When we experience challenging patterns and ordeals in our lives, it’s an indication that our psyches are ready to move on to the next phase of our soul’s evolution through rites of passage. These are known as initiations in the indigenous worldview. They mark a passage to the next chapter or phase of life.
Since intentional rites of passage and initiations are lacking in our society, many adults lack basic spiritual skills such as healthy boundaries, harmony with the body and earth, and connection with their own energy and essence.
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My transition into true spiritual adulthood happened in my preparation for my time on the mountain. I experienced deep connection with the divine and myself and the liberating individuation and release of others’ expectations. It was one of the most profound and divinely intimate experiences of my life.
Our communities and relationships to ourselves and others will improve when we reintegrate the welcoming and community recognition of normal life transitions into our society. Initiation requires that we learn to shift perceptions of death, identify and honor our life’s rites of passages and to normalize transformation by supporting both adults and adolescents within our communities.
My passage to adulthood
In 2015, I sat in the high desert of Central Oregon for four days and nights with no food and no water. Since I was on my moon, I drank a portion of juice each day.
Before “going on the mountain,” I prepared for nearly a year with spiritual practices, prayer, monthly sweat lodges and council with my teachers.
From the point of view of the indigenous, an ordeal such as a vision quest challenges the physical body so much that a transformation happens which brings more awareness, responsibility and wisdom.
The discipline I learned through the practices I committed to for the year prior to my time on the mountain helped me become intentional in the way I live my life.
My prayers were answered and my dialogue with the Great Mystery was loud and clear throughout that year. Spirit and I build a relationship that I will have for the rest of my life.
When I returned from my four days in prayer and communion with Mother Earth, I entered a warm tipi filled with about 50 people in the community that prayed with me and sat in ceremony with me throughout the year before. I wept.
They had been praying for me during my time on the mountain and keeping a fire burning so that I would have the energy to continue on my journey.
At 28 years old, I stepped into my role in the world and became a woman.
What is a rite of passage?
Initiation is an ancient tradition that consists of rituals and ordeals that mark rites of passage into responsibility in the community. In our society, most people do not mark their passages into adulthood. And many people do not have a community that they can depend on or serve.
To be a mature adult means that we are aware of our gifts and what we are here to contribute to society with the full support of the community. This means that the community is rooting for us. There are many people in the community who we can depend in addition to our immediate families.
However, initiation and rites of passage are so sorely missing in our society. In fact, our culture is beginning to normalize the emotional immaturity of the typical man, woman and teenager.
How the lack of initiation manifests in our society
People hand down unresolved ancestral energies and patterns through generations. As a result teenagers often experience soul loss because true adults are absent or unable to initiate them through rites of passage when they are ready.
In the second half of life, elders are unable to serve in their capacity of wise elders. That’s because they were not initiated into adulthood and are still living life as the archetype of the “wounded child.”
In my experience the adult population looks like children in adult bodies; we see people holding grudges for years; blaming their parents for their problems into their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond; people lacking basic boundaries to take care of their energy fields. And the list goes on.
In other words, the “normal” dysfunctions of the modern adult are not healthy. The repetitive patterns, or “churn” that many people experience in their adult life is a result of a lack of initiation.
Many of my clients have repetitive relationships (dating or marrying the same type of person; turning into their parents; continuing to participate and repeat dysfunctional roles from the family of origin; passing on their worst qualities to their children) and jobs (getting into the same rut repeatedly) throughout their adult lives.
The result is feeling powerlessness and finding ways to blame it on “the world,” other people and experiences—instead of taking 100 percent responsibility for their lives like a true adult.
These are all symptoms of an uninitiated adult child trying to meet responsibilities of an adult life only because they live in an adult body.
How can we support adults and youth in becoming responsible spiritual adults?
- Teach basic adult skills from a young age such as healthy boundaries, being in harmony or right relationship with all of creation including our bodies and the earth, and being a steward of our own energetics.
- Hold space to witness adolescents in your community, recognizing their transition from childhood to adulthood.
- Support and witness adults in your community who are dealing with an ordeal, hardship, challenge, or trauma. Welcome them to a new phase when they have reached the other side.
- Ask for help from your community when you find yourself going through an ordeal, hardship, challenge, or trauma.
- Support others in the changes they need to make to their careers, recreation, friendships or relationships after they have gone through an initiation.
The crucible of transformation in rites of passage
For these patterns to transform into something different, there must be a metaphorical death. Next, the initiation marks the change from innocence to responsibility.
In life when we go through changes, it represents a death of our old ways of life. Can we shift our perception of death to welcome it, giving up control and realizing that not everything can be planned? Consider the possibility that death is not the end. Instead, it is the initiation, the right of passage. It is a transition to bring something new into the world.
When we don’t seek or recognize initiation, life gives it to us anyway, often in the form of trauma or challenges. It is of course possible to experience an initiation without being formally “initiated.” Any kind of initiation will facilitate our growth.
In other words, challenges and hardships mean that the soul or psyche must move on to the next phase of life. Instead of trying to get through hardship as quickly as possible, ponder what message is coming through about the change that is needed. Perhaps the most important part is to for your community to witness you in this hardship.
How do you know if you have experienced an initiation or rites of passage?
- You have experienced an ordeal, hardship, challenge, or trauma such as formal initiation, illness, loss of a job, or loss of a relationship. This may be part of a pattern (something that keeps happening), or it may be new.
- You were able to process and welcome your experience with the company of your community. They have recognized and acknowledged your feat and recognized your role in the community.
- After the initiation, you had a sense of clarity around your soul’s next steps and overall mission; your place in the “big dream.”
- In hindsight, you can see how the initiation has facilitated your growth.
- You may need to make changes as you outgrow where you were living, how you were spending time, or other ways of being before the initiation.
Community is the key to successful initiation or rites or passage
In our modern world, we need to create safe structures for initiates to process their traumas in community. Then welcome them back into the community after they have gone through the crucible of transformation. This means seeking or finding the support, recognition and acknowledgement we need through our challenges in order to step into our roles in our communities and remember our soul’s mission.
True recognition of a soul’s initiation into the next phase of life and mission happens only when a community can witness and support the initiate through their hardship and see the healing of the open wound. If the community is not there to witness and acknowledge the deliverance, the ordeal is likely to repeat itself.
A sign of adulthood is in the way we relate with our parents. After initiation, our parents become the people who raised us doing the best the could with what they knew. It is often a close and tender relationship, however there’s a lot less blaming our parents for their inadequacies. This is called individuation—becoming independent from our parents.
Finding comfort in a cosmology during rites of passage
Without being taught a feminine mythology by mother or grandmother, women develop their own relationships to the feminine. Alternately, a man needs to either learn about the sacred masculine from an elder or develop his own relationship to the masculine.
Without formal initiation these relationships to the sacred feminine and sacred masculine can become quite distorted. This is true in our society (constant rape of Mother Earth and constant domination by the distorted masculine).
Forming a relationship with the archetypal Mother Earth and Father Sky creates a parent-child relationship within the larger cosmology. In this way, our primary relationship is with the big picture rather than our culture.
We are more able to function freely without regard for the expectations placed on us by our parents or culture. In my experience it is absolutely liberating.
The next chapter after initiation
On the other side of initiation is an uncomfortable new self with a new awareness. Perhaps disconnection with the person he or she once was. Most people need to do a massive decluttering, as the metaphorical and literal old “clothes” (relationships/jobs/recreational activities) no longer fit the new person or state of the psyche.
Like the excitement of getting a new wardrobe, the creation and possibility on the other side is the best part because an adult assumes 100 percent responsibility…and from that place, anything is possible.