by Art Patterson,
In 1973, I received a tragic phone-call. Tommy, my friend and former classmate, had passed away. Tommy was older than me and graduated from our school in the late 60s. Wheelchairs had not been invented yet and Tommy, who struggled with severe cerebral palsy, spent the entirety of his life in a cart. From what I remember, the cart was like a plain, four-legged wooden chair with two wheels on the back and a seatbelt. Any time Tommy wanted to move, his caregiver had to tilt the cart back and wheel him forward. There was a special window in the front room of his home in which he spent, nearly every hour of the day, looking through to see what the other kids where doing outside. He never left that cart and never went outside. Tommy died looking out of that window, looking in on life as an observer. As a disabled boy, I saw this and decided I wasn’t going to live that way.
Years later, in 1999, after discovering and becoming a part of a remarkable organization, I began my journey toward personal transformation. This organization, and ultimately the catalyst that changed my life was The Mankind Project. Up until that point, there was emptiness inside me. I knew I had potential, but I didn’t know how to bring it out. I felt as if I was on the outside of manhood looking in, an observer rather than a participant; strikingly similar to my old friend Tommy. Life in my mid-30s was experienced through the eyes of a victim. Like many disabled men, the people that cared for me misused my trust. Life had wronged me and I was angry. I was playing the part of the man everybody else wanted me to be while my inner truth slept dormant, buried in my soul. To feel accepted, to belong, to feel a part of life, I had to play “the game”: don’t feel emotion; exist in denial of who you really are. The religious institution in which I was raised didn’t accept me for who I knew myself to truly be. I learned about religion but knew nothing about spirituality. Because of this, I had no desire to make something out of my life or take risks because, if I did, I feared that I would again be shamed. Though society acknowledged me as a man, I had no concept of what constituted a real man.
To cope with feelings of anger, shame, and guilt that had spawned from my experiences with other men, from an oppressive religious culture, and from my own limiting beliefs, I turned to alcohol and sex. This dangerous outlet quickly became an addictive pattern and the maelstrom that was my day-to-day experience embodied a desperate departure from my true self. When my true self tried to emerge, I turned and fled. Life took a dark turn: loneliness, depression, I wanted to end my life. God couldn’t love me for who I truly was. Or so I thought.
Thankfully, the 12-step program provided a way out of the despair. This program started my journey toward self-discovery, healing, and unconditional love for self and others. While working the 12 steps, I bonded with a group of men who were doing something different and powerful with their lives, something I had never witnessed before. They were showing up in life with authenticity, integrity, and purpose. These men belonged to an all-inclusive brotherhood called The Mankind Project: an accepting community that welcomes all men, able bodied or not, all sexual orientations, and all faiths. After receiving an invitation to, and later attending, a workshop run by these men, I admitted, for the first time, that shame was a dominating force in my life. I learned how to work with shame. I saw a beacon of hope that, through this brotherhood called the Mankind Project, I could embrace my true self and become a part of a loving and unconditionally accepting community. The first step in doing so, according to these remarkable men, was the Mankind Project’s flagship training weekend: The New Warrior Training Adventure.
Designed to challenge men to embrace their full potential, this powerful weekend radically transforms the way in which men show up in the world. It accomplishes this by introducing a man to what lies beneath the surface, beneath the armor, beneath the shield, underneath the fear, behind the shame, behind the wall he has built to protect himself; the wall that was built to protect the little boy within, the little boy who was wounded. On the weekend, men access these wounds and begin the process of healing. Similarly, on my weekend, I accessed my wounds, began the process of healing, and received a call from God to continue on this path.
I knew as soon as I took the first step with the Mankind Project that God was trying to show me something. God was trying to show me the way to my true self. The Mankind Project gave me the opportunity, the tools, and the support to answer God’s call, but I had to do the work. It took all the strength, courage, perseverance, tenacity, and will to walk this path. But I was never alone: every step of the way, I had encouraging, loving, and nurturing brothers guiding me. In the beginning, I had to borrow their will, which they lovingly shared. But eventually, after I did the work, I found the will within me to discover, embrace, and integrate the real man inside. I witnessed, first hand, what it meant to be a real man; to belong to an organization that made me feel safe, appreciated, nurtured, and inspired.
I learned to love the man I saw in the mirror. That man said to me, “You are not broken, you don’t need to change, and you are complete within yourself.” Through this work, and for the first time in my life, I spoke up for myself, I didn’t allow men to abuse me, and I started setting boundaries. This brotherhood created a space for me to really process my anger towards my disability. In working with my anger, I learned to embrace my disability as the gift that it is, rather than a curse I had believed it to be. I found my gold. I went from being a bystander who was petrified to participate in life and share my talents to a fearless, kind-hearted, charismatic, and enthusiastic man. I was no longer sitting in my chair looking in on life through the window. I was living it.
Who am I today? I’m a volunteer, a proud uncle, and a member of a wonderful band. I mentor and sponsor young men. Recently, I’ve been called to leadership within the Mankind Project; that’s why I’m writing this article. Through the challenges I have overcome in my life, I have been called to inspire challenged men to discover and share the golden gifts that are within every single one of us. My name is Warrior Dove with Fierce Open Heart and my challenge to you, reader, is this: Are you going to sit back and look in on life from the window? Are you going to let life pass you by? Or, are you going to step into your greatness and share your gift with the world?
If you are willing to accept this challenge, I invite you to reach out to The Challenged Warriors of The Mankind Project and begin your journey toward transforming your life.