Last week, I was the lead assistant at a Men’s Retreat called Ascending the Sacred Mountain, led by Christopher Sunyata. It was an honor and a gift to assist this workshop after years of preparation by participating in and leading many men’s and couples’ workshops.
Throughout the week, staff at the event center where our retreat was hosted mentioned that they had no idea what we were doing together, in contrast to the usual women’s yoga groups that pass through the same venue. I also receive similar questions from people in my life. One friend even wondered what the benefit of a retreat with the same gender was. Why wouldn’t teachings on meditation, purpose, sex, and death be of benefit to all people regardless of their gender?
Why are men spending time with men seen as confusing or threatening?
It’s my strong opinion that everyone benefits when men spend time with men in a container of growth, introspection, and reflection. Every retreat I have been part of has been unique. Some focus on giving men space to learn to speak their emotions and feelings safely. Others focus on spiritual development through meditation and enlightenment practices. Finally, there can be a focus on relating to women, finding one’s purpose, and many other permutations.
One of Christopher’s gifts is that he is very attuned to the needs of the men in the current group, and there is no prescripted curriculum. Instead, each evening our staff would meet and brainstorm and plan the following day based on the current state of the men in the retreat. I won’t speak to the specifics of any exercises because the element of surprise and novelty for the men participating is essential. However, there are several key areas that we work with:
Posture, Breath, and Presence:
Most men are unaware that their trustability in the world, whether with a potential intimate partner or business partner- is rooted in their posture, breath, and presence. What happens when they are unaware of their body, breathing shallowly, and their head is pushed forward such that their ears are no longer over their shoulders? I’ve witnessed men being ‘tuned up’ by teachers and the other students – simple things like rolling shoulders back, bringing their ears over their shoulds, and having their weight balanced over their feet suddenly appear to be a completely new man, and rated as much more trustable.
Many men hold an incredible amount of tension in their bodies. This can create health and sexual performance problems, which is not a comfortable way to be in the world. Working with men to open their hips, relax their breath, release body tension, and move and live more freely. This is often achieved through slow, relaxing yoga sequences.
Death and Purpose:
Being present with our mortality and impending death is a way to become immediately present, whether with a lover, our families, or alone. A relationship to death can bring our true purpose into the light and prevent continued procrastination and distraction.
Sex and Relationships:
Sexuality and relating to partners and families are big themes for men. Therefore, understanding the basics of masculine and feminine polarity and how to communicate through their bodies and words maintains this polarity for attracting the partner a man seeks or enriching sexual experiences and intimacy in a current relationship.
Meditation and Enlightenment Practices:
The capacity to sit comfortably and deeply inquire into who we are and why we are here is deeply connected to masculine presence and growth. Therefore, offering men meditation techniques, helping them find a comfortable physical posture, and exploring silence together is a critical part of any men’s retreat I’m participating in.
I recently heard that in our 20s, men tend to have a similar size or even more extensive friend networks than women. By our 40s, this plummets, and men often find themselves with very few male friends outside of those they work with. Discovering that other men are seeking to live a more fulfilling life, men that have similar struggles and pains is deeply healing.
The above sections are a very rough outline of what happens – there is so much more. So many men are broken today – for a variety of reasons. The sheer act of taking a week of their lives and investing in themselves in the company of other men is a process towards becoming more whole, embracing all parts of themselves, and becoming better human beings that can serve their partners, their families, and their companies and their societies.
To conclude, I want to share one of the more touching moments of this past retreat. On the fourth day, I led the men on a walk through the woods to the neighboring retreat center, the Haidakhandi Universal Ashram. This day auspiciously fell on the new moon, the most masculine day of the lunar cycle. At the ashram, the men participated in a fire ceremony, paying homage to the Mother and offering a part of ourselves to be relinquished at her feet. After the formal ceremony, as we were offered delicious chai dahl, a woman who also attended the ceremony approached our group. Visibly shaking, she bowed and expressed deep gratitude towards our group of men. Then, in a very devotional tone, she shared how much it impacted her to see a group of men transforming themselves, and she saw our work as a beautiful gift to the world. Many of us felt very validated and honored at that moment.
Thank you, Christopher
Thank you, all the men who participated
Thank you, all of the men who pioneered this work
Thank you, all of the men doing this work
Thank you, to everyone supporting this work.