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Galloping Horse, Soaring Eagle, Temple Badger, and Powerful Jaguar are some of the 30 graduates of the New Warrior Training Adventure. The New Warrior Training is a weekend retreat facilitated by The ManKind Project (MKP). According to its brochure, MKP "offers men the opportunity to look deeper into their lives and make healthy choices about their future."

The meeting began as a gray-haired man in slacks and loafers asked everyone to gather into the room and find a seat. The man instructed us to breathe deeply. "We breathe a breath that countless generations have breathed. Great warriors, significant men, great figures of the world all breathe this air we take in. Our breath will be breathed by generations. This is all part of the circle of life and its abundance. Let's be grateful for this through our spirituality or our nonspirituality." Men throughout the room voiced their gratitude by shouting, "Aho," a Native American word someone described as amen.

Rich walked forward and began to tell the history of the group. "The ManKind Project was founded 20 years ago by three men. These men -- a drill sergeant, a psychologist, and a philosopher/poet -- wanted to create a support system for men to express and find themselves. They started it because they saw the men around them dying early, stressed out, divorcing, and feeling alone," said Rich. These three men created a weekend retreat for men to explore feelings, a connection to nature. and each person's own spirituality. "A lot of the teachings come from indigenous people -- the Celts, Aborigines, Native Americans, and African tribes." After Rich spoke, two men played guitars and sang a song inspired by the training, "The Next Man."

After the song, Dorn, the leader of the New Warrior Training weekend, introduced the graduates. "These men came to a weekend event to find a part of themselves they were never aware of," said Dorn. Each graduate was introduced with his new name and the graduate then offered testimony of the change the ManKind Project brought into his life. "Since going on this retreat, my community is better with my wife, son, and coworkers," said Steven (Orca). "It is the closest thing to a miracle I've ever experienced," commented Jeff (Temple Badger). "I have been profoundly moved by love and goodness in all the men that attended. This weekend scraped away walls on my heart," said Gerald (Pig). The evening closed with a time to honor our mothers, a song, and an elder blessing. Everyone was encouraged to "take home the wonderful energy created that night."

Afterward, I met with David Valencia (Tiger with an Open Heart). Valencia graduated from the training in June 1999. After graduation, five men formed a small group. I spoke with several men from Valencia's group about their experience and spirituality.

Valencia says he is more aware of his personal issues through participation in the group. "I can speak openly about life's challenges and deal with them appropriately. Now, if someone gives me the wrong coffee, I don't get mad." I asked Valencia what he sees as the meaning to life. "To see my kids grow up and become greater people, to support them and equip them for life. We need to focus on what we are leaving behind for future generations," replied Valencia.

Valencia was raised Catholic. "It became ritualistic for me. I still attend Catholic Mass on occasion and I say I'm Catholic. I believe in God and that Jesus is the Son of God." When asked about how his faith impacts his MKP involvement, he replied, "The MKP is open to all religions. All these religions can connect and come together. I believe in a higher power and that everyone has an individual potential to reach this. The MKP's spiritual direction helps one find a greater path." At the graduation ceremony, several New Warriors attended through the prompting of a Catholic priest.

Regarding death and the afterlife, Valencia believes "your flesh dies but your spirit goes on. Our spiritual side is a source of energy that is always around," Valencia replied. "As a Catholic I've been taught if you have been good, you will go to heaven. If you haven't been good, part of your punishment is your life will not be a good experience. As for the afterlife for bad people, I don't have an answer."

Dave Steinke (Powerful Bull) was raised in a nonreligious family. "I've studied a lot of spirituality, but I've never gotten into religion. I do believe there is a greater spirit. But I believe that all things are connected into one. My feeling is that there is a greater power, but it is not the vindictive, judgmental, 'burn in hell' religion that many try to profess. I see a lot of religion's writings and practices as man's tampering with the spiritual world to accomplish what they want. Formal, organized religions are designed around controlling people. For example, Christianity uses sin. Sin is just a control mechanism. The leaders need to rule over these people and they threaten them with burning in hell if they don't follow the rules."

Steinke believes in reincarnation. "I believe our spirits come back as another human being until they reach, by learning, everything they need to learn." When asked where he came to this belief, Steinke replied, "It resonates with me. I'm of the belief that we accept what feels right."

Rick Kelchak was brought up Catholic but became a born-again Christian in college. "I got sucked into it through Youth for Christ," said Kelchak. Later, Kelchak rejected his faith because he was gay. "It was difficult because I was a crazy, Bible-thumping person who liked other guys. There was a lot of prayer and gnashing of teeth [as a Christian]. I wondered why I am made this way. I know God, or whatever being, is fine with the way that I am. If he wasn't, my conversion would have stopped these [homosexual] feelings." Kelchak still believes in God. "I guess you would call me a pseudo-Christian. But I believe the Indian practices hold more truth for me than Christianity. I see the earth, sky, and all creation as sacred." Kelchak said the MKP incorporates some of this Native American spirituality. On the retreats they beat drums in the forest, have a sweat lodge. Graduates wear a talisman, the red pouch necklace filled with sage, herbs, and a stone from the weekend retreat.

Founded locally: 1995

Website: mkp.org

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