What Happens in a Men’s Retreat?

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.

Relaxation:

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.

 Brotherhood:

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.

 Wholeness:

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.

Freedom and Love

Thank you all for your continued feedback and thoughts on my writing – For the last two days, I have been sitting patiently in front of my laptop, noticing the urge to write and connect but not feeling a specific impulse or topics. So what is most alive for me recently? Possibly, the pendulum swinging from the angst of not doing or giving enough(in my recent posts) towards more self-acceptance? 

The Hologram is a beautiful concept from the Authentic Relating corpus that I teach regularly. My friend and mentor Jason Digges has a wonderful definition in his book, Conflict = Energy: The Transformative Practice of Authentic Relating (IMHO the best book available on Authentic Relating!):

Our “hologram” is the lens through which we experience and make meaning of the world. It is unique to every one of us, yet ubiquitous across our lives. As the old adage goes, The way we do one thing is the way we do everything. Thus, when we begin to perceive our hologram and to work directly with it, powerful change can happen remarkably quickly.

Another way to look at the hologram is as a fully three-dimensional picture, giving us a full view of something in its entirety from any angle. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a hologram is worth a million. Yet in Authentic Relating terms, “seeing our hologram” means much more than simply seeing the details of ourselves. It means welcoming each detail as both valid in its own right, revealing and ultimately transforming the parts that aren’t serving us. Through this process, we become more aware, awake, and whole…Each of us is limited in what we can perceive, and we need each other to be able to clearly see ourselves. Community is the primary resource we have for waking up to, integrating, and beginning to free ourselves from the past relational limitations we were not consciously aware of.

These epiphanies can show us the internal patterns that have been shaping our entire lives. Often, we discover patterns that have been directing the course of our relationships for years and even decades—hidden in plain sight. These realizations, however humbling they may be, are in fact an opportunity to radically change our relational habits for the better.

As I have reviewed your comments and received feedback from close friends in conversation, it is clear that I have a personal hologram around not doing enough or giving enough, being enough, showing up enough, or accepting myself. In addition, my online audience and friends often reflect that I am doing a lot – constantly leading courses in-person and online, studying and participating in new training, and still in the aftermath of an intense healing process from a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

With this feedback and a slow, dawning realization that I seek validation and worth through external sources and success, I decided to start examining if I could source what I needed internally. Easier said than done, I began exploring this topic again through the concepts and language of polarity and the masculine and feminine aspects of my being.

What does my inner feminine seek? To be seen as light and felt as Love.

This subtly connects to my relational realm (my unconscious definition of being a man requires being in a relationship, needed by, loved, attached to a woman). First, I see that this continued efforting to seek external validation from a partner/lover/friendship originates in the part of my shadow that rejected, did not trust, or acknowledge my inner feminine. And if I cannot see myself as Light and Love, what business do I have seeking to be seen and known in this way by another human being? This is one of the reasons I took a long break from romantic/sexual relationships and recommitted myself to more flow, more invitation and surrender, and more self-nurture. I splurged on a beautiful home in Mexico that I would not have ‘allowed’ myself to in the past. I enjoy more time in self-pleasure and indulgence (in all the ways)! I am allowing my body to rest and sleep and go slow. I’m growing my hair longer than usual. I am committed to saying yes to opportunities and invitations regardless of cost or sometimes practical considerations. So far, this has been a delightful dance. Highly uncomfortable at times as this territory of flowing and lack of control is when my masculine would typically come in and dominate – make a plan, a budget, manage, control, and direct my life! I’m committed to this experiment for a while – at least through the summer.

What does my inner masculine seek? Direction, purpose, and seeking freedom amidst challenges.

This is where I operate most of the time – and what I have been writing about recently. The masculine heart responds most fully when aligned with a mission to advance freedom: financial, artistic, or spiritual liberation. The masculine heart often opens deepest when facing death, immense challenge, or going beyond all forms in a spiritual discipline. Rather than write more here – I’ll say for now that I am softening and widening my approach. After noticing how this advancement of freedom, immense challenge, and spiritual liberation is where I direct most of my attention, I’m allowing myself to accept that the outcome of such masculine endeavors may look very different than anything I can imagine at this moment. This freedom is likely utterly personal and may have very little connection to my place or position in society.

I’ll share a few words from David Deida on this dance of the masculine and feminine ( from chapter 31 of Blue Truth:

Feminine spiritual growth is about opening to receive all—all people, all situations, the massive presence of the entire moment—deep into your heart, surrendering open to breathe and move as the full force of Love, aboundingly alive, appearing as all. Whereas the masculine grows by realizing identity with emptiness, boundless consciousness, the unchanging ever-present witness of life, the feminine grows by realizing identity with ever-changing light, radiant Love, or the very love-fullness of all life and every moment.

The masculine craves unchanging nothingness—if not as eternal consciousness, then at least in post-ejaculative peace or zoned out in front of the computer. The feminine is drama, volatile passion, an ocean of tumultuous and ever-fluid light, changing shades, dark and dazzling, concealed and exposed, longing to be seen, felt, entered so deeply as to be overflowed beyond fullness.

Emptiness and quietude are masculine obsessions. The masculine often wants to resolve feminine turmoil and conclude in unadorned openness, the one taste that feels like home to the masculine. But the feminine opens as cinnamon and garlic, as salty, sweet, and bitter, as every possible flavor.

 Since we embody both masculine and feminine energies, we all can benefit from opening as BOTH unbounded emptiness and love’s fullness. Sitting in the open silence of meditation and surrendering open as love’s dance is helpful for each of us. At different moments in our lives and journeys, we may be required to emphasize one over the other. An important point I want to make in my inquiry into these topics is that it can be easy to assume or oversimplify this journey and think that if you increase your masculinity, you will decrease your femininity and vice-versa. Nothing is farther from the truth! Both can be expanded to unimaginable capacity – and even though we will very likely have a preferred way to enter and meet the world, we may be asked or demanded to call upon the other polarity to meet life’s uniqueness and dynamism.

This is enough for today – next time I want to inquire with all of you what happens when we can develop and satisfy our inner masculine and feminine ourselves – and then walk forward in the world from this place of wholeness? Love and Freedom, expressed in their uninhibited fullness.


Your thoughts and feedback are welcome and always greatly appreciated.