We drove down a long, narrow road deep in the Wisconsin forest. The sun was winding down and fresh snow laid on the trees around us. As we approached the retreat center, a man dressed in black stood in the middle of the road staring blankly at the three of us. Having nowhere to go, we stopped the car.
Slowly, he walked over to us, interrogating who we were, what wanted, why we were there. Unimpressed with our answer, he ordered us to park our car and get in line. Grabbing our bags, we joined the 10 others outside the old, dark house. No one said a word. Just anxious silence as we waited to be let in one by one.
Just a few weeks earlier I didn’t even know what the hell The Mankind Project (MKP) even was. I just knew my Holotropic Breathwork retreat leader said his Warrior Weekend was one of the most transformative events of his life. Seeing how powerful his holotropic retreat was on me, I knew I had to go.
The MKP website was strangely vague. It had accounts of men claiming “the experience second only to seeing and supporting the birth of their children.” Yet it gave zero information what that actually entailed. What was going to happen when I went through that door? What the hell did I sign myself up for?
One by one, we were let in only after being questioned by yet another mysterious man dressed in all black. As I approached him, he stared me in the eyes. “Are you willing to do everything necessary to get what you came for?” Nervously, I said yes. He pointed at the door, I took a deep breath, and walked through.
What happened during the next 48 hours I can’t fully reveal. I will say that it was a reality shattering – akin to a powerful psychedelic experience. All 30 men I shared the weekend with would say the same. In this article I’m going to share what The Mankind Project is all about, and my experiences with their New Warrior Training Adventure retreat.
History of the Mankind Project
In 1985 former US marine, Rich Tosi, therapist Bill Kauth, and university professor & seminar leader Ron Hering took 18 men on what was then called the “Wildman Weekend”, later to renamed “The New Warrior Training Adventure” (NWTA). According to the MKP site, “the premise of the New Warrior Training Adventure was an introductory, experiential, weekend-long men’s gathering and initiation focusing on deep self-examination.”
NWTA fuses many schools of thought into its system – from Jungian psychology, to Lakota tribal rituals, to mythology. Most notably, the weekend was inspired by the famous mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, a narrative pattern found in stories throughout history. This structure has it’s DNA in the most famous narratives in history – from Star Wars to the Buddha’s enlightenment. The basic structure goes as follows:
The hero leaves his home and is called to an adventure. Along the way he gets tested in various ways, eventually facing his greatest fear. In doing so, a part of himself dies along the way, and a new one is reborn. The hero eventually returns to his home, a transformed person.
NWTA is an initiatory event pushing participants to battle inner demons buried deep within themselves. These demons are whatever you believe is holding you back – fear, self-doubt, low self-esteem, anything. You’re taken on a journey to battle these demons and in doing so, the old, weaker version of yourself dies in the process.
Yes, it can seem a bity new-agey, but the proof is in the pudding. During my own weekend, I couldn’t deny the transformations from the men around me. Here are some of the key benefits I came away with from the weekend…
Whether we’re aware of it or not, we all have trauma from our past holding us back. This could be scarring events of our childhood, with our parents, anything. If left unprocessed, this stress gets buried into our subconscious, manifesting in many of the personal struggles we deal with today. As a kid, if you were traumatized with your parents divorcing, if left unprocessed this could lead to self-esteem issues, relationship struggles, and a slew of physical health problems.
James Frazier, my Holotropic Breathwork facilitator had a great analogy why this is true. Imagine sitting at home watching a scary movie on an old VCR tape player. It’s so scary that in the middle of watching the movie, you pop the tape out of the player. Luckily don’t have to watch the movie, but instead now have to carry the tape around with you wherever you go. Whenever you go near a VCR, the tape threatens to play itself which brings up a mountain of negative feelings. The only way to shed free of the tape is to finish it to its completion. By fully experiencing traumatic events of your past, you finally release it from your life.
At the Warrior Weekend, you’re taken through a series of powerful exercises to do just that. To me, this is what this what the retreat revolved around. I don’t want to spoil how it’s done, that’s for you to find out if you decide the Weekend is for you. But I will say that it’s not going to be a walk in the park. In fact, it could be downright terrifying for some of you. But if you have the courage to lean into the fire, you’ll come out the other end with incredible healing.
One thing the weekend aims to develop is a higher degrees of Emotional Intelligence in men. Wikipedia defines Emotional Intelligence (EI) as the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.
Why does Emotional Intelligence matter? Studies have shown those with higher degrees of EI are mentally healthier, perform better at the workplace, are more effective leaders, and generally have more rewarding relationships. Unfortunately, most men have terrible EI.
When you think of a strong man, images that come to mind are the Clint Eastwood type. Stoic, unemotional, able to put one’s feelings aside to accomplish the task at hand. If a man shows his feelings he’s labeled as weak, girly, defective . Because of this, most men grow up completely unaware and unable to manage their emotions. Most conflicts we have with those around us (especially our partners), stems from this issue.
I admire The Mankind Project for smashing through this outdated model of a what a real man ought to look like. You’re encouraged to connect with your feelings. They take you through a series to pinpoint what your emotion even is, label it accurately, and express it unapologetically. Your pushed to be real. If you’re angry, be angry. If you’re sad, be sad.
It’s hard to find another environment with this level of authenticity. In a world filled with social masks you rarely see the true sides of those around you. MKP creates a safe space to bring those curtains down, and express the real you. It was a breath of fresh air being in this space.
In my interview with author Daniele Bolleli, he spoke about his experiences with the Lakota people and how the biggest impact they made on his life was their sense of community. He said there was something strangely healing being a part of a tribe.
As humans, we’re tribal creatures by nature. For 99% of human history our ancestors lived in small, tightly-knit communities. You lived not just among your nuclear family, but within a larger community as a whole. The famous anthropologist Robert Dunbar suggested humans are most stable in communities where one has roughly 150 relationships.
This sense of tribe makes up the very fabric of our DNA, yet something missing in most of our lives. We’re more connected than ever through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. Yet within this digital cocoon, many of us are increasingly isolated in our day-to-day lives.
A sense of community was something I didn’t realize was missing in my own life until I came into the Mankind Project. At the retreat you’d see respected elders who’d been with Mankind for decades, new Warriors who’d done the weekend just a few months before, and of course new initiates. Throughout the weekend you’d see these web of bonds start to form throughout the group, and as this occurred I strangely felt a sense of wholeness.
Whether we like to believe it or not we need a sense of belonging in our lives, and MKP gives you just that.
Taking Ayahuasca was one of the most transformative events of my life, but as powerful as the experience was, it had its flaws. The biggest to me was the lack of support you’d receive when it was all said and done. You’d head to Peru, have one of the most powerful experiences of your life, and then get quickly flung back to the real world to make of what the hell just happened. You’d have no one to talk to, no one to relate to, no guidance to integrate back to reality. Because of this, many fall back to old, toxic patterns of behavior when they return.
The weekend could give you similar, reality-shattering insights as an Ayahuasca experience. The key difference is you’re given the necessary support to integrate these insights into your day-to-day life. When you leave the retreat, you’re paired with a mentor who regularly checks on you to see how you’re doing. You have your peers who just went through the same experience, you can call and talk to.
Most importantly, there’s a 16 week personal integration training (PIT) designed to solidify the changes made during the weekend. One of the facilitators made the comparison of the retreat being like an instant defibrillator shock to your system, while PIT being a slow IV drip feed. Each week you meet up with the same group of men who were alongside you during the weekend, along with a handful of facilitators. You dive deeper into the personal breakthroughs and concepts learned at the retreat, and check in with the group on the goals you had the previous week…
At the most practical level, MKP gives you necessary accountability to accomplish your goals. A section of the retreat is devoted to the concept of accountability, what it truly means, and how most men have none in their lives.
The rubber starts hitting the road during the PIT meetings. During the session you’re pushed to create a stretch goal for the week ahead. At the following meeting, you announce whether or not you hit this goal, which is surprisingly effective in making sure you actually do.
Losing those 10 extra pounds, writing that book you’ve been meaning to start, volunteering at that organization you’ve wanted to – oftentimes these things fall to the wayside simply there’s zero accountability in place to make sure you do what you said you’d do.
You’d be surprised how much more you’re able to accomplish by simply having a group of men to report to. The simple reason is you don’t want to be the dimwit in the group that didn’t hit their goal. During the meetings I’d hear certain men say they accomplished more in a day, than they had in many months prior. Sometimes we need that carrot on the stick to get us to move forward and MKP provides you with that necessary carrot.
If you search throughout the web, you’ll find your fair share of criticism about MKP and the Warrior Weekend. Some call it culty. Other tout it as new-agey and mock its practices. I think a lot of this criticism comes from misinformed sources. Every man I came across who went on the weekend only has positive things to say about their experience.
In my own weekend, the majority of men said it was one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives. On the last day, I’d see the look on the faces of my peers and it was a night and day different than when I first met them. We all seemed lighter, happier, connected, feeling a little bit more whole.
The Warrior Weekend is something I’d recommend every man experience. You’ll gain a higher emotional intelligence, begin healing from past trauma limiting your life, join a tribe of over 40,000 (sic – 63,000) supportive men, and gain powerful insight that could change your life.