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Much has been written and discussed about the subjects of initiation and masculinity, and, quite frankly, much of it seems to be exclusively focused towards middle-aged men and their lack of meaningful mentorship while growing up. While it is unfortunate that the older generation may not have had their needs met, there is an entire new generation whose needs are just as vital now and are not being mentored. I, however, consider myself one of the fortunate few to have experienced mentorship. The following is my reflection about that experience.
As a man ages and grows through life, so does the number of experiences he has encountered along the way. Some can be labeled positive or negative and some as turning points. If I were asked to choose one experience from the past which has had the greatest impact on the way I perceive and engage in life, my answer might be different from other upper-middle-class youth of my generation. The experience I would give would not be my high school graduation, freshman year in college, winning the state championship in the triple jump, or qualifying for the Olympic trials. The most powerful and thought-provoking experience in my life occurred through participating in the Heart of the Natural Athlete program facilitated by Pete Shmock and Johan Morgen.
I don't believe that anything in this world can be achieved instantly. There is no such thing as a quick fix. But there are certain experiences that act as catalysts for change. In other words, initiation may be more of a process than an event. This is exactly what the Heart of the Natural Athlete program was for me, a catalyst which helped to create a broader, more open-minded perspective on life. These two men introduced me to some of life's most basic principles, which are often overlooked by most of the fast-paced individuals in our society. A window was opened for me which has benefited not only my athletic but personal development. I was shown the importance of being grounded to my heart and how extending from it to my actions enhances everything. I was introduced to the concepts! and practice of tai chi, yoga and meditation-discoveries that have awakened in me a rich and fertile inner life.
Throughout the program, Johan and Pete would keep saying to us, "Do it because you love! Bring your love to it and there's no stopping you." This is one of the most important discoveries I made in this program. Johan and Pete challenged me to examine my motives. Too often we do things because we feel we have to in order to look good, to gain acceptance, or because of the rewards we hope it brings us. I rediscovered that I originally began running track as a kid because I loved doing it. It was always so much fun for me to run fast and jump through the air. I reclaimed the motivation of love, and all of the external factors ceased to be of importance. I continue to participate in the triple jump and everything else I do because I love life.
I now believe that sports, like life, are 99% psychological and it is in this area that my relationship with these two men had the greatest influence. There are so many pressures for someone growing up in my generation. I was encouraged to make my own choices by informed consent, and then shown how to cultivate the mental and emotional conditions for centered action.
Pete, as a strength-training coach, is unparalleled in my experience. My speed and jumping ability improved dramatically under his tutelage. Most importantly, however, I was taught to use my strength with wisdom and efficiency. He taught me how to utilize visualization in a practical way to center myself and make the right use of my strength. I couldn't always grasp the Warrior as an archetype (Robert Moore), but once I was introduced experientially to its potential within myself through physical and visualization activities, the concept became alive and real.
All of this has moved from athletics to life. My experience of being mentored by Pete and Johan was much broader than just a sports context. It involved all aspects of life and, most importantly, masculinity. It was a first for me to actively ponder what it means to be a healthy man in today's society. It was an eye-opening experience to witness Pete and Johan dismantle the hollow images of masculinity that are thrust on us through advertising and media images. I was encouraged to make claim to my personal values and to be authentic with my motivations. The values gained through this experience have served as a foundation for almost all of the decisions I have made in life since.
Lastly, I want to ask you older men why my experience is so unique among my peers. I am one of the fortunate few. I wonder why, when there are so many of you older men doing "men's work," that so few of us younger men have been touched. I remember Johan saying, "Men's work is ultimately youth work and world work. If it is not, then don't be fooled, and demand it be called something else."
Have I resolved all life's questions and discovered once and for all what it means to be a man? No. We live in a complex and troubled time, in which many established definitions are being shattered. But as Johan and Pete taught us: I am seeking the right questions and attempting to live into those questions.
Greg Bleakney is a 21-year-old man currently attending the University of Oregon. He continues to compete in track. Greg graduated from Bainbridge High School.
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