days following his return, everything came unjammed. “Life wasn’t easier, but I was finally able to live with my choices. Three months after the training, I had moved. I had settled at the seashore (my dream.) I had created my own independent job. And, above all, my relationship with my wife had calmed down. I became the proud happy dad of a second child.” Gilles, found once again the serenity he feared he’d lost forever: “I was able to start the work of forgiving those who had harmed me in the past, in particular the man who had given me AIDS.” For him, as for those it has moved deeply, the New Warrior Training Adventure is from now on the adventure of a lifetime.