Feedback by Ulrich Mengel,
therapist in Cologne

July 19, 2009

There is so much need for initiation and for a society in which men can be initiated into. It is not only a matter of individual and personal development. Since I work as a therapist I attended other initiation workshops, too. A nice theatreplay for the most part. Most of the participating men liked it, since it was their first experience with the male issue. But afterwards I personally felt sad, disappointed, yes, castrated, even betrayed. Initiation shall not be given into the hands of clergymen or militairs.

It is such a privilege, to be one of the men who had been able to attend your “Männerworkshop” on the Herzberg. The true value of your work and your concept became so clear in contrast to other workshops.

I wanted you to know this. I do carry a deep respect for what you created. Of course, there may be things to criticize, but overall your “Männerworkshop” appears to be by far the best and most powerful concept. Only there I encountered the liminal space of a rite of passage. You undoubtedly do know what it needs to facilitate an everlasting transformation rather than a mere adventurous experience that creates nothing more than just a great feeling for some time.

I am not sure whether or not to mention how much this transformation is based on the power of love.

Notes About John’s Way Of Working By Maximilian Riederer, Munich /Germany

December 28, 2008

What did I notice or experience about him — about his way of working?

First he cracks the context in which people usually operate. The tracks they think along, how they think about themselves, about the world, the way they respond, behave, interact with others. How does he do this? One way is through surprise. Total surprise. With unusual answers, with entirely unexpected views, with provocative comments, sometimes with provocative language, especially direct language. With poignant language. The participants laugh a lot. They loosen up. This is a good place to start from, enabling them, for a moment at least, to rise from the narrow confines in which they habitually operate — the continously repeated intellectual, psychic and/or spiritual circles in which they abide. They get to be outside the cell, the habitual box, case, capsule … for a moment. He makes them laugh, they find themselves in a state of surprise or even of shock. Catching a new perspective from outside the familiar mindset, and even if it is only for a moment, the old box becomes obsolete, impossible, not as possible as it used to be.

John tells stories, shares anecdotes, insights, philosophic thoughts … similar to a narrator of myths. A mythological dimension that is true to modern times and its achievements and our present developments, that is a story … fiction … In a way that makes sense. Thus context is being established, sense is being created; i. e. the individual life is given a meaningful dimension. The contexts which John reveals are unusual, surprising, irritating, sometimes throwing people off their tracks. John creates a framework that invites people to share their concerns and interests in a dialogue with him. His unusual way of responding to their stories inspires them to ”rewrite” their personal narratives, to open up new perspectives for the future. An atmosphere is being created where the individual life is experienced, thought, felt like an unfolding story.

A narrator of myths, a weaver of myths

Looks at things mostly from a spiritual point of view. He embeds the life of an individual in a larger context in order to create a new frame of reference. The crucial point is that he neither mourns over old myth systems nor tries to fit people he is dealing with into old templates, nor does he get himself lost in airy-fairy New Age fantasies. The narration is developed in contact with the participants. And the creation is happening: now. No templates, no methods, no recipes. Yet not just deep emotional experiences through exercises in self-awareness and physical exercises like sweathuts, etc. But, in fact, the old framework is taken apart and a concept, perspective, vision for a new framework is put into the soul and into the world. Vision! He works a lot on vision.

What seems important to me is that John is not lead-heavy, rather he is light-minded, frisky, full of humor. He puts things like suffering, entanglement, self-absorption in perspective. This opens up the space to progress, to explore; it makes you playful, courageous.

What is the point of creating a new context? In his research about Salutogenese (how to become and stay psychically and physically healthy) Antonowski emphasizes the aspect that people need to find sense and purpose in their lives and in what they are doing. This is the most important factor to build up resiliency and psychic health.

The sophist

Of course, John has his own experiences, templates, his own knowledge, like everyone else. What seems important to me is that he doesn’t let this come between the participants and himself; he interacts and gets involved with participants directly, with their emotions, their energies. What happens is a struggle for the truth in a dialogue between him and the participants. There is a dispute, a fight, an encounter, a dance, a conversation going on. A true Sokratic Dialogue (a method in cognitive behavioral therapy for changing attitudes and believes. How did the sophists teach? Through conversation. Through the spoken word. John is someone who creates effects by talking, in a lively conversation. In Di- alogue. And in narration, telling stories. It is creative narration. Not reading or something like that, but narrating in a way that image, Gestalt … becomes reality. The Gestalt is already there, the reality which he senses in the participants.

He sometimes gives me the impression of being an imp. Challenging, provoking, making fun, making people laugh, ligthening them up. An artist in a collective theater performance. The stage: people who have gotten together in a seminar-setting. The piece: your story, your suffering, your dreams, your longing. The source of this piece, what it is about – its meaning and metaphor: your life. Lived life. Taking responsibility for your life, for going your own way.

The seminars are constantly changing

Of course, there are defined processes, moduls, etc. for the various seminars. Yet each seminar evolves as it is happening in a new and different way. This is another important aspect in John’s work. This way it doesn’t get tiring or become routine, it lives. It corresponds with the mood of the whole group, of different participants, of the team. He acts intiutively and during the breaks reflects on what has happened. Not blind! He asks for feedback from other people in the team. Offers choices. Here, too, he is in dialogue. And that is how things are being refined.