“Men are looking for a safe container to be able to share our shadow side”

Adrian Kowal, co-founder of Way of Nature UK, facilitates men’s retreats in the wilderness to help shed the ‘armour’ locking in suppressed emotions

“What does it mean to be a man in 2017? To be brutally honest – confusing. From an early age I have been spoon-fed mixed messages: an eclectic mix of inherited pressures, poor role models and even fairytales.

So it feels like a huge proportion of my own journey into manhood has actually been about unlearning these reinforced ideas and discovering what being a man means to me. The journey has been at times rough, surprising, humiliating and illuminating.

What has supported me most to witness the healthy masculine side in myself has been attending, and later leading, men’s groups. During these evenings it’s been so enriching to experience what is happening ‘behind the scenes’ for men from all walks of life – and feel that what they are sharing is most often a mirror into my own inner experience. To be part of a circle of men who are prepared to speak deeply about the real issues they face has, in turn, allowed me to begin to strip myself of the armour that has shielded whole aspects of myself, both the shadow and the light, that I was too numb to even appreciate were part of me.

Men’s groups helped strip me of the armour shielding whole aspects of myself

One of the most memorable men’s group meetings I led was when I invited the group into the countryside to wild camp together by a lake. We swam, grilled food over the fire, and then began our regular ‘check in’ process, where each man takes turns speaking about whichever issues feel the most real for them. After each speaks, there is space to share feedback in an honest, direct and sometimes challenging way. The depth and rawness of each man’s check-in that night was unbridled and the crackling of the fire, the cloak of the night sky above us and the sense of expansiveness from sitting together outdoors made a tangible difference compared to our indoor meetings.

When men feel safe to speak from the heart and this is combined with spending a few days in true wild nature, sometimes for periods of time alone, alchemy happens. Far away from distractions of everyday life, men slow down to notice their inner and outer nature, and a sense of purpose in community, leadership, empathy and kindness emerges.

In my experience with men’s work, men are looking for a safe container to be able to share our shadow side – the emotions or feelings that have most frequently been suppressed and ignored. When these are exposed and witnessed by other men, feelings of deep trust, belonging, groundedness and brotherhood are often the reward.”

Read our feature Rewriting the Man Code: the new masculinity

Find out more about Way of Nature UK

This article is featured in issue 90 of Positive News magazine. Become a subscriber member to receive Positive News magazine delivered to your door, plus you’ll get access to exclusive member benefits.