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Wild and Sacred Men's Work

Wild and Sacred Men’s Work

Castlefest Academy Transcript



[I have been asked to lecture about men’s work at Castlefest. Beforehand I just wrote some bullet points for myself; only afterwards I have transcribed the contents of the lecture, leaving out practical exercises]



Welcome all. To see you gathered here makes me happy. Since you have shown up here to learn (more) about this work of improving men and the way they relate to the world around them, makes me hopeful.



Today I’ll try to explain what men’s work entails. Starting with what is men’s work, followed by why men’s work, in which I’ll try to explain the merits of it. And the last piece I want to address today is about the masculine and the feminine.



What is men’s work?

I have always found it difficult to come up with an elevator pitch about men’s work. So here are some images of the things we do.


But in essence, and this doesn’t really sound sexy, it comes down to men getting together and talking about their feelings.



Here is a video of David Draiman, the frontman of Disturbed at Graspop this Summer. This video went viral - and for a reason.



Draiman just talked about some of his colleagues such as Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, who took their own lives as a consequence of addiction and depression and admits he himself recently also considered stepping out of life. He asks for a show of hands for whom all of this has come nearby for themselves or in someone close. Almost all in the audience raise their hands and many start crying.


The reason this video appealed to so many people is that feelings are not so often talked about, especially the darker ones. Draiman was opening this up, which was needed.


This is something we do in men’s work all the time. There is no need to keep up appearances anymore. We are brutally honest towards ourselves and others. This makes us very vulnerable, but being amongst others who are opening up themselves equally, creates deep connection.



Benefits of men’s work

Connection is the central word for me. I once tried writing a piece on men’s work in general, in which I tried avoiding trendy words like ‘vulnerability’, ‘authenticity and ‘connection’. In the end I felt that was undoable, just because such words are the core of the work, really.


I already mentioned the connection that comes into existence when we let all masks fall off. This requires bravery and among men, creates brotherhood. On top of that, it usually shows us that we are not alone with our struggles.

In doing the work together, it is easy to recognise men who are doing the same thing as brothers in this brotherhood of men.


At Wild and Sacred Men, we perform a lot of physical exercises. When life is happening, all sorts of emotions come up. When these can’t be properly expressed, which is very often the case in everyday society, they get stored somewhere in the body.

So we use the body to let these emotions out. You could call it a psychosomatic approach. It helps us to experience our being more as a whole. And on top, it helps to let our centre of life’s attention from the head into the heart.


Men’s work and brotherhood is also for a big part about taking responsibility. We realise that we are in charge of our own lives, making our own decisions. Even how we respond to what happens to us, is up to us. As brothers, we encourage one another to be accountable for our lives.

This inevitably leads to better relations in our lives. We can no longer blame others. We can step up and see what we can do ourselves to improve any situation.


The last aspect of connection I will address for now is connection to something bigger. At Wild and Sacred Men, we work a lot with nature. It’s only here when spirituality kicks in.

By (ritually) acknowledging how all of us are an inseparable part of nature/existence/creation/life, we feel connected to it. I believe this will bring a sense of meaning. And also I believe that when men feel connected to the whole of things, they intrinsically feel they want to care for it.



Shadow work

But be not mistaken: though in essence we may be love and light in connection to the universe, we are definitely human beings with all their challenges. We can be fearful, childish, jealous, wrathful, irresponsible, ashamed and what not.

We are not denying any of that. In fact, in men’s work, we are facing this head on. In all kinds of exercises, we will shine light on what we’ve been trying to hide from ourselves and others. We call it out, feel through it, try to understand it.



Gains

So, taking on the men’s work is often life-changing for men and can yield the following advantages: better understanding of self, taking responsibility, connection & brotherhood, release of old emotions & patterns, feeling empowered, expression and healing.



Pictures sometimes say more than a thousand words

Now I can talk hours about how awesome men’s work is, but just let these pictures of power speak for themselves. Vulnerability, connection, strength, brotherhood...



My journey

So far, I’ve been talking about quite general things. Please let me share my personal story as well.

Ironically (or not so surprisingly), my journey into men’s work starts with this woman: Margo. Awanata is her business name.


She has been my wife for over ten years. In the beginning of our time together, we organised group travels and workshops together. Not after long, she started to focus her energy in working with women only. I did not like that at all. I felt left out and wondered what was wrong with mixed groups.

But she was really awesome in what she was doing. It really was her life’s purpose. But honestly, I didn’t fully understand what it was she was doing. If I was describing it to others, I told them that she brought groups of women together, that they’d scream and cry and then that their lives would be way better. I knew it was life-changing for the participants alright, but I would only come to understand the women’s work after experiencing men’s work myself.


Because Margo was so powerful in her work, and I continued to be her partner over all those years, many people said to me that I should start offering men’s work as well. I didn’t want to though. I didn’t even like men anyway.


But all that changed when I attended an event by Sacred Sons in Amsterdam. For those who doesn’t know them; Sacred Sons is an organisation that facilitates men’s work, hailing from the United States. They have their public relations well in order: they have created many videos of their work. For reasons, this really appealed to many women in my social circles.


I had to overcome some resistance to go. Because so many women thought these Sacred Sons were so amazing, I grumbled that it couldn’t possibly be something for men. On top of that they were American and thus just very good at selling commercial products. Though, admittedly, I had judged without even looking at it.

At some point, I gave them a chance to hear their message, by listening to podcasts and watching videos. This might actually be the real deal, I concluded and I joined their event in Amsterdam, one of their first European events.



This turned out to be a life-changing decision for me. During the event there was a lot that helped me grow, such as letting my voice be heard. The most pivotal moment to me was Sacred Combat. This is ritual fighting. It is not about winning or losing, but about inviting one brother into the circle to fight together, while being witnessed by the whole group of brothers - and processing what this fight brought up in either of the fighters.

One of the facilitators intimidated me by his sheer presence. I thought him to be two metres tall, though in the end he was just my height; the rest was charisma. He radiated purpose and embodied leadership. These were qualities I wanted to see within myself as well. This is why I invited him to Sacred Combat.

In this fight, I received some punches. Afterwards they felt like being slapped awake, as I realised that what I saw in him, I can find within myself as well. That we can tap out of the same source.

And he explained to me that he gets his discipline and the strength to do what he does because he cares so much. I immediately understood that he meant caring for life, for all that is good in this world.

The next day I founded Wild and Sacred Men to share this medicine with the world. I understood that the world needs this.

I also signed up for Sacred Sons’ Leadership Training in order to substantiate my leadership further.



To give another example of men’s work, I’ll tell a story about my own shadow.

One of my life’s greater challenges has been to be a stepfather. I have made many errors in the way I took on this role and I’ve caused plenty of damage to every person who was involved.

Our family became peaceful only after my stepdaughter decided to start living with her father. Because of me.


I brought up this topic during a Sacred Sons retreat in Portugal. I started telling the story, but the facilitator cut me short: “I’m sure the story is important, but how do you feel?” he asked me. I had to recognise I felt a great deal of shame, admitting that I had driven a child from her mother’s home... “What does that shame look like?” he asked. And when I tried to express shame by hiding my face, the full extent of this emotion washed over me and I broke down in tears. I also wondered: how could my brothers still accept me as even an okay person after admitting this? But they did, which is the power of brotherhood.

Eventually I worked through the emotion and I had to fight my way through obstacles towards freedom, by wrestling through a wall of my brothers’ interlocked hands. This took all my strength and I cut my feet on the floor planks. Completely exhausted, the facilitator plainly told me to “go again”. I could scarcely believe it! I had given this my all and now I needed to give even more? But then again, didn’t I want to be free of this shame and work to improve the mess I made? Wouldn’t it be worth whatever prize? So in I went again.

After all the processing, I lay down on the floor crying. Usually a person crying in a foetal posture on the floor is in a very sorry state, but I felt extremely grateful for this opportunity to grieve over all that happened.


The final example of men’s work I’d like to share today is from the first day I hosted. In it, I offered an exercise in which every men would write a letter to themselves as if they’d be their own father. It’s a bit confusing but powerful when you grasp it.

Even though I had come up with the exercise, it struck me. As I was writing this letter, I realised in what way my own father withdrew his love from me when I was not living up to his expectations. Realising that I was repeating this pattern to my daughter really struck me. And by becoming aware of the pattern, I could decide to change my course.


So yeah, I hope I have been able to illustrate men’s work better by telling my own story.



Masculinity

The last thing I would like to address is that of masculinity and femininity in the modern context.


Ever since #metoo helped to surface the enormous scale in which women have been violated by men, and patriarchy is being identified as a cause of a lot of long time suffering, the idea of masculinity has come under pressure. To some people, masculinity has even become synonymous with toxicity. And then there is woke culture, based on critical theory, which divides the world in political identities - and tends to identify the male gender generally as an oppressive structure.

All in all, men have increasingly been placed in the role of a perpetrator.


A sense of perpetration, shame and guilt are something many men have been contending with anyway. This really came up during the first Rising in Brotherhood retreat. In the picture you see the men carrying the load of it on their shoulders. We tried to experience the full extent of it and eventually we threw it off. Shame and guilt are really burdens that drag us down. Sometimes we take them upon ourselves, but ever so often they are passed down generations. Or men are made to feel guilty for the pigs they are portrayed as.

Now I do not wish to deny, ignore or condone any of the harm that has been caused by men. Because Margo works with so many women, I sit close to the fire. I know the extent of the harm that is being caused to women all too well.


But I do not believe that attempting to make men feel guilty about their existence is going to fix anything. This will just make men feel weak, while what is needed is strength to take the powerful decision that things will be different. That the men will take responsibility so that the women and the children will be safe.



The healing

What is needed is healing.


On top of the slide is an image of Castlefest last year. The men and women went briefly in separate groups, before coming together. The men all pumped up in their masculinity, we knelt down to the women. Not to submit ourselves, but with heads held high, to show the deepest respect for both sexes.


The last thing I will be telling today is about the Wild and Sacred Union retreat Margo and I hosted together. The idea was to have a group of men and a group of women. To start together the first day. To separate the second day so both sexes could be empowered within their own strength and then bringing everything together on the third day.


During the first day, we had the groups of men and women face one another. The women expressed all of the pain caused to them by the masculine to the men. This was a lot to take in, I tell you.

Eventually, we men sat down on one knee and expressed that we heard them, saw them and that we would stand up to make a difference.


This, among other exercises and ceremonies, made a big impact. The women, now feeling safe, were able to give much love, which the men realised they had been longing for. For context, I don’t mean love in a romantical sense, but deep love from human to human.

It was really magical to witness and be part of that healing.



The lecture was concluded with a ceremony in which the present women and the men were in different groups, and then reconnected. Which, again, was a magical reunion that moved many to tears.

I'm so grateful and humbled to be in the position to offer this work. It is needed.

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