Gindling Hilltop: "Phoenix Rising From The Ashes"


Gindling Hilltop Camp

November 13, 2018

/Sacred Path

You may have already learned that our beloved Gindling Hilltop Camp has succumbed to the ravages of the Woolsey fire. Apparently, the placard honoring Rabbi Alfred Wolf, a Holocaust Survivor and founder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple and the camps, did not burn. 

In a TV interview on Monday, Rabbi Wolf’s grandson told us that the metal Menorah is standing strong and that the placard that is made of wood was the only thing that didn’t burn, so we can assume that a Sacred line in the sand was drawn. Like the Phoenix rising out of the ashes, our camp will rise again.

When the large dining hall structure burned several years ago, the only part that didn’t burn was the closet housing all of our belongings. I recall how astonished Timothy, David Green and I were when we saw that.  We knew that our Sacred items had created the fire wall.  Many of us vividly recall holding our community gatherings in the large tents for 4 years while the main dining hall was rebuilt.

Obviously, our hearts are additionally heavy resulting from this devastating news on top of the tragic news of the shooting in the Borderline Club. That news was eclipsed by the fires that erupted the following day. Our condolences to all who have lost their lives due to either of these horrific events. Over 40 lives have been lost at this point due to the fires and they are anticipating that this number will grow.

WARRIORS ON THE MOUNTAIN __ Timothy Whispering Eagle & Dr. Stephen Johnson, MCLA Sacred Path Men’s Retreat, Gindling Hilltop Camp

We hope that you are okay and that your homes have been spared. As you recall, one of our brothers, Stephen Reynolds, lost his home in the fire that swept through the Tujunga canyon last year.

Michael and I had to evacuate our homes on Friday. Rob hunkered down in Malibu and was safe. This is the worst conflagration in the history of California and those fires burning up and down the state are still out of control and rampaging in areas. 

Once we received the news about Hilltop early yesterday morning, Michael, Rob and I knew that we needed to reflect on the retreat. It was tempting to allow our minds to rush to solution in contemplation of what to do about the event; and yet we also felt that it was best to allow the smoke to settle some allowing Spirit to work through us. In other words, not try to force something into place, but rather to let go and see what is meant to be.

Today we considered our options and this morning decided that it’s important to keep it simple in the midst of the complexities many are facing.  Decisions need to be made so that people can reorient their plans.  Sometimes the decisions needing to be made are difficult ones and this is one of them. Instead of scrambling to try to find another venue, we have decided to postpone the retreat to next Spring.  

We had done some research and after surveying a few potential sites we came to the conclusion that we were trying to fill a hole rather than allowing ourselves to just feel the hole. For now, we will be present to the loss of our camp and allow our hearts to surrender into that reality and feel the depth of this loss.

Over the years we’ve been through just about every kind of condition on retreat including a big earthquake, hurricane force winds, hail, torrential rain and of course several fires. And then there are all of the other conditions that we’ve endured. We’ll weather this one as well.

If you have registered for the retreat, we will be in contact with you this week to work out the refunds.

I hope that you’re all okay.  Let us know.

Sending you love and light,


Stephen J. Johnson Ph.D., LMFT
Executive Director


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 Dr. Stephen Johnson is founder and executive director of the Men's Center Los Angeles and leader/wayshower of the Sacred Path men's retreats for the past 32 years. He is a gifted therapist and master facilitator for the experiential journey that unfolds during his counseling sessions and workshops. Dr. J is a skilled and seasoned psychotherapist who has the sensibilities of a wisdom teacher. He provides a safe space for freedom of expression in accessing one’s pain while fostering transformation, personal expansion and spiritual growth. Click here to visit 

Dr. Johnson is author of "THE SACRED PATH: THE WAY OF THE SPIRITUAL WARRIOR," an amazing how-to book for men who want to become better men. The groundbreaking book’s forward written by Dr. J’s friend, fellow USC football fan and longtime MCLA member Levar Burton.

“BRING GOOD MEN TOGETHER . . .” Click the video link above to discover the meaning of these words and Dr. J’s incredibly rich 32-year tradition of powerful men’s work on the mountain.

Director's Message November 2018

“The Way of the Spiritual Warrior”
. . . “What Does That Mean?

“BRING GOOD MEN TOGETHER . . .” Click the link above to discover the meaning of these words and MCLA’s incredibly rich 32-year tradition of powerful Ohana men’s work.

November 2018

Greetings Sacred Path Community,

Thirty-two years ago I heard the words, “The Sacred Path”, followed by, “The Way of the Spiritual Warrior.” These words resonated within me unrelentingly.  When I finally queried out loud as to the meaning of this phrase, I heard, “Bring good men together and bring out the best in them.” That became my marching orders, as well as the mission statement for the Sacred Path Retreats that gave birth a year later to the Men’s Center Los Angeles in 1988.

Thousands of men over the years have passed through the portals of our men’s work and have benefited from what they have experienced. Many men have been with us for nearly the full duration of our community.


I recall being on a retreat many years ago with one of my Elder Mentors, Robert Bly, when he said, “It’s important to have enough men in your life.” He went on to say, “As we age we lose our friends. They move away and we lose track. We also lose friends through death.”   

He encouraged us to be plentiful and reload along the way. It’s not uncommon for men to lack male friends as they age. Having a community of men is a hedge against being alone, lonely and becoming depressed. I have lost many close friends over the years. Fortunately, I have many others who are still on the journey with me.


Two men that I met through men’s work have recently published new books. Jed Diamond and I met over 30 years ago when we were initially involved in the “men’s movement” and Frederick Marx and I connected when my book came out in 2012. Both of these men I call my friends and have been guest presenters at our Sacred Path Retreats. Their books deal with loss, acceptance, letting go and moving on.  We’re featuring them in this newsletter. Have a look and consider adding these insightful and informative books to your library. 


I realized that one of the best gifts that comes from being on a men’s retreat is the opportunity to meet new men and to reunite with others. You never know what can come from a chance meeting with another man. For example, I met a man at one of the Mendocino Men’s Retreats that I had attended in the 1980’s.  He and I wound up in the same Tribe and shared a cabin. We hit it off and have become lifelong friends.  In fact, he and I co-facilitated a Sacred Path Retreat that was held at Sky High Ranch in the upper Lucerne Valley in 1989. 

I have been blessed to know many wonderful men and to have created many enriching relationships throughout my life. I have many men whom I call my close friends and several of them are Wisdom Council members and Sacred Path, MCLA, retreat participants.

Two weeks ago some of us got together to tailgate and attend the USC/Colorado football game. Many great friendships have blossomed out of the retreats that we have hosted. Men fly in from all parts of the country to reunite “on the Mountain” with the men who have become members of their spiritual family.  In Hawaii they have a word for that, it’s called OHANA.

(L-R): Captain Rick Brandelli, Levar Burton, Captain Mike Henry, Dr. Stephen Johnson, Clayton Norcross

If you don’t have as many friends now as you used to have and are in need of some fellowship and healthy male companionship, our Fall Sacred Path Men’s Retreat may be just what the doctor ordered. The theme of this retreat is Passion, Purpose and Legacy. I have enjoyed a very personal Passion for men’s work. I have been Graced with a mission that has allowed me to feel a profound sense of Purpose, and I have been gifted with the guidance along the way that is shaping my Legacy. I am truly grateful to have been at the helm of MCLA for the past 32 years. It’s been quite a ride.

I invite you to join a gathering of good men who will bring themselves fully into the village that we will create for 3-½ days together.  You may meet someone who could become a friend for the rest of your life.  You will be touched deeply, your Passion will be awakened, your Purpose empowered, and your Legacy will become clear.

In the spirit of brotherhood.


Stephen J. Johnson Ph.D., LMFT
Executive Director


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Dr. Stephen Johnson is founder and executive director of the Men's Center Los Angeles and leader/wayshower of the Sacred Path men's retreats for the past 32 years. He is a gifted therapist and master facilitator for the experiential journey that unfolds during his counseling sessions and workshops. Dr. J is a skilled and seasoned psychotherapist who has the sensibilities of a wisdom teacher. He provides a safe space for freedom of expression in accessing one’s pain while fostering transformation, personal expansion and spiritual growth. Click here to visit 

Dr. Johnson is author of "THE SACRED PATH: THE WAY OF THE SPIRITUAL WARRIOR," an amazing how-to book for men who want to become better men. The groundbreaking book’s forward written by Dr. J’s friend, fellow USC football fan and longtime MCLA member Levar Burton.



CLICK HERE TO REGISTER for MCLA’s 32nd annual Sacred Path Men’s Retreat on the Mountain Dec. 6-9. Fantastic opportunity to spend time in the company of other good men. Be part of this incredibly sacred, 32-year tradition of Men’s Ohana on the mountain. Bringing good men together . . . and bringing out the best in them. Come join us.

"My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound"


Healing the Family Father Wound 

This amazing new book by Dr. Jed Diamond explains the incredibly toxic condition many people suffer in today’s society that is known as the Father Wound and gently allows the reader to understand these symptoms:

* Struggle in your love life
* Worry about money and success
* Allowing male anger and resentment to negatively influence your life

According to National Center for Fathering:
There is one problem that surpasses all others in its impact on men, women, and society. It is the family father wound. This book focuses on the importance of mothers in determining the well-being of children.

Yet, without the support of their fathers, men become disconnected from their true selves, feeling that others are controlling their lives. The family father wound may be the most pervasive, most important, and least recognized problem facing men and their families today. 

However, the family father wound, resulting from physical or emotional absence, has been largely ignored. Disconnected males, without a strong sense of inner guidance, can become abusive towards women and destructive towards men. We’ve seen this with the outpouring of sexual abuse allegations involving many prominent men.

More than 20 million children live in a home without the physical presence of a father. Millions more have dads who are physically present, but emotionally absent. If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency.

The male anger and rage we see in everything from domestic violence to school shootings very possibly has its roots in trauma resulting from growing up in families with disconnected and dysfunctional fathers.

Yet, this childhood wounding can be healed.

This 15th book by Dr. Jed Diamond, My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound, is an adventure story to find the father he lost when he was five years old. It’s also a tale of redemption and healing for both father and son.

The trauma of growing up with an absent father contributed to the author’s own bouts of depression, sexual addiction, and destructive relationships. For the first time, he shares the raw, personal, life experiences and his own healing journey. Learning about his mother’s lost father, who died when she was five years old, helped him understand that the father wound impacts women as well as men.

Healing inter-generational wounds put him on the path of becoming a psychotherapist who has been helping men and the families who love them, healing his clients as he has learned to heal himself.

As a psychotherapist who has treated more than 30,000 men and women over a long career, Jed has seen the devastating impact absent fathers can have on the lives of their children and how this wounding causes problems at all stages of life. Boys and girls who experience the father wound often become adults who unknowingly wound their own children. Once he recognized and understood the prevalence and importance of the father wound, he was able to help people recover from problems that had previously been resistant to both medical and psychological interventions. 

For fifty years Jed as been helping men and the women who love them. During that time, he’s become one of the world’s leading experts on men’s issues and has written a number of trend-setting books including Looking for Love in All the Wrong: Overcoming Romantic and Sexual Addictions (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1988), Male Menopause (Sourcebooks, 1997), and The Irritable Male Syndrome: Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression (Rodale, 2004). 

My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound is the first book to address the father wound and its impact on men and women through the personal experiences of a world-renowned expert on men’s health. Jed’s insights and introspections are incredibly profound. For anyone who’s ever experienced struggles in your love life, worries about money and success, or allowed male anger and resentment to negatively influence your life, this book can change your life in dramatic and positive ways. Click here for more information about My Distant Dad.


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JED DIAMOND, PhD, LCSW, has been helping men, and the women who love them, for over 40 years. He is the Founder/Director of MenAlive, a health program helping men live long and well. Since its inception in 1992, Jed has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men's Health Network. He is also a member of the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP), the International Society for the Study of the Aging Male and serves as a member of the International Scientific Board of the World Congress on Gender and Men's Health.

His work has been featured in major newspapers throughout the United States including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. He has been featured on more than 1,000 radio and T.V. programs including The View with Barbara Walters, Good Morning America, Today Show, CNN-360 with Anderson Cooper, CNN with Glenn Beck, CBS, NBC, and Fox News, and To Tell the Truth. He also did a nationally televised special on Male Menopause for PBS. Jed lives with his wife, Carlin, on Shimmins Ridge, above Bloody Run Creek, in Northern California. They are proud parents of five grown children and twelve grandchildren. Click here to visit MenAlive.

"At Death Do Us Part"

“At Death Do Us Part”

After your spouse dies, how do you go forward? 

This beautifully-written, intimate memoir by award-winning filmmaker, writer, Zen Buddhist monk, and esteemed men’s work facilitator Frederick Marx faces the realities of a loved one dying . . . and how to come to grips with this incredibly painful part of life.  

Following a long fight with breast cancer, Tracy's death ended their 13-year marriage. In the months after his loss, Frederick Marx wrote about their time together (falling in love, their shortcomings, her illness, and how they made each other better). Frederick recounts his relationship with his partner--not as a saint, but as a person. He then describes his personal struggle to continue to live life to the fullest, with his beloved partner no longer at his side.

Frederick shares an intimate, gut-wrenching, soul-searching look at love and loss. With exquisite honesty, his story is inevitably full of pain, but also has incredible warmth and beauty and deep appreciation for all facets of living this life.

"This book shivers with the frailties of what it means to be human, enfolding loss in all its forms, finding a way through acceptance back to love."

Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now

Frederick is a long-time believer in the power and critical need for positive, proactive men’s work and the important mission of Men’s Center Los Angeles. Shown here are some of the men he led as a transformational trainer/facilitator at last weekend’s Mankind Project New Warrior Training Project.

“I was deeply moved by Frederick’s story beginning with the words from his introduction. ‘How do you get over losing your life partner?’ This is an experience none of us want to do through, yet it is one that is part of the inevitable human journey. Frederick offers us a glimpse into our present and future losses, but does it in such a beautiful and caring way, we feel like we’re with a true guide and loving friend who is holding us in his kind embrace.” 

 ~ Jed Diamond, author of My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound

AT DEATH DO US PART is now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. An audio version of this powerful work narrated by the author will also be available soon. Click here to learn more about this powerful new book from Frederick Marx.


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FREDERICK MARX is an Emmy and Oscar nominated filmmaker best known for the documentary, Hoop Dreams, which Roger Ebert named “Best Film of the Decade.” His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, People, USA Today, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Time, Forbes, GQ, and The Wall Street Journal. Nearly 25 years after he attended his first meditation retreat, he became an ordained Zen priest in the Hollow Bones Order of Rinzai Zen.

Frederick’s recent documentary, Journey from Zanskar, was narrated by Richard Gere and featured the Dalai Lama. Marx brings empathy, fresh ideas, and a unique sense of humor to every subject he tackles. His voice is strong, clear, and profoundly human. Learn more at

10* POWERFUL REASONS To Come To Malibu

Fall 2018 Men’s Retreat Agenda Gets Supercharged

Purpose, Passion and Legacy

10* REASONS To Be on the Mountain

Men’s Center Los Angeles will commence its 32nd Annual Sacred Path Men’s Retreat on the mountain overlooking Malibu and the Pacific Ocean on Thursday, Dec. 6th . . . and here are 10 AMAZING REASONS you definitely don’t want to miss this event:

It’s so important for good men to spend quality time in the presence of strong, positive, nurturing male elders. MCLA is so incredibly blessed to have a plethora of wonderful elders who so graciously share their knowledge, love and respect with other good men in a nurturing way up on the mountain.


All participants are assigned to a tribe led by an experienced Wisdom Council member. This group works in confidence and tackles key issues at hand; private, personal challenges any of the men may be facing; or VIRTUALLY ANYTHING that comes up. “Whatever is discussed in tribe time stays with the tribe. One for All and All for One.”

Come learn from MCLA’s very own Jason Zelin, Richard Ford, Dan Stanton, Paul Stanton, Michael Mohr, Adam Zawadzki, Bill Arena and other survivors of MCLA’s Spring Colorado River Men’s Retreat about rocking proper fashion attire when a flash flood suddenly and completely wipes out your entire campsite deep in the remote Black Canyon Wilderness.

Release the news and social media and political issues and allow yourself to simply be in the healing energy of other good men. Take a break. We all deserve to thrive and grow and savor the sacred energy of politics-free, meditative, introspective time.

The Men’s Center Los Angeles has hosted this powerful men’s retreat for the past 32 years. Savor the moments. Take the time right now to join us on the mountain and be in the presence of MCLA founder and wayshower Dr. Stephen Johnson and all the incredible, mindful elders of the Sacred Path.

Powerful drum circles and sacred musical meditative enlightenment on the mountain will be conducted by MCLA’s very own internationally-famous musicians and energetic spiritual energy chakra meisters
Christo Pellani and Winter Lazerus.

This is your personal and sacred time to speak your truth in the presence of good men. Go ahead. Bare your soul. Express yourself as a fully conscious man in the presence of other fully conscious men who know you and respect you and honor the shared challenges of being a good man walking the sacred path.

Fully immerse yourself in this powerful, respectful, time-honored, sacred spiritual tradition of the Lakota Sioux indigenous people of the North American plains.

We are so incredibly grateful to host special guests this year from Firefighter’s Down, a “Wounded Warriors” style program designed to assist injured Firefighters and deliver therapeutic healing processes for job-related illnesses and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Dr. Stephen Johnson and MCLA proudly honor and support the critically-important work of our very own Captain Rick Brandelli and Captain Mike Henry and this great organization.

This sacred work of empowering good men on the Sacred Path begun by Dr. Stephen Johnson over 32 years ago is more important and critically-needed right now than ever before. MCLA's Wisdom Council honored Dr. J's amazing 32 years of mindful leadership and mentorship with a special commemorative tribute film. See for yourself the incredible men's work that we do on the mountain. And then, take positive action yourself. Go ahead. Be bold. Make an investment in your own peace of mind. Click the link below and COME JOIN US.

(* Bonus Reason) Push your comfort level. Awaken your body, mind and spirit with deeply immersive, powerfully healing, open ocean sunrise warrior swim. Join Ross Breitenbach and Bill Arena as we totally and completely shock and awaken our senses, commune intimately with Mother Nature and embrace the gift of another day of manly manhood here on beautiful Planet Earth.


MCLA Men’s Retreat December 6-9



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"Escape from Alcatraz"

23rd Annual
San Francisco Bay


Bill Arena
MCLA Wisdom Council

When I first moved to California in 2004 I overheard friends speaking about this crazy open ocean swim that some apparently hearty and incredibly robust women and men were doing each fall in the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay. That’s just crazy talk I thought at the time. Well, 14 years later, yesterday, I’m now one of the crazy ones myself. And it was a total blast.

The ALCATRAZ INVITATIONAL is an open ocean swim that starts by ferry ride to Alcatraz Island, each swimmer leaps from a commercial harbor ship, then freestyles through frigid ocean currents to Aquatic Park near Hyde Street Pier. We had over 600 swimmers at this year’s 23rd annual fundraiser for the South End Rowing Club, an amazing organization established in 1873.

There were world-class South End Rowing Club swimmers working out in the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay over 64 years before the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed just 2.2 miles away and over 60 years before the first federal prisoners were locked up at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary just 1.27 miles away. This historic San Francisco landmark has an incredibly rich history of international world champion open ocean endurance swimming excellence.

🔱 SUNRISE SWIM __ Honored early one morning in late August to start training with veteran open ocean endurance swimmers including Laura Hovden, race director upcoming Alcatraz Invitational. Felt like a white belt training with black belts as we swam out against the tide, my first time outside the harbor, Golden Gate Bridge looming in the background. So spectacular. Special thanks to Susan who graciously hung back with me as I became acclimated, explained tide charts. Awesome experience. Savoring the moments. Grateful to hang out with the big guns and get ready for the Rock.

People come from around the country and around the world to participate and cheer on their friends and family in this annual event in San Francisco Bay hosted by the South End Rowing Club. The ocean access finish line is located on the beach at Aquatic Park approximately 1.3 miles from the starting point just abeam Alcatraz Island.

BIRTHDAY LEAP OF FAITH __ Culminating my month-long preparation for Alcatraz I was truly honored early last Tuesday to accompany my friend Nick on his first open ocean swim in many, many years with fellow members of my South End Rowing Club. Nick lost his leg in a terrible motorcycle accident and just the idea of swimming in the open ocean both INTRIGUED him and TERRIFIED him at the same time. Well, this man is a POWERFUL HEALER and INDOMITABLE WARRIOR. Powered past his fears and jumped right in. He did absolutely great. Incredible inspiration to me. Yes sir, ANYTHING is possible.

NEWBIES __ This year’s Alcatraz Invitational was the first time for both me and my new friend Brooke. And now, we’re hooked. We’re doing this every year. Refocusing my training regimen. Open ocean cold water swimming is a veritable fountain of youth. Good vibes in SF Bay.

So honored to hang out with SERC guest of honor world ultra-marathon swim champion Chloe McCardel (center) of Melbourne, a veteran of 27 English Channel solo crossings.

Chloe holds the world record for longest ever unassisted ocean swim, South Eleuthera Island to Nassau, Bahamas, 77 MILES in 41 HOURS. WOW. Aussie greatness in our midst.

Incredible logistics early Saturday checking in 600+ swimmers of all ages and backgrounds for this famous annual ocean swim in San Francisco Bay. South End Rowing Club conducts this huge event with professional precision, awesome attitudes, and ultimate care and safety for all participants. After check-in, the huge crowd gathers for comprehensive swimmer safety meeting. Speedos are adjusted. The sun is rising. The energy is building.

Following the safety briefing, SERC’s huge fleet of rowers, kayaks, sailboats, motorboat pilots and SFPD jet ski watercraft head out towards Alcatraz. Then our massive group of swimmers begins marching together several blocks to the Red & White Ferry docks led by a Scottish bagpiper from Edinburgh. Supercharged Scottish Highland warrior energy drives our enthusiastic crowd onward towards deep sea destiny with the Pacific Ocean.

TIMING DEVICE __ Each swimmer is issued an electronic timing device that is worn on the ankle. Upon leaping from the commercial harbor ship the waterproof timer is automatically activated and records the exact moment when he or she finally reaches the beach in Aquatic Park and steps across the finish line approximately 1.3 miles away.

SACRED SPEEDOS __ During our sunrise ferry ride to Alcatraz with 633 crazy, scantily-clad and wetsuit-clad swimmers packed cheek-to-cheek on two commercial passenger ships, made an amazingly fortuitous connection with my new swim buddy, Big Jim “Slo Guy” Matthews. Savoring slo-mo swim mojo in SF Bay.

Swimmers share packed, loaded-to-capacity commercial ferry ride to Alcatraz, leap in orderly fashion from huge SF Bay harbor ships, then power through choppy Pacific Ocean currents to Aquatic Park at Hyde Street Pier.

DANGER ZONE __ Upon reaching a precise GPS spot directly abeam Alcatraz Island the massive commercial passenger ferries slowly maneuver around, then shut down their engines, all swimmers now poised to leap out into the open ocean within a dangerously precise 5-minute safety window before surging currents push us out of position.

COCKED, LOCKED & READY TO ROCK __ A warning buzzer is activated simultaneously on both ships. Now entering critical and potentially dangerous phase. Launching 633 women and men into the wildly swirling ocean currents of San Francisco Bay is very serious business.

IT’S GO TIME __ Amazingly, EVERYONE launches with perfect focus and precision, three swimmers at a time leap from narrow designated ramps and quickly paddle away from the huge ferries to begin their big swim home. Adrenals pump massive amounts of adrenaline. The launch phase incredibly exhilarating. WE LEAP! WE SWIM! OH YEAH! IT’S GO TIME!

After deploying over 600 swimmers into San Francisco Bay, an amazing and furious mad dash to the shoreline ensues escorted by a huge safety crew of watercraft including kayaks, canoes, sailboats and jet skis. Safety is the ultimate priority and South End Rowing Club does a beautiful job protecting everyone participating in this event.

🔱 CARPE DIEM __ One suggestion given during our pre-race safety meeting at dawn was to stop at the half-way point of the swim and do a slow 360-degree turn. “Take the time to take it all in,” we were told over the loudspeaker. “Make a visual recording of this incredibly magical moment in the middle of San Francisco Bay.” Hmmm. Sounds like good advice I thought.

SF BAY SPIRITUAL DIMENSION __ When I finally reach about the halfway point, already pretty fatigued, I decide to roll over onto my back and relax just a little bit, catch my breath, adjust my goggles and try to get my bearings.

AS MY EYES SLOWLY RE-FOCUS ¡OMG! Bouncing in the churning waves, my four-dimensional field of vision at that instant is other-worldly: (East) Bay Bridge in the distance, (South) finish line at Aquatic Park shimmering below Ghirardelli Square, (West) incredibly majestic Golden Gate bridge reflecting the beautiful rising Sun, and (North) Alcatraz Island slowly, slowly but surely moving away from me with each stroke. This stunning, wave level, visual landscape literally explodes and vaporizes my overpowering linear, intellectual, rational, obsessive, crazy, sink-or-swim, survival thought processes AND, simultaneously, a sacred portal of shimmering, protective, energetic white light slowly materializes 👁 🙏 ♂ 🐬 👁 🌎 🔥 🔮 🔱 👁 right there before my blinking eyes.

AXIS MUNDI ENERGY PORTAL __ It feels like I’m treading water in some undiscovered spiritual dimension, slowly savoring an out-of-body energy healing inside an axis mundi energetic portal connecting Heaven and Earth right there in the big middle of SF Bay. Ahhhh! As I’m blissfully floating in this other-worldly moment, my divine intuition suddenly kicks in . . . “La vita è molto, molto buona (Life is very, very good). “Gioia e gratitudine” (Joy and gratitude). “Andiamo ragazzi!” (“Oh yes my man, we’re definitely doing this again next year”).

Such a powerful experience leaping enmasse into SF Bay and heading out. Most swimmers took off leaving me flutter kicking in their wake. So grateful to the wonderful SERC safety personnel in canoes, kayaks and rowboats who graciously hung back with us slower swimmers offering encouragement and directions. Although most swimmers covered the course smoothly and efficiently, I ended up probably swimming further than necessary due to fogged-up swim goggles and my inadvertent, zig-zag floundering outside the harbor fighting the currents . . . still learning this whole tide business and how to flow with Mother Earth's natural energies.

🔱 MY LIFE IN HUMAN FORM __ Later, sitting quietly and serenely in contemplative afterglow in the heavenly SERC sauna, it spontaneously dawned on me that ocean swimming is a metaphor for life itself. GO “WITH” THE FLOW. Don’t waste your time or thoughts or energy agonizing about things you simply cannot control: people, events, politics, bigots, racists, twin flames. YES! Of course! Thank you Tunkashila. Gratefully refocusing my thoughts, words and actions. “Sto ancora imparando" (Italian) / “I am still learning”


Video recap of the South End Rowing Club’s 13th annual Alcatraz Invitational, September 2008.


PHYSICAL & SPIRITUAL __ So grateful to add this amazing, aquatic warrior event to my personal portfolio of healthy, spiritual, 3-way ceremonies empowering body, mind and spirit. Such a joyful revelation to discover and literally embrace the virtual Fountain of Youth” PHYSICAL conditioning aspects of vibrant, cold water, no wet suit, open ocean endurance swimming, of course.

MNI WICONI __ However, in addition to the huge PHYSICAL benefits, also shocked and totally stoked by simultaneous, full-contact, “Food for the Soul” SPIRITUAL supercharge each time I’m laser-focused with our beloved Mother Earth in this deeply intimate, personally empowering & multi-dimensional Water is Life ceremony.


🔱 I gratefully add this exciting Alcatraz Invitational to my annual essential spiritual connections. Other important sacred ceremonies include the Lakota Sundance prayer ceremony each June in the Black Hills of South Dakota and my annual Sacred Path Men’s Retreats every Spring and Fall. It is so personally empowering to reconnect with the divine and stoke the sacred fire. Honored now to also focus on my unique Purpose for coming into this world. Light worker. Raising the vibration. Going with the flow.
Life is good. 🙏 🐬 🌎 🔱


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BILL ARENA, eldest of nine children born and raised in Rome, New York, lives in the east bay San Francisco. He's an MCLA Wisdom Council agitator, Men's Work facilitator/guide, Sundancer/Pipe Carrier Lakota Sioux spiritual tradition, Jin Shin Jyutsu hands-on energy healer, Animal/Bird wrangler, Black Belt martial arts instructor, Guided Group Meditation leader, Olympic-style Discus thrower, open ocean Endurance Swimmer, and head writer/editor Arena Creative Group.  His live-each-moment vibrational focus handed down by his previous life Renaissance-era mentor and Italian paison, Leonardo da Vinci: "Sto ancora imparando" (I am still learning). “La vita è molto, molto buona.” (Life is very, very good). 🔱 "Facciamolo" (Come on dudes. Let's do this).

The LAKOTA SUNDANCE Prayer Ceremony
MNI WICONI: Sacred Stand at Standing Rock
Indigenous Prophecy of THE CONDOR & THE EAGLE
SACRED PATH FLASH FLOOD Baptism on the Colorado River




Director's Message October 2018

Passion, Purpose and Legacy

Greetings Sacred Path Community,

We’re two months from our 32nd Annual Sacred Path Men’s Retreat. The theme this year is Passion, Purpose and Legacy.  There are different ways to define each of those words. For example passion can be expressed in positive ways for good or in negative ways for a destructive outcome. Purpose tends to inform our passion. 

What we intend directs and channels our passion determining what results. Our legacy ultimately reveals the story of how our passion and purpose weave together the narrative of our life.  Our legacy is what we leave behind in the form of memories and stories about the choices that we made and how we lived our life.

Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford

We are living in interesting times.  Even what transpired during the Supreme Court Hearing last week has been dramatically compelling. Think about how you related to the testimony of Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.  Passion, purpose and legacy are playing out on the world stage. The issues impacting relationships between men and women are supercharged these days, within our own homes and in the lives of those that are getting the press and media attention.

As we grapple with our feelings and beliefs about what is occurring outside of us we can’t help but look inward to reflect on our own history. We are being driven to consider the decisions that we have made and their outcome along the trajectory of our life's journey to date.

This upcoming retreat provides the opportunity for us to bring who we are and what we’re dealing with as we create the composition of our community.  As we gather together the wisdom is in the mix. Like cream, it floats to the top. It’s generously available for us to access in the process of coming to terms with what we need as we mindfully focus on the meaning of our existence. Your takeaways from the retreat can make a tremendous difference in how you feel about your earlier years and how you express the years that you have ahead of you. 

The world is changing more rapidly now. It’s fast paced and demands a lot from us. If we don’t maintain balance and equilibrium, we tend to be at the effect of the duress that causes the stress that manifests as anxiety, depression and issues affecting our health. 

Our MCLA newsletter editor Bill Arena just finished an interesting event over the weekend, the Alcatraz Invitational in San Francisco Bay. He's calling it a spiritual event in alignment with his annual Sundance ceremony in South Dakota and our spring and fall MCLA men's retreats. Check out Escape from Alcatraz.

When we gather in December we’ll create together the elements that support balance, healing and harmony. We have a wonderful program designed to offer you an assortment of powerful processes and experiences to equip you with the tools to deal with life’s challenges.

I encourage you to register prior to October 6th so that you can take advantage of the discounted fee. Save some money and get on board so that you can start planning for what we believe will be a wonderful time to be together with other great men during the holidays.

In the spirit of brotherhood.


Stephen J. Johnson Ph.D., LMFT
Executive Director



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Dr. Stephen Johnson is founder and executive director of the Men's Center Los Angeles and leader/wayshower of the Sacred Path men's retreats for the past 32 years. He is a gifted therapist and master facilitator for the experiential journey that unfolds during his counseling sessions and workshops. Dr. J is a skilled and seasoned psychotherapist who has the sensibilities of a wisdom teacher. He provides a safe space for freedom of expression in accessing one’s pain while fostering transformation, personal expansion and spiritual growth. Click here to visit



Dr. Johnson is author of "THE SACRED PATH: THE WAY OF THE SPIRITUAL WARRIOR," an amazing how-to book for men who want to become better men . . . AND for the women who care about them.



"THE SACRED PATH MEN'S RETREATS" MCLA's Wisdom Council honored Dr. J's amazing 32 years of mindful leadership and mentorship with a special commemorative tribute film. See for yourself the incredible men's work that we do on the mountain.



CLICK HERE TO REGISTER for MCLA’s 32nd annual Sacred Path PASSION, PURPOSE & LEGACY Men’s Retreat on the Mountain Dec. 6-9.

Director's Message, August 2018

Greetings Sacred Path Community,

Some of you may have noticed that we didn’t send out an August newsletter.  That may be a first.  Perhaps we missed a month at some point after we began sending the newsletter out nearly 30 years ago, but I have no recollection of that.  Well, there’s a first for everything.

Speaking of which, I had been dealing with a back issue for months that was not responding to three rounds of injections, so I scheduled a surgery a few weeks ago.  I’m happy to say that I’m now essentially pain free, upright and functional.  Therefore, I’m back in the saddle and here’s our September communication and December 6-9th retreat update.

Many people have expressed that 2018 has been difficult for them on many levels.  Yes, the jobs report has been positive and we’re experiencing the longest Bull run in the stock market (10 years at this point) that we’ve ever had; however, the stress level seems to be on the rise as well. 

We sense that the upcoming retreat is going to be a vital opportunity for men to come together for support and camaraderie.  We know that men often have no one that they’re talking to about what ails them.  We tend to be the ones who carry others and we put on our John Wayne masks when it comes to our own issues.  Too often we learn about someone's issues and depression when it’s too late.  Health concerns are more prevalent as we age and find ourselves confronted with our own mortality. 

Homelessness is rampant.  Addictions are soaring and suicide is surging.  Overwhelm and anxiety are the watchwords that many people express.  Relief is what most want more of but find in short supply. 

Community is crucial to provide a safe place for men to be heard and to heal.  Let’s all join together to build the community of men who will gather for our Fall/Winter Sacred Path Retreat.  Consider who you know that can really use this opportunity now.  Maybe it’s you.  Bring a friend.

Currently we have a dozen men registered for the retreat.  On September 6th we will be 90 days from the retreat.  We are committed to Hilltop Camp to pay for 50 participants.  I have faith that we’ll have the numbers and exceed them by December 6th; however, it would put a bit more wind in our sails right now to have at least half of the minimum number registered by September 6th.  I would like to at least double the number of participants who are presently signed up, from 12 to 25 by September 6th.

Those of you who have mentioned to me that you will be at the retreat, please sign up now.  Many men tend to wait until a couple of weeks prior to the retreat to register.  Not only does that assign more work to our staff in the 11th hour, but it also doesn’t help with maintaining the momentum of building the village during the weeks prior. 

These retreats are community events and it does take a village to put them on.  Those of you who have participated in the past know that everyone is called on to contribute in many ways, so that each individual can feel a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment in the evolution and completion of the result.  We’re appreciative of those who have been the first to register.  We welcome the next group of men who will let us know that they will be with us by signing up now.

 Photo: Rob Bruce

Photo: Rob Bruce

Captain Mike Henry of LA County Fire Department and Founder and CEO of FireFighters Down Organization (FFD) informed me that Colonial Life Insurance has come on board as a partner and will be sponsoring from 5 - 10 Firefighters to attend the December Sacred Path Retreat.  These are men who have been on the front lines and who have sustained some form of injury as a result. FFD has other partners so we’re hoping to have more than 10 Firefighters sponsored for the event.

Some of the injuries that they sustain are physical while the mental and emotional strain can take a heavy toll as well. Post Traumatic Stress is a common result affecting many first responders, even as a consequence of collateral damage as in witnessing the horrific scenes that they have to deal with daily.  Those who responded to Sandy Hook and 911 for example may have survived, but their lives rarely are ever the same.  MCLA in partnership with FFD is here to do our part in helping Firefighters and other First Responders find solutions to the problems that they face.  We will have Firefighters present in December who have put their lives on the line for us.  Let’s show up for them.

It seems that this summer has whisked by and is now in our rear view mirror.  We tend to look forward to summer and feel disappointed when it’s over.  As an antidote, let’s look forward to the retreat as a great opportunity to get ourselves cleaned out and tuned up for the holidays.


In the spirit of brotherhood,





4th of July Special Newsletter

Greetings Sacred Path Community,

I would like to mention a few newsworthy items in this Director’s Message which include the recently held Firefighters Down Mindfulness in Nature Retreat, the upcoming Whole Life Challenge and a special July 4th Flash Sale for our December Sacred Path Men’s Retreat.

To commemorate the service that brave men and women have dedicated to preserving our freedom and independence we are offering a special discount off of the total cost of the retreat.  Just register with your deposit before midnight tonight and receive a $75 discount.  We welcome veterans and first responders to join us on the mountain in December as we gather to explore mindful manhood.

Last week, I participated with LA County Fire Dept. Captains Mike Henry and Rick Brantelli of Firefighters Down Organizaiton  in a two-day pilot project retreat held at an Insight LA location in Benedict Canyon for Firefighters, their wives and other family members. We were joined by 5 couples as well as individuals who were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  In addition to two skilled presenters on PTSD, two of our men, Christo Pellani and Philip Folsom offered their gifts accompanied by Dragon, a red tailed hawk from a wildlife preserve in Topanga Canyon and two wolves from Tonya Littlewolf’s preserve in Big Bear.

You can read what Capt. Mike has to say about his vision for helping Firefighters and their spouses recover from the PTSD that they have sustained on the front lines of years of service to our community.  In addition to fighting fires and being first responders on the scene of accidents, suicides and other horrific events, Firefighters are more and more at risk of being victims of violent attacks.  See: Firefighters Down

Coincidentally, on the first day of the Mindfulness in Nature Retreat, Capt. Dave Rosa, a 17-year veteran of the Fire Department was shot and killed when he was investigating an explosion in Long Beach.  Rosa, 45, is survived by his wife and two sons, ages 16 and 25.  These kinds of tragedies are becoming more common and contribute to the  pervasive nature of the collateral traumas that firefighters incur.

Capt. Mike and I envision having at least 10 Firefighters attend our December (6-9) retreat at Hilltop Camp in Malibu.  Last October we hosted our annual retreat inviting veterans and first responders to participate.  It adds quite a dimension to our men’s work when we are joined by the men who put their lives on the line to keep us safe.

December 2018, Sacred Path Retreat Attendees

 Philip Folsom coming face to face with a wolf

Philip Folsom coming face to face with a wolf

Philip Folsom, who has kept us safe on our ropes course for several years, is inviting men from our community to join his Tribe to be a part of the 6 week Whole Life Challenge that kicks off on July 7th.  Philip told me that he would be honored to have any of our men join the Tribe on his team and it would be a great contemporary way to empower the men who are united in working on optimizing their lives.  This is the link .  You can also communicate directly with Philip at

Wishing you and your loved ones a safe and joyous July 4th celebration,




The Mindfulness in Nature Retreat

L.A. County Fire Captain Michael Henry


InsightLA and Firefighters Down partnered to host the Mindfulness in Nature Retreat that was held on the insightLA -17 acre Beverly Hills (Benedict Canyon) property on July 25 and 26. This two day retreat was attended by Firefighters and their spouses, one Firefighter who brought his teen daughter and the wife of a deceased Firefighter along with a few guests. Accommodations were provided by the Sportsmans Lodge which was a stone’s throw away, allowing all attendees to remain in a sacred state during the after hours.


Earlier in June, Lakota Elder Soldier Bear traveled from the Pine Ridge reservation to perform a ceremonial blessing of the property and the upcoming retreats. This ceremony was empowered by having a Red Tail Hawk and a Turkey Vulture present while sacred drumming and songs were offered. This ceremony cleared the space for the Firefighters Down team, InsightLA executive team, sponsors and partners, all on a path of truth to feel united in a good way.

Each day was commenced under the same Pepper Tree that was previously blessed by Soldier Bear with prayer, song and smudging. Dr. Nasazi Malonga of the Dharma Health Institute delivered a soul-stirring narrative on day-one and Dr. Stephen Johnson,  Executive Director of The Men’s Center Los Angeles, provided powerful opening words, a prayerful blessing and smudging on day two.


Following each day’s opening Ceremonies all participants transitioned inside for Dr. Babette Rothschild and Dr. Christiane Wolf’s teachings on mindfulness practices.  Everyone shared, learned and grew in awareness and insight. Dr. Johnson shared his knowledge to the group at key moments.

Day One was ignited when Christo Pellani created a sacred drum circle under the Pepper Tree. It brought all of our souls closer to the power of nature and spirit.


We drummed in unison under Christo’s guidance to the 7-sacred directions followed by the director of Nature of Wildworks Sanctuary in Topanga entering the circle with a majestic Red Tail Hawk named Dragon.  The beauty, power and creativity of his spirit enticed all attendees to leave the industrialized city behind and connect deeply with the beauty and simplicity of nature.

We were honored to have a powerful presentation on Day Two presented by Philip Folsom on the four archetypes of the mature masculine and feminine followed by a visit from two prized wolves from Wolf Mountain Sanctuary.  The impact and intended goals of the first Mindfulness in Nature Retreat were realized and surpassed.

Our closing ceremony was also attended by our sponsors and all couples received a sacred feather and sage to commemorate their experience.

National Recognition

A highlight of Day Two was a key visit from LA County Deputy Fire Chief Montoya, who expressed a message that our program has the full backing from La County Fire Chief Osby..

Official recognition and acceptance by the 4000 member La County Fire Department is extremely special and a big step toward National Recognition. La County Fire is the head Department for the United Nations Urban Search and Rescue team.  We believe that international recognition of Firefighters Down is within reach.

Sadly, June 25, the first day of our retreat, was the day that Long Beach Fire Captain David Rosa was shot and killed in an ambush while he was in the line of duty.
We spoke about the dangers that Firefighters are dealing with now on levels that were not present in past years.

The Firefighters Down partnerships have evolved into a beautifully designed coterie of people and organizations in support of our program:

Men’s Center Los Angeles, Dharma Health Center, UCLA Operation Mend, NFL Travel Directory, Wolf Mountain Sanctuary, Wild Note Sanctuary, Essentia Water, and California Casualty.

We plan to have several Firefighters in attendance at the December 6-9 MCLA Sacred Path Men’s Retreat.