I am writing to state my opinion in an arena where I have some strong feelings and opinions. I am interested in hearing from other NMMW guys on this important topic. There was booze on campus at the recent Spring Gathering–and it was freely shared during the Saturday afternoon discretionary time. As the designated leader, I elected to confront its presence in multiple ways. This essay is part of that response.

I strongly believe that alcohol has no place at our table–not because I am a teetotaler. I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner on a regular basis I value its capacity to lubricate lively conversations–as well as its time-honored role as an element of ritual at weddings, graduations and for many other festive occasions.

Despite the above, I consistently choose to leave my wine bottles, glasses and corkscrew at home when I head off to a NMMW gathering. I  fully intend to continue this practice–as long as I am a  member of New Mexico Men’s Wellness.

First of all, New Mexico Mens Wellness provides a remarkable forum for healing, personal growth and spiritual development. In the company of seasoned,intelligent, caring and nurturing men, we take remarkable risks, communicate our highest hopes and darkest fears, and regularly achieve emotional release and powerful insights–experiences that can open up new pathways and even transform our lives. This process of growth/discovery/acceptance quite often means experiencing mood states that
are painful as well as liberating.

A primary property of alcohol is to numb and diminish raw/powerful emotions, to soothe the mind, and to promote the depositing/burial of challenging memories. In my belief these properties run  directly against the grain (pun intended), of the core values and experiences of New Mexico Mens Wellness.

Secondly, there are men in various stages of alcohol recovery among us. If they know that alcohol is tolerated in advance of registration, they may choose not to attend, in support of their recovery.  There is also the live possibility that, if presented with alcohol during the course of the weekend, they will actively imbibe. This choice may, or may not, have a highly negative impact on their recovery journey.

I am a social worker by profession, and the maxim of my trade is “Do no Harm.” Bringing alcohol to our gatherings, and sharing it with another brother whose alcohol/substance abuse history you may or may not be familiar with–is potentially a harmful act.

Thirdly, it’s the piece about following rules and observing boundaries. With the recent gathering at Hummingbird, the literature for the weekend stated clearly–please leave your firearms, pets and  alcohol at home. The person who brought booze on campus elected not to express his dissatisfaction with the clearly stated rule in advance of the weekend.

Hummingbird Music Camp has a similar no- booze- on- campus rule. Had Lesley Higgins stopped by to change light bulbs a few hours later than he chose to on Saturday afternoon, he might have encountered the happy hour circle within 100 yds of the north campus buildings. In that case we likely would have lost not only our good relationship with the Higgins Family and with the staff of Hummingbird Music Camp, but also our opportunity to host the 11th Spring Retreat on their grounds (site of all previous 10 retreats).  Fair to say that our reputation as an organization might have suffered as well.

Post Script. This essay does not address the issue of psychoactive substances–including cannabis and peyote. My personal choice has been to avoid partaking in these as well during our gatherings (and in all honesty I have yet to encounter them). I recognize that with this issue, there are multiple factors to consider (such as medicinal usage of cannabis), and I leave it to another stout-hearted man to broach the subject.

Looking forward to your responses.

Christopher King

May 1, 2011

We just completed yet another successful NMMW event–the Spring Retreat at Hummingbird Music Camp outside of Jemez Springs–over the weekend of May 15th to 17th. If you were unable to attend, keep an eye out for a blog on the retreat–to be posted on the nmmw.org website in the near future–thanks to the website administration skills of Jim Connolly, the journaling of Manuel Tafoya, and the photography of Uwe Schroeter, Joseph Woods and others.

I, Christopher King, have benefited from each and everyone of the 19 gatherings I have attended, starting with the Summer of 1999–held on our old summer stomping grounds–on US Forest land outside of Cuba,NM, and capably led by Mr. David Robertson.

I can fairly say I have achieved NMMW frequent flier status over the course of the last five year period–15 gatherings, twice the designated leader (Summer of 2007 and Spring of 2011) and five other gatherings where I attended planning sessions and took on various tasks and leadership roles.

The benefits I accrued from those 19 gatherings easily outstrips the investments of my time, energy, dollars and creative juices.

The most recent Spring Retreat was a robust success–based on multiple markers–29 men and one guest visitor for Friday night made it the largest of the Spring Gatherings to date. Six of the men were either newcomers to NMMW or to the Spring Gathering. Three came to the gathering thanks to the
single-handed recruiting efforts of Mr. Joseph Woods. Two men in attendance benefited from  partial/full scholarships. Finally, on Sunday mid-day during the closing talking circle, four men  picked up the talking stick, guaranteeing us an 11th Spring Gathering Retreat next April at Hummingbird.  Financially speaking, we covered all of our expenses, and added $500 to the NMMW coffers. In addition we passed the hat for Young Fathers of Santa Fe and raised $234 on their behalf.

The most significant statistic in my mind is that, of the 29 members present, all 29 contributed their labor over the course of the weekend. Fully 15 of 29 took on a leadership role or two—for example leading one of the small groups that met for 5 hours over the weekend, or offering a Saturday afternoon discussion on Conscious Dying, playing Haydn sonatas on the piano or teaching a lovingkindness or a zen meditation session, writing a journal of the weekend’s events, or facilitating a meadowlot baseball game.

The take home message for me is this. Despite some  indicators of decline within our organization over the past 8 to 10 years (smaller gatherings, fewer younger men in attendance, declining bank account balance), there’s plenty of growth potential within our NMMW organization.

Now whether it gets actualized, or not, depends completely on the choices that YOU make (the  individual YOU reading this blog–as well as the 100 or so of your comrades with solidly beating hearts). I am speaking of the choices YOU make this month–and in the months to come. When my 17yo daughter fails to complete a designated task, and offers up a spontaneously derived and well-presented excuse, her silver haired Dad is quick to respond: That’s all well and good, my dear Eliana, but Actions, will always speak louder than words.

At a loss for an action step on behalf of the NMMW Cause? Here are six ideas that leap into my mind.

  1. Contact Jim Mischke and Doug Booth, and volunteer your time and talents to assist with planning and execution of the 2011 Summer Gathering.
  2. Contact Shel Goldman and Kurt Faust and volunteer your time and talents to assist with the planning and execution of the 2011 Fall Conference.
  3. Commit to attending either or both of said gatherings, and plan to drive up with a new guy riding shotgun (bound and gagged and safely stashed in the trunk is an acceptable alternative).
  4. Start a mens group–and post a request for new members on the website (www.nmmw.org)
  5. Contact Barry Macintosh–and volunteer to assist Young Fathers of Santa Fe over the upcoming Father’s Day Weekend.
  6. Got computer tech skills? Contact Jim Connolly and ask how you can assist him with maintaining the website.
  7. Write a check to the NMMW Scholarship fund, and mail it to our treasurer in Santa Fe, Mr. David Pease.

Note: contact info for the above NMMW-active men can be readily found on the website, or contact me and I will provide it for you (for a small fee of course).

Carpe Diem,
your NMMW Brother,
Christopher King

April 30, 2011

Recently I spent an afternoon with three of my closest NMMW buddies. Near the end of our time together I led a 20 minute meditation. The instructions were like this: Imagine a 27 year-old man is seeking your advice. He has energy and passion and plenty of options, and lots of uncertainty about where he should go next in his life’s journey. His name is Nathan Manuel Mystery Wanderlust–he goes by Nate. He trusts in the wisdom that you, a ruggedly handsome grey beard, have acquired–during the span of his  quarter century on the planet–and a few decades before he arrived.  He eagerly awaits your guidance.

As you delve downward– into the cornucopia of meditation time/space, keep your eyes open for an image, a single word or a brief phrase–a simple gift that would assist Nate in his quest for direction and hope. When you open your eyes at the end of this guided meditation, please share your gift with Nate–and with the others within this circle.

20 minutes late we concluded our group meditation–four men sitting in a circle on wooden chairs within my cozy bedroom–filtered sunlight streaming though the window–the pervasive quiet interrupted gently by the sounds of a mildly distressed infant in the adjoining apartment Three Oooohhhmmms later–we gradually opened our eyes and surveyed the room and then each other.

So you may be curious about Christopher‘s message for Nate? So my fine young man, consider the Yellow Submarine–that’s right–the curious image from the 60’s era Beatles song–the  underwater craft that has all of your friends on board–and many more floating just outside the window. This chipper vessel travels freely through an abundant green sea–an ocean teeming with life–embraced from above by a dome of clear blue sky.Like its cousin, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the Yellow Submarine has capacities for metamorphosis and transformation. Late for work? Well just push a button and she becomes an aircraft that rises above the pollution-rife snarl of rush hour traffic–and whisks you away–on a graceful beeline for your destination. Got the desire to explore outer or inner space? With a few crisp orders to your maties, and the clanging of a couple of warning bells, and you are well on your way.

The melody from the Yellow Submarine is an old British drinking song–recycled by that spirited and talented unruly haired foursome. Now Picture a group of men, young and old, sitting around a wooden table–in a pub with a glowing fire emanating from a stone hearth–a buxom waitress listens attentively, and prepares to fill their pitcher yet again– as the sound of these well worn, hearty and slightly tipsy voices fills the Pub–and filters out the windows to the neighboring cottages and over the neighboring fields.

Go West Young Men, and do consider a career in Plastics, and, finally, always remember the Yellow Submarine.

So there you have it. Are you curious about the messages from my three fellow meditators.  They may, or may not, divulge their answers in due course. Stay tuned.

With a smile,

May 1, 2011

(The following letter from Christopher King is being shared on nmmw.org as “Men’s Musings” blog post, and a variety of replies are being posted as comments.  We are planning to share the post and associated comments at the 25th NMMW Conference at Ghost Ranch where the theme of the Future of NMMW will be a significant part of the “Roots and Wings” theme.  Please register at this web site and add your input to the discussion.  – Jim Connolly, Webmaster, nmmw.org)

Dear Men of New Mexico Men’s Wellness,

I am writing to share some ideas I have been incubating for the last few weeks. I have had the opportunity to share some of this with our fall conference leader, Lawrence Cook, and I promised him at the time something in writing.  So I decided to craft a letter and send it to a bunch of my comrades in NMMW (a partial list for sure). I welcome your responses all–regarding our beloved organization’s mission and future. Please forward this to other men in NMMW who might find this worthwhile.

I am of two minds. I am deeply concerned about the future of New Mexico Men’s Wellness. I have zero concerns or worries about the future of New Mexico Men’s Wellness.

Are you familiar with the Shriners – those grey haired guys with the funny hats who have raised money for decades – to build and fund hospitals for children with severe illnesses?  At a St Patricks Day parade in Tucson about 5 years ago I watched their remarkable street performance – each man wearing a tasseled hat driving a motorized go-cart – about six of them at a time moving in tight formations.  Very low to the ground, they weaved deftly and flawlessly in and out of each other in cloverleaf patterns. The parade moved on – lots of red haired and freckled kids and adults riding floats and waving to the robust crowd. A while later a second group of Shriners appeared in go-carts half the size of the first ones. And their finale was a third group – riding even smaller carts – roughly the size of a toddlers ride-in sports car.  The men in all 3 groups were clearly having fun – while executing their choreographed motorized dance – with focus, humor and grace.

So below, I offer my views of areas of NMMW deserving attention.

One – We have the opportunity to further define our mission statement. I know that we are about achieving spiritual growth and development, about raising our children, supporting our families, living life fully and down to the spiritual marrow – about reveling in the wisdom, humor and stories of other men, of avoiding harm to self and others, of assisting those men we encounter on our journeys to overcome inner and outer challenges.

Is there a clear written framework for our outreach?  Given the name of our organization, what is our commitment to touching men who are brand new to our state, as well as to men whose families have dwelled here for centuries, to men whose first language is other than English, and to men who are hospital-bound or house-bound – due to old age or infirmity – physical, emotional or spiritual.  Are we concerned with men who live in Clayton, Hobbes or Deming – as well as with those who dwell in our major cities.

Two – We have the opportunity to beef up our collective service endeavors.  The opportunities for serving New Mexico based men and boys and their families and loved one – at this time in history – have never been more varied and compelling.  I am thinking of the huge veteran population – here in Albuquerque, and spread throughout our rural communities. I have had the privilege of working with many of these men for going on 2 years. I can attest to the tremendous depth of their individual and collective suffering – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – as well as to their honesty, deep caring for others, their survival skills and their resiliency. New Mexico Men’s Wellness has veteran-members, and has assisted veterans in the past. I believe we can do more.

I am recalling our boys and adolescents – many of them growing up in chaotic settings where they lack a father a mother or both. They are doing the best they can with limited guidance – in confronting abuse, substances, peer pressure, hunger and despair. NMMW has helped these boys and teenagers in the past. I believe we can do more.

I am thinking of our men living under incarceration – men who have suffered, are struggling to survive, and are in need of love, spiritual training and healthy connections with men living on the outside. Men’s Wellness has assisted these men in the past. And yes, I believe we can do more.

Finally – We have the opportunity to develop our formal NMMW structure/organzation. At a post fall conference meeting, held at Phil Davis’ sanctuary in the winter of 2008, we engaged in some planning -around forming a board, refining our bylaws,  enhancing our nonprofit status, and putting our finances in order. And I believe there is more to be done.

Down the road we may lose critical mass in our organization – as older guys die or move away at a faster rate than younger guys join us. Eventually a man picks up the stick – perhaps at the summer gathering -and over the course of the next 12 months, is unable, despite major efforts, to recruit others for the event he has solemnly agreed to host, and so the tradition dies. The fall conference would likely be the last conference – with its status as flagship gathering – and its record of having the largest attendance among the 5 yearly gatherings – 4 seasonal plus Father-Daughter.

So in October we will celebrate 25 years of vibrant community and successful gatherings. What will NMMW look like in 2036?  One obvious possibility is that NMMW will have no gatherings, no ceremonies, no website, no board of directors, and no bank accounts.  In this case, NMMW would have a legacy – its remarkable history – the rich stories, oral and written, and sensory memories in the minds of the surviving members – memories of gatherings past, lifelong friendships, transformative ceremonies, and men’s groups spawned, forged and steeped in many settings.

I see a young bearded history buff fingering timeworn copies of Man Alive or perusing the Internet – having typed in a Google search – using the guidewords: men, spirituality, community, New Mexico. A friend of mine Iris Keltz, a writer and retired APS teacher recently crafted a book – Scrapbook of a Taos Hippie – that recounts the history of the New Buffalo Commune – during its early 1970s heyday at Morningstar outside of Taos. Perhaps someday there will exist a published definitive history of NMMW – and an avid historian NMMW guy will cart his boxes of hardcover editions to book signings at places like Bookworks in the North Valley – where he will engage his audience with a selection of spiritually rich and colorful male-intensive stories. The audience will listen raptly – while sipping decaf and munching on chocolate covered strawberries.

The coincidence I am living is that my smaller men’s group, aka the Gila Monsters, (started in 1993, currently 9 members strong) is going through its own evolutionary choicepoint. Having collectively identified and voiced a recent pattern of diminishment – in attendance, and clarity about our purpose – we have elected to confront the trend. In our summer meetings we are talking over our future as a men’s group – what are we about and how will we structure our future endeavors/gatherings?.  My hope for New Mexico Men’s Wellness Community is a similar conscious engagement – with the important issues of the times.

For myself, I am eager to add my hands, heart and mind to the collective enterprises of refining our mission and crafting our future.

Viva New Mexico Men’s Wellness!

With sparkling eyes and a broad grin,

Your brother, Christopher