An Interview with Marakame, Mark Gionfriddo,
Co-facilitator of Ukilái: A Retreat for Men
By Buffy Aakaash
Buffy: What is the history of the Men’s Program of the Sacred Fire Community? Before you came on the scene?
Mark: There was no men’s program before me. I was at the opening Fireball for the Blue Deer Center in 2005 and, basically, had been thinking a lot about men’s work in general and how it would be great to gather men together. And I had a dream about the Men’s Retreat. So, I went to David Wiley and said, “How would you like to do this thing?”
Then, we did one in 2006 at the Blue Deer Center. That was the first one. And then there was one in California, north of San Francisco. Then, we did one in Moab, Utah. We’ve done a total of three at the Blue Deer Center.
What was it that made you realize this would be an important offering from the Sacred Fire Community?
Well, I think, as part of the “Lifeways”, the cycle of life in our society, as adult men we’re missing that connection to one another and to the divine masculine in each of us. And actually also, in a lot of ways, the divine feminine. In our western society in the United States, and the world at large is my guess, we don’t encourage men to get together and talk about those things. What are the stresses in life? What are the feelings?
Why don’t we encourage that?
That’s a good question. My guess is it’s the societal way we’ve all been indoctrinated growing up in the “American dream” and into separation. You go to work every day. You take care of your family. There isn’t that community aspect to the way we live in general. There are probably organizations and communities that do work that way together…
Which is the way it was done in the past, in indigenous communities…
Correct. In a lot of indigenous communities, the men and the women gather separately together, and encourage this relating to one another. And it’s encouraged even before young men and women are initiated. You pass through that doorway of initiation and you’re brought into that group of men. Or you “find your way” in the world and find your way into your local community or village would be the indigenous way of talking about it. I didn’t see that our community had any of that. I felt the need for it. And I think the Sacred Fire Community and “Lifeways” is something that can provide that. So, it gives men a place to connect with their ancestral energy and the masculine in them and begin to identify what that is and how to move with it in the world and to understand that it’s okay to talk about it in that way.
What can men who attend Ukilai expect to gain from the experience?
I can’t of course talk about details of the program, because the program actually is set up in a way that allows the energy of each individual program to be determined by who is attending. But I think that men can come away with a sense of reconnection with themselves as men, as a father if they are fathers, as a son, as a brother, as a partner, a spouse or significant other. It’s a way to deepen our relationship as men in a way that we can open ourselves up and talk about the vulnerabilities that we as men experience as we walk through life. Moving from that perspective of the divine masculine, which is perceived as “action in the world”, it’s a place to open up and connect with another man in a way I feel we are really missing in our society. And it’s a way to be vulnerable and talk about things to experience support and strength in a way that’s missing in our lives.
How might this particular men’s program differ from, say, other men’s programs, like the “Iron John” approach? I sense there’s a difference.
I don’t really know anything about those other programs. What I do know is that in our program there’s a lot of the energy of Fire. A lot of exploration of the energetics of masculine and feminine. A really basic understanding and experience of how the masculine energy moves in the world, and how the feminine energy moves in the world, because each one of us as men has both masculine and feminine energy… We tend to keep the groups to around 15 people to have that intimate connection… There’s meditative activities. There’s physical activities. We try to do them in different areas of the country to experience the different energies of the land…
Is there anything special about the program at the Blue Deer Center as opposed to some of the other locations?
At the Blue Deer Center there’s this beautiful land and the energy of reconciliation and council that’s present in the land, and in the river there. I think that men have a lot of reconciliation to do, whether it’s with themselves, with their partners, with other men in their lives, their children…
And the land there is special to reconciliation.
Yes. There’s a story of an Onandoga shaman looking for a place to do reconciliation work in his tribe and being shown the sign that that particular land was the place. So, it’s like a mediation kind of energy.
And that energy is still there.
That energy lives and breathes the land and the trees and the river there. And we see the program as ongoing where you grow into that relationship with yourself and other men. You can bring it back to your local communities. I think it’s extremely important that the men who attend begin to develop this brotherhood and feeling of connection that they can bring back to the men in their local community. Really it’s meant to help you in any relationship you have to understand where you come from as a man.
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