Imagine one hundred men gathering together in the middle of the forest. Together, they crowd into a old wooden lodge, built deep in the redwoods by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. The men come from all backgrounds – Latino gang kids from L.A., lifers who had just been released from almost thirty years in prison, white, black, Irish, and Asian men. The men are young and old, from age 16 to well over 60. As they gather, one by one they share their stories over the course of a week. As each man speaks, the others listen. Together, they sing songs and read and listen to poetry. They create beautiful rituals, and open their hearts bare to one another. They cry, laugh, scream, and swear. They curse each other, then bow and forgive. They eat good food, and drink plenty of coffee. When the week comes to a close, they disperse and return back to their homes across the United States and beyond, their hearts, minds and spirits full of precious gifts which they carry back for their families and their communities.
Sound like a dream? Like a wild imagination? I would have thought so too had I not joined those men last week in the redwoods outside of Mendocino, California, and experienced it for myself. The gathering, led by storyteller, mythologist, and mentor Michael Meade, is called Thresholds of Change, and it has taken place here every year since the early 1980s.
It was an incredible gathering, which gave me a glimpse of the way it has always been – the way men have gathered together in sacred space to connect and commune since the beginning of human history. Through our sharing, rituals, songs, and stories, I felt transported to another time and another place. There, I found myself in an unending stream of communion with Nature and with our essence as men. In this stream, we were connected with all of our ancestors, who, until very recently in history, gathered together in this way all the time. These sacred gatherings – convened during festivals, rites of passage, seasonal changes, and other life transitions – still exist in our bones, our flesh, and our deepest visceral memories. Despite the absence of these types of gatherings in today’s popular landscape, they still live in the memories of our souls.
It takes a strong act of will to remove ourselves from the momentum of this postmodern, technology-driven society and immerse ourselves in the cleansing waters of these ancient ways. In order to connect to this living stream, we must turn off the computer, the television, and the cel phone, and we must give ourselves a break from the nearly constant movement. Inevitably, we need to physically remove ourselves from our usual environment and find ourselves again in a wild and natural place. There, we must pray, and open ourselves – through praying and sharing and simple presence – to nature and those who are with us. In ritual space, as a community unified in our intention, we must invite God to come in, in whatever form we each experience the Divine. This is not about doctrine – it is about direct experience. It is about communion. For men, it is about remembering that we are Warriors, and that we have always been Warriors. Not Warriors of aggression and conquest, but Warriors of the Heart – Warriors of the Spirit. In the words of Michael Meade – “The Real Warrior never goes to war. The Real Warrior knows that the battle is inside.”
So: What is your threshold? What is the bigger, more beautiful life you are moving into? What is the border that you now must cross? From my experience in Mendocino, I can say that we can often find our greatest assistance for these significant life transitions in community, in prayer, and in Nature. This is what we humans have always done, in ceremonies, rituals, and celebrations, for as long as we have walked the Earth. In this time of catastrophic changes, I know of no greater medicine than to return to a sacred path. This is our root, and this is our essence. This is the life we were meant to live.