The European Men’s Gathering 2020 is now Open!

I’m not normally one for long and formal speeches. Maniphesto has a tradition of short, spontaneous speeches and I have always made a point of opening previous Men’s Gatherings with a short, unprepared talk from the heart.

This year, Maniphesto took a major step in its development, in decentralising organisation and program coordination, handing over control of the event to a Operations team, appointing elders, and generally being completely independent of my involvement.

I wish that I could say that the only driving force for this development was our commitment to a spirit of co-creation and trust. While that is certainly a central value in everything we do, to be honest, a big contributing factor was that my wife was set to give birth to our son just days after the event. Everything had to be planned in a way that it could be executed perfectly without me being present. The only way to do that properly, was to give over the full responsibility for the program to others right from the start.

As I was awaiting my baby being born, I was already letting go of the “child” which I had given birth to together with all the men of Maniphesto, the European Men’s Gathering. It felt like an important moment that deserved to be marked and recognised. There were important things that needed to be said, and some final words of encouragement and guidance that had to be given, and a story that needed to be told.

This speech is the result of the last seven years of my hearts passion and work.

I was far from the only founder or “father” of the European Men’s Gathering, and probably not even the most important of the many fathers. But at least I can say that I have been the man who spent the most time with this co-creation, from it’s first conception, to nursing ideas through the toddler time of Men’s Research Weekends and the explorative years of the first Gatherings and now seeing our creation as a young man, ready to head out and take on the world, with his own identity, values and direction.

For me, this was a life event of importance. And even more so for the energy, inspiration and creativity that was unleashed as a team of men dived right in and took over the planning of an event far better than I could have dreamed of doing myself. It was thus with the sense of deep gratitude, satisfaction and even pride that any parent who has seen a child grow to a fully empowered adult has experienced.

What follows below is the text which I used for my speech. If you prefer watching the recording of it rather than reading, then you can click here. Enjoy!

Welcome gentlemen. Welcome all of you. Welcome to the Fourth European Men’s Gathering, which is now open.

To start the proceedings, it is most appropriate to acknowledge our Elders.

This is a sign of maturity that we have appointed Elders at this event and I want to honour the role that they have taken upon themselves and the responsibility they will carry for us. This is no small thing, and them sitting here today is the result of a lifetime of commitment and service. So thank you, our Elders, Mr Bard, Mr Butler and Mr Buren.

Then I want to acknowledge all you men who have participated in the creation of this event. About half of you have attended meetings, discussed on slack, and are collaborating to make the program happen. Thank you for all your work. This event is only possible because of your engagement and passion.

And lastly, I want to acknowledge all of you. Those who have travelled far to be here, left loved ones at home, taken time away from other important projects, and used your savings or even risked your life in corona pandemic times. It is an honour for us to be able to host you here. Especially the fathers and sons who are here together. Thank you for coming and entrusting this weekend to us.

Now before I continue, Juan is going to give us some practical information.

[Juan Carlos]

Our theme this weekend is Fatherhood. I want to start by recalling that us being here is just one event in a long history of the men’s movement. The first time anyone here can remember that there was something called a men’s movement was in the late 60s and 70s. It has been a fragmented affair, with a lot of men out to change the world and manhood. Some men have been fighting for equal treatment in legal systems, some men expressing their grief together, some men dreaming of a future more in harmony with nature, more connected to each other, to women, or more aligned with their warrior spirit. Some of them have called for a return to old values, some have advocated for throwing everything away and starting completely fresh.

In Maniphesto, we appreciate and honour all of these men and we believe that all of these approaches have value and are a part of what we want to do.

So we stand on the shoulders of giants and we respect and admire the efforts of the men who have gone before us. I want to mention here, some of our inspirations.

Personally I look to my namesake, St Paul. By trade he was a tent maker. Archetypically, a builder, an engineer and an architect. He was a man of ruthless dedication if there ever was one. And he laid some of the biggest foundation stones of the Christian church, probably the largest and most powerful movement and organisation ever seen in the world. Then I will drop a few names of intellectual giants who have inspired us and challenged our thinking, like Carl Jung, Nietzsche, Freud and Robert Moore.

More recently David Deida inspired many of us to embrace masculine essence and Jordan Peterson reminded us to start “tidying our own room” as well as bringing together a material and metaphysical understanding of reality.

Closer to home, and moving to our Elders, many of us, including myself had our first workshops in men’s work from Eli. Myself and many other men were introduced to the idea of male bonding and finding a contributive role by Alexander. And from the USA, we have our third elder, Michael bringing in a tradition which goes back to Robert Bly, Michael Meade and John Eldredge, who were all leaders in the American men’s movement.

And then of course we need to mention our home grown heroes – the men who have been an essential part of this movement with their work, for their long term commitment, vision and engagement, I want to thank (and you guys can stand) – John Aigner, Hajee Pepping, Jakob Kærgaard, Jesper Lejfjord, Jozef Mihailsin, Eivind Skjellum, Thomas Hamelryck (back after a break), and in their absence, Zdenek Weber, Gustav Høgfeldt and Tomas Friis. (clap)

Personally I also want to mention here my own father. He is not here today, but he is a group elder in the Maniphesto Core group of Babylon together with Hajee. He has been a model of stability, humility and service for my mother, my brother and me as well as many other men. This is something I came to understand and appreciate fully, later on in my life as some of my childhood friends told me the impact he has had on their lives.

So that was a little about the roots of all of this. If I have to point out a moment for the first shoots that sprouted for maniphesto, I think it was at the Regional Burning Man Festival, the Borderland in the summer of 2013 held on the Swedish Island of Gotland The first day there, Alexander came driving by in a car with a common friend, Malin. They stopped, and she introduced us. There was something in the way that we looked in each other’s eye. In our handshake. I think that I can say that we recognised a certain solidity or robustness in each other. And that coupled with a playfulness towards life.

I can say that it was love at first sight. That year Alexander was running a Syntheist Beaver Temple and I was running a camp called Shadowlands. But we met soon again after and got along like a house on fire.

I think that our mantra has been “fun and deep”, coupled with straight and honest exchanges, an orientation towards action rather than talk, no drama, no intrigues and a desire to understand and support each other.

We were joined by a professional dancer and therapist, Buster Rådvik and we put on our first Men’s Research weekends in Copenhagen and Stockholm soon after. We quickly discovered that the main reason we do men’s work is, because something magical happens when we are only men together. We love and appreciate women, but in these spaces, we relax, we open up and we really meet each other, as ourselves, in a way that added incredible value to our own lives.

I remember a very passionate discussion we had in Stockholm around proper etiquette for men peeing while standing up and guidelines in case of drippage. Looking back, I think the topics and theories we spoke about were less important. What I think was really happening is that we tore away the masks and showed ourselves to each other. With our confusion, our mistrust of each other and our loneliness.

And then, in that state together, we committed ourselves to making stuff happen in the world, together. Our commitments were based on our most fundamental beliefs and our deepest desires. We found that it is easy to sit around and impress ourselves and each other with a lot of stories, emotions and ideas. It was far more difficult to do something that actually benefits other people than ourselves.

And we found that, until we were doing that, we were under a great risk of really just engaging in navel gazing and narcissism. By agreeing to work together towards goals which we all thought were more important than ourselves, then a new hierarchy of values was created. Not based on being able to put forward fancy theories. Not emotional childhood stories. Not on who can drink the most beer or who has the biggest car. No. We found that the virtues we started appreciating the most was the ability to do valuable and contributive work towards realising a shared vision of shifting our perception and practice of manhood in a positive direction.

Making that commitment, to pursue a shared vision, gave us a mission and helped us to find our contributive roles and to learn to admire each other. We found that we were all good at different things, and that every man who was actually willing to lend a hand, was vital to our mission. We also found that many men were great talkers, but fell short of the standard, when action was needed. And we also discovered that tendency in ourselves, especially when our brothers called us out.

So in that way, we met each other, and we also met ourselves, in a more authentic way than we had ever experienced before. We found that there were no gurus amongst us, but that we all had a part of the puzzle to put in. And we found that the work to change manhood starts, with improving how I show up as a man with my brothers.

So this led to us creating a Manifest which we put out online, which energised a lot of men, and led to the Nordic Men’s Gathering in 2017, Gatherings in Stockholm, Holland and Czech Republic, and then European Men’s Gatherings in 2018 and 2019.

So this is the fourth big men’s gathering we are holding in Maniphesto. The intention of these events is to collaboratively, create a container where we can let go of who we think we are and the way we normally see ourselves, and to have a much more raw experience of what kind of a man we are. To create this container, we need to set up a framework and make a few agreements. So here they come.

Firstly, I have spoken to the kitchen, and they tell me that there will be enough food for everyone. I am told that is important. So let me repeat. There will be enough food for everyone. Michael heard that and his response was, “Sure, but is there enough coffee for everyone?”. Yes Michael, there is enough coffee for everyone.

Secondly we need to make some agreements together:

  • Confidentiality. Please keep everything that you hear and experience completely confidential. If there is something you would like to share with someone else, you ask the man involved for permission. Do not share with your wife, or your girlfriend or anyone else. Please raise your hand if you agree.
  • Taking full responsibility for your own experience. If there is anything you don’t like, anything you feel uncomfortable with, say no. If you are uncertain, say no. Adjust exercises so that they suit your level. If you at any time need to leave or just sit out of the program, that is fine, please let us know. Taking responsibility is also about if you are bored or disagree with something, then speak up. Challenge us. Offer your perspective. We need everyone to be actively engaged and we need your help to make this event the best possible. Please raise your hand if you agree to take full responsibility for your experience.
  • Punctuality and structure – We are 100 men here and we need to go through a process together. So please help us to make sure everyone comes on time. Please raise your hand if you agree to keep the structure and punctuality.
  • The last agreement is that we respect the man, but challenge ideas. We have many different types of men here, from all walks of life and ages. There is an amazing amount of talent, experience and insight here in this room. We respect every man here as a unique and valuable contributor with different gifts. So take with you an intention to see each and every encounter you have this weekend as an opportunity to learn something new. It is normally the ones who trigger us the most who have the biggest gifts for us.

At the same time it is important to understand that while men are inherently respected, ideas are not subject to the same respect – ideas will be challenged. All of us have some limiting ones, and we want you to challenge our ideas too, as well as your own. So the invitation is to put your deepest most heartfelt ideas forward, to maintain the highest possible standard of integrity and honesty with yourself. If you find disagreement, then approach it with curiosity. Do not shy away from intensity, but to stay with it. And that is especially for you conflict avoidant men. If you love arguing like some men here do, then you can try relaxing a bit. Listen to each other very carefully. Speak truth, but to do so with care and compassion.

So can I get your hands raised, do you all agree to respect the man, challenge ideas?

Those were our agreements.

So what is going to happen this weekend?

We have made a detailed program for the entire weekend, with some flexibility for ourselves. We will tell you everything you need to know, when you need to know it.

Right now I can tell you: The program will be centered around 5 rituals and 4 Core team meetings.

The rituals will be:

  • Tonight – Journey to manhood
  • Tomorrow morning – Toxic Fatherhood
  • Tomorrow evening – Purification
  • Sunday morning – Rebirth and Nature Baptism
  • Sunday afternoon – The Blessing of the Father

I will not say more about the rituals now except that you will receive all the information you need when the time comes.

About Core groups: The Core group meetings will be your primary vehicle with your brothers through the event. The stories that you hear there will form the basis of an intimacy and insight into each others lives, that many men never get to experience. I know of many Core group buddies who have developed into very close friendships or even business partnerships. Your first Core group meeting will be tonight already and you will hear more about them from Hajee. All I will say is, there is absolutely nothing you cannot say or do in your Core group.

The result of the weekend, if everything goes according to plan, will be that you have a deeper understanding and knowledge of yourself, and your identity as a man, and more importantly, as a human in a social setting. You will have had a concrete experience of finding meaning in the pain that you carry with you in your life and how to turn that into a source of passion and inspiration. You will experience, and you are going to hear this a few times this weekend, “Finding the blessing in your wound.”

We will be working with a theoretical framework of three castes: warrior, merchant and priest which will be equated to body, mind and spirit. So you will understand how to apply this framework to find your primary caste and how to relate to the other castes as a way of finding more precisely your contributive role as a man.

Our purpose with the event is to enable all of us to grow as better sons, brothers, fathers and mentors. Not all of us will have that responsibility of raising a child. But all of us are here because we desire to take on the responsibility of a fatherly role for others. And creating and working towards a shared vision for fatherhood.

So here at the beginning, it is important to understand that this is a movement of men. Maniphesto is an open source Network of collaborators, and this is our yearly meetup event, run by all you men and for all you men, where all are welcome. AND Maniphesto is a organisation for men who have dedicated their lives to men’s work, and want to bring it to the mainstream. So we are working together to make this a viable professional career path providing real quality to participants.

We talk about spirit and we dive into liminal space together, but We are NOT a religion and while there is at least one priest here, this is not his church. We are in the business of providing spaces and tools for men to make positive changes in their life. We cannot make any changes for anyone, only you can do so. No hocus pocus, and none of us know as much about what you need, as you potentially do, if you are really willing to be honest with yourself. So the more you put in, the more you will get out of this.

That is why we are collaborative by design – we believe that the path is emergent in an open and trusting collaborative environment. As we enter into the process together, we learn to understand each other and ourselves, and are able to become even more ourselves, together. Sometimes it is my role to engage and contribute, to put myself out there. To speak my truth and let go of the outcome. Other times, I need to step back and receive from my brothers.

None of you are passive recipients. We are not here to entertain anyone or to spoon feed anyone. We cannot tell anyone how to solve the problems in their life. You coming here means that you have signed up for the very hard work of digging down deep within yourself and figuring out what your contribution is. And it is going to be uncomfortable, because you are going to meet yourself, and if your experience is anything like mine has been, then you are probably not going to like what you see all of the time.

The reason we do this of course, is because on the other side of meeting our demons, is freedom, meaning, purpose and direction. A deep sense of knowing that you are in the right place, and a band of brothers who keep you on track. That is what we are working on together here in Maniphesto.

So now I have done all that I can do to set the stage, and it is my turn to step back and give on the baton to the other men who will lead us into this night with the first ritual of the event.

My wife is set to give birth to our first son next week, so there is a chance that I will get called away from here at some time during the weekend. So of course the theme of the weekend is very relevant for me. If my son-to-be is patient enough to wait a few more days, you will hear from me again on Sunday.

Thank you.

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